An organic movement of people drawn to see the weak and vulnerable with God's eyes, and respond by faith with practical love.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why Mercy's Refuge?

Why the name Mercy's Refuge? I knew in a moment the name was right. God had been whispering to my heart about the hope of provision, of refuge, of mercy in this life. Mercy matters, all people need mercy. And God himself is that refuge of mercy for all mankind.

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see. Psalm 36:5:9

Sometimes we ask why God. Why is there suffering, hardship, judgement, cruelty, and want. His response is always a refuge of mercy in those hard places, it's an offer of himself. Throughout the Bible God clearly shows his provision of refuges. When he destroyed the earth with a flood he didn't remove Noah, he mercifully protected him in the storm, in the refuge of a boat. He didn't remove Rahab from danger, he protected her in it. As the walls of Jericho fell she was hidden in a refuge of God's mercy. Jonah deserved judgement for disobedience but God protected him, essentially in a watery grave, a merciful refuge. As the angel of death passed over the children of Israel, they hid in their homes under lambs blood, a refuge of mercy. In the newly formed nation of Israel God give instruction to provide cities of refuge, a mercy for people in trouble. Ultimately, Jesus' tomb was a refuge of mercy, protecting us all if we will come, offering us mercy in exchange for judgement.

When life is hard, unjust, and wearisome, God offers us himself as a shelter. He is mercy. Most exciting to me is that he offers those of us who follow him a role in his mercy, compassion, and love. I've lived long in the refuge of God's kindness, and gratitude must grow feet. I'm looking for a birds eye view to see the mercy of God spread out over mankind, and in any little way I can spur it on.

The children and adults of Dom Veternik who have lived long lives of struggle, of love without enough hands to go around, are good candidates for mercy. Mercy matters, I'm coming to believe it matters most of all.

The name Mercy's Refuge is a way to express, that in this life of hardship, we trust there is always a place of refuge for every soul.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Everyone Has Value

I met Jennifer about five years ago. Most people in our church were friendly to her. But occasionally she was just tolerated or even ignored. Jennifer has Down syndrome. On top of that, as a young woman, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Jennifer took a liking to me and I her. Over time, as I observed other's interaction with Jennifer, I wondered if we were all missing something important. What if God wanted to use Jennifer to teach us essential truths about ourselves and about His nature? So I asked him.

As I prayed, “God show me your purpose for Jennifer in my life and the life of our community,” my eyes began to open. Certainly we are meant to provide protection, care, and honor for the weak ones among us. But I realized Jennifer has a role also, she's God's opportunity for us to exercise our heart muscle. She makes us better. We are meant for each other.

What if instead of just tolerating people like Jennifer we see them as indispensable members of our community? What if we realize we would be weaker and incomplete, without them? What if we embrace the opportunity to elevate people with physical and mental disability to a status of importance? How might we be better, more loving, wiser people?

We have the opportunity to set the example. During social activities, instead of sitting with the person who's most popular, we want to impress, or are most comfortable with, lets choose to sit next to a person with special needs, who is often misunderstood or left out. Let's find ways to encourage their participation in our activities and lives. Let's encourage their families and put them at ease around us. Even better let's offer to help relieve their families of some of their extra care duties once in a while.

When we value each person God has placed in our communities, God will be honored, needs will be met, and our heart muscles will grow. Let's ask God to give us eyes to see others with eyes of love, to purify our motives, and give us compassion!

Friday, January 11, 2013

We Could All Use A Friend

In October when Nichole and I traveled to Dom Veternik mental institution a report by a human rights group had just come out. In it they reported on the condition of residents in several of Serbia's mental institutions. The report was not a great one. I read parts of it before arriving in Serbia, and it had intimidated me.

Initially the report cast a shadow over our visit to the institution. I'm sure the director and staff were understandably concerned at our arrival. While at the first meeting they were perhaps cautious, I believe they soon realized they had nothing to fear from us. During the entire visit the staff was warm, open, friendly, and generous, and I hold them in high regard. 

As I've had time to reflect on our visit, the report, the staff's response to the report and to us, one thing stands out to me. Everyone wants to be understood. As we talked with the staff, nurses, and teachers it was clear that they are very aware of the needs of their residents. They don't pretend not to have problems, and they want the best for the people they care for. They didn't have to say so, we could see, the report had hurt them.

I agree and I disagree with the group's findings. Certainly some of their concerns for the residents listed in the report are a reality. Many of the immobile patients don't receive enough stimulation or nutrition. The amount of staff is not sufficient for the amount of residents, especially given the severity of many of their needs. There are certainly children that would thrive in a home setting instead of an institution. Though I don't think the staff of Dom Veternik would disagree with those evaluations. And Some of the findings of the report I didn't personally find to be true at all.

My main problem with the report is that it painted the staff in a poor light, it wasn't an offer of understanding and friendship, it was an accusation. I don't find that kind of accusation to be helpful and I regret it being made. Life is hard, Dom Veternik isn't to be blamed for the limitation of funds and staff, and the government is changing and working to improve the condition of the entire country. I just don't think pointing fingers at short comings is helpful.

I'm sure the motivation of the human rights group was to protect and help people with disability. I have no doubt they have seen horrific things around the world. But I believe something is most beneficial when it helps everyone involved, including the staff.

What is helpful is an offer of friendship when challenges and problems are found. You can tell people to change or you can help them to, there's a world of difference between the two. 

There are pictures I took at Dom Veternik that I won't post online, they are too raw. There are pictures I never took at Dom Veternik because I couldn't bring myself to dishonor a person in such a vulnerable state. But there was love I have no problem championing and shouting about.

In the face of lack and difficulty we saw creativity, compassion, grace, and hope. Men and women see their jobs at Dom Veternik as more than a job, they are the residents family. On a floor that held some of the most fragile people, I saw joy and love in the form of a nurse that I will never forget. It was obvious that the staff works hard to give the best life possible to their residents and have employed some creative means to do so.

The staff is intimately aware of the difficulties of providing sufficient care for hundreds of needy people. It has to take a tole on them physically and emotionally. Instead of holding up a list of what is not enough I would rather applaud their efforts and join them in friendship to offer the support they need.

Everyone wants to be seen, to know that they matter, to know they aren't forgotten, and they are understood. Everyone can use a friend. That's our next goal for Dom Veternik, to make sure the staff hears loud and clear from us that we appreciate them and we're their friends.

We welcome your participation in this big task! Would you pray for us as we continue to walk through the doorway of friendship with the staff of Dom Veternik. We have some ideas of next steps and will tell you more about them as they unfold! It's going to take a good deal of resources and planning, we'll let you know how to help in the near future!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Show Up

I dreamed a dream a year ago. Pieced together from photographs, videos, and testimonials. My sleep was haunted by children languishing in sorrow, lined up in rows of cribs. What could I do? One person so far away, to find out the truth, to make a difference? But my dreams haunted me, and I had to know for certain.

In October my friend Nichole and I traveled to Dom Veternik mental institution (thanks to the exceptional generosity of family and friends) in search of the truth. We discovered the truth is complex and often leads to more questions. What we found was expected, and yet not what we expected. Certainly there are children and adults living with profound disabilities, many in conditions we would consider inferior. I realized though that in a world of not enough, of suffering, sometimes we use the wrong standard to measure by. Sometimes in a world with a short supply of love and resources to go around, a little actually goes a long way.

Even though the number of staff available to care for the residents is terribly inadequate, due to many reasons, the amount of affection and care was surprising. Love in unexpected places always shines more brightly.
A sweet resident and the physical therapist.
My dreams have been replaced with real faces. Even though I still grieve the burden life has laid heavily across the frail backs of some, I dream a new dream, I dream of hope. The goodness God has woven into every human heart, and the sorrow that life often scrawls across mankind's story, meshes into a bright ray. I doubt our trip uncovered the whole story. Every society struggles to deal with it's own weakness, embodied in it's most vulnerable. But it's a starting place. For now it's enough. Because next we have to wrestle with the question, "now what?"

I wish we could say we had an amazing plan, a trust fund, unlimited resources. But we're learning to be content with showing up and resting in the hope that God is leading. Right now the plan is to make friends and we're thankful!