What about sick kids in our own country?

The question often arises, “Why does Rooftop 519 chose to help children only outside of the U.S.?” There are several layers to the answer, but before I dig into the solution, let me start with our Core Purpose. “To glorify God through healing people and transforming communities”.  As we have defined in our Messaging and Branding Guidelines, the Core Purpose is the “axis for why we exist.”

At that center of existence, we don’t care more about one life than the next. Nobody ever asks the question, “Why do you heal just children?” I don’t believe any person or organization has the moral high ground to choose one life over another based on subjective reactions to a feeling of ethics. Our mission focuses what we do and why we do it. Ours is “Healing the sickest kids in the world in the name of Christ.”

The mission becomes less subjective as we define our terms. One of the things we identified early on is that the vast majority of “sickest” kids exist outside of the U.S. Birth defect that are exhibited by teenagers in developing nations are, by in large, nonexistent among U.S. citizens (and even non-citizens residing in the U.S.). Any child born in any hospital in the U.S. who needs critical care is guaranteed, regardless of a family’s ability to pay, access to that care. While there are some exceptions for very complicated illnesses or injuries, children in the U.S. still have very good access overall to health care.

Some examples of this include Tuberculosis of the spine and Noma. Both diseases are rampant throughout Africa and parts of Asia. Estimates of children who are infected with these horrific and easily treatable illnesses run into the hundreds of thousands. Children in the U.S. may, on rare occasion, have a traumatic injury that would cause similar suffering – say from a boating or automobile accident, for example. The difference for a child in Michigan versus Nigeria is that when the Nigerian child’s body slowly disintegrates, either bones being warped and contorted or flesh being eaten by bacteria, there is no 911. I have heard stories of family members who will drown their own children because there is no hope for their disease. This is simply unthinkable among Northern Americans.

I live in one of the most pristine and affluent cities in all of the United States. La Quinta is a beautiful city, dubbed the “Gem of the Desert” in Southern California. Home to many retired executives and professionals, we are all privileged to walk down beautiful sidewalks, visit excellent libraries and have many wonderful amenities. Those amenities include access to emergency services. My son recently dislocated his kneecap. Save two minor wrist fractures, this was his first serious injury in his 13 years. Within seconds of his mishap, I realized what he had done and I asked a friend call 911. No more than 90 seconds passed until the professionals were on-site. Within several minutes he was at the hospital, comforted by some narcotics and met by doctors who eagerly relocated the wayward bone.

I try to imagine walking out of the coffee shop I visit in Old Town La Quinta and seeing a 13 year old child sitting on the curb, begging for food, but possibly unable to eat anything that was given to him because most of his lips and cheeks are gone. In his case, flesh-eating bacteria have consumed the muscles that contract to allow him to close his mandible. His body had fought off the infection, but not before it had stripped him of the ability to even hold water in his mouth.

Another thing about my city is that we probably have the greatest number of plastic surgeons per capita in the world. A block from where this hypothetical young teenager sits is an office where customers pour in and out to have their lips puckered and their brows hoisted. These surgeons have the ability to spend 90 minutes with a scalpel and some thread, maybe a little glue, and build him a face.

If that boy really came to La Quinta, I have no doubt that he would be healed. Rooftop 519 brings kids like this to the U.S. so we can all be a part of their pain, and more importantly, their healing. This is the core of what Christ would want us to do. What most of us have done, myself included, is that we have distracted ourselves from the pain of others because we don’t know that child. We cannot see him on our street. We do not experience his brokenness. He exists, and I am compelled because of the cause of Christ, to get him and show him to you. I am asking for you to help. Pray for him. Pay for a plane ticket or donate your vacation miles. Invite him into your home. Connect him with a doctor you know. Get your church to share the gospel with him and send him home to his family with a deep understanding of the compassion of Christ.

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Why We Moved

In October of 2010, my wife and I partnered with a core team of people in the Coachella Valley in Southern California to begin Desert Foursquare Church. This is the first time in my life that I’ve lived further than 10 miles from the hospital where I was born. It’s the first time we have uprooted our children from their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and the school they’ve attended since they were three and five years old. It doesn’t take an expert to do what we’re doing; it takes a calling.

II Timothy verse 2: “To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord”. Grace, mercy and peace. You’ll need those in abundance, regardless of the path God chooses for you. Here’s how God is choosing me.

In the summer of 2009, I was working for Cascade Christian Schools as the Director of Development. A wonderful, secure, comfortable job with phenomenal people (that I miss terribly). That summer I had a $250,000 construction project that I was overseeing. The sports fields improvements were entirely donated, and I had a responsibility to our donors to ensure that things went according to plan. When my window for a vacation came up, my wife and I booked our trip and hoped on a plane two days later. It was a high of 116 degrees for each of the seven days we were in Palm Desert. It cooled down to 100 degrees at night.

At the end of our stay, I was really looking forward to coming home. We didn’t know anyone in the desert, and I can’t say that I have a natural affinity for the area. I like cool weather, rain and the rich green of the Northwest. Driving towards the airport, my wife began to cry. “It feels like we’re leaving home!” was all that she could say. I couldn’t understand that at all.

Over the course of the next several months, we began to pray about whether or not the Lord was calling us to something new. By October, we took our second trip down to the Coachella Valley. Several friends came with us, and we met up with some friends that had just moved down to Palm Desert. After several days of seeking the Lord, fasting and praying in the Spirit, we knew that we knew. We flew back on Saturday and I submitted my resignation on Monday (one of the toughest things I’ve ever done).

Because of my involvement in several sensitive areas of work, we chose not to announce my departure until January. Even my children weren’t aware of our decision until after Christmas. Of all the things I’ve ever achieved in work, leaving CCS under the best of circumstances, with the best possible hand-off to an incredibly anointed successor was my greatest career highlight.

There was never a single moment where I felt a call to “do” something in the desert. I had a lot of ideas… ways to make a living, things to accomplish, etc. The best way I can sum up our journey to La Quinta was that I was searching for who God wants me to “be”. This radical expression of our faith in God’s leading has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. We could not have scripted what this would look like when we started, but now that we’re here, I wouldn’t trade the adventure for anything. My purpose, meaning and identity are more complete in my weaknesses, which Christ is using for HIS purpose. That’s who Christ wants me to be. More dependent upon him and less on myself.

The story is just beginning, but the thing I am most grateful to God for are the relationships he’s orchestrated in ways we never could have anticipated. My closest friends are people I either didn’t know or barely knew just two years ago. Cheryl and I are much more dependent upon one another; more connected than ever. My children have a greatly increased appreciation for their family relationships, especially for their grandparents. Our lives are greatly enriched through our church relationships. We need lots of grace, mercy and peace, and we are increasing in our ability to be who God desires us to be.

I am burdened for the people of the Coachella Valley. Watching people come to our church and seeing them grow closer to God gives me an incredible sense of belonging. I wouldn’t trade my experiences with Rooftop 519 for anything. Thank you Jesus for your divine leading. May I continue to be your willing servant.

The Great Reversal

The Great Reversal was coined by historian Timothy L. Smith. This term identified the shift of many evangelicals away from social concern to individual concern. Put another way, the emphasis of Christianity for the majority of those in the United States and the United Kingdom during the early part of the 20th century shifted. One hundred years ago, Christians en mass abandoned their passions for social concern and works to individual concern and grace.

I believe in sola gratia and most followers of the faith overwhelmingly agree that justification comes through grace alone. However, the very example of Christ’s love, compassion and evangelism, is depicted by a Christ who bore man’s physical burdens as well as spiritual pain.

Many Christians I know dislike the welfare system; I would list toward counting myself among them. The problem is that my spiritual forefathers created the need for the system by abandoning their social concern in favor of pursuing individual spiritual concerns. The Great Reversal preceded, and I believe paved the way, for the modern Government-run/taxpayer funded system of socialist care we provide in the United States. Our current bother was birthed by the impotence of the churches of yesteryear.

C.S. Lewis noted that we don’t have a soul, we are a soul. We have a body. The problem with an over-emphasis on souls is that we forget that the quickest way to a soul is through the body. Prayer changes things in the spirit, but so does a much-needed bandage to the flesh change things in the spirit.

This is not a political, psychological or sociological problem. This is a theological issue. Does the church have, and more importantly, do Christians have a primary charge to provide relief to the poor?

Matthew 19:21

Luke 11:41

Acts 4:34

Our responsibility is not social justice debate. We are in a prolonged exegetical and theological affront to our stewardship theology, primarily as it relates to our personal comfort. Can we domesticate Jesus to the point that we no longer try to look like him, but mold him into our image? We don’t need social justice, we need Jesus justice. The kind that would bring a grown man to his knees, willing to give his shirt, his job and his life for the kingdom. The kind of reckless abandon to the faith that makes it really difficult for people in need to not believe in God.

Watch how one man take on Nike Slave labor

Currently Reading:

When Helping Hurts

Domesticated Jesus

The Christian Atheist

Vacationaries

My first mission trip was in 1991 as a high school student traveling 1300 miles in a school bus from Seattle to Ensenada, Mexico. Our team of 65 youth and leaders from church spent a week digging out the basement of a small church building so children could have a separate room for Bible class. The cost of this adventure was in the range of 10,000 man-hours and $25,000.

The sentiment of those who completed the 12-day quest was unanimous; “It meant way more to me than it did to them (the people we served)”. I am certain that is true.

I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from serving abroad, but this is my still-developing theory that short-term missions do more harm to those who are served than if we didn’t go at all. The exception is short-term missionaries that provide a particular professional service to people who need that type of help (legal, medical, or engineering would all fit into this category).

Tony Campolo recently wrote about all of the problems created by well meaning religious tourists who are wreaking havoc on the post-earthquake Haitian culture.

“Haiti has continued in a downward spiral into greater and greater poverty and social disorganization, not in spite of all these “good works,” but in great part because of them. So much of what has been done in Haiti has disempowered Haitians and diminished their dignity by doing for them what they could have done for themselves.” Tony’s Blog, March 2, 2010.

I can picture these missionaries going in to build a church, or some other structure, flying in with power tools, seemingly limitless resources, possibly spending $50,000 to provide a solution to people who can’t even articulate the problem. Do they need a school? A church building? A store? A home? You cannot pretend to know the answer to the question until you immerse yourself in the need of the people.

I am reading “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. The premise of their theology and philosophy of helping the poor is that all poverty is rooted in broken relationships. This is contrary to the prevailing thought that poverty is caused by one or more of the following, with the solution in parenthesis:

Lack of Knowledge (Provide Education)

Oppression by Powerful People (Work for Social Justice)

Personal Sins of the Poor (Evangelize and Disciple the Poor)

Lack of Material Resources (Give Material Resources to the Poor)

These are naïve and short-sighted solutions to the problem. Corbett and Fikkert theorize the following:

“(Missions and relief) exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god-complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.” (Emphasis mine)

In other words: Well intentioned short-term paternalistic missionaries rob the poor of the joy of being a part of the solution. They do not really carry the burden of the poor, they take a Costco-sized sample, make a consumer-based decision for them (with THEIR money!), and go on to brag, even if only to themselves, about their experience.

Christ’s example does not allow us the luxury of living in two worlds. Their pain MUST become our pain (Luke 7:13 – read about compassion “splachna”). The poor MUST be a part of the solution (1 Tim 5:8). We must acknowledge our own brokenness (Romans 7:21). We MUST steward all that we have as Gods; never giving from our kingdom to His, but simply using what he has entrusted us to use as HE would see fit (Galatians 2:20).

Get to know someone, even if you never visit them oversees. Pray for them, even right now. Carry their burden. Know their families, and share in their pain and joy. Experience their suffering and, when the Lord leads, use what is in your power to transform their lives (Proverbs 3:27).

Larry & Devi Titus

Larry and Devi Titus are the leaders of Kingdom Global Ministries. They are incredible leaders, influencers and mentors to pastors and leaders of the faith. And for a few powerful hours last night, this wonderful couple agreed to share their wisdom and insights with a few close friends and me.

It can be tough keeping up intellectually with really sharp people. The Titus’s are no exception, but they have a well-practiced gift of listening carefully and genuinely engaging in the experience of conversation.

Devi writes and talks extensively about the experiences of the home. She wrote a book titled “The Home Experience”, which challenges women to fulfill the role of creating a loving & nurturing environment within the home. She also wrote “The Table Experience”, a how-to for families that lack the dinner experience. I love the premises for both topics, and I believe the content is truthfully and effectively communicated.

One of the things I leaned from these leaders of leaders is how important focus and purpose are. They are both very intentional, with clear goals and clearer consciences. Granted, they’ve had 47 years of ministry practice to hone their skills, but the me of this moment is challenged by the them of today.

I’m gleaning a lot from Larry and Devi… Probably more than they know. Ryan Hart is a young successful businessman I’ve been privileged to pour into over the last couple of years. He thinks I’m mentoring him, but the truth is that I learn about as much from him as I give to him. It helps that I really like his company. He was with us last night and it meant something different to him.

Ryan and I are working through his personal core purpose and mission. Because of Ryan’s unique ability to conceptualize and create businesses, his mind is constantly looking for business opportunities. He’s already started over a half-dozen businesses with several other concepts in production. Because he sees opportunity around every corner, he is attempting to only look in corners that are within his niche.

Larry and Devi know their purpose. They understand their mission and have a clear vision. So many ministries are hindered by their poor representation online. Not KGM. When I looked up their ministry’s website, it demonstrated excellent design and content. When your guiding principles are in place, your implementation is so much better. There is little wasted energy, no brand wander, and aligned content. Larry and Devi represent the gold standard of Christian ministry, and I greatly appreciate the few hours they shared with us.