Forgotten Voices' Mission:

"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

On behalf of our office to your families, Merry Christmas!!

Love the Forgotten Voices' Team

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Harvard at Christmas - Happy Holidays?

We've all seen or participated in this pressingly tense banter about the "War on Christmas." I, myself, have thought the same from time to time. Just this morning, I was reading a discussion among Zambian pastors about what it means to celebrate Christmas in this world today. Interestingly, their conversation was about whether Santa has dominated the perception and power Christians have of Christmas more than Jesus has lately. I think their conversation is more interesting and more relevant than the one our country is having. With our consumerism and rage, we too help drive out "Christ" from Christmas in an effort to throw an over-the-top, memorable Christmas. But that's a different conversation.

Read a CNN story on the War Against Christmas.

It's a debate easy to become part of, where we see the attacks on the traditional visual symbols of Christmas in public places (manger scenes, Santa Claus, the Christmas tree) and think our world has become overly politically correct. We lash out at all those people stealing Christmas from us -- the majority -- and wonder where will it end.

Some of you may know that I'm doing a Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. What's been interesting for me over the past 1.5 years is to experience 2 Christmas seasons at Harvard, here in the Boston area. Known the world over as one of the most liberal places on earth, full of overly PC people that will seize every opportunity to knock what is Christ in Christmas - denying me the joy that is my right to proclaim the coming of my King.

I know what it's like to be torn down for being a Christian in New England. When I was a kid growing up in the Boston area, I was openly mocked on several occasions by teachers for my Christian faith, commanded to put my Bible away from public sight by teachers & the principal of my school (even when I hid it under books on my desk). I remember in 10th grade, I was laughed at by classmates and blatantly left undefended by my teacher when explaining I was a virgin because my faith called me to remain so until marriage - in a sex education class, no less. "Virgins, raise your hand" is a line my mother won't soon forget when I came home from school.

My junior year in my public high school, friends and I started an FCA huddle, which is basically a Bible study before school starts for athletes and other believers. You can read the blog of my high school buddy, Pastor Mike, who captained the huddle with me way back in 1997-98. :) We had 3 people our first week in a school of about 800, though about 20 were coming by year end. From starting that huddle, school administration initiated weekly conversations with me about how far is too far to even discuss Christianity in school. Thankfully, these were civil, but still difficult for a kid my age to deal with. A kid can only take so much. But we kept moving forward, knowing our rights and knowing our charge from the Lord.

When I moved back to Boston - I worried. People SHOWERED me with concern and fear about "those people" up there that will attack Christianity and Christmas. Still, that's what people fear when they hear I'm at Harvard. I admit, I feared the same, even though I grew up around here.

But, here's the thing. Instead of turning against Christianity, I've found just the opposite up here. An openness, warmness, and curiosity. This semester, all four of my classes read from the Bible at some point during the semester and 2 of my classes dedicated significant time to studying different people in the Bible as examples of leadership. The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship here is vibrant and about 50 people in my school are active in the Harvard Christian Fellowship group that meets every week.

Beyond the Christians, I've actually learned some things about Christianity from people that haven't bought into the idea that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. Though we disagree on some things (large & small), they daily teach me about openness and how to love people from all walks of life. Daily, Christian love is modeled to me by people that reject my life choice, but love me for who I am. Rather than chastise me, they welcome my input and are sponges for more information about this Jesus I claim to serve. At least 12 different times this semester alone, I've found myself in conversations about my testimony -- at their initiation. On 4 different times, I was asked in a class to talk about who Jesus is to me and why He matters today.

The common theme throughout is a realization from staff, faculty and students that we need anchoring values - principles that drive us and shape us, even if they make us uncomfortable or they are inconvenient. There is a natural drive at Harvard to be the best - a drive shared by each of us. But, there is also a surprising level of self-sacrifice and willingness to love people across the Board.

When Jesus came, he came first to redeem the world and save us from our sins. He came to offer us the gift of eternal life - a front row seat to worship him throughout eternity. We just need to say YES. As a Christian, I value what Christmas means more now than I ever have for lots of reasons. But one of the main ones is that the holiday season really is a happy one for me --- it is a Happy Holiday.

On three distinct occasions this week, I was verbally attacked, or saw someone attacked, for saying Happy Holidays by people who claim to be Christians. They very well may be. But each and every time, I wondered if our love for protecting our own conception of Christmas was more at the root of the issue than a moral repulsiveness we claim to the idea of Christ being taken out of Christmas. I'm all for saying Merry Christmas, but I'm also for Happy Holidays.

In Christ, I have found my savior. I'm happy during this holiday that is celebrated by many, but not rooted in all at their core like it is for Christians. The dignity of others - in my Muslim classmates, for example - is valued and their own special times of year are upheld when I greet them with a Happy Holidays. By no means does this mean that I'm REJECTING Jesus, nor does it mean that I won't say Merry Christmas to a fellow believer. In fact, by not saying Merry Christmas to someone I know isn't a Christian, I believe it gives even more weight to when I do utter it to fellow believers.

So - what's the point of this little rant? It's this. I'm thankful for the Lord and Savior, who came and was born in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. He came and died on a cross for my sins and yours, thereby saving me from eternal damnation and providing me an opportunity to live my life as He has called me to live --- to love God, love my family, and love my neighbor. LOVE my neighbor - even those that don't celebrate "Christ"mas.

So - let's seize the Christmas season and live, as Christ called us to live. Let's love our God, love our families, neighbors and our enemies. If we strive to embody Christ here on earth, as He asks us to live, our actions and our words will resemble more of the Christmas season than our Christmas trees will. Our example may help us find our voice in a world seemingly moving away from God, not toward Him. With it, we may also finally manage to hear the voices of others that do not believe - once our shouting about things that ultimately don't mean much to God, nor should they mean as much to us.

I'm sooooooo excited about Christmas and the gift of Jesus Christ to our world. But, with the deepest part of who I am, I'm also wishing my non-believing friends and believing friends a very Happy Holiday, as well.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I want for Christmas this year...

Of course, I want the usual. World peace, a Red Sox World Series in 2010, a slower/stopping receding hair line, and (not last or least) a healthy wife. But, this Christmas, I want a some different things - some new things.

1) As you may have read, Katie and I are expecting our 1st child. So, this year, I'm asking for a safe and healthy pregnancy for Katie and our baby. June 4th, the due date, is coming sooner and sooner. :) SOOO exciting! But, Katie and I can't stop thinking about all those kids that have lost their moms and dads --- all those kids that we all get the joy to serve.

2) We want you to experience an incredible feeling of giving someone a life changing gift. I've held the hands of sooo many children, as we've watched their parents die, visited their parents' grave sites, or talked with pastors about what will happen next to them. We've spent the last five years finding and developing networks of churches in Zimbabwe and Zambia to help you have this very unique opportunity to help answer the questions and doubts these pastors and kids have. Forgotten Voices is working hard to equip them with the skills, resources, and networks they need to help these kids.

This year, as we did last year, we are offering Life Changing Gift Certificates.

You make an online donation between now and Jan 1, add your friend/family's name in the comment box when making your gift, and within 24 hrs of your gift, we'll send you one of these custom made for you.

All of the funds are going to be used for our campaign to raise $50,000 more by year end to keep about 5,000 kids in school in Zimbabwe and Zambia. We still have $30,000 to go. While the deadline was originally Dec 15, we don't have the money to pay the schools yet, so we now have until Dec 30.

I've watched over the past two years. Over and over, people that give these to friends say that they KNOW their gift is going to go far and change the gift of a child. They know that a a gift is both needed (for the kid) and wanted (for their friend, family, or coworker). What else can you do for $50? $15? $100? $1,000? All gifts, regardless of size, are needed. Give a gift today.

Thanks! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to comment or send me an email.

All the best and Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thoughts from a non-profit leader -- Stop 13: TCCA

I remember distinctly moments in this journey of leading Forgotten Voices when I KNEW that God had called me to this work. Where, in the midst of the chaos of the situations I found myself in, God was there & I was at peace. Not knowing how or when or why God would use little ole me to do this work --- that was not my charge to know. Instead, my charge was to say YES even when NO made "more sense".

We are foolish when we don't do that. When we choose the "more sensible" option by the world's standards, if we KNOW that God has called us to do something else.

Today's Stop 13 is about our calling to expand and invest in new Zambian projects, in the midst of the worst economic crises since I've been alive --- complimented by some of the most economically unstable situations in southern Africa over the past 20 yrs.

So --- how do we keep that attitude/mentality of faith in God over the long haul? How do we daily keep saying YES, when no would be more convenient? It's something I wrestle with myself. When I see the things God has called us to and the long road we have to travel (again). Then, I think of those moments of God's faithfulness -- by reading back over journals, talking to my wife, talking to dear, life-long friends.

In 2007, I traveled to Ndola, Zambia to visit the Theological College of Central Africa, along with Trevor Bunch, one of our Board members. (Read Trevor's reflections on our trip). We traveled there to dream about expanding our ministry from Zimbabwe to Zambia, while continuing to work with seminaries. TCCA is one of the most widely respected seminaries in Africa and after much prayer over 2005 & 2006, we felt called to go to Zambia for lots of reasons -- to see what God would have for us there.

Over the next 2 years, (including a 2nd trip back to TCCA, this time with Katie) we faithfully prayed about the things we were learning and over time, grew deeply committed to pursuing what we believe to be God's calling on the ministry of Forgotten Voices: to expand into Zambia. Not leave Zimbabwe, but expand -- to grow and extend our reach -- to expand our territory.

As the leader of a very small startup non-profit, struggling to raise awareness and garner massive support for Zimbabwe, I can assure you I had my "reasonable" doubts with God -- arguing about why and how and when and what this expansion into Zambia would all mean for Zimbabwe. Through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, I presented our requests before God and this is what we learned as a Board and leadership team:

1) That God had indeed called us to Zambia
2) That God cares for widows, orphans, vulnerable children
3) That God equips those that choose to care for them
4) That God stands with least of these, even when the strong -- especially when the strong -- seem to ignore them
5) That God wants us to continue to work in and through the church in both Zimbabwe and Zambia
6) That God wants us to equip leaders in the church -- focusing on graduates of TCCA (Zambia) and TCZ (Zimbabwe) to help them realize their local dreams for taking care of the widows, orphans, and vulnerable children within their communities.
7) That God would raise up supporters to hear their stories and hear their cries.
8) That God was only asking us to say YES and do everything in our power to love people as best as we can, to make wise decisions, and continue to say YES.

Since that first meeting at TCCA in 2007, we strived to do all of these things -- some better than others. But, looking back, I'm pleased with our Board, team, and small 3 person staff in Africa for remaining faithful along the way.

Where has this led us? To help realize the dreams of 6 pastors (pictured here) in 2009 and identification of 6 more to assist by year end in 2009. All the pastors are graduates of TCCA in Zambia. So, great, right?

Great that we have remained faithful and (I believe) wise in answering the calling God has placed on our ministry. Encouraged by those that have joined us. Encouraged by the way God has extended love to those in need.

But, we also see the great challenge it is to faithfully stay the course -- to continue saying YES. To continue sharing and asking more of you to respond. For more of you to pray with us. For more of you to demonstrate Christ's love for those churches in Zambia & Zimbabwe that are caring for the people that God CALLS us to care for. We rejoice at what has been done and we cry out to God for what remains.

As you know, between now December 15, we need to raise $50,000 more to help our church partners send about 5,000 kids back to school in January 2010. Kids that have lost one or both parents. Kids who have lost parents that once had big dreams for their kids, but these parents have since passed away. Kids that have churches ready and willing to champion their cause in the name of Christ -- but kids that need more champions like you and me to help these pastors have the financial resources and a prayer team to help them say YES daily to the challenges before them.

This year, amidst all of the demands for your time and your money, join Forgotten Voices in helping realize the potentially forgotten dreams of parents who have since passed away --- and say "YES -- I REALLY CARE. These kids matter to God and to me."

Consider making a gift to Forgotten Voices. Thanks! We need it. More importantly, these graduates that God has led us to need it so they can help the kids that are literally showing up on their doorsteps -- these pastors keep saying YES, when NO makes more sense. They keep trusting that God will provide. We are doing the same by again asking you. THANKS!

We are thankful for your continued YESes and your willingness to share our story with others.
To learn more TCCA and our new partnership just underway this year, keep reading. Also, turn in Friday for a listing of all the TCCA grad projects we now trying to fund, with a highlight on one, which will be Stop 14:

IMPACT: Fund Alumni Development position for 2 years; Connection with over 200 TCCA alumni to determine needs in ministry, with special emphasis on HIV/AIDS program development within the ministry
# Impact: 200 TCCA Alumni
Partners: THETA