Sunday, April 6, 2014

Coach David Guitar Class at PH268

18 months ago I visited Compassion Project BR-110 in Brazil, where I met a formerly sponsored young guy named John who was teaching a guitar class. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be doing the same thing.

As well as my professional work as a teacher, I have taught private music lessons in guitar and keyboard for several years. At one school I taught at, I also had 18 music students after school on a Tuesday and Thursday!

This week I began teaching guitar to 15 eager students at Compassion Project PH-268 in the Philippines. I was also able to bless the Project by buying three new guitars from a local music shop.

I cannot express how privileged I feel to be able to assist at this Project. I was accepted and welcomed straight away. Even though there is a language barrier, I've been told that my mere presence makes a positive difference to many of the kids.

Smiling at them, giving them high fives as they go past, serving their lunch, providing balls and card games for them to use in their free play time and now to share the musical knowledge and passion God has given me through teaching them guitar. All very simple things, but they add up to make a big difference. It is very humbling.

There is also a possibility I may be able to coach some basketball in the future (another passion of mine), when the church gets their court built. Just another way we can get kids engaged in meaningful activities, keeping them active and using their gifts and abilities.

While Compassion prefers their volunteers and teachers to be native to the country of the Project, I am simply there to help, to fill a need. I am not trying to take the place over or telling them how to run things. If they found a Filipino to do any of the things I have been doing, I would step aside. I am just there to serve in any way I can.

I would hope that having a passionate advocate like me working in a Project on an ongoing basis would be a positive thing. I have been able to raise awareness about the Project and their needs, take photos of letter day and remind sponsors of the importance of letter writing.

I am confident that my involvement in the Project is God-orchestrated, firstly because out of all the 7107 islands in the Philippines and all the places I could have ended up, there was a Project a mere 3km from the orphanage I was working at, and then the story of how I found the place (read it here if you haven't already) is just so unlikely and improbable.

Here are some pictures of our first guitar lesson:       

Justice Will Be Done - In Time

This world is messed up.

One of the songs in church this morning had the lyric "God of justice and peace" yet when you take a glance around the world, there seems to be so little of both those things.

The righteous, God-fearing people are often poor, sick, oppressed, abused, silenced, marginalised.
The "wicked" (godless, arrogant, foolish, proud, violent, blasphemous, rebellious) people seem to be the ones who have the power, authority, money, comfort, status and health.

If you believe that the life in front of us is all there is, then surely you scoff at the concepts of true justice and peace; they are so far removed from reality so as to be the stuff of mere fairytales?

It takes real faith to believe the opposite - that there is another world to come, and only then will true justice and peace be delivered by God. Humanity is incapable of achieving this on our own. This is foolishness to the wicked, but to anyone who believes in true justice and peace, it's all we have to hold onto.

I keep being brought back to Psalm 73. It is written by a fella named Asaph, who struggles with exactly the same thing - seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, and wondering about God's "justice."

For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty.
These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!
They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.
They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth.

And so the people are dismayed and confused,
drinking in all their words.
“What does God know?” they ask. “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.
If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people.
So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!

Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.
When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.
I have been guilty of figuratively standing by and laughing while the godless slide down that slippery path over the cliff to destruction. I am a big believer in personal responsibility; that everyone is accountable for their own actions, choices and decisions and that if they end up separated from God after they die, that is their own fault.

This is a wrong attitude. While I might be partly right (ultimately I'm not responsible for anyone's eternal destiny but my own), Christians still need to live lives that reflect God's glory and bring people closer to Him. It's what I am trying to do.

I am thankful to be found in God and I can echo the words of Asaph by saying
"I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever."

As much as this is an unsatisfying conclusion because it takes everything out of our control (and we humans LOVE to be in control):
We can be confident that justice WILL be served by God, but we may have to wait until Jesus returns to see it done.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sharing Compassion (Thanks Captain Obvious)

Hello, it's Captain Obvious here. I love sharing about Compassion International.

I've been privileged to share with individuals, students (young and old), colleagues, churches and other sponsors and advocates. I cannot comprehend just how much God has used Compassion to grab my heart, twist it, squeeze it and break it in so many ways. Ever since I prayed that prayer for him to "break my heart for what breaks Yours." I have seen injustice, poverty, despair and hopelessness. THAT is what breaks God's heart.

He used Compassion to wrench me out of my nice little comfortable life that was all about me. I could no longer use my shyness and introverted nature as an excuse to do nothing, or hide away. Through Compassion God showed me my purpose in life: to use what I've been given to care for others, in particular little people. He has give me His "Father's heart" to enable me to love them and provide for them

I'm thankful to God for the opportunities He has given me to share my Compassion sponsorship journey with others, and the way He has used me to impact others, both in the developed and the developing world.

I see my purpose as Inspiring, Encouraging and Challenging other people, through the way I live my life and give to others. Sacrificial generosity.

To do this, I cannot stay quiet. My purpose in sharing about the journey God has brought me on is not to blow my own trumpet. I'm not foolish and arrogant enough to think it's all about me. But God in His grace and mercy has chosen to use me.

Occasionally I've had the opportunity to engage with a wider audience, and I wanted to share three of those with you now.

After my 2012 trip to Brazil, a friend contacted the local newspaper in the town where I lived, and suggested they do a profile piece as a bit of a "human interest" story. I wrote down a summary of my sponsorship journey and some information about Compassion. The spiritual climate of the town is quite challenging, and there is some hostility towards God and Christianity, but I did not shy away from the reason I do it being to share God's love with the kids and their families. Three days later there was a nice half-page spread with everything I had written, including the God stuff. I was quite pleased. (Note: I did not write the headline)

2013 was probably the biggest year for me in terms of my involvement with Compassion.
- Three trips to eleven countries,
- 5 kids sponsored at a Compassion Sunday event at a wonderful little Lutheran Church
- Many opportunities to share with students at the school I was employed at

In May I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from someone at Compassion, wondering if I'd be interested in doing an interview for the September edition of the Compassion magazine. I didn't have to think too hard about that one. So she sent me the questions, and I waded through the many, many stories I had from my travels, trying to decide which ones would effectively answer the question and at the same time inspire, challenge or encourage others to see the effectiveness of Compassion child sponsorship. This is the final result (please click on it to enlarge and read. I can't seem to edit it)

In 2011, I was talking about Compassion to a relative named Chad Loftis, who is a journalist/documentary maker/media guy. He was fascinated by my passion and intensity, and wanted to do a mini-documentary about my sponsorship journey. This involved travelling four hours down to the sleepy little town where I lived at the time, filming me going about my ordinary day (quite ordinary!), and then doing a sit-down interview with me.

The filming was done in May 2012, and he had planned to release it in the first half of 2013, but when Compassion heard about it, they wondered if it could be released at the same time as the magazine article, which was September 2013. This was later than Chad had hoped for, but he wasn't going to turn down exposure from an organisation like Compassion.

So I found myself in the unique situation of being overseas on another Compassion trip, and having a magazine article and a mini-doco released about me when I wasn't even in the country. Here it is if you haven't seen it already. Enjoy!

The Man with 50 Kids from Chad Loftis on Vimeo.

The hubbub only lasted a few days, but it was nice. Lots of encouragement, and literally thousands of people were seeing what God was doing through me. I was comfortable in myself because before the article and the doco were released, I gave them to God and said "Anything that comes out of this, take it and use it for Your glory." It was a pride test, and I like to think I passed.

Coming soon: The Book
Earlier this year, I decided to take the advice of many friends and write a book about Compassion, viewed through the lens of my personal experience. There are so many stories that need to be told, that I know God doesn't want just sitting in my personal journals, or my seen-by-a-few blog.

Stories of the realities of poverty - heartbreak, despair, hopelessness, loss and tragedy
Stories of Compassion - life transformation, joy, hope, faith, sacrifice and heroes.

The book is completed, and is in the hands of a couple of publishers. I'm just waiting to hear what they think. I am excited to see how God is going to use this book and my experiences to impact many more people and help them see the difference that they can make in the life of a child and that Compassion works!   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Let Your Light Shine...

The message at church today was based around Matthew 5:13-16 (Salt and Light). These are words of Jesus which I have tried to live by:

You are the light of the world, like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all…Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

And yet, in the next chapter, Jesus says:

Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to someone in need, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do, blowing trumpets in the synagogue and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!...give your gifts in secret and your Father…will reward you.

I have struggled with the conflict, contrast and balance between these two ideas. The second part is quite convicting. Social media has provided the modern day equivalent of the “hypocrites trumpet” – whatever we’re doing, whatever cause we’re pushing, pop it up on the internet and hundreds, potentially thousands of people will see it.

I have been accused by people close to me of being prideful and self-promoting in my advocacy with Compassion International. It appeared to them that I was making it all about me, because I regularly mentioned how many kids I sponsored (many). The “give your gifts in secret” verse from Matthew 6 was thrown at me.

It’s fair to say I have been quite public in my advocacy with Compassion International and more recently The Ruel Foundation. In 2012 the local newspaper in Portland, Victoria published an article about my Brazil trip and Compassion journey. In September 2013, a friend released a mini-documentary of my Compassion journey, and at the same time I had a double page article in the Compassion magazine (neither of which was instigated by me). I have written about my Compassion trips to 12 countries on my blog, which has now had 12,000 hits in 18 months.

This “double barrel” of publicity earned me a few days of wonderful encouragement and nice comments across social media. Apparently the doco was watched in all the Compassion Australia offices. People were inspired, encouraged and challenged, and I was thankful that God was using me to impact people’s lives. However, according to some I was “letting my light shine”, but it was shining on me, rather than God.

The problem I had with this was: how did they possibly know this? Did they interview or search the hearts of every single person who read the article or watched the doco? The unfortunate reality is that no matter how much you “let your light shine”, there are some people who won’t “praise your Father in heaven.” They’ll look at you and say what a wonderful person you are and what great work you’re doing, but won’t acknowledge that you are doing it to glorify God. Does that mean that others can point the finger and mistakenly come to the conclusion that “Your light is shining on yourself and not God”?

My advocacy for the Ruel orphanage in the Philippines through a Facebook page and blog has resulted in 200 extra “likes”, and exposed hundreds of people from Australia to the amazing work they do helping children, whereas previously they were better known in New Zealand and the US.

My wrestling with the two ideas “Let your light shine” and “Give your gifts in secret” is by no means over, but for now I have come to this conclusion:

The difference between the two ideas is: It’s about what is in your heart - your attitude and motivation. Are you doing it for God’s glory, or to earn the praise of people? To me, it is important that other people know about organisations such as Compassion and Ruel, and I’m going to shout it from the rooftops so that everyone knows what great, God-honouring work they do. It’s not for a moment about me. I’m not that foolish and arrogant.

In my advocacy, my intention as always been:
* For God to be glorified
* For more kids to be sponsored
* For more lives to be transformed
* For people to see God in me, when they look at a life filled with sacrificial generosity.
* For people to have the opportunity to help, and give to organisations that are quality, trustworthy and filled with integrity, as I know both Compassion and Ruel are.

In November 2013, I let people know that I would be working at The Ruel Foundation in the Philippines, and needed to find sponsors for my 29 Compassion kids. Within a month, all the kids were sponsored by family and friends. You know why? Because I had taken photos, videos and told their stories. People could connect with them in a more meaningful way and knew more about Compassion because I was sharing through the lens of my personal experience. If I had stayed silent and just stuck the pic on my Facebook page and said “Who wants to sponsor him?” there’s no way it would have happened.

As far as I’m aware, no one can see the heart but God, therefore we should think carefully before judging the heart and the motivation of others. I am comfortable I can appear before God and my motives and attitude in the public nature of my advocacy will be revealed to be clean and pure – that I was doing it for His glory.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice
. (Proverbs 31:8, 9)

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Matrix and the Fight Against Poverty

I caught the tail-end of the movie The Matrix: Revolutions the other night. I'll be honest and say that my understanding of the Matrix movies is somewhat elementary, with the plot of most Sci-Fi movies going over my head.

However, there was one part in particular that caught my attention. The hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) had just had a major crazy battle with his arch-nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), and after getting up again for the umpteenth time, Agent Smith explodes with exasperation and offers this little spiel:

"Why, Mr. Anderson? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Yes? No? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?"

While Neo's battle was saving his city from a bunch of malevolent machines, many of us are engaged in a battle as well - the fight against poverty in our world. Agent Smith's biting words echo the exact thing the enemy sneers into the hearts and minds of those of us engaged in the battle. The thing is, they're all lies, but in the heat of the battle they can seem true.

The enemy of our souls spits on the very ideals that we desire, hold dear and even fight for, like freedom, truth, peace and love. Despite the fact that we are created in God's image and are of infinite value to Him, the enemy uses poverty to devalue humanity and convinces people that their lives are indeed without meaning or purpose. In this world our faith in almighty God, which is the only answer, is so often dismissed as an "illusion", a "temporary construct" and "artificial."

The enemy is the father of lies, but these very lies have robbed millions of their God-given destiny, when they haven't been able to see past their circumstances and have given in to the above words: "You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting." Other fatal arrows include "You're hopeless. You're worthless. Things will never change. You will never get better. No one cares. There's no one to help."

Many people look at the plight of the poor and the condition of our world and use it as an excuse to bash God. They say "Where's God? How can He allow this? Why doesn't He do something?" To be honest, I often struggle with those first two questions, but here's the answer to the third one: He has created YOU to do something. The majority of people in the developed world have been given much more than they need to survive, and it is our God-given job to care for those who don't have what they need.

WE have the answers to the lies of the enemy, and by sharing the love of God with people we can show them the truth:
- You CAN win.
- KEEP on fighting.
- With God there is HOPE.
- You have infinite WORTH as a child of God.
- Things CAN change.
- You CAN get better
- People DO care
- There ARE people to help. 

Interestingly, Neo's typically heroic and selfless response to Agent Smith's rant was "Because I choose to." All we need to gain the upper hand in the fight against poverty is for more people to follow Neo, ignore the enemy's bluster and bravado and say "I choose to help."

I choose to disregard a life of comfort, ease and living only for myself.
I choose to make my life about my needs, not my wants.
I choose to give generously and sacrificially, and trust God to provide for me and my family.
Then we would win the battle.

I have walked in the midst of poverty in twelve countries in my travels with Compassion, and I am now surrounded by it in the Philippines. I chose to immerse myself in the stories, homes and circumstances of my sponsored kids and it wrecked my heart in so many ways. Yet I was still like a spectator looking in from the outside. We will never fully understand the complexities and there are no easy answers.

However I believe with all my heart that Compassion International is one of God's answers to fighting against poverty. I have already blogged extensively about my experiences so I won't repeat myself here, but this I know for sure - there are poor communities in 26 countries around the world that have HOPE, because Compassion works there. Children are given a one-to-one relationship with a sponsor who loves them, they receive food, education, medical care, income-generating skills and most of all the hope and freedom that comes from a relationship with Jesus.

Unfortunately Compassion is not a magical quick fix, an instant answer. It is a long-term strategy; it's grind and a struggle, all about building relationships with economically and spiritually poor people. It is about loving when you may not be loved in return. It is high-risk and high-reward.

In my experiences with Compassion I have witnessed Love, Joy, Faith, Hope, Sacrifice, Generosity, Hospitality, Safety, Music, Dancing, Playing, Kids Free To Be Kids.
All because somebody vanquished the enemy with a simple declaration: "Because I choose to."

Australia/New Zealand "Invasion" of PH268

On Saturday, Compassion Project PH268 had a few extra visitors. Australian couple Nikki and Christian, and Danielle from New Zealand have been volunteering at The Ruel Foundation. I told them about the Compassion Project and they were keen for a visit.

Christian and Nikki are already Compassion sponsors in a couple of different countries, so this was an amazing opportunity for them to see a Project in action up close. In fact they were so impressed, they plan to sponsor a child from PH268 when they get back to Australia!

We took a tour (I was the tour guide!), met Chara the Project Director, saw the classrooms in action, chatted to some of the kids and even got fed :)

Here are some highlights


Friday, March 14, 2014

Learning Lessons About Grace

I've always struggled with the concept of God's all-encompassing mercy and grace. This struggle mainly rears its head when I look at others.

My basic understanding of grace is that it is undeserved, unearned and unmerited favour. Humans are capable of showing grace to others, but of course God demonstrates the greatest example of this. Every day, millions of the people He has created and loves basically give him the "middle finger salute" with every breath they take and the way they live their lives. Yet He lets them live, and often allows them to prosper. That's grace.

The internet can be an ugly beast. It brings out the worst in people. Occasionally I'll have a look at an atheist website or page on Facebook. There is so much arrogance, foolishness and profanity in people's hearts, and it all comes out on the internet. It's like a sewer. The Bible says "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks [and fingers type]" (my paraphrase).

I was going to put an example of something I read here, but it makes me sick even thinking about it. The person pretty much called God a certain type of deviant in reference to the virgin birth. It was vulgar and breathtaking in its arrogance. And that's not even the worst that's out there. Personally I struggle to come up with a reason why those people shouldn't be smote on the spot. Yet God lets them live.

In my struggle I need to keep remembering this from the Good Word: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and then "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus."

I consider myself to be a person who is doing my best to live a life that God is pleased with by serving others. I care deeply for the poor and have sacrificed much to help other people. I have left everything behind and am now working in an orphanage. So I'll be honest and say I sometimes wonder "How can God think of me the same way as the arrogant, profane, violent fools that seem to be growing in number every day?" On the surface this doesn't seem 'fair' or 'just'.

Then I remember the above verse from Romans 3:23 - ALL have sinned. That includes me. I am still deserving of death because I haven't measured up to God's perfection. Just like those others. I am also in desperate need of God's grace. I can do, or have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. It's a free gift.

Onto the recent lesson I learned about grace.

I am a teacher. I have little time or patience for rascals. My expectation is that you follow my instructions or there are consequences. I have not had to teach many "special needs" kids, but when I have, there has naturally been disobedience, defiance and disrespect, which has led to confrontations, which has led to frustration, annoyance and anger on both sides.

Patience is something I always pray for, but I have failed to display it far more times than I care to remember. As a teacher I have not handled things as well as I would have liked on occasions.

On Saturday I was at PH268 Compassion Project in the Philippines. I have started helping there since I moved there 6 weeks ago to work at an orphanage called The Ruel Foundation.

The kids were in their classes, so I was on the playground, throwing a ball with the little son of one of the volunteer mums. One of the Compassion kids came out and sat on the playground. I could tell he was in trouble. I asked "what did you do?" and got no reply, along with averted eye contact.

I have developed a personal 'policy' of not acknowledging or giving attention to kids when they are being disciplined, so I kept throwing the ball with the little guy, while this kid just sat there.

All of a sudden I felt massively convicted. Compassion kids are from families that are often dysfunctional and violent, the poorest of the poor in their communities. I have made my goal in life to be like Jesus, to show every person the love of God in the way I treat them. Was I being Jesus to this young fella?

God reminded me of grace. There have been far too many times I have been grace-less to others. He has shown it to me, and I need to show it to this boy now. So we had a play, and the smile returned to his face.

Please understand, grace does not mean there are no consequences to our actions, and we can just get away with anything and do what we want. However, sometimes we just need to give people another go, remembering the grace and mercy God shows us every day of our lives.

I, for one, am thankful for grace.