Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Power of the Gospel in Child Sponsorship Recruitment

As you may know, I am very close to publishing a book. It is called "Go Into All The World" and it focuses on the work of Compassion International and my travels to visit 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries.

Normally when an author writes a book, to help promote it they might go on a speaking tour, do press conferences, TV and radio interviews or something similar. My situation is a little bit awkward, since I'm currently in the Philippines working in an orphanage, so none of that "publicity trail" stuff is really possible, at least immediately.

What I'm hoping to do is return to Australia at the end of March 2015, do some teaching and hopefully speak in a few churches, since Compassion's "target audience" is churches and Christians. Hint: If you think your church or Pastor might be interested, please tell them about me. I am from Victoria but it doesn't matter what state you're in. I'm completely relying on God to give me those opportunities and I look forward to what He has planned.

When I'm in 'fantasy land' I think about, if I was given the opportunity to speak in a church, what I would talk about. I have so many stories from my Compassion adventures and they range from ridiculously amazing to incredibly powerful, to mind-blowingly heartbreaking. What stories could I tell to motivate people to join me and many others in becoming child sponsors with Compassion?

Then in May this year I read a blog that completely changed my attitude and perspective. It is called "
The Power of the Gospel in Orphan Care Recruitment" by a guy named Jason Johnson. Jason is a man I admire greatly. He's a champion and advocate of orphan care, through fostering and adoption, and writes some extremely challenging stuff. Best of all he lives what he writes about.

So he wrote this blog, and as I was reading it I immediately thought "This applies to child sponsorship as well." So what I've done is adapt that particular blog, and replaced all references to 'orphan care' with 'child sponsorship.'


I often ask questions like these:
What is the best way to motivate people to get involved in Compassion sponsorship?
How do we recruit more sponsors?
Are there things we can do to get our church more on board?

All good questions that are hard to answer - or maybe not.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I can't help but believe the answer to these questions, and the many others like them, is not necessarily what we often assume it to be.

Counterintuitive Efforts

When we hear "recruiting efforts" we often think of strategic, coordinated programs to raise awareness and garner more involvement in our cause. When we think of mobilizing a church to get more on board we often assume a committee meeting is in order to plan a big event that will "hook" our people and redirect their interest and energy towards our particular mission. Generally speaking, our recruitment strategies and motivational efforts involve taking a concept which is external and foreign to someone (like Compassion sponsorship) and spending great amounts of time and energy to familiarize them with it in hopes that they internalize it as their own. 

Perhaps, though, our efforts are a bit counterintuitive. Maybe our inability to recruit and motivate enough people [and the ensuing frustration that forms as a result] is evidence that our tactics are fundamentally flawed. I believe that while good intentioned and rightly motivated, by and large our recruitment efforts could be done differently. Let me explain...

The Gospel From The Inside Out
Rather than beginning with something that is external and foreign, the Church has the incredible opportunity to lean into that which is already internal and familiar - namely, the Gospel. By and large the call of the Christian life is to externalize in real, vivid and tangible ways that which is already true and real and alive internally through Jesus. It's to ultimately bring to bear in the world around us that which Jesus has already accomplished in us.

The concepts of celebrating Christ internally and demonstrating Him externally are not mutually exclusive in Scripture. As a matter of fact, they seem to be one in the same. You could argue that any true celebration of the Gospel always manifests into a demonstration of it into the world around us, and likewise, our effective demonstration of the Gospel into the lives of others is but a signpost pointing to our authentic celebration of it in our own lives. The bottom line is this - you simply cannot celebrate the Gospel in you without demonstrating the Gospel through you, and vice versa

Reversing Our Recruitment
This is where our child sponsorship recruitments begin - not with the need "out there" but with the Gospel in us.
It rests upon the foundation of the work of Jesus on our behalf to rescue, redeem, restore, adopt and eternally care for us.
We were once isolated and orphaned from God - but Jesus.
We were once lonely and without hope - but Jesus.
We were once vulnerable and insecure - but Jesus.
We were once defined by brokenness and pain - but Jesus.
We were once without belonging - but Jesus.
His story of redemption in our lives was never meant to terminate on us, but rather spill over into an isolated, hopeless, vulnerable, broken and wandering world that desperately needs to hear and know as their own; the very story He has allowed to become ours.

In the efforts we put forth in recruiting, inspiring and mobilizing the Church to sponsor children we cannot abandon what is true for all of the Christian life - our work externally in this world is fueled by His work internally in us - child sponsorship not withstanding.  

Reframing The Questions We Ask
The questions we ask move from things like
Why aren't people getting more involved? and
What do we need to do to fix that?

What is it about the Gospel our people are not grasping? and
What do we need to do to ensure they are understanding it more deeply?

These are two entirely different questions because they begin from two entirely different points of origin - the first from why people aren't doing more, the second from why people aren't celebrating more. Again, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I'm convinced the second question is the better question, and that when we answer it well we will have inevitably begun to answer the first one along with it.

Kindling For A Gospel Fire
I'm all for sharing the compelling stories of sponsored children or the experiences of young adults who have graduated and are now working. It is absolutely and unquestionably powerful to see pictures of children waiting to be sponsored. It is vitally important to hear the personal testimonies of people who have very real, deep and moving experiences of sponsoring and visiting their children. As well, it is essential to be educated on the statistics and figures of children worldwide, and the needs that exist. This information helps establish a clearer understanding of what the needs of children currently look like both locally and globally as well as provides people very specific opportunities to respond and get involved. This type of awareness is crucial.

However, I believe these types of motivational efforts and recruitment appeals are secondary to the primary and more profoundly motivating power of the Gospel. They are but kindling to what must first be a deep seeded burning Gospel passion in the hearts of our people. 

A More Compelling Vision 
I am convinced, if we want to see a movement thrive and sustain long term, that child sponsorship recruitment must begin with a deep celebration of the Gospel in us that then works its way out through us into the lives of the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned around us. We must be willing to do the hard, slow and sometimes tedious work of getting the Gospel deeply into the hearts of people and help them see in very vivid, tangible ways that our sponsorship of children is rooted in God’s care of us through Jesus – it begins not with the child “out there” who needs a sponsor but with the child in us that has been given one in Jesus.

Motivating stories are essential, but only the Gospel can bring people to the point of full surrender, celebration and demonstration. And yes, there are "millions of needy children out there and we should do something about it", but not because the need is so overwhelming but because the Gospel is so compelling. At the end of the day, God's rescue of us in Jesus acts as the greater and more compelling vision as to why we, the Church, should care for children through child sponsorship. The stories are beautiful reminders of that. The pictures and numbers are a constant accountability to that.

In our efforts to cast a compelling vision for why the Church should get involved in child sponsorship, let us continue to be strategic and innovative in how we raise awareness and educate on things that are by and large external and foreign - but never in the absence of or to the neglect of the more compelling power of the Gospel which is deeply internal and personally familiar already. The sponsorship of children begins there, with the work of Jesus on our behalf, then beautifully extends itself out into our work on their behalf.


So there you go. I hope you enjoyed that and found it challenging. I know as a sponsor and advocate with Compassion I am constantly frustrated by the "Why aren't people/the church doing more?" question. Maybe the trick is, when I get the opportunities to speak, to remind people that we have the Gospel - The GOOD NEWS of Jesus, and allow God to work in their hearts toward responding with positive action.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights from Month #7 (August)

Welcome to August highlights from the Philippines! Unlike last month, where I tried to do it all nice and sequential, these pics are in no particular order. Enjoy!
This is what happens when an 11-year-old gets hold of your camera! 
The complexity of caring for neglected and abandoned kids. This is my growing collection of "love letters" from, ironically, the child I am struggling the most with. She turns against me in a second, and yet stays near me. I can't imagine the torment of loving someone deeply, and yet the only way you can express it is through anger toward them and negative attention seeking. As challenging as she is, my heart breaks for her.
I took Little Mr C and Little Mr I out in the tricycle for something cold and ice-creamy. As you can see, they were overwhelmed with excitement

I was slugging it out at my new gym home when I first heard and then saw a goat walk past on the main road. Reminded me of this Homer moment "Hey you goats! Get outta here!"

Hello Ruel supporters and friends around the world, we have an exciting event coming up. October 26th is our Foundation Day, and to celebrate we are having the first ever "Ruel Foundation 5K Fun Run." This event will raise money to provide blankets for the Mangyan Indigenous people and also to help build a new Meeting House at Ruel Foundation for visitors, parents of our children who wish to visit them, the children and staff

At the start of August, these three special kids met their new parents and started their new life together in Spain! So exciting, yet so hard to say goodbye. On this day I took them on a special afternoon with lunch at MacDo and then they chose a toy from the mall. That way they'll think of me whenever they play with it

I know we're not supposed to have favourites, but....look at this one!!

I must say that since I've been in the Philippines I've developed a slower, laid-back "saunter", mainly to deal with the weather, but when I was in Australia this was definitely true of me, complete with eyes

When I first came to the Philippines I used to walk everywhere, but now that I have the tricycle the walks have stopped completely. It's partly because it's just so much fun, but also so I can get away from the staring quicker. I still haven't got used to it, and many of the starers have a similar expression to mine in this lovely photo. Just a bit unnerving.

...and that was one of the hardest mornings I've ever experienced. God has given me the privilege of investing heavily in these three precious lives over the last six months, and today we said goodbye. Miss P, Miss A and Mr F are off to begin their new life with their adoptive parents in Spain. It's been an amazing couple of days watching them connect with their new mummy and daddy, and I know God has brought them together. Miss you and love you, munchkins. (August 7)


I play a game with some of the little ones where I swing them upside down a couple of times then lift them in the air. Good fun for them and good weight training for my arms. Today Little Mr A and I gently bumped heads, but instead of crying like I was expecting him to, he rubbed my head and checked if I was okay. That's the kind of kid we're raising at the Ruel Foundation

Gee whiz, we get a bit of rain and all of a sudden I look like some sort of tricycle hoon! Wonky photo brought to you by 10 year old Miss R

One month until I get to see these munchkins again, and I'll be celebrating my birthday with Princess Joy and her family. For me there's no better way to spend a birthday than visiting my Compassion kids.
So apparently I wanted to make even more of a spectacle of myself than I already am, just by being white. I headed to the mall on my tricycle to get some beverages for Friday night footy on the Australia Network. My favourite route takes me on ridiculously narrow streets past the local high school. Today I was riding past JUST as everyone was coming out, as far to the middle of the road as I could be and I clipped a motorbike. He was parked and we got a bit tangled up. I then stood through an excruciating 2 minutes as a bunch of other tricycle drivers helped to untangle us, and I averted all eye contact from the amused hordes going past. His bike was fine in the end and as he went past, the smug bugger on a little two-wheeler signalled angrily to his eyes as if to say "watch where you're going." I wasn't going to take that, so I shot something back and we went our separate ways. I'm certainly the talk of the town now. (August 1)
A gem of encouragement that came at just the right time. The adoptive mother of the three kids who left on Thursday has only known me for a few days, but she sent me these words: "Thank you very much for all. You are an excellent teacher. The loving care that our children received has left us happy. They are in good hands. We will never be able to thank you enough. The kids and us will pray for you every day and thank God how lucky we have been. Many thanks for your time and trouble. All the best." I'll take that (August 10)

I took the boss to the pier at 5.30 this morning. It was her first ride in my tricycle and she was happy with my driving. There's a win for me (August 11)

Of all the places the poor fella with one leg had to sit in church, he sat in front of the Ruel kids! I tried to keep their staring and inappropriate comments to a minimum (August 17)

Discouragement is a BEAST! I've had a very up-and-down three weeks, in which I've never felt more like a stranger or an alien despite having been here for nearly seven months. I've been feeling quite isolated, despite being around people all the time, Tagalog still sounds like babble and quite frankly my favourite time of the week has been sitting in front of the footy on TV on a Friday and Saturday night. Before I came here I confidently declared this was a "long-term thing", and I seem to have overestimated my ability to cope. Kids are coming and going at a rapid rate and I've been missing Australia life, my involvement with Compassion and the family like crazy. However now I'm in a better place. The weather is magnificent, I'm loving hooning around on the tricycle, taking kids to church, soccer and the mall, increasing people's awareness of Ruel through the FB page and blog. Every day after lunch I head upstairs and I'm met by a bunch of outstretched little arms, awake from their sleep and ready to cuddle and play. And I remember: that's right, I am here for them. Thank God for the privilege of loving these kids. (August 19)

Thanks to friends for my "culture shock" diagnosis. As part of dealing with this I have been overeating (damn you McDonalds!) and over-drinking a bit, so today I went on a gym-hunt. Found one close by for p30 (75 cents) a session. I also grabbed a pair of $2 goggles and went for a swim in a local hotel pool. My feet cramped 13 laps in and I couldn't move for 5 minutes. Bring on the fitness! (August 22)

More from "Life in the Philippines": I never imagined I'd find driving here so FUN! It took me a while to get my poker face going, as I'd gasp and visibly react with every close call and near collision, but now I just pop my sunnies on, chew my gum and go! In Australia we are advised to keep a car-length distance from the car in front, for safety. Only problem is, if you do that over here the other bikes see it as an invitation to cut in. It happens quite a lot but instead of being white hot with rage like I often was in Australia I just shrug my shoulders and go "Meh!" It also seems that if my tricycle is parked it becomes public property. I took the kids to soccer today, went away for a bit and when I came back there were four college kids, a couple sitting on the seat and a couple standing, just chatting away. I'm also thinking of buying sunhats for all the people of Calapan after nearly getting knocked out by several big umbrellas while walking in town. Hats, people!! (August 23)

Quote of the day: 7-year-old looks at my beard in puzzlement and says "What is this? Grass?" (August 24)

The other day I met a frog sitting in between my screen door and the front door, busting to get inside my apartment. I (gently) kicked him out of the way before I went inside. Five minutes later I came back and the frog was nowhere to be seen, but there were three big lumps of excrement left as a present for me. That's one way of getting your message across I guess (August 27)
Hmmm, my voice seems to have completely disappeared! No sore throat or anything else, just no voice!? Sure makes this place a bit quieter (August 27)

Seven Months in the Philippines - Culture Shock Hits With a Bang!

Hi folks,

Seven months down. This means I am halfway through my planned first stint in the Philippines. The plan at this stage is to stay until the end of March, go back to Australia for three months to do some teaching and promote my
book and possibly come back again. However, you know what they say about the 'best laid plans'...

As I am writing this I am right in the middle of the "frustration" stage of culture shock, so I guess everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt. As an aside I also have absolutely NO voice right now (strangely no other symptoms), but fortunately that doesn't impact my ability to write.

August has been a tough month. Discouragement hit in a big way. I've felt more like an alien or a stranger in this foreign land than any time in the previous six months. The language thing was getting to me, the staring thing was getting to me, the lack of connecting with anyone was getting to me.

I put this 'lack of connection' thing down to three factors: I am male, I am white and I am quiet. It's not any one of those in isolation, because a few of the female volunteers came in for a while and when they left they were like BFF's with some of the caregivers. So it's the combination of all three. I generally don't have much to contribute beyond "hello" with most people, it's just my personality. So the combination of being in a female-dominated environment and Filipino culture has been a lot for me to process, and I guess I've responded by withdrawing.

I've also been missing things. Not necessarily the stress, busyness and materialism of the Australian lifestyle, but definitely my family and in particular my three nephews and two nieces all aged 5 and under. This was the hardest part of taking on my new life, since I was blessed to be a very involved and hands-on Uncle.

Also significantly, I've missed my involvement with Compassion as a sponsor and advocate. I poured seven years of my life into Compassion, sponsoring, visiting and advocating for kids, and it's been hard to let go. I started volunteering at a Project near where I live, but Compassion got wind of it and have vetoed it because it is "against their policy" to have non-natives working at Projects, seemingly regardless of the positive stuff they're doing (I was providing balls, games, helping serve the lunches and giving guitar lessons). So that's not happening anymore.

Lately I have fallen into the trap of comparing myself with others. I am blessed to know a few other Aussies who are in different countries serving God in amazing ways, and I have found myself comparing and thinking I somehow "don't measure up." I have a friend in Nepal who does an amazing job forming relationships in the community and he's putting together great fundraising campaigns to help them. Another friend in Thailand has been there less time than me, and it seems every week she's got someone from home spending their own time and money to go and visit her. I've had no visitors and I don't feel that I can just strike up a conversation with strangers in the street. Even my "hello's" get met with stares and blank looks. And I look at them, and I compare, and I feel crap.

As a result of this culture shock thing, I’ve been overeating and over-drinking on things that aren’t all that good for me (but so darn cheap).

Having said all that, I’m in a slightly better place now, and I’ve been able to make a list of the things I LOVE about being here:
- The weather is magnificent
- Driving the tricycle is SO MUCH FUN! I love any excuse to get out and have a ride.
- The cost of living
- My living arrangements – fully furnished apartment, all meals, cable TV and internet for about $75 a week
- Watching footy on the Australia Network (my favourite time of the week)
- Doing the Ruel blog and Facebook page
- Having the privilege of loving the kids here and knowing that I am one of the few constant things in their lives. Every day after lunch I go upstairs and I’m surrounded by little outstretched arms, and they often cry if they don’t get to be held first. I joke to the caregivers that I need to turn into an octopus, to be able to hold them all.

I have found a gym and a pool, and have started going regularly. I've also downloaded some "learn Tagalog" videos off YouTube and have started practising.

I recently came across a blog post entitled "20 Things No One Told You About Moving Overseas". It was an incredibly God-sent piece of writing, by a lady working in another part of the Philippines with her family. Unsurprisingly, I could identify with just about the whole thing, but the part that stuck out to me was "You will not become a different person. You will not be super person. You will grow and change, but don't expect to climb off the plane and be instantly a new improved you. If you weren’t serving or involved at home, chances are, you won’t serve overseas. If you weren’t an evangelist at home, you will not magically transform once you clear customs. And it’s OK. Find your niche, and do YOUR best. However, this is not an excuse for inactivity. Since time is more infinite, and tomorrow is always a possibility, it’s easy to settle for a lower standard. Don’t. Push yourself everyday, stretch yourself everyday."

I am continually trying to reconcile the limitations of my personality with living and interacting here effectively. What Marlene wrote is true: I haven't magically become a new, improved me. I haven't suddenly become a social person who loves being around people and loves conversation. I am a doer. I LOVE what I have managed to do and achieve here so far, and I know I have made a difference. But ultimately it's not those things which are going to keep me here long term, it's the relationships. And that knowledge is why I'm afraid if I don't get it right, I might not last here very long.

So I guess the bottom line is that I need to keep trusting God to sustain and strengthen me, one day at a time. I can't look too far ahead, because at the moment my opinion changes daily about how long I'll be here, or even IF I want to be here. I know it's just a temporary valley, and I'm relying on God to carry me through.