This is certainly a season of change for CSC. We have new staff, new policies, some new job descriptions, a new organizational chart and some refurbished facilities. Although our ministry remains the same - caring for homeless children with the love of Jesus - we have some new ways of doing things.
And we have an entirely new department! We will soon be launching our new Human Resources Department. We have been talking about this for some time. With more than 125 workers, the need for HR is obvious. Finally the pieces are in place and we will soon be hiring an HR Director. We already have the office space created. Soon the department will be fully in place and we are really excited about what this will mean for CSC, our workers and, ultimately, the children we care for. We know that having an HR department will help us do a better job of servicing our employees, seeing to their compensation, training and morale. We want our workers, who are the backbone of the ministry, to feel more connected to each other, and to feel better about their part in the success of the ministry.
Many thanks to those whose hard work helped lay the groundwork for establishing this department, specifically Joel Reasoner, Peter Arneson, Marcel Pacada, Mitch Ohlendorf and Jake Schulz.
Once again our faithful supporters rallied around CSC and helped us make our budget at the 11th hour. Actually, it was more like the 12th hour. Matt Buley and Jill Grasley had kept us abreast of the situation and what we needed for income during the last few days of the year. It seemed insurmountable, but somehow the money came in and we reached our income goals for the year! Thank you to everyone who gave at year-end, and throughout the year.
There are lots of changes around here! We have new staff, a refurbished office, some new kids and some new plans and procedures for the coming year. What remains the same is our commitment to providing the best care possible for the kids that come into our homes. That has remained the same for 37 years. And our confidence in moving forward is grounded in the reality that our supporters are faithful and true. And generous. And amazing.
To our supporters, thanks for being a part of this ministry and what CSC means to the children who call this place home. Thanks for caring, for praying and for giving.
Christmas was a fun time for the kids and staff. We featured the secular and the sacred. The kids enjoyed Santa's visit and the wonderful gifts we were able to give out. They liked the pageant presented by the staff and visitors with a live manger scene. They loved presenting the play Angel Alert at school and presenting gifts to a poor family in the city dump site. Lots of activities and lots of fun.
Now we turn our attention to the reality that we face every year. This is crunch time financially for CSC. The week after Christmas is usually the biggest week for income for the whole year. We need a huge week to meet our budget for income this year. If you have already given we want to thank you! If not, and you are able, please consider a generous gift to the ministry. We will use the money prayerfully and carefully for the children that God has placed in our care.
We thank God for the people who give so faithfully to make it possible for us to take good care of them. May 2017 be a great year for you and your loved ones.
I recently came across this letter that I wrote 16 years ago. I was amazed how much it applies to our current situation. I made a few small changes to "bring it up to date," but mostly it can stand alone, reflecting the similarity of our situations both then and now.
A few years ago my brother Dave sent me an advertisement from the St. Paul paper announcing a B.J. Thomas concert coming to a casino in Minnesota. It was meant as a joke, but it brought back a flood of memories, some of them pretty grim ones.
In 1978 a small group of us were trying to raise money to start a ministry in the Philippines. We were concerned about the needs of homeless and hungry Filipino children. But none of us had experience in fund raising! We tried everything, from donut and candy sales to supermarket collection cans and marathons. Finally, after having raised almost nothing for our efforts, we got the idea to have a benefit concert. We decided to have B.J. Thomas come to the Minneapolis Auditorium, and one of our group members put up the money to book him and his group and to pay for the initial promotion of the concert.
The concert was a disaster. The auditorium held about 10,000 people; less than 3,000 showed up. I'll never forget the feeling of standing in the lobby waiting for the crowds that never came. We couldn't pay the orchestra, the ticket office, the printer, the radio stations or the newspapers. There we were, a group of youngsters with a desire for a ministry in Cebu, surrounded by angry, threatening creditors. It seemed like our organization and our dream for an orphanage were dead. But for some reason we didn't give up. We still felt called to the Philippines and a ministry to homeless children. Somehow we managed to placate the creditors, make small but consistent payments, and pull ourselves out of the hole that the B.J. Thomas concert had put us in. Within a few short weeks we received a donation of $40,000 from a Bethel College student and we were on our way to Cebu to begin the ministry. All our plans and efforts to raise funds had netted us a pile of debts and a load of frustration. But God's miraculous work in the heart of a young man resulted in enough money to purchase property in Cebu and begin the work.
That has been a lesson we have learned so many times over the years. God reminds us that this is his ministry and that He will provide the resources. He is continually touching the hearts of people, who respond with gifts of prayer, money and time. We know that it is not just the words that we write or the quality of our visual presentations that bring in the funds. It is how God uses those efforts to bring people into the CSC family. Our efforts are inadequate, even pathetic at times. But God takes our faith and commitment (although sometimes found lacking) and makes something great out of them, in the work of the ministry in Cebu and in the promotional efforts in Minnesota.
This fact has kept us going through difficult times over the past 37 years. In recent weeks we have been discouraged over the behavior of some of our children. Some have been unruly, others disrespectful. Some have been unloading some of the emotional baggage that they brought with them to CSC. And, at the same time, we have been concerned with the financial situation of CSC as we approach the year-end needing a miracle to meet our income goals for 2016. But our discouragement is tempered by the knowledge that God directs this work, that He gives compassion and perseverance, not only on that night in 1978 when we limped home from the Minneapolis Auditorium, but every day since.
Thank you for your part in helping us with this ministry for the past 37 years. When the raindrops were falling on our heads, you were there to put up an umbrella of love and solidarity. We need your prayers and your gifts to be able to move ahead with this God-inspired ministry.
The mysteries of God are a part of the Christian life that can often lead to confusion, doubt and even discouragement for believers.
- For some, it's a pride thing. We want to have answers – we want to understand, to be able to grasp the complexities of Biblical truth and God's plan for mankind.
- For some, God's mysteries – the unexplained things of life – are stumbling blocks to faith:
1. Why do bad things happen to good people?
2. Why does He allow pain, suffering and evil to thrive in our world?
Several months ago we were witnesses to the aftermath of the tragedy in Pennsylvania involving the Amish community, where, good, decent, hard working, non violent people were subjected to unspeakable cruelty towards their children. How can this happen?
3. One of our CSC children, who grew up in the worst poverty imaginable in Cebu City, was adopted into a family in the United States several years ago. Well meaning people would tell her how lucky she was and how God obviously had a wonderful plan for her life. She had a hard time with that and would sometimes ask her parents, "But what about all the kids who are still there, who weren't adopted, and who are still suffering and dying? What is God's wonderful plan for their lives? Why me and not them?
For many of us, we celebrate the goodness of God in our lives, we praise him for his healing, for material comforts, for blessing our efforts – even as we observe people who remain sick or disabled, who suffer in poverty – those who efforts and initiatives end in disappointment and ruin.
There are two extremes in terms of people's reactions to the things about God and life that are not understood.
1. There are those who try in vain to grasp the ungraspable – to be able to reduce the mysteries to understandable formulas or explanations. I remember a young seminarian who came to Cebu and who filled the pulpit of our church on a Sunday evening. He preached for an hour on the "peace of God that passes all understanding." Perhaps he felt that if he preached long enough he could crack that nut and open our understanding!
We all know those who have reduced the book of Revelation to precise charts and timetables, giving us easy to understand categories for all of human history and, most especially, the times to come.
2. A second category are those who shake their heads and say, "We'll only know these answers when we get to heaven." They suspend inquiry, not bothering to seek answers to the perplexing questions of life.
Living and working in a Third World country like the Philippines brings some of these mysteries to the front of our lives. Poverty, and all that goes with it, is "in your face." People often ask me "How do you like living in the Philippines?" That's a tough one to answer. Life anywhere has its highs and lows. Some days are great, others are difficult. I often answer this way:
1. When I'm sitting down to a nice breakfast I am aware that, within a few meters of my house are families that have no breakfast.
2. When I'm driving to the office or the Shelter I often pass people walking along the road who, for lack of a few cents can not even afford public transportation and must walk.
3. When I stop to buy medicine for my family or the CSC kids, there are people standing nearby whose children are dying for lack of that very same medicine.
Why am I blessed and they are not?
I recall a conversation with a missionary a few days after Cebu was hit by a strong typhoon. Many of our CSC workers lost their roofs or their entire homes. The houses of the poor were devastated by the high winds and torrential rains. The missionary said that it had been such a miracle how God spared the missionary homes from damage, holding his hands of protection around us during the storm. I remember wondering whether it wasn't more a matter of our having cement houses and strong metal roofs.
Why did our CSC kids have to suffer so much? And how much more, those who live on the street and cannot be admitted to CSC?
These are tough questions. When it comes to trying to understand our own suffering, the Bible gives some answers. For example, Romans 5:3-4 tells us that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character, hope. And the Bible gives us additional hope that we will someday come to see God's purpose and mysteries:
"But now we see through a glass dimly, but then face to face."
And we hear the testimonies of Christian brothers and sisters who have lived through terrible times and have turned negatives into positives in their lives.
Several months ago I was attending a conference in Bismark, North Dakota. One of the featured speakers was Steve Saint, Steve's father, Nate Saint, was one of the five missionaries killed in 1956 by Aucan warriors in Equador. Steve told about what that tragic day meant to his family, and what it was like when his dad, his hero, didn't come home that day. We saw video of his current family life, and saw a man who was interacting with Steve's children, and who was being referred to as "Uncle." It turns out that this was the very man who had killed Steve's father, who had come to know Jesus and had experienced the forgiveness of God and of the Saint family and now was a part of their family – an amazing story of how good things had come out of tragedy and suffering.
So the clear message is that God has a plan for our lives, we will discover that plan in the right time. He is writing our life's stories, but some of the chapters are difficult ones.
We can understand this. We can, when aided by the Holy Spirit, see how difficulties and suffering are part of a purification process for us, and that we, like Job, will eventually be better people for it.
But what about people who, because of major disabilities, are unable to understand their situation, unable to discern the hand of God or his plan for their lives. Where is the purification and growth and ultimate value for these people? What could God's purpose possibly be?
Back on 1982 a baby was born in a charity ward in a small hospital in Cebu City. The baby underwent cardiac arrest during birth and was without oxygen for an extended time. Unlike many cases of charity patients, the hospital staff decided to resuscitate the baby, even after he had suffered massive brain damage and cerebral palsy. The baby's mother abandoned him in the hospital, and after a couple months Luke was referred to CSC. When we took him in he appeared to be a bouncing baby boy. We did not know that he would not develop physically beyond about a year and a half, or mentally beyond a few months. Luke would never speak, nor have voluntary movement of his arms or legs.
Luke became a fixture at CSC. For over 23 years he was an integral part of our lives and a symbol of CSC and what we are all about.
Many times Luke would be hospitalized – often due to upper respiratory infections. He fought for his life many times. There were at least a dozen times when we were sure that he would die. The doctors had told us that he wouldn't make it past five years old. Then they revised it to nine, then 11 – certainly he wouldn't reach his teenage years.
One time, when Luke was critically ill our staff met to pray and I asked them to reflect on his life. Here is why: I believe that God had a purpose for Luke's life when he created him. I believe that He uses people like Luke to teach us important things. But here is the rub: If we don't spend time reflecting on these lessons, then Luke's life is useless. Its up to us to allow God to make sense of Luke's life.
And what are the lessons that we found? What has God taught us through his life?
1. First, life is precious. Even though he had nothing to live for, from the world's point of view, Luke clung to live almost ferociously. Some of us who have much more to live for take life casually, we take life for granted. Not Luke. Every day was a struggle. Every breath had to be fought for. Life is a gift from God and we should treat it carefully.
2. God has provided us with opportunities, through Luke's life, to minister to him in significant and life-saving ways. He has provided an avenue for us to live out the biblical mandate to minister unto the "least of these," because, truly, Luke was in that category. Hundreds of people have been given a blessing to participate in the support of CSC that reaches out to children like Luke and many others with other special needs.
3. In so doing, He has given us a chance to show others a Godly value system that doesn't reserve love and attention for those who have something to give back, or who have "potential" or a bright future. For many people who live in a developing country, where resources are limited, this has been a difficult lesson to learn. How could we justify spending so much money for Luke's hospitalization when other, "normal" kids needed care? Luke's life gave us the opportunity to teach about the value of life and about how God looks at all of us.
4. Luke has been a tremendous ambassador for CSC. People around the world remember observing the loving care that he received by our staff and workers. They remember his famous smiles. They may quickly forget the names of the staff or other children, but they remember Luke. "How's Luke doing?" we get asked wherever we go to talk about the ministry of CSC. And our care of Luke helps us explain the true nature and core values of our work in the Philippines.
5. Luke has been a safety valve for those that had an opportunity to know him. My job as Field Director of CSC involves lots of administrative chores, like making budgets, government relations and various kinds of problem solving. There are days when I get stressed out and start to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. But all I needed to do is to drive a few short miles to where Luke lived, to hold him in my arms, and I get a clear picture of what real struggles are all about. My struggles paled in comparison to what Luke faced every day. Self pity may be easy for some people, but those that knew Luke have no excuse for feeling sorry for themselves. What a great gift that was to all of us.
A little over a week before we left Cebu, Marlys called me on my cell phone and told me that I should get to the hospital quickly, as Luke wasn't doing well. He had been hospitalized for over a week and his breathing was bad. I had gotten messages similar to this one throughout Luke's life, so I went to the office and took care of a few things. But the Lord laid it on my heart to go see Luke and when I entered his room his breathing was extremely labored. He looked different than I had ever seen him, and it became clear that he was dying. I sat down next to him, kissed him and looked into his eyes. For 23 years we had loved this boy. It wasn't easy to say goodbye. I said to him, "Luke. You can go. Go to be with Jesus, Luke. I love you." Within a couple of minutes Luke took his last breath. 23 years of pain, suffering, limitations, hospitalizations, forced breathing, skin rashes and infections were over. We would never see Luke's smile again.
As Luke was dying in that hospital room, I made a promise. I'm not sure if I was making a promise to Luke, to God or to myself. But I decided then and there that I was going to talk about Luke on our coming furlough. I believed then and do now, that the church of Jesus Christ needs to hear about Luke, that the lessons of his life are important ones. Many Americans are complainers - full of self pity. People who have so many material comforts are unsatisfied. American discourse is increasingly a chorus of victim and entitlement claims. Charles Sykes, in his book "A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character" states that, "in a nation where everyone is a victim, no one is a victim." In our preoccupation with our own needs we have a hard time seeing the needs of others – people like Luke.
In his song "God Help the Outcasts," the Hunchback of Notre Dame poses several difficult issues:
I don't know if there's a reason
Why some are blessed, some not
Why the few You seem to favor
They fear us, flee us,
Try not to see us.
The first part we have already examined. The second is our call to arms. "Why the few You seem to favor, they fear us, flee us, try not to see us."
I don't know what factors might make it difficult for us to see the needs of society's outcasts. Perhaps we are too busy. Maybe our personal and church calendars are so full that there just isn't room for Luke, or the man who had fallen to thieves at the side of the road, to break into our day. Maybe we are numbed or fatigued by the needs of others, or simply overwhelmed by the circumstances of our own lives. Maybe we have become cynical. "Why did that guy travel this road at this time carrying that amount of money? He deserves what he got!"
Maybe, just maybe, Luke can help cut through the apathy, the self-centeredness and cynicism of our lives. He was a person with significant needs that he didn't cause. He was totally dependent on others to live. His life had none of the possibilities and opportunities that we take for granted every day. He needed us so very much. Maybe Luke can serve as a symbol of many others that we come into contact with. Maybe Luke can help us rescue our lives.