Mercy Childcare Video

This is Angel, whom I've known for nearly six years now. Angel was also rescued by MCCM. She is now studying to help communities fight poverty and its effects on children. You go, Angel! I'm so proud of her.

This is Angel, whom I’ve known for nearly six years now. Angel was also rescued by MCCM. She is now studying to help communities fight poverty and its effects on children. You go, Angel! I’m so proud of her.

I have written much about Mercy Childcare Ministries (MCCM) here on my blog. MCCM rescued our son, Patrick, and worked with us as we adopted him. Dave and I and our oldest child, Emily, along with a team of 15 other people, visited MCCM this past July and had a wonderful, God-blessed time there.

The director of MCCM, Wilfred Rugumba, just posted a link to a video about MCCM, and I wanted to pass it on.

Thanks for reading,

Jen

Shopping advice? From me?

No one—and I mean no one—comes to me for Christmas shopping advice.

I’m not a good shopper at any time of the year. As my husband and older daughter say, “You start grumpy and just get worse.” They generally refuse to go with me—especially if they know the stores will be crowded.

Despite this, though, I’m actually going to share some shopping tips in this blog entry.

If you like the idea of giving gifts that give back, then you might be interested in some of these very cool businesses and nonprofits that allow you to do just that. Giving these items won’t help you to buy more with less money, but you’ll know that every purchase enables an organization to do more for someone who desperately needs hope.

IF YOU’RE SHOPPING FOR PRETEENS/TEENS

Check out www.mudlove.com. This company, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets and necklaces. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 8, 12, 13, and 15) ALL love them.

www.entertheventure.com doesn’t have a whole lot of items for sale, but I love the heart behind this small nonprofit, which was started by some young friends of ours. They have African-made bracelets and necklaces made out of rolled paper. If you haven’t seen these, don’t think, “Paper? Tacky.” They’re NOT. Plus, each one purchased helps support two children’s homes in Africa: Jerusalem Children’s ministry and Springs of Hope.

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

www.handandcloth.com sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work!

TWO OTHERS FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit www.warinternational.org. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

www.stoptraffickfashion.com has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one near me in Glen Ellyn, IL). You can find a shop locater on the website.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories at www.landofathousandhills.com.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to  www.worldvision.org or www.compassion.com and look under “ways to give.” The gift catalog has items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish.

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear your ideas.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

points of the compass

This is an image I downloaded from the Voice of the Martyrs website (with their permission). The man on the left is Christian Bounchan Kanthavong, who spent 13 years and eight months in prison in Laos for his faith. On the right is the actor who portrays him in a video made by VOM that tells his story.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. If you want to read more about the persecuted church, I suggest the Voice of the Martyrs website (www.persecution.com). Along with great resources and a regularly published newsletter,the VOM website allows you to sign up for weekly prayer updates that will help you to pray specifically (I don’t know about you, but my generalized prayers don’t pack a lot of oomph). VOM also has a really cool letter-writing opportunity. If you go to http://www.prisoneralert.com, you can pick an imprisoned fellow believer and choose phrases to create a letter to encourage that person. The site translates the phrases, you print them, and then you can send the letter to the address the site provides.

Another website is http://www.opendoorsusa.org, and http://www.persecutedchurch.org has an even fuller list of organizations (and their websites) that support the persecuted church.

This morning in church we read Revelations 7:9-11: “…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God  and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’[anor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b] ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]

Earlier this week I ran across a hymn by John Oxenham (1852-1941) that reminded me of the incredible family connection we have with believers in Christ all across the earth. I’m sharing it here:

IN CHRIST THERE IS NO EAST OR WEST

In Christ there is no east or west,

In Him no south or north;

But one great fellowship of love

Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere

Their high communion find;

His service is the golden cord

Close binding all mankind.

Join hands, then brothers of the faith,

Whate’er your race may be.

Who serves my Father as a son

Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both east and west,

In Him meet south and north;

All Christly souls are one in Him

Throughout the whole wide earth.

Great numbers of the least

Joseph Stalin reportedly said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” and there’s a lot of truth to that statement. In the last week I’ve been reminded of a lot of numbers. I’m going to spout a few of them at you in the next couple of paragraphs but please know that the numbers are not the focus.

On Saturday I attended a training seminar at our local World Relief center (http://worldrelief.org/). Did you know there are 43.7 MILLION refugees in the world? Eighty percent of them are women and children.

On the radio last week I listened to an interview with Kathi Macias, an author who has written a fiction series on sex slave trafficking around the globe. More than 27 million slaves live in our world now. Two million of them are children exploited in the sex slave trade. This trade touches nearly every single country in the world and has a very real presence in the United States—not just in cities but in small towns as well (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/corban-addison/modern-slavery_b_1214371.html) (http://kathimacias.com/kathis-books/).

On Saturday night—and again on Sunday—I spent time with Wilfred Rugumba, who is very special to our family. Wilfred is the director of the orphanage where Patrick, our youngest, lived before becoming an Underwood (http://www.mercychildcare.org/). Wilfred reminded me that there are between 143 and 210 million orphans in the world. The number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is greater than the total number of children in Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Canada, and Sweden.

Those are overwhelming statistics! Obviously they overlap—a lot. Many of those refugees are also orphans. Many orphans are the ones abducted into the slave trade. But regardless of how you slice and dice it, it adds up to a lot of people. A lot of hurting people.

Sometimes I can forget these numbers. I can go for a few days, a week, maybe two without actively remembering that every minute people are being abused, sold, orphaned, displaced, and widowed. There have been other times in my life, though, when I have felt paralyzed by the thought of the vicious evil being done in any given moment.

It is in those moments when I have been reminded that God NEVER forgets. I CAN forget. I can get wrapped up in my days that are filled with activity. But God never forgets. If He knows the number of hairs on my head, He certainly knows the numbers of those being abused and exploited. He knows exactly how many stomachs are hungry. He knows how many children are wailing or dazed with grief over dead parents. And they are not just numbers to Him. They are faces, hearts, and souls to Him! And He is present in their pain. He is there when the young girl or boy is sold for sex. He is there when the widow watches her child grow listless and blank-eyed because hunger has dulled everything. He sees every village that is marauded for political or ethnic reasons.

He was there during the Armenian massacres, and there during the Holocaust and there during the Rwandan and Cambodian and Bosnian genocides and others we don’t even know about. He is in Darfur today.

And He is not untouched.

My God, what a heart You must have! We cannot blame you for these atrocities—though we try. These are crimes we commit against each other, crimes we allow because we are too concerned with our own safety and status quo to be bothered. But You are bothered. I know that with our present-day, developed-world mentality, we tend to ask questions like, “How could a loving God judge our world? How could a loving God hold us to account when we cannot see Him?” But even if God did not hold us guilty for how we have forgotten and disrespected HIM, we would stand condemned for how we have disrespected and abused and ignored His image that is seen so clearly in the children of the world. In fact, some moments, when I read about atrocities done to children and defenseless women and oppressed people groups, I think, “How do you hold back, God? How do you keep from not just wiping us completely off the face of the earth?” Even with the Western, rights-focused bent that I must fight for the rest of my life, I am more amazed by His mercy in those moments than offended by His judgment.

Yet He has not wiped out. He has given grace. He continues to love His Western, privileged church even when we fail miserably at being His hands and feet to the oppressed. He allows me to approach Him daily, hourly with my comparatively small frustrations and complaints.

I am amazed by this God. I am humbled by this God.

And I pray that these two attitudes—amazement and humility—will lead my heart and my hands and my feet into becoming more and more like His.

“blankets handmade by women. women handmade by God.”

“Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God” is a phrase used by HandandCloth.org to describe the kantha blankets they sell and the  Bengali women who make them. These women would otherwise be in very at-risk environments but have been rescued and given the opportunity to make a healthy living, hear the Gospel, and grow in faith in Christ.

These are some of the prayer cards that Sarah gave me today. Twenty-six women work at Basha (the company in Bangladesh), and one is featured on each card with her prayer requests.

I had the privilege today of hearing Sarah Aulie, a Wheaton Academy alum, describe this work and how she came to be doing it–a wonderful journey that seemed winding at the time but now, on looking back, was extremely purposeful. She showed us one of the beautiful kantha blankets she sells and shared the stories of four of the women who make them at their business in Bangladesh. If you would like to learn more about this wonderful ministry (or “business as mission,” as Sarah describes it) that offers “work and Word,” “livelihood and Life,” visit the web site at http://www.handandcloth.org. And if you want to get a jumpstart on Christmas presents, the blankets are each one of a kind and beautiful.