Monday, November 8, 2010
PASTORAL REFLECTIONS ON ORPHAN SUNDAY
My family has now been back in Rwanda for 3 months. I felt our first 3 months most important task is to listen well. CCR is doing very well. In fact, I cannot think of much more that we could have hoped for in her 3 ½ year life span. Even the difficult seasons we’ve faced have made me conclude much like Joseph that “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done (Genesis 50:20).”
In many ways my spirit feels much like how it felt in 2006. We had labored in Rwanda for one year with a simple agenda – plant a church among Rwanda’s thought leaders. We settled into life by teaching ethics at a university. We walked government offices seeking a church registration. When the registration was granted it came with the instructions to develop property. Then our community discovered that one of Rwanda’s premier property locations was available. The Lord could have found others, but He chose us. I was struck by what Keith Green called, “Holy Fear.”
Since those early days much has been done. Hopefully, God has been glorified in both the labor and the fruit. Yet, I see more in the calling. As I wrestled with the opportunities in the fall of 2006 that became the fruit of 2010 I sense that God again intends to again take us to a new place for His glory.
We have an easy CCR temptation to settle into comfort. Something inside me says, “Ask God for more.” I see several crucial areas that CCR must address if we are to become all God intends. One is the issue of Orphans and Vulnerable Children.
This past Sunday CCR joined other churches and organizations around the world to remember Orphan Sunday. We entered with little agenda. We entered with no 3 point sermon. We entered with no project proposal. We entered with no program. We just came seeking, expecting, and waiting. As I struggled with a Sunday planned for discussion and prayer my wise wife stated, “If these issues could be solved with a 3 point sermon it would have been solved a long time ago.”
As in the past God’s glory has been shown through reflection I thought maybe this season also would honor the Lord by reflecting on the past Sunday’s discussion and discovery.
For the last few months CCR has been studying Romans. As we come to Romans 8 we explore adoption. J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” Some theologians contrast Paul in Romans to James’ letter. An interesting observation is that Paul uses the illustration of adoption to go to the deepest theological description of God’s relationship with man. Then James boils the pragmatics of faith down to simply caring for orphans and widows (James 1:37). It seems there is no contradiction between the two writers. Instead, they build upon one another’s thoughts. We are adopted into God’s family. Therefore we represent God to the world by taking the most vulnerable into our family.
CCR has a tradition of weekly Holy Communion. We also have a tradition of open communion where all who believe in Jesus’ resurrection are welcome to take communion with us despite their ethnic, racial, national, or denominational heritage. This Sunday we chose to place our Communion focus upon adoption. All of us who believe in the resurrection and surrender our lives to Jesus’ leadership are adopted into God’s family. No task or performance is required to belong in God’s family – only acceptance.
CCR is made up of many who at this season of life would be considered influential. However, almost all of them have personal stories of rejection, crisis, and refugee living. Some as young children were separated from their family. At their most destitute points someone found them and cared for them as if they were their own child.
Most of our CCR families of African descent care for children who are not their biological children. Frequently, this care is for extended family members. For instance, an adult sibling has passed away and their children are cared for by their adult brothers and sisters. In many African vernacular languages there is no word to describe a cousin. Instead, the words “brother,” and “sister” are applied to all age mates in an extended family.
A few of our CCR families are considered “heroic” in their extra-mile efforts to care for children outside of their extended family. Some are the first families others turn to in crisis. Their homes are filled with children. Sometimes these children are true orphans. Sometimes it is just a safe place for a family in crisis. Sometimes their home is just one of Kigali’s youth’s favorite places of play. Yet for each of these families when others draw attention to them, they have a habit of pointing to the Hero of Heroes – God Almighty. When questioned about their reasons for such hospitality and inclusion they may humbly disclose that during their childhood they lived in a season of turmoil. In this season another gave them an extra measure of care. This generosity and compassion from others created a deep sense of both duty and love. How could they do anything else, but extend compassion?
As we came to our traditional sermon time we set aside the sermon format. I decided today’s discovery would be best as a discussion. I asked 5 from our Kigali community to participate with us in a panel format. My Uganda radio days lived again for just a few minutes. It seemed in our uncertainty a community discussion was more important than the discoveries from a pastor’s study.
Our panel included Bonita Munyemana, a dear friend who works as Gladney Center for Adoptions In Country Facilitator; Roger Shaw who with his wife Faith have taken in 20 Rwandan orphan children; Eddie Mwunvaneza, my CCR co-pastor who also has initiated orphan care in Rwanda; Keli Shreck, our colleague whose family has adopted 2 Rwandan boys; and my wife, Jana.
Our discussion had many powerful moments. Eddie told of the care he received as a youth. He spoke of how in situations that seemed tragic others had seen great potential in him.
Roger became passionate as he told his story of coming to faith and the impact of being a “doer of the word instead of just a hearer.” He challenged us to live beyond a life that is easy to control and manage. He called us to step out in a world of sacrificial living instead of management. (This came as quite a contrast as Roger is a successful businessman and entrepreneur. His words were preached most powerfully by the actions of his life.)
Bonita and Jana fleshed out of the current situation in Rwanda. Their thoughts were powerful as they came with no N.G.O. fund raising agenda. Rwanda has 1,000,000 children in vulnerable situations. A few years ago, 13% of Rwanda’s households were headed by children. There appear to be 200,000 double orphans in Rwanda. There are 4,000 children in orphanages in Rwanda.
Bonita shared with us Rwanda government’s agenda of de-institutionalizing the care of children. The hope is for children to be raised in a family. She even made the statement every child has a right to a family.
Keli was the quietest of our group, but also the one who I was most eager to hear. Keli told of her journey and the call of adoption. She told of how her family went from a quiet house with 2 girls to a rambunctious one with 2 more boys.
Throughout the day, I felt inside my spirit that it was appropriate to deal with the embarrassing and uncomfortable. I kept watching and our crowd was on the edge of their seats. A question that I thought must be in our crowd, but not disclosed is, “Can someone love an adopted child as they love a biological one?”
I decided to ask Jana to tell an embarrassing story and she agreed. When we were in Uganda our Luganda was not good, but it was better than our current Kinyarwanda. We could hear and follow conversations. Ruth came into our home shortly after Ethan was weaned. Thus for a short time Jana nursed Ruth. Once while we were at a Kampala Kids League game Jana overheard a Luganda conversation.
“This woman cannot love this African child as her own. See those children playing those are her real children. When she grows tired she will leave this African child behind.”
The cruelest actions of humanity always begin in silent thoughts. They next are spoken in a seeming secret meeting. Anonymity is one of the cruelest forms of gossip. It is the tool of cowards masquerading as community leaders. These two women thought vernacular provided a means to build hatred and suspicion under the guise of concern. God saw children in need of homes.
Jana chose not to answer in Luganda. Instead she chose to answer with the universal language of mothers. Jana began nursing Ruth. The gossips were silenced.
As Jana told CCR this story our body applauded.
We closed with a video. Our five panelists disbursed so they could be in places to listen. We prayed. We closed. No project proposal was formed. Yet, in the uncomfortable and embarrassing God moved and continues to move.
One of our body members comments has sent me into a deep ponder. From our wounds we heal. Sometimes a scar remains. Sometimes it is a source of strength. Sometimes it limits our action. It is wise to listen to healed wounds.
A few in our midst grew up in polygamous African homes. A few in our midst grew up in Western nations where polygamy masquerades as serial divorce. Those tragedies left deep wounds. The healed chose to be faithful to their spouse and children. Yet, somehow the idea of non-biological children felt too much like step children in a dysfunctional family. Maybe, for our wounded healers the idea of raising non-biological children as nieces and nephews is more palatable than as sons and daughters?
Who knows? What if my agenda is not God’s? How will He chose to solve the problem of vulnerable children? What if we are interpreting the “family of God” through lenses of western nuclear families and God is more concerned about our clan compassion and cohesion?
So I leave yesterday with simple pastoral reflection. Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. Our faith is most clearly displayed in care for widows and orphans. Rwanda has many children in need of families.
What would God have me do? What would God have my church do? What would God have you do?