The Importance of Asking Questions

Asking Questions“Actually, we really need bigger size diapers,” the lady at the crisis pregnancy center told me. “A lot of people don’t realize this, but hospitals will send new parents home with the small diapers, and babies grow so fast they’re only in the small sizes for a short time. Mom’s come in and want to trade for bigger diapers and a lot of times, we don’t have any.”

“Is there anything else besides diapers?” I asked.

“Brand new car seats. It’s hard to use old ones because we can’t monitor recalls and we don’t know if they’ve been in car accidents. Pack n plays would be good too. We have plenty cute clothes because people like to shop for those, and women from a nearby assisted living place knit all our blankets for us. We have been running out of winter clothes sometimes, though.”

Asking questions is not something that comes naturally to me. If possible, I prefer to prepare ahead of time by doing research and showing up equipped to sound knowledgeable. A lot of times, that’s a good thing. It can also be a pride problem. Asking questions is an essential aspect of communicating, learning, and forming connections with other people.

When we try to assist people in ministry, questions are so important. People on the front line know the needs better than anyone else, and it isn’t helpful to them when the rest of us assume we know how to help. Several ministries I know of struggle with easily collecting the “fun” resources they need while waiting months for someone to provide more mundane items. People would rather buy baby clothes than diapers. It’s more fun to purchase craft supplies than oatmeal. Sometimes we forget that we’re making donations in order to fill a need for someone else, not entertain ourselves. Asking questions can alleviate that tendency.

When I asked questions at the crisis pregnancy center, I learned some stuff I didn’t know before and got good ideas for effectively choosing further donations. If I want to send something to the orphans I support in India, it helps to message their foster mom ahead of time to find out what they need most from their Amazon wish list.

Asking questions also shows the front line works that you care. Most people in ministry don’t enjoy constantly asking people for things. They don’t want to feel like a burden. Asking them what they need tells them that you’re behind them, thinking of them and caring for their needs and the needs of the people they’re ministering to.

But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. —Hebrews 13:16

My dad recently pointed out to me that the word communicate means both talking and sharing resources. The Greek word that translates “communicate” means partnership, participation, benefaction.

Asking questions, learning how to help, and then using your resources to participate in the work combine to equal effective communication.

Teens In Action: Earrings for Life

Earrings for Life

This ministry first came to my attention through a post on The Rebelution. As I was brainstorming ways of making Teens in Action posts more regular here on TIO, Brooke’s ministry popped to mind, and I messaged her on Facebook. This post is the result. Hope you enjoy what she has to say. Don’t forget to check out the earrings!

~*~

When I was asked to write this blog post, the first thought that came into my head was “Me? What? Why? I’m not an author, surely I can’t blog!” But as I continued to think about what I wanted to write, I was reminded-that’s just it. God does not call the equipped, but equips the called! So, here’s a little bit about when God called me.

I am only sixteen now, but when I was eleven, I started making earrings. Because I was (and still am!) a little entrepreneur, I immediately thought of the basic idea to sell these hand-made earrings and give the money to my local crisis pregnancy center, which helps young women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. I began by selling a couple of pairs to my family—it was not much, but it was something, and I praised God for each dollar raised. After promoting my ministry, which I named Earrings for Life, through my church, I was able to raise about $100 in the first year, and I remember being absolutely thrilled!! And that was just the beginning….

To be honest, I would have never been able to dream about all of the things God has done through me. Fast forward almost five years from that day I started selling earrings, and I am still blown away. So far, God has used me to raise over $3,000 just by selling earrings for $5 per pair! I have gotten the amazing opportunity to speak at small meetings, large gatherings, and churches. Gratefully, I have been featured on a website where over seven thousand readers were able to learn about Earrings for Life! AND now I am being asked to write blogs, which is pretty crazy and so humbling!

I chose to raise money for crisis pregnancy centers because it is an organization that is very close to my heart. Young women and couples choosing to kill their children just because it was not their plan hurts me. These sweet little children had so much promise and future…but their mother decided to do what was most convenient for her. The awesome thing about the centers I donate to is that not only do they come alongside young mothers-to-be and encourage them to save their children’s life, but they also provide counseling, parenting classes, and financial aid.

In James 1:27, it says the following:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

To me, living out this verse means to come alongside unborn children that have no one to fight for their lives and say to their mothers that these children are worth it. They are alive and deserve to live long lives!

Thank you so much to Leah, for allowing me to write for her awesome blog! If you would like to help support Earrings for Life, the most important thing you can do is pray for the ministry! Also, please check out the Facebook page–Earrings for Life—if you are interested in either contacting me or buying earrings. In addition, you can email me at earringsforlife@gmail.com. Thank you so much, and God bless!

~Brooke Graham

Sometimes when we don’t feel we have much to offer, we don’t do anything. But story after story shows that God can take our little and multiply it beyond anything we imagined. Can you think of some Bible stories where God took something small and turned it into something big? Share your thoughts and encouragements for Brooke below!

Video: The Wahl Family Adoption

This past summer, our church did an experiment with an adult VBS program. I was helping with the kids program, so I didn’t see most of the videos shown. However, the week before VBS, we previewed one of the adult lessons. It just so happened that the one we watched featured an incredible story about a family who had adopted several children. As I was trying to come up with an idea for this post, I thought of trying to find and share that story. Unfortunately, I haven’t found it yet, (I’ll let you know if I do.) but I did find this story from Focus on the Family. 

 

P.S. Not quite sure what a CASA is? The initials stand for Court Appointed Special Advocate, also known as a Guardian Ad Litem. You can read more about it here.

Orphans, Fundraising, and Teens (part 2)

Orphans, Fundraising, and Teens (part 2)Last Friday we explored the idea that teens are actually in a pretty good place to financially support orphan care and adoption. We also examined five ways teens can raise money to help orphans. If you missed that post, check out Orphans, Fundraising, & Teens (part 1). This is part two of the Teens and Money series.

~*~

Fundraising might be a scary word to you. To be perfectly honest, it scares me too. I’m the type of person who prefers to do things on my own. Being self-sufficient makes me feel confident and secure. Asking for monetary help makes me feel vulnerable and needy.

This year I got bumped out of my comfort zone twice. The first time was at the beginning of the year when my brother and I were encouraged to send out letters informing church family and friends that we hoped to go on a missions trip and asking if they would like to partner with us. I didn’t want to do it, but after encouragement from my parents, I did. In a few short months, all of our expenses were covered.

This month my family and I were awed again as friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers poured their support into a Kickstarter campaign for my novel, Counted Worthy.

My point in sharing these stories isn’t to prove that I’m good at fundraising. I’m not saying you need to send out letters or run a campaign to raise money for orphans. What I would like to share is two lessons I learned from these two experiences.

1. Have a partnership perspective.

In my initial balking stage about sending out letters for our missions trip, I stumbled across an article that really made me think. In the article, several missionaries answered the question, “Is there any way other than begging for support?” One missionary said,

You do the work for them, you keep them informed and you pray for them. On the other hand, they pay for your joint ministry, they pray for you and your joint ministry, and they help you recruit for your joint ministry. The word supporter should be replaced in our vocabulary and also in our attitudes with the word partner.

another said,

[It] is not about “donors” giving and missionaries receiving. It recognizes that both missionary and financial partner give into the ministry and both receive blessing, joy, and reward in return.

2. Many hands make lighter work.

Over the course of the two fundraisers I’ve worked on this year, it’s been amazing to see how quickly contributions pile up. My Kickstarter campaign drew 53 backers who pledged an average of $33 each to raise $1,775. Whether you are raising or contributing money, even small amounts can make a big difference.

How can you apply these lessons?

So, how can you apply these lessons? Raising money to contribute to orphan care and adoption is a lot different than fundraising for a missions trip or running a Kickstarter campaign.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you’re running a basic fundraiser, setting up a craft sale, or learning to sell items online, don’t be afraid to ask for help! That might mean asking people to give financially. It might mean asking your friends to make crafts with you or help you run a table. It might mean asking a parent or adult to teach you how to list things on Amazon. Christians are called a family for a reason. All the members are meant to work together.
  2. Encourage adopting families to ask for help. Adopting families think the same way the rest of us do. They feel the same inhibitions about asking for help. If you know a family who is adopting, be enthusiastic about offering help. Try to reassure them that they’re not imposing or being a drag if they ask for help.
  3. Don’t underestimate your impact. Everyone’s role is important. You might not be able to adopt yet, but your prayers and encouragement vital components of bringing orphans into families. You might not be able to go overseas to work in an orphanage, but the people who are overseas need people here to spread the word about their work. Even if you aren’t able to donate large sums of money, remember that many hands make lighter work. You’re making the load that much lighter for everyone else involved.

Do you have any thoughts or personal experiences in this area? Can you think of any other practical applications of the lessons I shared in this post?

Orphans, Fundraising, and Teens (part one)

Orphans, Fundraising, and Teens (part 1)

Part one of the Teens and Money series.

As teenagers, many of us bemoan our lack of cash. How can we help with money intensive orphan care activities like child sponsorship, charity donations, and adoption support?

These concerns are valid, but we miss an important part of the picture when we focus on this line of thought. We forget to realize that most adults don’t have excessive spare cash either. What’s more, adults have to worry about paying for bills, supporting families, paying mortgages, and so much more. As teens, most of us don’t have those responsibilities yet. We’re also rich in something most adults aren’t. Time.

Yes, I know. We’re all busy. We have sports practice, school, homework, party invitations, maybe even a part time job. Even with all that, we usually have more time. We know we can be more productive if we really try. That homework might go faster if you skipped the social media rabbit trails, and while parties are fun, we don’t have to say yes to all of them.

So, it turns out that we’re not in such a bad place to be financial supporters of adoption and orphan care after all. We have fewer responsibilities and more time. To top it off, most teens have more energy than adults. Just check out this verse from Proverbs.

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head. –Proverbs 20:29

So how do we turn our relatively free and energetic teen years into opportunities to support orphan care and adoption? Here are some ideas for how you can raise money.

Five Ways You Can Make Money for Orphans5 Ways You Can Make Money for Orphans

  1. Normal teenager jobs. It seems like the majority of industrious teens have turned to jobs like lawn mowing, babysitting, leaf raking, and snow shoveling as early sources of income. When people know their money will be going to a charitable cause, they’ll be even more willing to hire you. You can go beyond these “normal” ideas as well. Several of my friends have earned good money cleaning houses, teaching music lessons, and tutoring. Put your skills to work!
  2. Craft Sales and Etsy. Several years ago when friend of ours were starting their second adoption journey, a few of my friends and I put together a craft sale so we could help with their expenses. It wasn’t fancy. We sold hair scrunchies, paper boxes of candy, and Christmas ornaments at our homeschool group’s Christmas party. The $50 we earned didn’t look like much against the $30,o00 adoption fees, but when lots of people give small amounts, it piles up fast! Gifts of Grace is an etsy shop run by teenager Emilie Hockman. She’s currently donating her earnings towards an adoption.
  3. Fundraisers. I often see sports teams and charities hosting car washes and bake sales to raise money. There’s no reason teens can’t use one of these tried and tested fundraising techniques. One neat idea I’d love to try someday is a gift wrapping station around the holidays. So many people dislike wrapping Christmas presents. How cool would it be to do gift wrapping instead of car washing?
  4. Selling Door-To-Door. Don’t panic. I did this when I was pretty young (11 or 12) and had a lot of fun with it. Being a young person can be an advantage for this. People are less likely to turn away a fundraising teenager than an adult doing door-to-door marketing. I used Dutch Mill Flower Bulbs when I did it years ago and earned around $250. I’ll bet an older teen with a more strategic approach and charitable cause could earn a lot more. A quick Google search reveals lots of other fundraising companies providing items like chocolate and gift wrap instead of flower bulbs.
  5. Sell on Amazon or Ebay. Rebelutionary Megan Cupit wrote an article explaining how her family started selling books on Amazon and giving the proceeds to the Bible League. They raised more than $1,000 in just five months. You can read her article to find out how they did it.

Does the large price tag attached to orphan care and adoption scare you? Have you done any fundraising activities to raise money for orphans or other causes? Do you think you can implement any of the ideas presented in this post?

Do you have any questions about raising money to help orphans, how to chose who to donate to, or anything else related to this topic? Ask in the comments below and I might devote a future post to your question!

Back to School Sales and Orphans

Back to School Sales and OrphansJuly and August can be great months for teens who want to help out with orphan care ministries. Why? It’s simple. Back to school sales are currently at their peak.

School supplies can be used by a wide variety of ministries that help orphans and underprivileged children. During back to school sales, you can find all sorts of stuff at huge discounts. My personal favorite is the Wal-Mart sale. Clip With Purpose is a great website to keep track of other sales. Last year I got notebooks for 20 cents and boxes of crayons for 25 cents. Most of us don’t have a lot of expendable income, so this is a great way to stretch what we have.

Okay. So you might be wondering how you can use all those school supplies to help orphans. Here are a few ideas.

1. Backpacks for Foster Kids

Those of you who participated in the group read of Orphan Justice may already know about this. Kids often enter the foster system with very few personal belongings. One way individuals and churches can reach out to them is by packing backpacks with toiletries, underwear, coloring supplies, etc. You can stock up on many of these items during the back to school sales.
Read more about this opportunity

2. Shoeboxes for Kids Around the World

This is where the majority of my back to school finds end up. Operation Christmas Child delivers boxes to poverty stricken children around the world. Though this ministry is not specifically targeted at orphans, it definitely impacts them. Plus it’s super easy and lots of fun. If you have questions, feel free to send them my way.
Read how Operation Christmas Children impacted one adoptive family

3. Donate Directly to an Orphanage or Sponsorship Program

This one can be a little tricky because international shipping costs so much. Some ministries have predetermined ways of getting donations overseas. If they don’t it is possible to raise the money to ship a box or carton of supplies. Or you could send your donations with someone going on a missions trip. That’s the route I’ve taken in the past, and this year I got to be on the delivery end of the deal!

IMG_1948

School supplies for our missions trip.

4. Shop for an Adoptive Family

Do you know a family who has adopted or is in the process of adopting? You could always take advantage of the back to school sales to bless them. Ask them for a list or just surprise them. Or, if you don’t have any money, volunteer your time. Maybe you know an adoptive mom who would love to take advantage of the sales but can’t find the time to go shopping.

Do any of these ideas appeal to you? Can you think of any other ways to use back to school sales to bless orphans?

Guest Post: Letting Go

Balloons

Today’s guest poster is Jesse. He’s a TIO member with personal experience in foster care side of caring for the fatherless. When he asked how he could help, I asked if he’d be willing to write a guest post about that experience. Here it is. (And, no, the title of this post has nothing to do with Frozen. Just in case you now have a certain song playing through your head.)

~*~

Is it really worth it? To pile on love and adoration, only to know the one you love will soon have to leave? Is it worth it to completely give all you have to someone who you quite possibly might never see again? Is love worth the tearing and pulling apart that comes when you open your home to a situation like this?

When this little guy first came into my life I totally welcome him way down deep into my heart. I would stay up late, sometimes begging him to just go to sleep, other times wishing he wouldn’t drop off so fast. I would love to hold him in the back of church, totally reveling all the attention we would get, never dreaming about the day it would actually end. I guess I’m great at living at denial in that way.

I knew when my parents first mentioned foster care that the child would most likely end up back with his or her parents. I knew that, but refused to accept it. Now I have to. This awesome little guy just turned two, and we are really good friends. There’s nothing like coming home from work and having him run up to me yelling my name, or cranking on the tunes and watching him dance and try to air guitar like his favorite foster brother. These are good days, golden days. But soon, they will end. He will go back to live with his mom, and I can’t stop it. All I can do is pray more desperately than I have ever prayed in my life. I never knew how hard it was to let go until I had to do it. He is her child after all. But I learned a long time ago that reason does not stop pain. The pain is necessary, in order to heal. Which brings it around. Is all this pain, all this hurting worth it?

In a word, totally. In a thousand words, well just look at a picture of him and you will see what I mean. The chance at changing a life forever is worth the pain. Because he has had a stable first two years of his life, he has a much better chance at a stable adulthood. The shot at making a real difference in not only the life of a child, but also his mom and her family. Not to mention the real, epic, lasting changes and experiences I have gained on this journey.

So, is it hard? Yes, heart rending, one of the hardest things I have ever walked through. Is it worth it? Yes, probably one of the most satisfying things I have ever walked through, knowing that we as a family and myself as an individual are doing God’s will, and reaching out to the hurting, the broken and the fatherless. So if you could gain anything from my feeble attempt to put down what races thru my head, let it be this, never let anything stop you from what God is telling you to do. God speaks thru different ways, but He always speakers thru His word. And one the largest and most recurring themes in the bible is serving the fatherless and the widow. Even the ones right in our own country. May God be with you as you go regardless of the pain, regardless of the hurt and possible failures. For the voiceless

–Jesse

Do you have any personal experiences like Jesse? Do you believe the difficulty of caring for the father

Sozo: Beauty Through Pain

May is National Foster Care month. There are lots of frequently quoted numbers about foster care. Approximately 400,000 children live in the foster care system at any given time. Each year more than 20,000 of those children age out without finding a forever family or being reunified with their biological family. Around 104,000 of these children are waiting for adopting families. Sozo is the story of one family, one girl, who personally experienced the pain and beauty of adoption through foster care.

Note: I’ve mentioned my friend, Marli Tague, several times on my two blogs. This is the story of her family and her sister.

Teens In Action: Everlasting Hope

Elisabeth

Elisabeth

Today, I’m excited to welcome Elisabeth Sullivan to TIO. I discovered her project through a comment she left on The Rebelution. When I emailed her to ask for a guest post, it turned out that she already followed TIO. And she agreed to write a guest post. Her project is fantastic! Just goes to show that young people can make a difference with a bit of ingenuity. I love how Elisabeth took an idea she saw somewhere else and modified it to make her own unique, effective project. And, even better, there’s a bunch of ways you can help her with it. Enjoy her article. 🙂

What we’re doing:

Everlasting Hope is a group that crochets hats to raise money for the Master’s Home, an orphanage being built in Uyo, Nigeria by MCCF International. (For right now, 50% of the profit we make goes to the Master’s Home.) Our goal is to raise at least $1000. We post different hats and crocheted projects we are working on. We also have an online store called Hope Eternal Enterprises (HEE) where have most of the hats we make that we are selling. HEE got 38 views 3 days after it was published and Everlasting Hope has gotten over 560 page views! We were really excited. 🙂

Polar Bear Hat

Polar Bear Hat

In December, I gave all the profit I made to the orphanage in honor of Christmas; a week after I sent it to the orphanage, I looked in my wallet for money to buy bunny food (you would not believe how much food my rabbit eats!) and it was empty except for a $5 bill. I now owed my mom $42 for bunny food and yarn. I questioned whether I should have put that much of my money into it and I prayed to God for financial help. A couple of days later, I got an order for over 15 hats! I thanked God with all of my heart. That was a kind of sign to me that God was blessing what I was doing.

What inspired me:

Flower Hat

Flower Hat

The book Do Hard Things is what inspired me to get moving and do some hard things for God. I wasn’t sure what I should do exactly until I looked at their website and saw a project that Elaini Garfield was doing to raise money for orphans in India. She styled one dress 100 different ways over a period of 100 days, blogging about it along the way. She raised more then $10k more than they initially hoped for, so now she is continuing the blog indefinitely to raise awareness. That gave me an idea: instead of styling one dress a different way every day for 100 days, I could crochet one hat a day for 100 days in different styles and sizes to raise money for the Master’s Home. My dad convinced me to change it closer to 50 days at least for the beginning so I changed it to 56 days (8 weeks). My goal was to raise $1000 in those 56 days. I made a blog for it called Everlasting Hope, where I post different projects I’ve made lately and other stuff like that. I was going to start on February 1, but since then, I have been absolutely flooded with orders for all kinds of hats so the 8 Week Challenge was on hold for awhile. LORD willing, I will begin on March 30. 🙂

God has definitely blessed us in this work; we’ve been absolutely flooded with orders for Minion hats, frog hats, flower hats, and more. It’s been really awesome seeing God work His will through us. I never dreamed it would grow as big as it is now.

How you can help:

If you would like to help, you can:
Pray – We need all the prayers we can get!
Donate – You can donate online on the MCCF International website
Buy some of our hats – We’ve got all kinds of cute hats we’re making! They are all $10, no matter what size or style you get
Spread the word – Tell other people you know about Everlasting Hope.
Join us! – If you know how to knit or crochet, you can make things and sell them too! My little sister is going to make 1 headband a day for 56 days along with me.

Have any questions for Elisabeth? What talents has God given you that you could use to help orphans?

Cause to Celebrate, Cause to Fight

Romeike

The Romeike’s Can Stay!

There’s a lot of disagreement in the world of orphan care and adoption, but almost everyone agrees on one thing. When possible, it is in the best interests of a child to remain with their biological family. Prevention is the best way to keep a child from being an orphan. The American foster system tries to reunify families when possible, and organizations work in other countries to allow poverty stricken families to keep their little ones. People understand that the government makes a poor parent. Or do they?

Homeschooling is not allowed in Germany. This law essentially puts government control of children above parental rights. To make matters worse Germany puts their anti-homeschooling sentiments over the well understood importance of keeping children with their families. If families try to protect their children from the enormously secular German public school system, the German government will remove the children from their parents. These children are not in abusive, neglected, impoverished, or harmful situations. They have loving, happy families.

If governments know how to raise children better than loving parents, why do so many studies reveal a decrease in brain development among institutionalized children? Why do high percentages of graduates from government care programs end up in crime, prostitution, and poverty? The statistics and studies are clear. Raising children isn’t a job for the government.

Romeike2The Romeike family fled to the US after suffering persecution for homeschooling their children in Germany. They were granted asylum by US courts and settled quietly into their new lives: until members of the American government appealed the already settled case, and began attempting to throw the Romeikes out of the country. These officials almost became responsible for adding six more children to the millions of orphans in the world. Thankfully, last night we learned that the Department of Homeland security has announced that the Romeike’s can stay! This family will remain together, the way a family should.

However, there are still children being orphaned because of this issue. Children being snatched from their stable families by overbearing governments. Children being subjected to the documented trauma of being removed from their parents for no good reason. Families like the Johansson’s whose son has been in foster care for years simply because his parents homeschooled him .

These situations have been recognized as human rights cases. They’ve been recognized as parental rights cases. But they also deserve attention by people in orphan care. Across the board, people who care for orphans seek to prevent children becoming orphaned in the first place. From efforts to reunify families with children in the US foster care system to sponsoring poverty stricken families around the word to keep them unified, making sure children remain with their parents whenever it’s safe is a priority in this field.

Families whose children are being removed for no good reason need people to fight for them. Learn how you can help the Johansson’s  by visiting the Johansson Resource Page and How to Help the Johansson Family.