We are headed into our eighth month living here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We continue to love this city and the people, and to feel as if we are exactly where God wants us to be. We have spent half a year intentionally leaning into God and His purpose for us here. Some original plans fell through, and God clearly has pointed us in the direction of creating a brand new indigenous NGO for street children. This is way bigger than what we had prepared for, but it is exactly how God loves to display His perfect strength - in our broken weakness. As God’s purpose and plans have been unfolded we continue to solidify our methodology and philosophy for working with children, and at its simple core it comes down to pursuit. For years we have seen how the Gospel, how Jesus, pursues. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be ready for change or to even have a desire for change. He doesn’t wait until we have cleaned ourselves up, or have outwardly changed our behaviors, so that we look as if we measure up to His standards, because the truth is there is nothing inside of us that can change or even be ready with a desire to change outside of the working, initiation, and pursuit of Jesus Christ. If we are to be imitators of Jesus, then we must pursue, and that pursuit must be relentless and not dependent upon anything that the child/person does. Through much thinking and praying a three part purpose for Mercy Branch Inc. emerged. A purpose that we believe in and see beautifully exemplified in the Gospel. The three parts must coexist but flow from the first one, and are as follows: relentless pursuit of the whole person, radical grace, and reverent mercy. That’s easy to write, and lovely to think about, and I really do believe deep inside that it is the core of the Gospel. But let me tell you, that there are far, far easier philosophies and methodologies out there than this one, and the past few weeks as we cemented God’s plans and purposes and committed to establishing an NGO that echoes the Gospel, the enemy has attacked the very heart of what we want to do. It’s as if God is allowing us to be tested in this very commitment right here in our own family.
Is this what you really believe?
Are you really willing to pursue like I have pursued you? Because it is hard, messy, and it hurts.
I am going to try to be transparent with you, and yet be ambiguous enough to still protect the privacy of my family. Although we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are exactly where we should be, these past few weeks have been very, very hard for our family. Everything kind of crescendoed today when my children found their puppy had died. It’s time for a little honesty and to get our spiritual boxing gloves on, and to gather our people around us in solidarity and prayer. I am sick and tired of the cowardly way that Satan is attacking our family – by targeting our children. It started way back in February, when it was brought to our attention that rumors were flying, and apparently had been for years, about our family. Disgusting, filthy, and grotesque accusations that “Christians” were giving ears to and seemingly perpetuating. We were crushed. It seems so many times when we seek out authentic community with believers, we are instead wounded and betrayed. Sadly these rumors really involved our oldest child. Satan is very crafty, and he knows our weaknesses and insecurities so intimately. He knew these horrible speculations would plant a huge seed of doubt in our child’s, already traumatized heart. He knew the way to do it was to attack family and have adults question his very identity in our family. It literally makes me shake with anger even as I type this. As parents we desire to protect and nurture the hearts of our children and give them security as a member of our family. This is an especially unique challenge when your child has spent years rejected, abandoned, abused, and not part of any family. Unfortunately, Satan used these lies to manipulate, not only the minds of people, but also our child. He used other lies as well, but all of the lies built upon these rumors. These lies culminated in us coming dangerously close to losing our son. I cannot and will not go into specific details – none are needed. It was the most horrifying, terrifying, and painful experience that we have ever had as parents (and we have had our fair share prior to this). This is where the rubber met the road, and we had to put all of our beliefs about the Gospel into practice – we had to pursue and pursue and pursue. Behavior modification and trying to make a child follow rules is so, so much easier than pursuing the heart and the entire child with grace and mercy. Let me tell you that as a family, we all HURT, and although it looks as if we are slowly limping to the other side, it still hurts, and we are still pursuing – all four of our children through this ugly time.
Satan absolutely hates families. We believe that it is inside of a family that healing can take place, and Satan would much rather traumatized children never heal. We believe that street children can best experience true healing and freedom in Jesus inside of a family – a family that pursues at all costs. Our son is NO longer a street child, and we have treated him as nothing less than our beloved son (because that is WHO HE IS), but we have had to and continue to have to pursue him in crazy, intense ways. Knowing so much about us and about families, course Satan is magnificent at attacking and destroying families. BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MINE. We are surrounding ourselves with truth from God’s Word, with the knowledge that Jesus is pursuing each one of us, praise and worship music and very, very tangible reminders that we are a family – family that God miraculously established. We have a team of counselors firmly surrounding us, and we have God for us. To be honest, we still desire to find community here with other Kingdom builders, but sadly we will now proceed more cautiously. God has given us just one precious family to steward, to cherish, to protect, and to build up for His Kingdom. This is our primary role here on earth, at this time, no matter where we live, or what else God has called us to.Yesterday, Jim got to explicitly share the Gospel with someone whom we love like family. For almost eight months we have been praying and pursuing this person, and we have gotten the privilege of watching Jesus pursue him. This morning we hung up a gallery wall of family portraits to daily remind us that we are in this together, and that we truly are FAMILY. At nearly the same time that we experienced these glimpses of grace and mercy poured out over us, the childrens’ beloved puppy unexpectedly died. They are grieving and hurting, as she has played a vital role in comforting them here in a strange country so far away from what they are familiar with. This is not just a coincidence. Satan is alive and well, and he is not done with us. He sees something in us that perhaps we cannot yet see. He is forecasting a future for our family here in Ethiopia that terrifies him. I don’t know what he plans to do next or how he will attack, but we are readying ourselves for this battle. Jim and I are praying over our family, our marriage, and our future ministry with children here in Addis, and we humbly ask you to do the same. We are so not special or super-spiritual. We are messy. We are broken. We are normal – just a family who desires to follow Jesus. We know that God wins in the end, but we desperately desire to come to the end unified and together. Our family can’t be a casualty. So I share this to ask you stand beside us in prayer. None of us were meant to do this alone.