Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2018

Grassroots Charity Offers More Bang For Your Buck

A few years back, when I told someone that our oldest son was helping out with an orphanage in Haiti, the person rolled their eyes and said, “Sure; right. In Haiti everybody is running an orphanage. But how many of the kids are true orphans and how many of the orphanages are legit?”

We live in a world that is automatically skeptical when it comes to charities. Compound that with further cynicism that in very poor countries, corruption means that aid doesn’t reach those who need it most. If only there was a way of meeting these objections and being able to give with confidence.

As it turns out there is. I want to share a bit of the story with you and also explain how it intersected with our son’s story, and some portions of what you read are taken (directly or loosely) from the Welcome Home Children’s Centre (WHCC) website.

We got to meet Camille Otum and her husband Sam for the first time a few days ago. She was born in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and raised in the town of Cabaret about two hours north. At the age of nineteen she left Haiti and chose to settle in Montreal, Québec, where she could better leverage her French language skills and familiarity with the culture.  After getting married, Camille and Sam and their family moved west to  Ontario, settling in a bedroom community small town outside of Toronto.

In 2004, a group of teenagers from her church were headed to Haiti on a short term missions trip, and Camille volunteered to be a chaperone and give something back to her country of birth. She went to connect with her old friends in her hometown of Cabaret but was quite distressed by what she saw. It was not the same place; not the village she had left many years ago. Instead, she was witnessing homeless children begging in the streets, desperate and malnourished.

With this image imprinted in her mind Camille began discussions with her family and friends about the situation in her homeland and her deep desire to help. With the support of her husband, and her church friends, their husbands and one other friend, she shifted into what my wife calls ‘entrepreneurial missions’ mode and decided to open an orphanage. Welcome Home Children’s Centre was incorporated as a non-profit entity in Canada. A hired agent now working for them in the country was instrumental in helping secure a three-bedroom home with fenced yard that could be rented and converted into a home for homeless children. (Fences and walls are a non-negotiable necessity in Haiti, since people will break in and steal anything that might have value.)

A few years in, with the lease running out, Welcome Home began looking for another property which would offer the possibility of greater expansion. They had about ten children but dreamed of being able to house up to seventy. They called Engineering Ministries International (EMI) for help designing a new orphanage on recently acquired land.

This is where the story first connects with our family. Our son Chris had graduated in Engineering and it would be several months before he would find his first job, so with a little bit of fundraising he signed up to do an internship with EMI in Calgary for four months. (The organization has about ten offices around the world.) As it turned out, one of their two projects for those months was the Welcome Home Children’s Centre and in February of 2015 he flew with a team of a dozen people from Canada to survey the land and help design the three phases of the new centre. He was one of only two people on the EMI team who spoke French with any proficiency and did his best to learn Haitian Creole.

As it turns out, language is a big part of the Welcome Home strategy for those they serve. Chris writes,

A big part of their education is learning the French language, which in Haiti is the sole language of business and politics. The vast majority of Haitians can only speak Creole, which makes it easy for the elite to exclude them from anything involving influence or serious money. The Welcome Home kids will have access to the upper strata of Haitian society because of their education, and it is my hope that they will hold onto their Christian values, continuing to acknowledge God in all their ways while wielding the privilege of education, and be a blessing to their neighbours and communities in adulthood.

With the exception of only a handful of EMI volunteers in the entire history of the organization, our son decided to get involved with the charity itself. He returned to Haiti with a group of WHCC volunteers three years later in February, 2018. He said, “It was amazing to go see the building we had designed on paper actually realized in concrete.”

Which brings us back to a few days ago, when we got to meet Sam and Camille. I don’t like to show up for meetings unprepared so I decided to do some research. In Canada, the annual financial statements — think of it as an organization’s income tax return — of churches and non-profits are posted online for the world to see. I couldn’t help but note that the line item for compensation (i.e. salaries and benefits) for WHCC was nil. Zero. Nada. That was refreshing.

Camille shared a story with us about a woman who had been giving to what I call a “blue chip” Christian charity and how appalled she was at the amount of compensation being received by its key personnel and staff. The woman then stumbled onto the same information I did, with the realization that this was the type of grassroots charity she wanted to support.

Part of this is possible because Sam and Camille have decent jobs in Canada. But if Camille isn’t there in person, she’s very much present, admitting to calling the orphanage for an update every single day.

The Welcome Home team conducted numerous interviews to be sure that the children they received actually were orphans. In some cases parents will see an opportunity for their child to have a better life and are willing to let their child go. This is a heartbreaking scenario that the team have seen played out over and over. To turn them away is difficult, but their commitment is to help the most needy orphans; children who have no other options.

It’s true that the overall financial scope of the organization is small. But the building referred to above is only part of what the EMI people designed. There is a Phase II, which involves another building that would dramatically expand the size of the operation to eventually include 70 children. The budget for construction is a half million dollars. (Labor is less costly, but building materials are expensive. The island has been deforested; so wood is extremely rare. Most buildings are formed from concrete.)

Right now, WHCC cannot issue tax receipts in the U.S. (I know there are U.S. readers here for which a receipt is not the bottom line.) For a grassroots charity, operating in Canada, with a very limited donor base to raise $500,000 is a daunting task, but in Christ, nothing is impossible. You can help plant the seeds for Phase II at this link.

I’ll let our son Chris have the last word,

I want to live in a world where everyone loves the place where they were born, where we don’t have people clamoring to get across borders because the country they were born in just isn’t livable. And I want to live in a world of rest and gratitude, not one of strife and pride. I believe the theory is true that the developing world will keep improving itself economically until the imbalance that has characterized the last three centuries levels out a bit, but we can help speed up the process.


If you are in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, Welcome Home’s annual fundraiser is this Saturday night (December 1) at Halton Hills Christian School in Georgetown. See the “Latest News” page of their website for directions and cost and to RSVP. [Canadians can also donate via Canada Helps.]

 

 

 

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October 22, 2018

Superstore on NBC: Not a Family Shopping Experience

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

Both of my part time and summer jobs all through high school and university were working in a department store. This covered a period of more than seven years. Later, my wife and I opened a retail store of our own, which later became a chain of three stores.

Retail is something I get.

So since it premiered, I’ve been watching the TV show Superstore on NBC.

I think the show is, overall, well-written. A few times, it has raised issues worth discussing.

I also accept — no doubt with reluctance — that television scriptwriters are always pushing the envelope; always seeing how much they can get away with. I harbor no illusions of returning to the days of Make Room for Daddy and Leave it to Beaver and Andy of Mayberry. I’m not the type of person to get into Moral Majority-styled rants about the filth on TV and calling for networks to cancel shows and everyone else to boycott sponsors.

Thursday night’s show included two scenes which had parts censored. The first was an audio ‘bleeping’ of a word completely ascertainable in context. The second was a visual ‘pixelation’ of a woman raising her t-shirt to show her bare breasts to a man. This second one actually occurred twice.

To repeat, this is the state of broadcast television in 2018.

However…

This program airs at 8:00 PM.

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

U.S. network prime time begins when locally produced or locally acquired programming ends at 7:59 and runs to 10:59 before local news. The first hour, from 8:00 to 9:00 was once called “the family hour.” And yes, I know that kids today see far worse on the internet.

However…

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

And if a family with young kids is sitting around watching television together, and scenes such as the one I described — and these are not the first instances of this I’ve noticed — come on the screen, I would think the situation in the family room or living room is just plain awkward.

March 22, 2018

Marriage and Marijuana: When the Rules Change

Changes in the law are often viewed from a variety of vantage points.

I often wonder what happens when someone who has done prison time for pot possession thinks as they see state after state making weed legal. Or the person who was persecuted by family or friends for their homosexual cohabitation watching gay marriage legalized.

I realize that most of the people reading this fall into neither category. You may not directly know people who do. However, such individuals would have a rather different perspective on changing legislation in various states as well as Canada.

The end result of what pilots call a “graveyard spiral.”

Then there are those who will simply use this as an example of how society is going downhill; to use an aviation term, the graveyard spiral of society. It’s great sermon material if you want to get people revved up; what Skye Jethani would call pandering to the Fear-vangelical mindset.

But there’s another viewpoint I was considering today: The youth.

In particular, what does all this look like from the point of view of a child who is too young to smoke weed and too young to enter into a marriage relationship?

In some ways, it sends this message: If you wait long enough it — whatever it is — will eventually be made legal.

I know you’re thinking, ‘Yes, but some things are absolutely wrong and not subject to discussion.’

Really? Take the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” and then consider euthanasia, abortion or (for some) even war itself.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness.” What about lying where it is expedient, or situation ethics, manipulation of statistics, or the popular term today, fake news?

Again, I’m not talking about the “moral decay” itself, but about the appearance all this must present to young people who see nothing as absolute. Rules regulating behavior and lifestyle appear as in flux or in transition with no fixed reference points.

I’ve noted elsewhere on the blog that rules are often created at one time or for one group of people or in one particular place; whereas principles are timeless and transcend the limits of who they apply to or where they apply. The rules derive from the principles.

So in a world where alcohol is in common use, the addition of marijuana to the recreational mix may not appear to reflect a change in principles, but a kid or young teen doesn’t know that.

To children and youth, as things are subject to constant revision and updated legislation, all bets are off when it comes to whether anything is truly wrong.

January 20, 2018

Strengthening Our Marriage versus Strengthening Our Kids

We have a Christian parenting conference happening in our town in April.

I couldn’t help but think how rare this is when compared to marriage conferences. Of course some of this has to do with what’s happening in Christian publishing.

For example, name a marriage author. You might be able to do so readily, but for those not familiar with the world of Christian books, let’s make it easier: Name a bestselling Christian book on marriage.

You may have listed:

  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley
  • The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick
  • As Long as We Both Shall Live by Gary Smalley
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
  • Before You Say I Do by Norman Wright
  • Power of a Praying Wife/Husband by Stormie Omartian
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud

Now do the same for parenting.

[Crickets]

The books exist, but naming top sellers is more challenging. Furthermore in the case where the books are part of a brand or a series, you almost intuitively know that for all its success, Power of a Praying Parent probably doesn’t do as well as the wife/husband titles; or that Boundaries with Teens or Boundaries with Kids doesn’t do as well as Boundaries in Marriage or Boundaries in Dating; at least not in my experience in the field.

The conferences feed off the success of the books.

Apparently we’re at least five times — or maybe even as high as ten times — more willing to pour into our marriage than we are to invest in our kids. Perhaps we’ll purchase Christian resources for them, but we don’t necessarily want to take the time to improve our parenting skills or learn from the stories of others.

Just because you can’t name the books or authors doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The online store at Focus on the Family is a great place to find out about parenting resources — as is their daily broadcast — and you can see the various categories of parenting helps at this link. (If you Google ‘Best Christian Parenting Books’ you’ll find other lists, but I refuse to link to people who are just shilling for Amazon. Try to buy local or from ministry organizations if at all possible.)

And just to save you asking, the conference speakers coming to our local community are Jim & Lynne Jackson, authors of Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. I hope people will want to invest in their kids to the same degree they might had the church chosen to host a marriage conference that weekend. I have faith they will.


I realize that with the word discipline in the Jackson’s book title, some of you are probably thinking of a case of parenting advice gone bad that we covered here and here a few years back. Knowing the church sponsoring this, and knowing the publisher, you needn’t worry.

 

January 2, 2018

“Dad, I’m gay”

Filed under: children, Christianity, Church, issues, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

What do you do when your son says, “I am gay?”  There’s a lot contained in that three word statement, certainly more than initially registers. A Christian friend experienced this several months ago and continues to wrestle with the implications. Recently, he asked to share this with readers here.


“Dad, I’m gay.”

When my son says “Dad, I am gay”, what he is saying is . . .

I had the courage to tell you something very important.

I have been trying to figure this all out for quite some time now.

I’m more likely to deal with depression than a straight child.

I’m more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a straight child.

I am more likely to be picked on or talked about than a straight child.

I would be arrested in certain parts of the world.

I would be put to death in certain parts of the world.

I’m not sure I will be accepted at church.

I’m not sure you will be accepted at church either depending on how you handle this.

Though I am your son, I am not just like you.

I am still your son, and in many ways, just like you.

I am still your child, but am not a child anymore.

I will want you to meet my boyfriend someday.

If I take a step of covenanting with a man to be faithful to him the rest of my life, many of your friends may tell you that you should not attend that celebration. My friends will not hesitate to be there for me.

You may not change your perspective on homosexuality, but I do expect you to be understanding of mine.

I want you to celebrate and have joy because of me, not merely tolerate me.

I know that you love Jesus and the Bible. I am also aware that you love me. You need to figure out what all that looks like.

December 17, 2017

Four Reasons Why CBS Wanted to Write Off the Peanuts Christmas Special

This year marked 52nd airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 52 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to a 2011 story (no longer online) in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized. But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if he had backed that wrong horse. He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably. Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism. But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands.

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

charlie-brown-christian-content-warnings

October 26, 2017

The Relevance of the Christian Narrative

Filed under: children, Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who teaches a pre-school class on Sundays and wants the kids to learn The Lord’s Prayer, preferably as she learned it in the King James Version. While she’s not hardline KJV-only (unless she wasn’t playing her hand) she made the case that if kids can start learning a second language by age 3, they should have no problem with a variance on the English they already know.

I am in two minds on this. To her credit:

  • Bible memorization is at an all time low in many Evangelical churches. She’s committed to a worthy goal.
  • Call God “Thee” or referring to “Thou” is a reminder that God is transcendent or “wholly other.”
  • The KJV, with its unique voice, can be quite easily committed to memory.
  • Going off a single script means kids may choose a translation randomly; each learning something different.

And yet as I pondered this I had some other concerns:

  • The obvious one is that this is a prayer guide; Jesus clearly prefaced this with the caution to avoid repeating the same prayers over and over. (That does not preclude memorizing it however. It can be a helpful prayer in times of extreme stress when other words won’t come.)
  • The flowery and ornate language of the KJV simply isn’t how people communicate in today’s world; it detaches the words from the 21st Century.
  • The formality flies in the face of the warmth of the use of the opening Abba (Daddy) in the original language.

We wrestled with this for years. My own church was an early adopter of the seeker sensitive evangelism strategy at one of our three Sunday services. Debates usually went something like this, “Do we make the gospel relevant or communicate the relevance it already has?”

Of course, a generation raised on the KJV version of The Lord’s Prayer is not the generation that’s dropping, like flies, out of church. There are dones and nones in my cohort, but they are a distinct minority. While I still insist that it’s time to move on, that version served us well.

In the end, whether she uses the KJV, The Voice or anything in between; I hope she teaches the meaning behind the prayer; I hope the kids can take ownership of what it really means to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom agenda and the carrying out of his will; to petition him for daily provision; to confess the areas where we have missed the mark and seek his help in avoiding them in future. To affirm at the end that it’s all his.

But more important, I hope they don’t miss the intimacy and communion that Jesus intended for his disciples when he taught them what was then a very radical approach to prayer.

 

October 24, 2017

When Nones and Dones are More Closely Connected

Our friends offered to pay for dinner — a very nice treat in a newly opened restaurant where we both knew the owner from a previous venture she had sold — so the server was standing next to them as the machine processed their credit card.

Looking at me she asked, “Do you remember me?”

I focused my look at her and said, “You do look familiar. Where do I know you from?”

“You were my teacher in seventh grade.”

Ah, that. It’s easy for me to forget the one year I taught part-time at the Christian school. It seems like a whole lifetime ago.

But as soon as she said her name, and mentioned her mother, the other couple, who now attend the same church as her mom, rather dominated the conversation. It was clear from a comment she made that this young woman would not be attending church with her mom anytime soon.

Is she a “none” or a “done?”

I’m not sure, but she is a person whose life I was invested in — however briefly — many years ago and now here she was, up close and personal, and I saw the whole loss of someone to the body of Christ more acutely.

See…my kids are still in church on Sunday morning, and at this point, I don’t expect that to shift. They’ve set the trajectory of their lives, and barring catastrophic change, I think they intend to keep God in it. In the course of my work however I meet people who tell me stories of kids who lost interest in God, prayer, Bible reading, etc., but there is a difference: I didn’t know those kids when they were young.

The shepherd in me just wanted to grab this girl, enfold my arms around her — please don’t stop reading the sentence at that point (!) — and guide her safely and gently into the fold…

…This is to all those reading who have a son or a daughter who has wandered: I get it. Really, I got it before but now I have another name and face to add to the list of the many I’ve been aware of in this situation. I know with all your heart you just want to lead them back to Jesus and say, ‘Okay you two; sit down and talk.’

That’s what He wants, too. 

Pray for her


Coincidentally, I wrote this on Sunday at C201:

If you have a son or a daughter; or a brother or sister; and they have wandered away from their faith because of sin, it’s really important to encourage them to continue to keep the dialog going between themselves and God, even in times of brokenness.

In that spirit, we want to be a church that welcomes people — all people — even if that means people caught in addictions, same-sex couples, people covered head to toe with tattoos.

September 30, 2017

Empty Nest Syndrome: Be Careful What You Wish For

Filed under: children, Christianity, family, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

A full year in and I can tell you that Empty Nest Syndrome isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’re knocking around in this great big house and I’m realizing that those empty rooms are not going to be occupied anytime soon, with the possible exception of a Christmas visit, and for one of our two boys, even that is partly in doubt.

Everyone kept saying, “Oh! You’re going to have the house to yourself!” I’m not sure what they’re thinking we would do by ourselves that we hadn’t already figured out a way to do when the kids were here. Well maybe this one: Save on groceries.

But we had experienced an empty nest before. My wife did a great job of fostering independence in our children, and a Christian summer camp played a big part in that (at first weeks, then a month on junior staff, and then full summers.) Of course, so did being away at college. In a sense, our birds vacated the nest a long, long time ago.

That doesn’t make it any easier. It’s very empty now, if you buy the logic that an empty glass can suddenly become more empty; there are few scenarios that would render those bedrooms reoccupied.

The older is an hour away. The youngest is two hours away. I miss the activity. I miss the conversations. I miss the quality of togetherness that you can’t get from online correspondence. Maybe I just need a hug.

Or maybe this is part of a natural cycle and just when things are really quiet, suddenly the kids reappear with grandchildren in tow.

So far there’s been no sign of that.

So the nest is empty.

And please don’t add a comment containing the word “downsizing.” I’m not quite ready for that.

Photos: Ruth Wilkinson

November 21, 2016

Make Bethlehem Great Again

make-bethlehem-great-again

Every year my wife performs at a really cool thing they do in our part of the world where people take a 25-minute walk through the various stations or aspects of the Christmas story called The Bethlehem Walk. After entering, groups wait in a waiting area until their number is called and while there, they listen to live music with choirs, soloists and contemporary bands performing Christmas-themed music.

Lately I’ve been joining her on some of these excursions, and this year I played two songs, and backed her on two; she did the rest herself. While doing a very hurried sound check, I asked the people in the waiting room how many were there for the first time, and then said, “We’re gonna make Bethlehem great again.”

People liked that line. After that, my contribution to the evening went downhill.

But she did well. Here’s a sample of her songwriting.

 

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