On Midair and Miracles

The hardest thing about needing a miracle, I think, is the position required to receive one. It looks something like this:

I promised I would write about the signs and wonders I’ve seen during the birth of The Esther Project, but it’s important to note, I never would have seen them had I not skied off the cliff in the first place.

You could say, any plan that requires divine intervention to prevent a spectacular failure, is foolish.  That’s true, unless you believe in a God who sends a murderer into Pharaoh’s court to demand the release of half a million Jewish slaves.

Moses argued with God about that. “Who me?”

I did the same when my partner at Mercy Ships kept suggesting the best way to impact a bunch of abused and abandoned girls in the worlds’ 6th poorest nation, was to bring them to the Africa Mercy. 

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“No way,” I said. “I’ve got no back up. It’s too wild. Too hard. Too much work. And how do I even ask for such a thing?”

Then my friend Joy reminded me of God talking back to Moses.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

“All right Lord, I’ll go,” I said. “Just so we’re clear though, I can’t make this happen, you have to.”

Roger that.

Anatomy of a Miracle – Seven Easy Steps.

Step One: Somebody, somewhere mentions the Africa Mercy recently got new mattresses, and the old ones are still stacked up in the warehouse.

And that warehouse, someone else adds, will be unused the weekend you might bring the girls down, because that happens to be Easter weekend – a fact you overlooked.

Step Two: The next day you discover, the bus you normally take to the port doesn’t run on Good Friday, so you have to come two days early, giving you enough time to say, dress up a warehouse with 50 mattresses on the floor.

Step Three: That same day, someone else mentions, in passing, the Chaplaincy department at Mercy Ships has chosen to focus this Easter season on the Old Testament Book of Esther.

And you remember, 18 months before, when you nicknamed your work with these girls,  “The Esther Project,” and the hair stands up on your neck. 

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Step Four: Soon after, you take a deep breath and hit send on a proposal to the management team of the Africa Mercy, explaining how you plan to, from the United States, organize a beach trip and two-night slumber party on the dock, next to the ship, for 50 Malagasy teenagers, who live ten hours away, don’t speak English and have never seen the ocean.

And you apologize for how crazy that sounds.

But before you hear back, the Captain lets it fly that he’d like to invite the girls up to the Bridge. You laugh because in your three years with Mercy Ships, you’ve never been invited to visit the Bridge.

Step Five: The management team mulls it over. There is yes. There is no. You cry in the parking lot. There is yes again. A small no. Then a green light. Your friends on board pull weight for you, and you cry about that too.

Step Six: You build a Go Fund Me page to beg $2500 for transport, pizza, ice cream and other teenage girl essentials. Typically, you’d rather take a beating then ask people for money, but you do it because the Lord is setting bushes on fire everywhere, and you dare not ignore a burning bush. Right Moses?

The first donation arrives 30 minutes later from a woman you don’t know named Ruth. It is for $500. You cry again.

Less than 22 hours later, the campaign is overfunded by 10% and you’re still scheduled to take an offering at Mercy Ships. So, two days later, you do and now you’re overfunded by 90% because your colleagues want to bring heaven to earth too.

Step Seven: With some of that extra money, Tom, your partner on the Africa Mercy, suggests you buy fresh coconuts with the tops lopped off and a straw stuck in them, so the girls can sip fresh coconut water with their toes in the sand.

And you remember the first donation you received when the Esther Project weekend was still a dream – a crisp twenty, sneakily left on your bathroom counter, with a note attached that read:

“Everyone needs the beach.”

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Friends listen….Jesus said follow me but he rarely led his followers to safe and manageable places. He led them into storms, fights, mobs, trials and demonic neighborhoods. He did it to make them at once fearless and hopelessly dependent on him.

I understand something now that I didn’t before about people who are humble after doing cool and selfless things to benefit other people.

It’s not them doing it.

It’s Jesus at work in them, making impossible things happen so nobody could reasonably claim credit. And Jesus does this most often when we are off the cliff and fully midair.

The Esther Project happens March 25th – March 27th, but we leave for midair Wednesday morning.
over your skiis

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Want to Bring Heaven to Earth?

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Meet Mampionona. She’s 15, the president of her class, and working on her third language – English – because she wants to be a journalist. Every time she sees me, she clutches me just like this and chases the other girls away.

I get that, because Mampionona lives at a home in Antananarivo, Madagascar for abused, neglected and orphaned girls. The rest of her story would crush you if I told it, but I won’t because Mampionona isn’t a girl who needs pity.

She needs a champion.

Eighteen months ago, my colleagues and I began taking teams of Mercy Shippers to work with Akany Avoko Childrens Home in Madagascar. Because we knew we’d return to see these same girls four times, we asked ourselves:

How do we bring heaven to earth in the world’s 6th poorest nation? 

What can we do that has eternal consequences for these girls and us?

How do we show them they are royal, beloved daughters of the Most High King?

What we planned became known as The Esther Project and here’s how it looked:

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In two weeks, I’ll fly 10,500 miles back to Madagascar to see Mampionona and her crew of besties again. Here they are.

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But we all know the deal. In May, the Africa Mercy will leave Madagascar, and sail back to West Africa to continue her work in Benin. It’s far. Here’s a map.

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About year ago, one of my partners walked into my office and said:

“What if we brought them to the ship?”

“Did you fall and hit your head?” I replied. “The ship is a ten-hour bus ride away and where would we put them? How would we feed them? That’s impossible.”

“I know. Let me make some calls.”

What happened next is the subject of a whole different post that I promise to write because it’s breathtaking. Remember when I said I had a big decision to make? That was it. As far as I know, bringing 50 teenage girls to the Africa Mercy for a weekend, has never been done.

And now we’re doing it.

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These girls have lived their whole lives on an island and few have ever seen the ocean, much less a ship, much less a hospital in a ship, full of their own people receiving free healthcare.

Africa Mercy management said yes. The hospital director said yes and invited them to visit the wards. The Captain said yes and invited them to visit the Bridge.

What sort of vision will that plant for the girls?  Imagine it!

Of course, guess who has to pay for it? The lunatics who dreamed it all up. Namely me, Stefan and Tom. We need about $2000, for transport, food and a lift to a good, safe beach so the girls can feel sand between their toes and splash in the Indian Ocean.

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But I am not worried, because our God is mighty and his hand is all over this. I promise I will tell you how I know.

Do you want to help us?

This Thursday, we will take an offering at Mercy Ships headquarters in Texas, because a few people above us, caught the vision and said yes. The same thing happened aboard the Africa Mercy – A call for volunteers goes out Monday morning.

If you don’t happen to work for the Ships, here’s a link to the Go Fund Me account we set up. Come help us bring heaven to earth.

I’ll keep you posted in this space, because the Lord will do amazing things among us. I know Him.

**As ever friends, these views are my own. The official Mercy Ships is here.

Medaling in Madagascar.

My friend and favorite superhero Bob Goff is a creative genius when it comes to loving people like Jesus. His gift is stopping to notice other humans in a way that makes them believe they matter.

For example, Bob travels to Uganda with his pockets stuffed with medals, so he can pin them on former LRA child soldiers, and say: “You are unimaginably important,” and make them believe it.

Bob Goff is the reason 160 foster kids in Madagascar are wearing medals around their necks today.

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In the extravagant, inefficient, upside down Kingdom of God, this is how love does:

A couple of years ago, I met Bob in Los Angeles. Probably like a million other people, I picked up the phone and dialed his number, which, like a lunatic, he listed in the back of of his NYT Bestseller Love Does. To my great surprise, he answered, and then squeezed me into his already tight schedule. Sitting in a cafe at Pepperdine University, Bob looked at me and said, in the most literal way possible, “how can I help YOU?”

I mean really, who does that?

At that time, I knew Bob had negotiated with the publisher of Love Does for an advance that would cover the construction of a school for former child soldiers in Gulu, Uganda. I also knew that he gave 100% of the proceeds from Love Does away. I’m sure that’s some of the reason there are more than 300 students there today.

What I didn’t know was, every time he goes to Uganda, he brings little, pin-on, military-style medals. So when he’s talking to a teenage boy, who was abducted then conscripted into a life of violence and depravity, he can pin one on him and say: God sees you and you are precious to Him.

You can’t imagine how many people need to hear that, and not just child soldiers.

So a couple of months ago in Texas, my colleagues and I were discussing how, in two-weeks time, anybody can reasonably expect to impact a bunch of neglected and abused girls in Madagascar. Ridiculous really – a total fools errand.

IMG_5078“We ought to take them swimming,” my partner said.

“Yah, and pin some medals on them.”

Sometimes when a thought bypasses my brain on it’s way out my mouth like that, I think God’s behind it.

I spent hours on-line looking for the kind of medals I imagined Bob was pinning on kids in Uganda, but I couldn’t find them. So I called my friend Kim, who owns Hometown Trophy and T’s – a mom and pop trophy shop in my town. I explained what I was doing and since she’s read Love Does, she said, “Yep, got it. Let me call you right back.”

Ten minutes later, her daughter Lindsey called and showed me, not a pin-on medal but a heavy Olympic-style medal with a crown on it. She offered to string a ribbon on it that matches the Malagasy flag and asked if we wanted anything inscribed on the back. Sure! Can you write beloved, chosen, precious, courageous and overcomer on them?

“You bet,” she said. Then she donated them – All 200 medals.

DSC01369It had been a hard, discouraging week in Texas. One where you think any second the alarm will sound, so the real player, the one who isn’t incompetent at your job, can step in and take over. As I’ve said before, sometimes I forget this thing I do isn’t all on me. 

The day Lindsey and Billy delivered those medals to Mercy Ships, I held one in my hand for a very long time. I turned it over and over and read the word Beloved engraved on the back.

The end of the story is this:

After Madagascar’s wildest pizza party, we had 35 medals left. Akany Avoko employs 40 staff.

The next day we walked back up the hill to Akany with 35 medals in my backpack, hoping for a solution to the obvious problem. I told Director Lalasoa, how much we wanted to give her staff those medals but we couldn’t imagine which five people would not get one.

“Wait, you have 35 medals in your bag?” she said.

“Yes.”

“I have five left over from last night, just sitting on my desk.”

“What? You have five medals sitting on your desk?”

“Yes.”

For those of you bad at math, that’s 40. Later that week, Lalasoa called her staff together, thanked them for their hearts and hung medals around their necks.