Merry Christmas from Reach Out Orphanage Ministries!

 

Thank you, ROOM supporters, for making this year possible!

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Who Would Jesus Cut off at the Mall? ~Amanda Stafford

Today’s blog is written by ROOM’s Executive Director, Amanda Stafford.  Amanda works out of our international headquarters (a spare office at Epworth United Methodist Church) in Concord, North Carolina.  Amanda dislikes “Christmas nonsense” but loves Jesus a whole lot.  Today’s blog demonstrates her desire to weave Scripture throughout her day to shift focus away from this season’s empty business and toward reverence for Christ and His word.

Earlier this week, I went to Staples because ROOM was out of printer ink.  Unfortunately, the Staples closest to our office shares a parking lot with a small shopping mall.  I was not prepared for the Battle-Royale-Smackdown-Demolition-Derby-Death-match that is going on anywhere near any mall during the week of Christmas.  It took a tremendous amount of time to find a parking spot.  When I finally saw someone backing up (…very far away from the office supply store entrance…) a woman in a  fancy green mom-van honked at me and stole the spot I had been politely waiting for with my blinker on.  My weird, unplanned response to this Christmas-pirate was to smile and wave like I knew her.  She glared back at me meanly.  This was around 6:30pm on Monday.  ROOM just needed ink.

 

I hate Christmas.  Christmas is not my favorite season.  I get overwhelmed by all the commercialism and extra “have-tos” piled on top of my already-busy schedule.  The holidays give me grumpy feelings, like:

  • I feel uncomfortable when everyone overeats at holiday parties and then complains about how full they are.  795 million people worldwide (that’s one in nine) suffer from chronic undernourishment (source: World Hunger).
  • I feel pressure to spend outside my budget on gifts for friends and family; often on things they don’t really want or need.  41% of Americans feel obligated to buy gifts they can’t afford (source:  Experian Consumer Services).
  • I feel happy to see the tremendous focus on volunteerism and charitable giving, but I also feel snarky because it seems like these values are only practiced when Santa is sitting on his mall-throne.  Poverty persists year-round; charities operate every day of the year; but, over one-third of contributions to nonprofits are made during the holiday season (source:  Blackbaud).

…and all the readers collectively say:  “Oh, Amanda, I bet you’re really fun at parties.”

I am extremely fun. (Want proof?  I literally have vocabulary flashcards in my purse right now if you want to play a word game with me.)

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While it is true that my best friends recently compared me to Grumpy Cat in the movie Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.  I think, maybe, the reason all this shopping-spending-crafting-driving-overeating-Santa-Claus-consumerist nonsense doesn’t resonate with my heart is because this man-made garbage is nothing compared with the indescribable, holy happiness and wonder stemming from the truth of our Lord, Jesus Christ’s humble birth.

I’m trying to fix my eyes on Jesus’ coming, instead of cookies shaped like an old bearded-man.  When I do this, I take comfort in Biblical truths.  I am reminded what this season should be about.  I am less likely to stress-eat gas station doughnuts in my car because ROOM’s year-end-fundraising-revenue is not as high as I would like.  I am less likely to overreact when the cheese straws I bake don’t meet my perfectionist expectations.  I am more likely to respond to others’ holiday stress (like the parking lot situation) with grace and compassion.  Why?  Because Christmas is nothing compared with the actual miracle of Jesus.

Today, with Christmas Eve only three days away, I am trying to balance a long workday, family responsibilities and holiday errands. I am doing my best to hold these have-tos and want-tos and to-dos together by weaving in Biblical truth.  In my mind, it looks something like this:

(Pro tip:  Imagine reading the “to-dos” in my voice and the Bible verses in Morgan Freeman’s voice)

To do:  Answer emails.  Return voicemails.  Write a @roomtolove blog post.  December financials.  2016 year-end bookkeeping.  

“The Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14

To do:  Christmas fundraising follow-ups.  End-of-year fundraising.  Donor thank-you notes and Christmas cards.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” -Galatians 4:4-5

To do:  Work on 2017 ministry plans and preparations.  Follow-up with ROOM’s Board of Directors on the 2017 budget.    

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said ‘Joseph, son of David, do  not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, but what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'”  -Matthew 18:20-21

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To do:  Reach out to ROOM volunteers.  Work on looming pile of tedious paperwork I have been avoiding.   

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from at time on and forever.  The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”  -Isaiah 9:6-7

To do:  Check the PO Box.  Process mail and donations.  Make bank deposit.  Thank donors.

“At one time we were too foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kids of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  Then the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  -Titus 3:3-7

To do:  File financials.  Check and confirm Honduras year-end paperwork from 2016.  Check and confirm India year-end financials from 2016.

“Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave bight to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”  Luke 2:4-7

To do:  Visit Grandma after work.  Take Grandma grocery shopping or to run Christmas errands.  Eat dinner together and go to Wednesday night church service together.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you; you will find a baby laying wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us all about.”-  Luke 2:9-15

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To do:  Try to find some time to go Christmas shopping (??) and locate perfect gifts for family members.  Bake seasonal treats; pack them cuter than any pinterest page.  Make Christmas crafts.  Wrap gifts.

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  Luke 2:16-20

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To do:  Take time to be still.  Thank God for the tremendous blessings I am quick to complain about every day behind a tall fence of privilege.  Say my evening prayers under the glow of my quiet Christmas tree.  

Most of the blog articles I write end with either a direct or implied request for fundraising support.  This one doesn’t really (…okay, if you insist… please visit http://www.makeroom.org/donate.php and make a donation to support our amazing children and life-changing programs), instead I ask that you consider spending more time reading the Bible this holiday season.

Fixing your eyes on Jesus and on His word will help you feel whole.  When we feel whole we can best fulfill our ministry call, like my call to serve children who are orphaned and abandoned in developing nations through Reach Out Orphanage Ministries. 

God’s word will remind you to give your time, energy, resources and dollars generously.  Scripture tells us truths about our responsibilities to help people who are poor, orphaned, widowed and immigrants; and then it empowers us to be part of God’s solutions for these vulnerable populations.

From Scripture we learn that the first will be last and last will be first (Matthew 20:16).  In response, we take one more lap around the mall parking lot while pondering if this verse is actually applicable in our current situation.

To learn how you can help your family focus on giving, not just receiving, this holiday season read Christmas Giving and Christmas Receiving by Cassie Murray.

For more information about ROOM and how you can get involved, check out: our website.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Giving & Christmas Receiving ~Cassie Murray

Today’s blog post comes from ROOM Missionary and Honduras Country Director, Cassie Murray.  Cassie has worn many official hats in our ministry:  Costa Rican Missionary, Honduran Missionary, Honduras Transition Home Director, foster mom, mission team leader, Honduras Country Director; and, just as many unofficial titles:  mentor, advocate, fundraiser, blogger, errand-runner and prayer warrior.  Cassie’s seasonal article today is inspired by a heart full of love for the children she calls her own and the children served by ROOM.

This Christmas feels a bit weird.

I know it can’t just be me. This year has been a tough one for many of us.

It’s been a year where our perspectives have been shifted and the smallness of the world has been felt in ways that makes us all uncomfortable.

It makes it difficult to do things the same way when the lens that we have viewed the world through shifts or is completely transformed.

And you know what, that’s okay.

It’s great, actually. We need to start thinking about why we do the things we do. We need to start thinking about sustainability and the impact of our decisions beyond today.

I started my holiday celebrations early this year. Very early. In October I brought Christmas gifts from ROOM donors in the U.S. to the terrific kids who spend their days at Crecer (ROOM’s partner ministry in San Pedro Sula, Honduras working with kids who are at-risk). The Christmas presents ROOM is providing this year will serve two purposes:  1) Kids, who otherwise might go without, receive a gift to open on Christmas, and 2) Basic needs, such as clothing or school supplies, are met in a special way.

In speaking with Jilli, the program’s director, about the gifts ROOM provided she told me a story that helped me understand how the presents’ impacts go deeper than just these two purposes:  One of the kids from Crecer doesn’t know his Birthday.  She told him to pick a day and they would just celebrate his birthday on the day he choose, but he declined.  After all the other kids had parties (and pinatas!), he decided that birthdays weren’t all bad. But instead of picking the next day (which I surely would have), he picked a date months later.  Now, this young man has an annual Birthday celebration to look forward to every year.

Not knowing your birth date means so many things.  First, it means you don’t have a birth certificate.  This is not uncommon.  Many kids don’t have birth records in Honduras due to home births, anonymous abandonment, lost paperwork, and countless other reasons.   ROOM works toward getting birth certificates for every child in our care so that they can do things like go to school or get married someday.  They basically need it to exist in the government’s eyes.

But, a birth certificate means more than paperwork:  It means knowing how old you are.  It means being counted… being remembered… and being celebrated when you turn another year older.  A present is not just a present. A party is not just a party. These are physical examples that the people around you want to celebrate you, just because of who you are.

Birthday parties and Christmas gifts are tangible ways to show these kids that they are remembered. They are part of a community. They are special. They are loved.

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With this new perspective on Birthdays, I began preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday by asking new questions; starting with:  What is our goal for celebrating Christmas?

We say that we want our kids not to be focused selfishly, but the first question they are asked is, “What do you want for Christmas?” And after the holidays, we hear, “What did you get for Christmas?”

We inadvertently make Christmas about what they receive just with those two questions. Incidentally, we also isolate so many  people who won’t be getting anything for Christmas.

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Just look at how cute they are! How could I not want to buy them the world?

And even though I want to buy my children the world, I want to embrace how different this year feels by purposely making some changes out of respect for the children we know and love who are not living a life of privilege.

For starters, I am going to be intentional about shifting my own perspective and  maybe even (if just for a minute) the perspective of others by asking, “What are you excited to GIVE this year?”

It isn’t a huge change, but I’ve realized that funny thing about perspective is that it rarely takes huge moments to cause a shift. Sometimes it is just a casual conversation with a friend, like my conversation with Jilli.

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Another change I am making is following the example of my friends at Crecer (who celebrate Christmas by serving their community). I’ve been so inspired by their hearts to give their neighbors crafts and baked goods, that my family and I have decided to make cookies and cards for our own neighborhood.

By focusing on giving instead of receiving, Christmas becomes about an outward expression of love rather than an inward focus on self.

If you are like me and are trying to make the most of this giving season, ROOM has put together a Giving Catalog that illustrates just how gifts from $1 all the way to $10,000 can make powerful impacts in the lives of the kids we serve. We are dedicated to being good stewards of all donations, meaning that 100% of your donation goes directly to the project specified.  To make this extra special, ROOM will send an beautiful honor or memorial card to your friend or family member for any giving catalog donations.

To learn more about this Giving Catalog check out: Giving Catalog Razoo Page

To learn more about how ROOM empowers children and communities, and for ways you can get involved with our ministry this holiday season and beyond, check out: http://www.makeroom.org/

Pictures from the Refrigerator~Kacey Bolin

This week’s ROOM contributor is Kacey Bolin. Kacey is coming up on her third Christmas spent in Honduras serving alongside of ROOM missionaries and working to strengthen our programs with her diligence, compassion, and kind heart. We are so thankful for her missionary service and her desire to love each child we serve individually!

Every week Jesús (Kacey’s foster son) and I visit a local orphanage called Hogar Emnanuel (Immanuel Children’s Home) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. For more than a year-and-a-half we have come to visit children living in this home. I have built relationship with the staff members, caretakers, and many of the children.  During our visits we tend to focus our time on interacting with the youngest children. The babies, toddlers and early elementary-school-aged children are the ones we see most and know best. We play games together, read stories, run around outside, and enjoy many other activities together.img_1337

Recently, I have discovered how much they enjoy completing activities I bring for us. Last week we did a handprint Christmas craft together. You can imagine how messy this became: hands covered in paint, water everywhere, 15 giggly children anxiously anticipating their turn. It was a time full of laughter and joy. They were so proud of their creation!

The other day, as I was rushing out the door to run errands and go by Hogar Emmanuel, I decided to grab some of our coloring books and our bag of crayons to share with the kids. I knew the little ones would enjoy this simple activity, even if it wasn’t as exciting and messy as paint.

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I love when simple things make a greater impact than I anticipate.

Coloring pictures at Hogar Emanuel turned into group activity with the young and older children. The preteen and teenage boys gathered around and found their place among the young ones. They helped the younger ones find the colors they wanted, and helped me talk to the kids about sharing while setting excellent examples of working together and even colored pictures themselves.

Those coloring books and crayons engaged over 30 kids. When all the pages were colored and the crayons were worn down to almost nothing we prepared to leave. They excitedly finished their pictures, showed them to me, and many of them gave me their pictures as a gift. It warmed my heart to receive the work they all colored with such care.

I took more than 45 beautifully-colored pictures home. The most disappointing thing about receiving these amazing gifts is how little room I have on my fridge for them. They were each done with such care and precision. They each deserve to be on display.

This week I want to use my opportunity writing this entry to put those works on display. I am proud to be the recipient of these precious works of art. I am proud to know each of these children.

I am thankful for the way they have allowed Jesús and I to be a part of their lives.

I am thankful for the way they love us.

More than anything I am so thankful for special opportunity I have to know, love and believe in each of them. This is my proud, bragging moment: These smiles were hard earned. Trust and willingness to interact does not come easily for children struggling with abandonment. Their choice to interact with us at all is a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is beautiful to see the simple and gentle ways God works to build relationships and create encounters with His love. I am seeing the children at Hogar Emanuel encounter this love. These smiles and colored pictures are a reminder to me of all God is doing. Thank you for allowing me to share them with you.

 

If you are interested in displaying one of these beautiful works of art on your refrigerator, please send your mailing address to kyleandcassie@makeroom.org and we will be happy to send one your way. We couldn’t agree with Kacey more; each one of these drawing deserves to be on display! And by hanging their work of art on your fridge, your thoughts and prayers will be brought to these children each day.