My Compassion Sunday Project

April 21, 2013 is a very special day, and not just because it’s my 35th birthday. ūüôā It’s also Compassion Sunday. On this special day, people in churches around the world share their stories and tell others about the joys that come with sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to host the event at my home church, but there is something I can do. I can be an advocate.

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How can you resist that face!?

My goal is to find a sponsor for one special little guy from El Salvador. His name is Lisandro, and he’s six years old. You can read all about him, and choose to be his sponsor, by visiting my Compassion Sunday Page.

If I get Lisandro and another child sponsored, I win a $50 gift for one of my own sponsored children. Talk about a win-win-win-win!

El Salvador (which means “Republic of the Savior”), which is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts, is both the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.¬†Approximately¬†5.75 million people currently call it home. It lies within the Pacific Ring of Fire and is often impacted by earthquakes and volcanic activity, both of which occurred last in 2005.

Severe weather (both droughts and heavy rainstorms) also impact the people and national¬†prosperity.¬†It currently has the third largest economy behind Costa Rica and Panama, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It also has a large crime problem, especially gang-related crimes and¬†juvenile¬†delinquency, and boasts the highest murder rate in the world. However, thanks to some successful¬†initiatives gang-related violence has been down over the last year or so.

According to The Encyclopedia of Nations, “The wealth in El Salvador is held by a small minority of the population who made their money from coffee and sugar and have now diversified into finance and commerce. Land reforms and, property redistribution in the 1980s improved the situation for many small farmers and peasants, but there is still a substantial divide between the rich and the poor. According to a report from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), El Salvador’s per capita income is the fifth lowest in the Western Hemisphere (when adjusted to reflect the cost of living).

The health-care system in El Salvador is in a state of disarray. Medical unions are resisting government moves toward privatization, and as a result strikes by hospital personnel have become common. Supplies of basic drugs and medical equipment are often inadequate. Hospital budgets are used up to pay salaries, with little left over for other costs.

The education system in El Salvador is weak. According to the USAID report published in 1998, less than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade, only 1 out of 3 complete the ninth grade, and only 1 out of 5 complete high school. The Ministry of Education has worked to improve the quality of schooling in El Salvador, and some of its efforts have met with success. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported in 2000 that programs designed to increase community participation in education at rural schools has increased student enrollment. The school day has been extended as well. Also, in 1995 a program was introduced integrating health care and public works agencies with education initiatives to ensure students had clean water, regular medical examinations, and nutritional monitoring.”

This is where we come in. We can help bridge the gap by sponsoring children in the rural areas of this country—those who qualify as “have nots” in their country. For $38 a month, just a couple of meals out for us here in the United States, someone can sponsor Lisandro and provide both him and his family with access to clean water, food, healthcare, education, and–most importantly–a place where he can learn about Jesus Christ. Compassion International is a top-notch group to work with. You have constant access to your records, and you receive letters from your child¬†regularly. So you know the money you’re giving is doing the greatest good possible. It’s an amazing feeling to know you’re making an impact in a child’s life, even if he or she is halfway around the world. We can do great good as God’s people!

Check out my Compassion Sunday page linked above if you’re interested in getting involved and visit the other Compassion bloggers’ pages to see if the children they’ve selected for this special project speak to your heart.

Eight Days and Counting

Okay, I’m not a procrastinator. I’m detail oriented. I have three calendars to keep track of work, home, and school. But somehow, I misread my account information over at charity:water. YIKES! I thought I had until a week before my birthday to raise the $1,000 I was hoping to donate, but¬†I actually only have a few days. Eight to be exact. So I need some help if I’m going to meet my goal!

The first thing you need to do is watch this:

Then you need to check into charity:water to see just how amazingly legit they are.

You can read about their mission.

You can learn about their 100% Model. Yes, all your money goes to building wells. All the overhead costs, salaries, and other little evils are covered by private donors.

You can even read their latest annual report. They have a four star rating AIP rating, which is pretty amazing.

The founder and CEO even has a great talk on YouTube if you have 40 minutes to spare.

Finally, you need to head on over to my donation page, which is here, and give whatever you can to help build a well in Tigray, Ethiopia. 

In about eighteen months, everyone who donates to my birthday project will get an email with GPS coordinates showing where the well was built as and photos from the construction project.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tigray is in the northernmost region of Ethiopia and is home to¬†4,316,988 people, only 54% of which have access to clean drinking water. According to the CSA, “31.6% of the inhabitants fall into the lowest wealth quintile; adult literacy for men is 67.5% and for women 33.7%; and the regional infant mortality rate¬†is 67 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which less than the nationwide average of 77; at least half of these deaths occurred¬†in the infants‚Äô first month of life.” You can see some gorgeous shots of the country and its people¬†here.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where the money goes, so much so that I wish I could raise the entire $1,000 by myself. But alas and alack, I am but one humble person who works for a non-profit¬†organization. ūüôā That means I need all the help I can get. $5 to $500–every bit of it makes a difference. As of right now, I’m just shy of the halfway mark.

I’d be happy to do something painful or embarrassing if I knew it would help. I’ll gladly take suggestions!

At Story’s End

As hard as it is to believe, April is almost upon us. That means the new and improved In Touch Magazine has hit homes! We have new departments, a new layout, look, and feel, and have gained eight pages in length. That means there is more room for Bible studies, articles, and photos! If you don’t already receive a free copy from us via mail each month, I encourage you to visit our website and register. If you prefer the electronic version, you can visit our homepage.

This one, I’m not going to lie to you, was downright painful to write. It went through several substantial revisions before arriving in the form you see before you. However, I can say that it was worth all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I had to go through because the version that came out ended up being much better than the first one I submitted. This proves two things to me that I’ve long believed but need to be reminded of time and time again. One, God is in control. It’s His talent I’m using on borrowed time, and if I ever begin to think it’s mine, He reminds me with a challenging piece like this. And two, as wonderful and rewarding as the writing process is, it will always be hard. But then again, if it were easy, I might not love it so much.

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Roads Go Ever On And On

In Isaiah 55:8, God reminds us, “For My thoughts are not¬†your thoughts, nor are¬†your ways My ways,” and He’s proven that to me time and time again. Back in 2004, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had no idea what kind of transformational¬†process the Lord was going to begin in me. Having this thorn in the flesh¬†brought me back to reality and compelled me to destroy the foundations of the empire I’d planned.

In 2007, I took a job teaching English at a Christian school, and while there, I started to get comfortable in my “Christian skin” as it were and began digging more deeply into what it means to be a born-again believer.

Fast forward to 2013. Today, I work for one of the most beloved and recognized pastors in the world, Dr. Charles Stanley—first as a copy/content editor and now as a member of the¬†In Touch¬†magazine staff. For many years, I dreamed of being a writer, and that’s exactly what I am today. Every day, I am¬†privileged¬†to work alongside some of the most amazing, godly people I’ve ever known. We perform many functions–everything from buffing a floor to editing a broadcast. But we share one goal, getting the good news of the gospel to as many people as possible through radio, television, web, and print.

Yes, a woman who, nine years ago, was a nominal Christian at best is now a part of an international ministry.

It should have been impossible, but God brought it to pass. Why? Because He enjoys drawing a perfectly straight line with a crooked instrument like me. I could never have guessed I would be as close to God as I am today or that He would allow me to use my talents in such a way. But that’s what He tells us to expect in His Word:¬†For I know the¬†plans¬†that I have for you,‚Äô declares the¬†Lord, ‚Äėplans¬†for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Every day, when I sit down to work, I marvel at what He’s done in my life.¬†I did nothing to earn this favor, and I am not worthy of it. I can never be.

But He doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, God blesses me beyond measure and teaches me more about His excellent greatness.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man¬†plans¬†his way, but the¬†Lord¬†directs his steps.” I know the truth of that statement better than most. God has used many people to influence my Christian walk, and He’s now using me to grow up others in the faith. A few weeks ago, I got this letter from a reader.¬†(If you click on the image, it should give you a larger version to read.)

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I’ve checked into this, and this person exists. He is indeed in prison for a host of crimes I don’t care to detail here. I can’t imagine what life must be like for him or what led him to such a desperate place. But God knew. The same heavenly Father who pulled me away from the trappings of the world did the same for him. God found him in one of the lowest, darkest,¬†loneliest¬†moments of his life and spoke to him through a 48-page, digest-sized magazine.

I often wonder about the journey that magazine took. I know how it was made of course, but when it was printed, how many hands at In Touch Ministries did it go through? How many people carried it with them or passed it on to some else before it finally found its way under that mattress? Did any of them know who it was meant for or what a difference it would make? There’s no way of knowing. One thing I do know, however, is that no one could orchestrate such an intricate journey except the Master.

That magazine lay in the cell where he would be placed, hidden where only he would find it, and opened precisely to the page he needed to read—a page I had written. (The article is here if you’d like to take a gander at it yourself.) The precision of it all is simply astonishing. There’s just no other word for it. It still boggles my mind when I try to think it through.

I’m willing to bet this man and I have little in common, but that didn’t matter to God. He made me walk through the darkest valley of my life to begin my own process of sanctification. Years later, He placed me in a position where my testimony could be shared with millions of people and helped me to write an article about physical illness. And He used those words to touch the heart of a man and pull him out of an entirely different sort of darkness.¬†According to the legal system, he was beyond help. But he wasn’t beyond God. The Lord met him where he was and spoke to him through an article written by a woman frightfully far from perfect and still searching for answers herself.

The word “humbled” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel every time I read this letter. It proves to me that God doesn’t make mistakes. I may feel like a cracked and crooked thing, but in His hand, I am a precise tool that helps to repair or shape another person. There is no telling how many people this man will impact where he’s been placed. His walk with God is just beginning, and that is a wonderful place to be. And I can’t wait to hear every page of his story when we meet in heaven.

Never doubt that the things you do and say make a difference or that God isn’t using you to impact someone else’s life. He loves surprising and delighting His children after all.

I’d love to hear your stories. Has God used someone to impact your life or directed you to bless another? Please tell me all about it in the comments section below!