Saturday, February 28, 2009

SO WHAT NOW?
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Many friends I know have watched the SAM & ESTHER video since I posted it here and at facebook and some of them have been deeply moved. They've been so deeply moved that they have asked me what they can do to help children like Sam, Esther, and Jane.
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First off, I am so encouraged that they are asking what they can do. Crying and feeling intense sympathy can be the beginning for change, but it mustn't stop there. The Bible over and over again tells us that love is demonstrated by action and shown most clearly by the love the Father had for us that He sent His precious only begotten Son Jesus to a world filled with danger, strife, and poverty to not only show us the Way, but then to give the ultimate sacrifice by His death on the cross. That death and then His subsequent resurrection, makes it possible for all of us to be delivered from spiritual poverty into a life filled with immeasureable riches both here on this earth and in the eternal life to come.
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He set the example for us.
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Those of us who call ourselves Christians are literally calling ourselves "little Christs".
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And as followers of Jesus, people who are supposed to be HIS representation here on earth, then it is just logical that we would be willing to give up our riches & comforts in order to live a life of sacrifice so that others will know His love and have the opportunity abundant living here and beyond.
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But this truly flies in the face of what most of us have grown up knowing here in the affluency of America.
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I've been a Christian nearly my whole life. I personally decided that I needed Jesus in my life as a child. Over the years, I've stumbled and grown lukewarm at times, but I never turned my back on Him. I've been your stereotypical "good girl" Christian for the most part. I've tried to basically follow the ways of God and help do a good deed every now and again as I could. I've even been a fairly faithful tither most of my adult life. Rarely have my husband and I not given a tenth of our income to the church and we often gave special offerings over and above that for missions, parachurch organizations, etc. But to be honest, most of the time, we were given out of our abundance and usually I was "doing my good deeds" in areas that were comfortable for me. Rarely did I do anything that required sacrifice on my part.
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But as many of you know, that changed two years ago. God started opening up our eyes to the fact that He'd let us have a time of rest and healing spiritually, but it was time to get back the spiritual fight...it was time to leave our comfort zone and seek out those who needed us. God used the AMAZING GRACE movie and the books QUAKER SUMMER and IRRESISTIBLE REVOLUTION in particular.
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And, as anyone who has spent any time around me recently or visited my blog before knows, last year God made the way for me to go to Swaziland, Africa, with my two daughters.
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I was already aware of the fact that God wanted something different from our lives, that just confirmed it in no uncertain terms. In fact, didn't just confirm He wanted something different, it totally turned my life upside down.
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When you look into the faces of scores and scores of children and know the dire poverty, perverted exploitation, horrible diseases, violent abuse, and gnawing hunger that they've faced, it messes with you. Basically, you've got to just force yourself to turn to stone, or you have to act.
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And act was what I had to do.
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I came back and I knew that I couldn't keep on just blithely living life for me and my family. I knew that God wanted me to do what I could for those precious little ones. After all, He states clearly in James that pure religion that HE finds acceptable is that we take care of the orphans and widows. And Jesus made it abundantly obvious that if we don't provide food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, water for the thirsty, help for the sick, comfort for the imprisoned, then we are also NOT doing those things for Him.
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How could I say "no"?
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My love for Him and my love for those precious Swazi children compelled me to change.
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But how? And what?
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It all seemed so overwhelming.
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There are millions of children in the world who need help. And in Swaziland alone, there are hundreds of thousands of children whose lives are being destroyed by HIV/AIDS and poverty. What could just little ole me do in the face of so much need?
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Well Tom Davis of Children's HopeChest, who led our trip to Swaziland, helped me see some really practical steps to take.
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His organization presented a way of changing the lives of these precious ones called 5 FOR FIFTY.
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5 FOR FIFTY says that there are 5 things that every one of us can do to help the 50 million people in our world suffering from HIV/AIDS. Here's how it works:
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*Give 5 minutes a day to pray for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
*Give 5 hours a week to fast for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
*Give 5 dollars a month to the Five for 50 Fund and support worthy causes.
*Give 5 days a year to travel overseas and help alleviate poverty and suffering.
*Give 5 people an opportunity to join you on your journey. Tell them about how they can be a part of ministering to the "least of these".
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So after praying and thinking and discussing this with my family, we started taking some easy, practical steps to get involved more.
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First, we take time every day to pray for Swaziland and the orphans, widows, Christians, missionaries, and leaders of that country. Each morning during family devotion time, we pray for them. Then through out the day, as I read about a prayer need on a blog or through facebook, I stop right then to pray for them. And over time, I have found myself praying more and more. I'll be taking a shower and I'll be reminded of how blessed I am to have clean, warm water and I'll take the time to say a quick prayer that the orphans in Swaziland will have plenty of clean water. Or if I get sick and I'm crying out to God to please take away the pain, I'll be reminded of how many of them are in pain and I'll cry out to God on their behalf as well. I find that the more I pray, the more I pray.

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Second, my two oldest daughters and I decided to fast one lunch a week. We figured the cost that would save our family and then made the commitment to donate that amount of money to Children's HopeChest each month. For us, that means we give $20 since we are homeschoolers and our lunches primarily consist of soup and sandwich type meals. By the way, $20 can go a long, long way in Swaziland. In fact, $20 will buy lunch for 400 kids! That's a great return on an investment.
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In fact, 5 FOR FIFTY gives these figures:
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$5 a month can:
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  • Feed an orphan for a month (100 meals)
  • Educate one orphan for a year
  • Buy new clothes for one orphan

So you can see how almost ANYONE can afford to give an amount of money that will make a HUGE difference in the life of an extremely impoverished child. And it takes only some simple math to figure that if $5 will feed 1 orphan for a month, how much more $15 or $30 or even $100 will feed.
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Up to now, I've been pretty okay with the $20 a month plus a bit extra here and there that I'd give. But after doing this for a year, I've decided it's not enough and I've begun to ask God to show me ways that I can give more. It's been really cool in just the last two weeks to already see Him making the way. In a couple of instances, we've had money brought into our household on top of our regular income. That's made it possible for us to give more. But what He's doing now, is calling me to make further sacrifices so I can give more and He's also motivating me to pray and seek ways of making money that I can pour into ministries in Africa.

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There are times when God just miraculously provides the money (like when a teenager I know asked God to please give her enough money to cover a financial need she had plus money to help children in need and a man at work gave her a $700 tip and said God told him to give it to her) and there are other times when He works by showing us what we need to do to be the provider of the finances.

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There are some of you who can financially afford to write good-sized checks on a regular basis. But for the majority of us, especially with the economy hitting many families hard, we just don't have the extra money. So it boils down to this. We just see these children dying from hunger and diseases that could be prevented or treated by simple medical care and living lives in spiritual darkness OR we determine we're going to do all that God would have us do to make a difference in their lives.


For some of us this will mean sacrifice. It will mean doing without...living more simply...so that others can simply live. For some of us it will mean asking God to give us creative ways of raising money. And then for others, it'll be mean doing both. Giving up and creating more.


So, you're ready to sacrifice and use what you save to help others? Need some ideas? Try these:

  • One way is to participate in the 4o DAYS OF WATER I blogged about earlier this week. I basically drink only water and give the money I would have spent on soda, sweet tea, etc. towards helping people in Africa get clean water. How simple is that?

  • Eat low-cost beans & rice type meals a couple of times a week and give the money you're saving to a ministry that feeds hungry children.

  • When someone asks you what you want for Christmas or your birthday, ask them to make a financial gift in your honor.

  • Instead of taking that expensive vacation to DisneyWorld or Vegas, go on a missions trip.


  • Cut off your cable subscription and use that money to sponsor a child monthly paying for their food and education.

  • Put on a sweater, slip on houseshoes, and lower the temperature on your heater. Use the money save on your power bill to buy coats for poor children & blankets for homeless folks.

  • Brown bag your lunch every day, or at least some days, instead of eating out and use that money to underwrite a ministry that is helping families grow their own food and raise their own animals.

  • Live with the ugly carpet and "out of style" furniture and use the money you'd have spent refurbishing to build homes for families living in cardboard and sheet metal shacks.

  • Cut your own hair and quit buying expensive cosmetics and donate the money saved to organizations that minister to girls rescued from prostitution and slavery.

  • Walk , ride your bike, or use mass transit when going to work or running errands so you can donate the saved gas money to an organization that feeds kids who walk miles for the only food they will eat that day.

  • Don't buy that magazine at the check out stand and instead give that $5 to pay for an orphan's schooling for one month.

  • Find ways to cut your grocery bill. Buy your bread at the bakery outlet. Use old fashioned oats instead of instant, flavored oatmeal. Buy generic items. Eat less meat. Eat more lentils and beans. Buy what's on sale, not what you're craving. Use the money saved to donate money to an inner-city soup kitchen or an organization that ships food to impoverished nations to feed orphans.

  • Quit paying the pricey gym fee and instead walk & exercise at home. Use the money you save to buy tennis shoes for kids who have no shoes.

  • Instead of buying that new bestseller, check it out from the library and donate the $15 or so dollars to an organization that teaches inner-city kids and parents how to read
  • Wear last year's Easter dress and bathing suit again this year and use the money you save to buy clothes for those wearing rags.
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And those are just a few simple ways that really can make a HUGE difference in the life of those in need without requiring you to spend any more money than you are already spending.

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But let's say you don't want to just give a little. You want to give a LOT but you don't have a lot to give.
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First of all, PRAY! Ask God if you're living a lifestyle that affords many areas to simplify in so you can give more. To be honest, most of us here in America have no clue how extravagant our lifestyle is compared to the rest of the world. The majority of us believe that as long as we're living within our means that we're living financially responsibly...not extravagantly. And that's true if you view all that you own as belonging to YOU. But if you view it as belonging to God and you are His steward, then that is a faulty belief. We are told to love others as we love ourself and to do to others as we want done unto us. So, if I was a widow in Swaziland dying from HIV/AIDS and my kids were starving and couldn't go to school from lack of funds and we lived in a falling apart mud hut, what would I want my Christian sister in America to do? If I, as a poor, dying widow, could look into the MacLellan home and see closets and bureaus full to overflowing plus cabinets and pantry shelves cram packed, what would I think? I would think that the MacLellans had plenty to share with me. And I'd be right. The problem is that I'm still selfish and still like my stuff.

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Which brings me to the next way I, and you, can help others. That is by generating and raising money to give. I've truly, truly been convicted by the amount of stuff we have. Way too much. My husband has been after me for years to declutter. But I like my stuff. I'm attached to it emotionally. It's my security blanket.
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But for the first time in my life, I'm finding myself wanting to let go. And it's because of my love of God and my love of His little ones. So I'm looking around my house and asking, what can I give away and what can I sell?

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So here are some ideas of ways that you can bring in more money for the cause of "the least of these":

  • Sell stuff you own. I'm in the process of gathering up nice, used clothing to sell at a consignment store. The money I make will be sent to ministries in Swaziland. I'm also going to ask my friends and family to give me nice clothes to sell. Maybe for you it's not clothes but pieces of jewelry, books, furniture, or sporting goods. Consignment stores, online auctions, and classified ads are all venues for making money.

  • Crafts. My two oldest daughters, along with some friends of our's, make jewelry. We use the money we make to help ministries and to raise money for missions trips. A girlfriend of mine made some homemade pillows for us to sell as well.

  • Garage sales. This goes along with the "sell stuff you own" but a huge rummage sale put on by a church, youth group, homeschool organization, or book club can raise a lot of money. And in the process, you can educate the people who attend concerning the ministry you are donating to.

  • Road blocks. Some places allow groups to solicit funds at busy intersections for causes. Our church youth group has raised hundreds of dollars in just a few hours doing this.

  • Donation jars. Put a jar for donations (clearly labeled with the "cause") by cash registers at stores.

  • Babysit or do other odd jobs.

  • Pick up cans along roads and ask others to donate their cans and turn them into recycling centers. You clean up the environment and make money.

  • Hold a walk-athon, rock-athon, etc.

  • Give lessons. Turn a skill you have into a way to earn extra money.

So now I've given you a lot of ideas. But it boils down to this. Ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to put in you a deep love and passion for the things He is passionate about. And then ask Him to help you change your world. You can't feed every starving child. You can't educate every illiterate breadwinner. You can't provide medicine for every mother with tuberculosis. You can't build a home for every homeless family. But you can do something. And if a whole lot of us are doing something, then a huge, wonderful amount can be done and this world can be changed.
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So what can I do now? What can you do now? A whole lot when your heart gets wrecked for good.


Here are some ministries that I've been involved with that will be very good stewards of your time and money:


But if you don't find one here that tugs at your heart, start searching. Pray and ask God to direct you to the one that you should pour your prayers, time, energy, and money into. You might just find that not only are you making the world a better place for "the least of these" but the world a better place for you as well. I can truly say that despite the pain and sorrow I often feel when I hear about the tragic stories, I'm also so very, very blessed and have an amazingly joy-filled life. I truly am never as happy as when I'm letting God's love flow through me as He provides for His precious little ones.

5 comments:

kristelle del rosario said...

I enjoy reading this post. Keep on doing a good deed, helping others and have a good heart always.
Do your best and God will do the rest! try this out...A Global Tribe, you can share everything that is good!

Elysa said...

Thank you for visiting Graceland and commenting, Kristelle. And I'll check out the site you mentioned.

Blessings to you,
Elysa

atingram said...

Your friend who does Righteousbuzz blog had given me your website. Wow, the Sam and Esther video absolutey broke us. We sat down with our kids on Friday to watch it and cried. I felt so convicted by the holy spirit and disgusted with my gluttony because I had just "devoured" a pizza by myself. We as family want to do more-God is asking us to surrender more, but yet we are so cauaght up in this comfortable American life and I have been asking God to help us obey. We have been simplifying our lives this last year and a half to start to try to make a difference in the lives of people in Swaziland and have taken steps, but I still know God wants to do so much more and strip us down so much more. Surrender and give up so much more. God has opened up a family missions trip (all 5 of us are going) for us to go with The Luke Commission to Swaziland this next summer on a short-term medical mission, so we are asking God to prepare us. Thanks so much for your blog and sharing your love, your heart and brokenness. Thanks for letting God use your journey to touch so many lives to make a difference. Blessings to your family and thanks so much for your blog.
Wendy

Elysa said...

That is all so incredibly wonderful, Wendy. I'm glad the video ministered to you and it ministers to ME to hear of your family's journey.

God definitely has us on it as well. I just have to pray for patience as I get antsy to GET OVER THERE! But I know God has us here and now for a reason. I can even see some of those good reasons. But I still long for that land.

Will this be your first time to go to Africa?

Going now to check out your blog.

Elysa

wilsonian said...

Wow, Elysa! What a thorough post. It would be impossible to read this and continue to pretend not to know about the issue or how to help. Yay you!