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Hope amid suffering in Myanmar

The atmosphere in the city’s slum is stifling. Bouts of heavy rainfall have left the streets – and many of the houses – waterlogged or flooded, yet between the downpours the temperatures and humidity rise steadily and the air soon becomes oppressive. But there is a greater sense of heaviness, ominous and menacing, that lingers over this place. Poverty is widespread here and many people are struggling just to survive. Child abandonment and abuse is rife. Violence, particularly against women and girls, is commonplace. Drunkenness and drug use is a way of life for many people. As I walk up and down these streets, seeing the squalor, suffering and brokenness, I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.

And yet God is at work here.

The care center is run by a local pastor and his family. It is like a flower pushing its way up through a crack in concrete: here there is color, laughter, joy, hope. The 75 children know that they are loved by the amazing staff team and they are seeing encouraging improvements in their educational attainment, physical health, emotional well-being, and their understanding of a loving Heavenly Father who calls them precious, beautiful, children of His.

And this hope is contagious. It is spreading from the care center itself to the families of the children that are served and the community beyond. I experience this when I visit the family of a little girl in their rickety, dilapidated home, made of bamboo, that provides little protection against the weather. Sitting on the floor, I hear how the girl’s paralyzed father was, like most of the people in this community, a Buddhist. Yet God has clearly been at work in his life, and he has come to know Christ. The girl’s mother earns a little money by washing clothes for her neighbors, and she would help her since her parents could not afford to send her to school. That has now changed – thanks to the support of the care center – and this little girl beams as she tells me she is “overjoyed” that she now has the opportunity to receive an education. “May God bless all those who support me” she earnestly tells me.

Please join me in praying for this community. Pray that hope would continue to break through the heaviness, the evil, that has its grip here. Pray for God’s constant protection for the staff and ministry. And pray for these beautiful children, that they would come to experience for themselves the love of the Savior.

(August 2019)


UPDATE – FEBRUARY 14, 2021

On Monday 1 February, Myanmar’s army took control of the country, detaining democratically elected leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who had won a landslide election victory in November. A one-year state of emergency has been declared, and a curfew is currently in place, with the army patrolling the streets.

The pastor leading the care center program has asked for prayer:

  • For peace – the safety of those who are demonstrating, the release of government leaders, and a speedy and peaceful resolution to the crisis
  • For the church – that believers would be a light in the darkness at this time
  • For God’s wisdom and leading for this pastor and his family as they care for church members, shepherd new believers in their faith, and coordinate efforts to provide care to children and families in the community
  • For the care center – for continued positive impact in the lives of children, their families and the community, and for funding needed to continue operating the center in the coming year

(Note that no names of people or places have been included in this post for security reasons).

Our tears will be dried

As followers of Christ, we live in a place of tension. We experience it every day.

On one hand, we live in a world where there is profound brokenness – a world where sickness, death, hunger, anger, greed, and betrayal confront us every day. There are times when we have each encountered a growing sense of fear and hopelessness as darkness seems to close in around us.

And yet, while we have one foot in this world of sorrow and sadness, we know that, because of Christ, our true citizenship is elsewhere – in a place where, as Tim Keller puts it, “our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory. It will be a new day, a better day – as it is written, trustworthy and true.”

It reminds me of a significant moment in Tolkien’s “The Return of the King” when, following the final battle, Sam sees Gandalf again and exclaims “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” What a thought that is! Yes, there is something horribly wrong with this world that is so wracked by sin. And yet we have the promise that, one day, all things will be made new. Evil will be defeated. The world will be changed. “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). This is a promise for us to embrace and hold on to!

Sadly, so often we allow ourselves to feel as though we are trapped in the here and now. We can be quick to put our faith in the political systems of this world, in our jobs and retirement planning, in status and position, in our relationships with family and friends. And when our focus is placed elsewhere, we very quickly lose sight of the hope, joy, and peace that can be ours through Jesus.

We must have a different viewpoint – an eternal perspective – and think bigger than our current circumstances. We may still grieve the pain of sin’s destructive impact today, but we can delight in the promise of God’s comfort, mercy, and grace. In the meantime, we must live out our brief and temporary lives in this current world for His glory, looking ahead with expectation, hope and wonder to what is yet to come – a better day when our grief and sadness will be no more. Our tears will be dried.

This posture naturally leads us to worship. In all circumstances, therefore, may we “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

The danger of jumping to wrong conclusions

How quick we can sometimes be to judge others and assume the worst of them.

In the Bible, there is a perfect example of this towards the end of the book of Joshua.

The land had been conquered and shared out among the tribes. The River Jordan was a dividing line between three of these tribes and the others. These three tribes constructed an enormous altar – an imposing monument that was visible for miles around. They built it with the intention that it would be a sign of solidarity with their fellow countrymen living on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, the other tribes did not view it that way – and, as a result, civil war was imminent.

It was a simple misunderstanding, and, following some intense discussions between the tribes, they avoided the risk of war. You can read the full story in Joshua 22!

But there is a warning and reminder here for us today.

Sometimes we may misconstrue the actions or words of others – even those of good friends, colleagues, or neighbors – and view them as malicious or threatening.

In such situations, we can so quickly leap headlong into battle without seeking clarity about the other party’s thoughts or motives. At these times, we fail to have the hard conversations that are needed to provide a path to mutual understanding and peaceful resolution.

Families, organizations, churches, communities, can be dragged into an unending cycle of conflict and division as a result. We treat friends and neighbors as enemies. Pain and hurt are an inevitable consequence.

We should each heed the words of Joshua:

“But be very careful…to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

Joshua 22:5

So, how do we need to “build bridges” with others on the “other side of the river” today?

What conversations – even difficult ones – need to be had?

When and how might we be “writing our own stories” by misinterpreting the intentions of others?

Take a step back from jumping into battle. Pray. Identify who the enemy is – and isn’t. And respond in a way that honors God – by walking in obedience to Him.

Lessons learned on the lake

(Based on Mark 6:45-52)

“Just whose idea was this anyway?”

John sat back for a moment, raising the oars out of the water as another large wave crashed against the boat.

“Just keep rowing,” snapped Peter. “Every time you stop for a breather, the wind pushes us back towards where we came from!”

“I still can’t figure out why Jesus didn’t come with us,” James piped up, pushing hair out of his eyes as the wind gusted around them. “I thought he was supposed to be coming to Bethsaida too?”

“Well, none of us are going to get to Bethsaida unless this stupid gale lets up,” Peter grumbled. He raised his voice again. “John, pull a bit harder, won’t you? We’re going absolutely nowhere with your pitiful rowing! I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of this lake, in the pitch black all night, you know!”

“You couldn’t do any better,” John fired back, a look of thunder on his face.

Nobody spoke for a while as they strained to keep their boat moving towards their destination, fighting their tiredness, yet with their heads full of all that had happened the previous day. They still couldn’t quite comprehend it all. There had been no food available to feed the crowd – well, apart from those few loaves and fishes, that is. And yet, after Jesus had got them organized and blessed that young boy’s picnic, everyone – yes, more than five thousand of them – had eaten. Not only that, but everyone had also been full, and there had even been enough left over to feed a small army. What did it all mean?

The first glimmers of dawn appeared. It had been a long night. And still the wind buffeted their boat.

“What is that?” James’ voice was tense, urgent. They looked out across the lake towards where he was pointing. Fear gripped each of them immediately. Someone – or something – was moving across the surface of the water in their direction. Andrew clutched the edge of the boat. “I think it’s a ghost,” he whispered, his eyes wide with terror.

“Keep rowing”, Peter shouted. “Come on! Quickly!” By now, they could make out the silhouette of a person – and it was walking on the water. Was it going to pass by them, or would it come straight for them? With wails and shouts of distress, the disciples tried to maneuver the boat away from the approaching figure.

Then, above the howling of the wind, it called out to them.

“Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

A mixture of relief and bewilderment surged through each of them. They knew that voice. It was Jesus! But…how?

Before they knew it, he had climbed into the boat. The wind died down immediately. The surface of the lake immediately became still. And so did their hearts.

As they edged closer towards Bethsaida, Jesus explained a little more to them. After sending them out on the lake, and dismissing the crowd, he had found a quiet place on the mountainside to pray. He had been praying for them, of course. As he prayed, he had seen their struggle on the lake as they battled the elements. He hadn’t come out to them immediately. But he was with them now. And they still had so much more to learn…

Don’t we all?

Like those disciples, we can miss so much. And yet, we can be encouraged by the reality that Jesus prays for us.

His desire is that we should grow in our relationship with him, and that, as we face storms in our own lives, we would not be blown off course.

He sees our struggles. He understands what we are facing. He has compassion for us.

And he intervenes at the right time – and, although this may not be immediate, there is always purpose in his timing.

We must take some responsibility too, though.

We must be ready to encounter him in unexpected ways and in unexpected places, just as the disciples did that night.

We must call out and invite him into the struggles, mess, and brokenness of our lives. Only he can bring order and peace.

As we do so, we can be confident that his words to those disciples are also for us:

“Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Treasure in Jars of Clay

Is there a time when you have felt completely inadequate for a task you were called to do?

I have. As I look back at times in my life when I have taken on a new role or new responsibilities, a sense of inadequacy has often overwhelmed me.

After all, I want to do a flawless job. I want to be the perfect team member. I want to get everything right.

And yet, I have a nagging dread of failure. Fear of letting people down. Of getting things wrong. Wondering if I will be “good enough”.

One time I expressed these feelings to a friend. His response was simple:

“You are inadequate”.

Nice. Thanks so much.

Then he reminded me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 –

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (v7).

I have been reflecting on this verse again during the last few days. What a great reminder this is to all of us that:

  • We are fragile. So often we can feel hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, as Paul describes in verses 8-9. We sometimes think of Paul as a “super-Christian”. After all, he endured shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments, persecution, snakes, and sicknesses. Yet Paul pictures himself as like a simple, frail jar of clay.
  • We are certainly not perfect, either. Clay jars are the cheapest, commonest vessels used to hold water. Jars of clay are not flawless, and definitely not beautiful!

Yet – and this is amazing…

  • We carry a wonderful treasure of great value. This treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the glory of God to the world. It is an amazing, beautiful treasure that is incomparable to anything else.  And we have the privilege of sharing the riches of this treasure wherever we go.
  • This treasure – God’s surpassing power – transforms us. Because we have God’s power in us, our lives can bring profound glory to Him. We can walk in power, courage, and strength. We are not crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed (verses 8-9).

I don’t have what it takes. Nor do you. But God does. He displays His power through simple, weak, fragile, imperfect people like me and you. He lives in each of us who declare that He is Lord. He is enough. He is our adequacy.

Where is God when life is painful?

We live in an uncertain, volatile, and fragile world. Pain and suffering is rampant.

It may be caused by a pandemic that destroys the equilibrium of our daily living. Or an unexpected job loss. Perhaps betrayal by someone we had trusted. The sudden death of a loved one. Burnout. Or a broken relationship that devastates us.

Each one of us faces times in our lives when we are swept off balance, when hope seems to vanish in an instant, when heaviness and pain overwhelms us. And these times may cause us to cry out, “Where are you, God, in the midst of this?”

As I reflect on difficult and painful times in my life, I have learned some key lessons about God – and about myself.

Firstly, I have learned that God so often prepares us for the difficult circumstances that arise in our lives.

As we read through the Gospels, we see how Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was to come. He knew that the horror of witnessing His death would leave them bewildered, so he sought to explain in advance the purpose for the cross, the power of His resurrection, and the reality of their future calling. So often they simply didn’t “get it” at the time – but they later remembered His teaching and admonitions to them, and their faith and purpose was emboldened as a result.

Before one particularly painful situation began to unfold in my own life, I felt God clearly sharing some words of warning and encouragement to me. I wrote these in my journal, sensing they would be significant. Looking back on these words later gave me much encouragement, assurance, and hope. God knew the “avalanche” that was coming in my life – and, looking back, I can see how He was gracious enough to prepare me, even if I did not have the complete picture at the time of what was to come.

Secondly, we can be confident that God is present with us during the bleakest periods in our lives.

We often remember David for his exploits in battle, for his faith, and that he was described as a man after God’s heart. Yet life was not one long victory parade for David. Far from it. Instead at times we see him running from his enemies, hiding in caves, fearful for his life. We see the repercussions of his chaotic, sometimes unsavory, personal life. And yet – through the trials and failures that he faced, David recognized – and clung to – the reality of God’s presence: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

I have experienced how, in the darkest of hours, the presence, grace, and compassion of God can be palpable. The situation I’m facing may not have changed, yet somehow everything seems different when God’s presence is evident.

Thirdly, so often God graciously provides for us during difficult times.

The story of Elijah encourages me. What faith he showed on Mount Carmel to call down fire from heaven! And yet, within hours, Elijah is fearing for his life, cowering in a cave, despairing, and wishing for death. But I love how God responds to Elijah at that time when he is at his lowest ebb. He speaks to Elijah – not in a loud and dramatic way, but in a gentle whisper. He tenderly provides for Elijah’s needs, giving him food and water. And He nurtures Elijah back to health and service.

How I have seen God’s gracious provision, practically, emotionally, and spiritually, during the hard times. There was one occasion when the amount of money in our family’s bank account registered single digits. And yet, God generously provided for us, often in ways that were unexpected. God’s ways are sometimes vastly different, and He is full of surprises!

Fourthly, God may share new purpose with us as we recover from difficult times.

Back to the disciples. Peter is well known for his bravery and his big mouth! He is the first to declare Jesus as the Messiah – and not long afterwards, in his darkest moments, denies that he had even met him. Imagine how distraught Peter must have felt in those following hours as Jesus is crucified and buried. And yet, this is not the end of Peter’s story. Within weeks, he is forgiven, restored, and goes on to fulfill God’s purpose for him as one of the primary leaders in the early church.

Our struggles, our failures, those times when life is darkest, are not the end. As was the case with Elijah, with David, with Peter and the other disciples, God will so often:

  • Prepare us for hard times. Are we listening to His voice?
  • Be present with us through these times. Do we acknowledge His presence?
  • Provide for us during difficult times. Will we allow Him to do so?
  • Give renewed purpose to our lives. Will we trust Him fully?

What God has taught us in the past is the foundation for where we are today. And today, God is preparing us for tomorrow. We must be lifelong learners – storing up those lessons and experiences we have of God for the future. He never changes. He is for us. And, through the travails and struggles of life, His plans for us are good – full of promise and hope!

Finding rest

Do not fret over those wrongs done to you by others. Let go of that lingering anger and resentment. Release your pain and hurt to the Holy One, for you can fully trust Him. True safety, and healing, is found in His presence.

Choose to do what is right. Delight yourself in the Lord, and seek His ways. Pour out your heart to Him – and have assurance that His plans for you are good, full of purpose and hope!

So, take the time to be still. Wait patiently. Watch as the Lord unveils His will for your life. And, in the beauty and peace of His presence, you will find rest for your soul.

(Inspired by Psalm 37)

Pray for Lebanon as disaster looms

The beautiful country of Lebanon was home for twelve years. It was where my wife, Mel, and I met, and where our two children spent their formative years. It is a country that we love deeply, where we continue to have wonderful friends, and a place that we still feel a strong attachment to. Little more than a year ago we visited again as a family, enjoying the magnificence of Lebanon’s historic landmarks, basking in the beauty of the countryside and coastline, and savoring again the amazing smells and tastes of a Lebanese mezze.

The people of Lebanon have never had it easy, though. The long and bloody civil war may have ended in 1990, yet the ugly memories of its horrors continue to linger. When I first arrived in Lebanon, in the mid-1990’s, there were still very few buildings that weren’t pockmarked with bullets and shrapnel, and many people faced a battle to survive as the country struggled to pull itself back to its feet. Over the past 30 years, an air of uncertainty has continued to hang over this nation. Conflict and tension with its neighbors, festering internal divisions, assassinations, bombings, exploitation, a faltering economy, and a huge influx of refugees have all combined to create an ongoing sense of unease and insecurity.

And today, Lebanon is in the midst of another devastating crisis.

Decades of mismanagement, corruption and overspending have left Lebanon on the brink of an economic implosion as the value of the currency plummets, prices soar, food shortages grow, lawlessness increases, and whole communities spiral downwards into poverty, hopelessness, and despair. With the crisis accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment has rocketed – and there are forecasts that widespread famine may be on the horizon. The future looks bleak. It is heartbreaking to witness.

There are many Christian ministries and churches in Lebanon that are doing all they can to respond to the growing needs. In a country that has been plunged into darkness due to a lack of electricity, these ministries are determined to shine the light of Christ in the midst of the misery and desperation that is enveloping this nation.

One of these amazing ministries is Dar El Awlad, a place where we lived and served for many years, and where we continue to have good friends. Dar El Awlad has served orphans and vulnerable children in Lebanon for more than 70 years – including throughout the civil war – and today provides vital residential care to those that have nowhere else to go, a quality education to vulnerable and at-risk kids from the community – including numerous refugees – and practical help, hope, and the good news of Jesus to poverty-stricken, fearful families.

Would you join Mel and I in praying for the critical work taking place at Dar El Awlad? Friends there have requested prayer that they would:

  • Keep their eyes on Jesus at this time and be faithful to the work that He has called the ministry to in the midst of such chaos, uncertainty, and fear.
  • Genuinely trust in the Lord to provide for the needs of the children and staff, and that they would see and experience His continued faithfulness.
  • Have clarity for the ministry of Dar El Awlad, identifying what must stay, what must go, what needs to change or be adapted because of the rapidly growing crisis facing needy children in Lebanon today.

Pray also for the church and other Christian ministries serving in Lebanon at this time. Pray that the country’s leaders would put the needs of its people ahead of their own interests. And pray that hope would rise again across this beautiful land.

For more information check out the following links:

Seek Justice

This world is not how God intended it to be.

As we look around us, it won’t take long before we see the brokenness, the long-standing systemic injustice, abuse, and suffering that exists.

Any form of injustice is abhorrent to God. In fact, justice is reflected in God’s very character. He is holy and loving. He created every person, everywhere, in His image. His grace is equally available to each one of us, and we are all equally precious in His sight. And He detests the injustices that wreak havoc on the world today: the racial inequalities manifested in the brutal deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others; the misery of those that are trapped in poverty, slavery and despair across the globe; the endless abuse, violence, and suffering of the innocent and vulnerable.

God’s heart is seen through his constant call throughout Scripture to “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17), “show mercy and compassion” (Zechariah 7:9), and “set the oppressed free” (Isaiah 58:6). In the gospels, we see how Jesus unequivocally contradicts the social inequalities of the day as he demonstrates concern and kindness for the sick, the defenseless, the outcasts.

Scripture is emphatic: our worship, our meetings, our busyness in church life is worthless, even offensive, to God if we have no concern or make no practical efforts to care for the persecuted and weak. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Proverbs 14:31). Our failure to stand up against injustice is an ugly affront to Him. Hate, violence, race-based oppression, and other forms of injustice go against everything we believe as followers of Jesus. If we have truly grasped in our hearts the meaning of God’s grace, we will be compelled to seek justice for others. No excuses.

Yet the pursuit of justice can be far from easy. It can require awkward and uncomfortable conversations. And it can feel incredibly complicated.

Where do we even start?

Here are some initial thoughts. We must:

  1. Acknowledge the injustice that exists. We must recognize that people are hurting as a result of the profound brokenness in this world.
  2. Resist the urge to deny or dismiss the issues, or defend “the way things are”. As we accept the depth of injustice around us, it can seem overwhelming. Yet, instead of giving up, we must move to a place where we feel convicted to respond.
  3. Consider what first steps we must take personally. This may start by simply listening with humility to others who have experienced injustice. We must endeavor to build relationships, to learn, reflect honestly, and identify those “blind spots” that we all have as a result of our own backgrounds, pride, and prejudices. Be quick to listen, and slow to speak.
  4. Engage with our churches and organizations as they shape their responses. We simply cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. We must lean in, reflect on our values, determine how we must respond, and challenge opposition with thoughtfulness and grace.
  5. Allow our hearts to be changed. We must cry out in prayer and lament for the injustices in today’s world. We must repent as we confront the hostility, apathy, and injustices in our own hearts, our own churches, and our own nations. We must commit to stand with those who are oppressed and grieving with humility, empathy, and biblical wisdom.
  6. Be prepared for the cost. The pursuit of justice takes time and resources. It exerts an emotional toll. It may damage relationships that are dear to us. Churches may lose members as they step into areas of discomfort. Nonprofits may lose supporters and funds. Justice requires sacrifice.
  7. Keep the end in mind. God is reconciling all things to Himself. He is bringing all things in heaven and earth together in Christ. He promises a new age in which brokenness and injustice is overcome on every level. Until this is complete, we are called, as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), to move towards the darkness and do the work of justice in communion with Him.

It is in the way we love and value others that the true condition of our own hearts is revealed. More than anything, may we fully live out the command of Jesus to “Love one another…by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

May we be people that stand up, step up, speak up, and seek justice for those who need it.

Good leaders ask great questions!

One important leadership skill I have learned is asking questions. This also involves developing the key skills of listening, evaluating, responding – and then possibly asking even more questions! In his book “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”, John Maxwell says: “If you lead a team, start asking questions and really listening. Start valuing the contributions of your teammates ahead of your own. And remember that when the best idea wins, so does the entire team.”

There are many valuable questions that I have learned to ask while leading teams around the world. These include questions that gather vital information; questions that demonstrate my concern for others; questions that gather people’s ideas and suggestions for our work; and questions that lead to further discussion about decisions to be made.

Six questions that I am intentional about asking to members of my team are:

1. “What is the biggest challenge you face right now?”

It is important that, as leaders, we understand the struggles people are encountering – whether in their work or their personal lives. The responses I receive help me determine whether there are issues that I must investigate further, if I need to make changes to a proposed course of action, or if my team member has an adequate level of support.

2. “What do you need from me this week?”

This is often a follow-up question to the first one. People want to feel that help and backing is available if needed. (But remember not to ask this question if you have no way of delivering the extra support if it is requested!)

3. “Can you help me understand…?”

It is easy to charge into a meeting like a bull in a china shop when a project isn’t working well, if a mistake has been made, or when a situation has gone horribly wrong. However, this approach can be accusatory and degrading to the other person when, visibly red-faced and seething, you lob an “I have no idea what you were thinking” grenade into your “conversation” as the opening exchange. I’ve tried that approach. And I don’t recommend it.

Far better is to ask the person concerned for their version of events. I have found that a helpful way to do this is by opening my conversation with the three words “Help me understand”. It is always important to hear the other person’s perspective before any decisions are made – and even if that decision is ultimately a difficult one, at least it paves the way for you to treat them with respect and dignity.

4. “What do you think…?”

If there is one thing that I have learnt as a leader it is that other people’s ideas are often far better than my own!

That’s why it is important for me to tap into the rich experiences and ideas that my team has.

“What do you think of this strategy?”

“What do you think our response should be to this challenge?”

“What do you think we can do to improve this proposal?”

Ask the “What do you think?” question regularly, engage people in your decision-making, learn from them, and reap the rewards for your organization!

5. “What questions do you have for me?”

A lack of clarity is one of the main reasons for people becoming frustrated and disengaged. To counter this, a leader must be open to receive questions from others, and to actively invite them. This can be at a one-to-one level, in a small group, or as a whole team discussion. Never underestimate the value of asking this question. Ask it frequently and be willing to answer each question honestly and with as much information as you are in a position to give!

6. “How can I pray for you?”

As leaders we must have a genuine concern for those that we lead. People must feel that we value and care for them – this is essential in building all-important trust. Ask this question often, one-on-one, with each team member. Listen carefully to what you hear. Follow up with them again. And pray – really pray – that God would help your colleague as they go through difficult times, whether at work or in their families.

Start asking questions and really listening. Your whole team, and your organization, will benefit as a result!

What other questions should we be asking to members of our teams?

God sets the lonely in families

“God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).

Orphanages and children’s homes are not the solution for the world’s orphan crisis.

On the surface, this may appear to be an odd statement coming from someone who has, for a quarter of a century, worked with organizations that have run children’s homes for orphans and vulnerable children in countries across the world. But I believe it is true.

Orphanages and residential homes are getting a bad press – and sometimes for good reason. A couple of months ago, at least 15 children were killed in a fire at an orphanage in Haiti. Other nightmare stories abound of the abuse and mistreatment of children, of poor standards of care, and of children being enrolled despite having families that can care for them.

Recent studies have also clearly shown that, in general, children thrive to a far greater degree in a secure, permanent family setting. This has created a growing consensus that, whenever possible, children belong in families – with their birth family if that is feasible, or in another healthy, long-term family setting, such as foster care.

As a result, many organizations, churches and governments around the world are now rethinking and adapting their approach to orphan care. This shift in approach is certainly one that I have championed over the past few years while working with the leaders of programs working with vulnerable children around the world.

Making a widespread global shift from the traditional approach of caring for orphans and vulnerable children in orphanages and residential care to family-based care will take time. It will require a significant change in mindset, the pursuit of excellence in family reunification and foster care, and the willingness of Christian organizations and churches that are engaged in orphan care to collaborate effectively and open-handedly in sharing their successes, failures, experiences, and expertise. This is a task we must be committed to pursuing relentlessly.

At the same time, we must recognize that there is still a place in the orphan care landscape for high-quality small group homes in certain circumstances. For example, children who are rescued from highly traumatic situations, such as abuse, trafficking, or street life, need intensive counseling and psychological care. Living with their own family is often not an option, and they are not able to function in a healthy manner in a foster family setting until they have received the specialized care and support that they need. Even in such cases, however, residential care must not be treated as a long-term “destination” for the child; instead it should be one step on their personal journey to healing and the opportunity to grow up in a permanent family.

I was recently asked by a friend about whether his church should still be supporting a children’s home in an overseas location. My advice was that his church “do their homework” and ask some searching questions before supporting, financially or otherwise, a residential children’s home. Of critical importance is determining (i) that new children enrolled in the home have no other viable option at the current time; (ii) whether children in the home had living relatives who could be caring for them with appropriate support; and (iii) how the home was making a priority of reunifying children with families whenever possible. We must have confidence that our support for orphan care programs is impacting positively the lives of these children rather than perpetuating an undesirable and unhealthy model of care.

The needs and challenges facing us are huge. Yet the opportunities are incredibly exciting. Christians have, for centuries, been at the forefront of caring for orphans and vulnerable children. This must continue. We must commit to joining one another on this journey as we seek the very best for these precious children – and, as is God’s design, placing them in healthy “forever families.”