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Slideshow from Korea

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Last April, my 6-year-old grandson Ben was with me on a playground in Texas on a perfect evening just before sunset. Ben had been expected to die 3 years earlier, because you see he was born in Korea with a single ventricle, which meant he had about half of a normal heart. But on this late afternoon, through God’s grace, with no oxygen tubing to interfere, he played on the playground full of joy.

By this time, Ben’s condition was so severe that his legs were very unsteady, so he was very careful about falling. On the playground, there were these little platforms with poles where a child can jump from one to the next and reach a perch on the other side. I asked Ben if he wanted to try it. He smiled and said, “Oh no, Papa.”

To my complete surprise, a few minutes later Ben came to me full of courage and said, “Papa I want to do it.” Amazed, I helped him up and held his hand as he jumped to each successive platform. When he reached the last platform, he swung around the pole in triumph and looked me in the eye, saying, “Papa, I Made It!!”

I looked back at him and said, “You sure did, Ben.

”

The next morning, Ben slipped away to be with Jesus in the arms of his mother, our daughter Elizabeth. He had told us for months that Jesus was coming to pick him up, and on that gorgeous Texas Spring morning in April, Ben “made it.”

Around the world and in the United States, there are millions of children without families, whose hearts have little hope. But the Church of the Living God is stepping up to be Christ, a kinsman redeemer to these children. It only takes one church to make a difference. One family to make a difference in the life of a child whom the world often says does not even have a life worth living.

November 6th is Orphan Sunday. During that week, as we do once a year, we and our partners at Cry of the Orphan and The Christian Alliance for Orphans seek to raise awareness and provide on ramps for orphan ministry in the North American Church.

We have two great suggestions for you to rally your church and family to this cause this year. First, The Orphan’s Table. This family-based activity will help you to give vision to your family by spending one meal during Orphan Sunday week eating a meal that would be typical for orphans. There is a discussion guide to help you. You can learn more by clicking here.

The second suggestion is to use the Cry of the Orphan Campaign’s new DVD called Answer the Cry: Faces of Hope. This 30-minute program, hosted by Eric Metaxas (author of best-selling biographies on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce) will take your small group, Sunday school class or church into the lives of believers God has used to bring hope to orphans. There are three ways to get Answer the Cry: Faces of Hope.  Starting on October 14th, this DVD presentation will be available for free at your local Family Christian Stores.  Or you can sign up today at cryoftheorphan.org and your DVD will be mailed to you around Oct 14th. Last, the entire show will be streamed in High Definition starting in late October.  More information can be found at cryoftheorphan.org.

One of the stories featured on this program is that of my grandson Benjamin.  As I’ve said, Ben taught us a lot about God’s love for orphans, both physical and spiritual.  Help your church go near the orphan by showing this short video.  Please participate in Orphan Sunday this year by taking advantage of these opportunities, which will surely lead to more fatherless children “making it” into a family and experiencing the love of Christ.

Blessings,

Paul

Paul Pennington is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Hope for Orphans. He and his wife, Robin, have six children. They live in Dallas, Texas.

Recently our pastor, Matt Chandler, said, “Job was a guy who lost everything and learned that God is enough. Solomon was a guy who had everything and learned it was not enough.” Christ is enough. This is true on a personal level, and in ministry as well.

Some in the orphan ministry movement have gravitated towards a humanitarian perspective. Seeing all people as made in the image of God and meriting our love is, of course, very Christian (Matt. 25). At a luncheon meeting at one of China’s largest children’s hospitals, an elderly vice president began to speak. He explained that, “this hospital was founded by American missionaries in the 19th century.” I was again struck by the legacy of Christian humanitarian care, which had survived despite over 60 years of communism.

But as marvelous as this is, it is not enough. It is not enough for the Christian to serve out of humanitarian motives. After all, good deeds can be done in the name of Jesus without us knowing Him. (Matt. 7:21-23). And at the end of the day, the needs of orphans are the same as the needs of us all—needs that are both physical and spiritual. At the end of the day, food, clothing, and care is not enough. We need the Gospel.

That is I what I love most about Together for Adoption. Their 2011 event is coming up October 21-22, in Phoenix. This event offers insight that will equip attendees for many opportunities within orphan ministry. But, most importantly, it is the desire of Dan Cruver, Jason Kovacs, The Abba Fund and the rest of their speakers to make this event Gospel-centric. Many of us do not worship sincerely in our hearts because we do not fully see the spectacular reality of the Gospel. If you attend T4A this month you will get great teaching that will unveil anew the amazing Grace of God’s plan to make us family through His Son. It’s an amazing event and resource. If you’re able, I wholeheartedly encourage you to attend!

Blessings,

Paul

Kenya on the Move

Two years ago, when I sat down at the Cry of the Orphan concert event in Nashville, the guy in the row behind me introduced himself. Jeromy explained that he had attended an adoption workshop we had done in Baltimore a couple of years before.  He went on to explain that after that workshop, he and his wife adopted a little boy and little girl from Kenya.  It had been an unusually difficult and long process.  In fact, they had been forced to live in Kenya for a year in order to be able to bring their children home.  At the time, I’m sure it was difficult to understand why God had extended the process for so long

However, during the months they lived there, God gave them favor with church leaders and government officials and they built relationships that are proving to be incredibly important in God’s plan for Kenya.  As a result of all God has done in Jeromy’s heart and the relationships that were built, God gave Jeromy a vision to bring pastors and leaders together for the first East African Orphans Summit in Nairobi to discuss what can be done by the body of Christ in Kenya to address the needs of 2.5 million Kenyan orphans.

Last year, Jeromy called me to order a dozen copies of the book, Launching an Orphans Ministry in Your Church. He explained that he wanted to give it to several of his pastor friends in Kenya.

I told him, Bro, you know that book was written for lay people in American churches.  I’m not so sure its really going to work in Kenya.  I don’t know the first thing about how things work in Kenyan churches.”  Jeromy told me he would be sure to tell the pastors that the book was written for an American audience and he assured me that they would still be encouraged by its content.  I wasn’t sure I believed him.

Then a few months ago, I got another phone call from Jeromy.

“Can you come to Nairobi in June and speak at the first East African Orphans Summit?  I’d like you to do one session on the biblical perspective of God’s heart for the orphan and a second session on the content in the book about launching a church orphans ministry.”

I reiterated my opinion that the material on launching church orphans ministry was not created with the Kenyan church in mind and that there were really important differences between how Kenyans do church and how Americans do church that would render this material ineffective.

He argued that much of it would apply and that going would help me to learn the things that didn’t apply.  He urged me to at least consider it. After praying more about it, I finally sent Jeromy a text message saying, “I’m in.”

The Kenyan pastor helping Jeromy to organize the conference, Pr. George, hoped for 30 leaders to attend.  They planned for 50-60 just in case.  The conference start time was 9 AM.  At 9:40, there were about 5 people there besides the organizers.  It was obvious to me that God was going to choose to do this thing with a very small Gideon-sized army.

But during the course of worship, I turned around periodically to find that what I had heard for years from missionaries in Africa was, in fact, true.  Start times for events in Africa are merely suggestions.  There are far more important things in life than being on time (like being with people for instance).  The room kept filling up.  People kept coming in.  Before long, they had run out of materials.  That first day, 103 leaders showed up.  I was blown away.  Pr. George and Jeromy were shocked.  It was clear that God was about to do something amazing.

One of the attendees was an older woman named Pauline.  What Pauline lacks in physical stature she more than makes up for with spunk.  Pauline woke up that morning with two invitations for two different conferences on the same day.  One was a political conference for women and the other was this summit.

When Pauline woke up, she felt that the Lord was clear with her that she was supposed to go to the Orphan Summit.  She called a colleague of hers from a ministry they started that empowers grandmothers caring for their orphaned grandchildren (by the way, Pauline is one of those grandmothers).  They were on their way.  As Pauline sat through the first day of the conference listening to the testimonies of pastors, social workers, and lawyers about the needs of Kenyan orphans and the opportunity to promote adoption among Kenyan families, she was moved.  She later shared that she’d been to prayer meetings, and she’d been to meetings about various causes.  However, never had she seen a group of people praying about solving a societal problem and talking about the real issues at the same event.  At the end of the first day she shared that she was very excited and would be bringing others the next day.

The next day, when I turned around during the worship time, there was Pauline, singing and praising God, this time along with five other women she had recruited.  At lunch she said almost apologetically that she was only able to bring five.  During this second day of the conference, two Christian social workers from Uganda shared about a model they are using which is allowing 60 orphans to live in the homes of 16 different families in one tight-knit community.

At the end of the conference, Pauline stood up and challenged the others in the room to join her on the 14-hour bus ride to Uganda to visit this community and see this work firsthand so that it could be replicated for the children of Kenya.

The organizers of this Summit desired to mobilize many leaders on behalf of Kenya’s 2.5 million orphans and at the end, fifty-five Kenyan leaders agreed to hold Orphan Sunday events in their churches. Not to mention, with all five feet of Pauline on the move, God may have more in store for Kenyan orphans than anyone ever dreamed.

The bottom line is this:  God is moving in Kenya among these leaders and I expect that another great movement is afoot.  Pray with us that Kenyan orphans will find homes in Kenyan families and that God will use these children for His kingdom.

More Love to Give

A guest post by Jason Bollinger:

From before the time we were married, my wife and I talked openly and honestly about adoption. Due to fertility issues that seemed to be developing, we were forced to have conversations that had some significant weight to them. Those conversations ended with us believing that God had rooted parenthood firmly in our hearts, and we trusted that He would make us parents through adoption if not biologically by way of a miracle.

Four years into our marriage, the miracle happened, and we were blessed with a biological son. Life was good with him. So good, in fact, that we were never in a big hurry to press the issue of more children. We continued to talk about adoption from time to time. We had even sent some e-mails and gathered information, but we weren’t feeling that it was time to move forward.

A little further along the way, we started walking toward adoption. It was different this time. Walking through some adversity in our life showed us how content we were with our family threesome. Many of our friends’ families were expanding as ours had stalled, but we were strangely okay with that. What we were not okay with was that orphans around the world were laying their heads on their makeshift pillows at night with no hope and no mom and dad. The talk of adoption was no longer about adding to our family, it was about the Gospel. While we did like the thought of more children, our focus became centered on the rescue. There are kids in need of moms and dads. Let’s go get them.

Our theology of adoption was fairly weak at the time. As we walked through the process, it got better. Adoption is a theme throughout scripture. Our relationship with the Father, as follower of Christ, is best defined as a relationship of adoption. As you study Scripture, you see the Lord giving specific instructions about caring for the fatherless. From the old through the new, God’s heart is strong for the orphan. The more aware we became of this in Scripture, the more aware we became of the love that we’ve been given and the love we have to give. We’ve been blessed beyond measure, and we have blessing beyond measure to offer.

In the summer of 2010, we spent three months in Ukraine in pursuit of an orphan. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did, but the Lord used the adversity to bring us very, very close to Him. Through that closeness, we modified our home study and dossier to allow us to have more options. Going home empty-handed was not an option. If the Lord had different expectations of what our adoption was supposed to look like, we were fine with that.

After three months of battling, praying, trusting, hoping, failing, weeping, learning and eventually winning, something became very clear. We had much more to give than we thought. We went after one child, the Lord gave us two. We wanted a younger child so that we could have as much nurture time as possible, God gave us two girls with a very real knowledge of what they lived through. We were going for a smooth transition, we’ve had a pretty rough one. However, we did want what God wanted, and that’s what we got.

We underestimated our capacity for pouring out what God had poured into us. Adoption has allowed us to experience a level of faith and intimacy with God that nothing else in our life has come close to. Biblically, the call to care for orphans is clear. The pursuit of orphans purifies the Christianity in our heart and catapults us into the frontlines of trusting God. We’ve found that the Lord continually has more love to give, and that means we do too. Orphan care is the perfect avenue to test this theory. It seems most people underestimate the potential they have to be vessels of the love of God. The truth is that it’s up to God to do what He wants to do through you. It’s likely though, that He’s got bigger plans in mind for you than you do – maybe even related to adoption, but definitely in the world of orphan care.

Don’t underestimate how God may use you to change an orphan’s life forever. You also have more love to give than you think.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Jason & Holly Bollinger pastor River Stone Community Church in San Marcos, Texas, and they blog on adoption & orphan care related issues at http://www.morelovetogive.com

A Glimpse of Heaven

A guest post by Sue Barber:

It’s hard to explain why we adopted our boys. We felt God’s call to do it, but I don’t think we even understood it ourselves. We were adopting, but what we were actually doing was watching two boys miraculously transform before our very eyes, learning about who were are as a family, and seeing more of who God is. Seven years later, we still don’t have the whole picture, but we are starting to get some glimpses.

We are becoming convinced that we are treading on holy ground.

This video, (<–click here!) about two special needs Russian orphans who were reunited by the New York Yankees this summer, is amazing. When these former crib mates were reunited, my heart saw a little glimpse of what heaven will be like.

You can watch in the video how these boys were chosen, transformed, and honored. They had a fantastic time with the Yankees in New York. They met the baseball players, and had a wonderful trip. They could have never imagined such a thing when they were starving, and imprisoned in their crib.

Yet the amazing happened. Because God moved His people to work in those boys’ lives, their families, other orphans, the Yankees– were all blessed.

What if those families hadn’t chosen to adopt? What if we didn’t adopt our boys?

Joshua would not have survived much longer without intervention; and Caleb would be in a residential treatment facility, according to his former case worker. Suicide, lives of crime, prostitution, starvation, and early death awaits the orphan in most cases, both here and abroad. Less than one percent of American foster children go on to finish college.

There aren’t any uplifting videos to link for you on that topic.

But in this case, parents did come for those boys. The adoptions (and the special needs) illustrate what God promises to you, personally. We are fallen people, and we have problems, until God comes and chooses us and frees us through His Son Jesus. Christians have a loving Father who cares for us, who teaches us to love and to trust, and enables us to walk. We fall down, we limp, we take wrong turns, but think of the difference in us since we’ve been chosen!

The day will come when we will arrive in the eternal city. Believers will all have a moment when we are shown the city of God and are made new. Can you see yourself being given the tour? Oh how my heart yearns for that moment. That moment when Joshua will be healed of his fears and insecurities, and when his crumbling, nutrient deprived teeth will be solid. Caleb will get up and he will run unencumbered into the arms of the one who was his Great Physician all along. With two strong arms he will embrace his God. All of my children, they will be together, and whole. And then we will know why we adopted.

It will be better than we ever imagined.

Sue Barber is a blogger and the mother of six children. She has never sky dived, run for office, or been unloved. She writes at www.suebarber.wordpress.com.

Hope for Orphans founders, Paul and Robin Pennington, will be interviewed today and tomorrow on the FamilyLife Today radio show. We covet your prayers that the interview will be helpful to individuals hoping to start an adoption/orphan ministry in their local church.

Paul and Robin will be discussing…

  •  How the church can support adoptive families
  • How the church can get involved in orphan ministry

Find a radio station near you.//Listen online.