There’s a reason, I think, that as Christians we celebrate the birth of the savior at the darkest time of the year. The poignant juxtaposition of hope and despair, of darkness and light, is the very heart of the Christmas. The story of a people in captivity, barely holding on to belief in the promises of a God who seems to have forgotten them, whose rescue comes in the form of a baby born in a stable — this story resonates with all of us who fear, who doubt and who sometimes hope.
This Christmas has been for me a big jumble of darkness and light, of tears and laughter, of frustration and promise.
Last Thursday, after a full week of feeling buffeted by horrifying news stories of children my daughter’s age being massacred at school, of suicide bombings, hate crimes, drone strikes and fiscal cliffs, I was more than ready to leave the office, pack my up my wife and kids and head south to visit friends, family and Asia’s Hope supporters in North Carolina and Florida for a much-needed workcation.
As restless as I was to get on the road, there was no way I was going to miss my afternoon meeting with Mike Borst, pastor of NorthChurch (Lewis Center, Ohio). I’ve known Mike for years, and have long believed that NorthChurch would one day become an Asia’s Hope partnering congregation. On Thursday, we made it official: NorthChurch is now the sponsor of our newest home, Kalimpong 2 in Northeast India! In less than two weeks, I’ll be flying to India with a group of Asia’s Hope staff, board members and supporters, and I’ll get a chance to meet the 25 kids now living in our 25th children’s home.
I left the office buoyant – what a great way to end the year! I enjoyed a great evening with my family, finished packing my bags and went to bed only a little late. I woke up the next morning to a raft of Facebook messages and emails: one of our homes in Thailand had burned to the ground. As I pored over the pictures of stunned children and staff who, thank God, were not at home when the fire broke out, I felt sickened.
Beyond the building itself, these kids lost much more. They lost all of the letters, photos and drawings from friends, visitors and sponsors. Worse yet, I suspect that some of the children lost the one remaining picture they had of a mother or father. All of it burned up. Only one boy, Pichai, was able to recover a small album of photos. Beyond all of that, the sense of security we work so hard to provide for these children had been jeopardized.
Much less important was the sense of frustration I felt as I watched helplessly the nice, tidy bow I’d wrapped around 2012 unravel and fall to pieces. So many people had worked so hard to help Asia’s Hope end the year in the black and with a ton of forward momentum on a number of capital and operational projects. Now, I was headed out of the office for a month and a half with a huge, unfunded and immediate need.
$75,000 is a lot of money, especially for an organization that operates in the U.S. with a skeleton crew and on a shoestring budget. What could we do?
Clench fists. Breath deeply. Close eyes. Pray. Open eyes. Unclench fists.
Send out emails. Post on Facebook and Twitter.
Breath deeply. Close eyes. Pray. Open eyes.
Within hours, I heard from a longtime donor who sent enough money to meet immediate emergency needs – mattresses, mosquito nets, blankets, toiletries. Other donors called and offered to help. Our Canadian board president called and let us know that they had money to contribute to the effort. Pastors from Doi Saket 1’s supporting church and two Asia’s Hope churches not directly affected by the fire called and let me know that they would be taking special Christmas Eve offerings to help with the reconstruction.
By the time I got on the road, my frustration had dissolved, and was being replaced by something like exhilaration. Stuff was happening. God was doing it!
A week after the fire, we are within spitting distance of being able to cover the entire cost of tearing down the old building and completing the new one. Thanks to the hard work, the sacrifice and the generosity of our board, our partnering churches and dozens of ordinary people committed to stepping up and delivering for the orphaned children displaced by this fire, we’re proving to our Thai staff and kids that they are not alone, and that their brothers and sisters around the world can and will respond to their needs.
So, once again the Christmas narrative plays out in our midst. Out of darkness and despair comes light and hope.
Thank you for playing a part in this drama. Thank you engaging suffering, for unleashing hope. It is a pleasure to serve with you all.