2018 PASSION PROJECT

Over the last few years, I've had the privilege of meeting people all over this beautiful world and hearing their stories. Meeting new people, sitting in their homes, sharing a meal or cup of tea together, this has changed me. It's made me more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding. This is not a privilege that I take lightly and one that I want to steward well. I'm constantly surrounded by people and stories that inspire me and transform my heart.

As I look at our divided world, I can't help but think that if more people could hear the stories and experience breaking bread with people who are completely different than them, it would change the world as we know it. I've wanted to capture and share the stories of people that I'm meeting and the cultures I'm immersed in for the last couple years. 2018 feels like the year to do it.

Images by Caryn Noel

Images by Caryn Noel

I might be an idealist, but I hope that this small gesture of sharing stories will change our hearts and minds, challenge stereotypes, and ultimately restore identity and dignity to those who are desperately misunderstood. We don't have to give in to the "us vs them" mentality. We don't have to live divided, fearful, and judgemental. No, we can live in a world where we invite, accept, and relish in our differences. This is how we fight against division and move towards unity. It's how we fight against hate and move towards true, unrelenting love for others.

This is a passion project for me; something that compliments what I'm already doing. I'm praying for courage to share with my whole heart what I'm learning and experiencing from the incredible people that God has placed all over the world. I hope you enjoy the stories that will come from this little passion project of mine and pray it changes you like it will me. 

THE EVER-DEEPENING PASSION OF MY HEART

I've struggled to find the words to write about my experience this time around because none of them seem sufficient. I had been praying for an opportunity to learn and see more in the slum communities of India. I knew that I needed to better understand the complexities that lead to human trafficking, but I wasn't prepared for what I would see, and most importantly, feel. There's a time in our lives when head knowledge has to become heart knowledge and that happened to me as I absorbed the pain and poverty surrounding me. 

Every time I've been to India I've seen the severe poverty from the car. But to be up close and personal, peeking into people's homes, hearing their stories, and seeing the magnitude of the need with my own eyes was a completely different experience. The children were hard to for me to take in. So many of them were dirty, hungry, and expressionless. However, those that were joyful and smiling provided such a contrast to their surroundings that it comforted my weary heart. To see people living so exposed and vulnerable without protection was unreal. And to think about the lack of safety and security, in all areas of life, broke my heart. We take so much for granted. 

There was one thing that caught my attention on the very first day;  it felt like I was being slammed by a Mack truck every time I saw it. That thing was child marriage.

It's recognized as a form of human trafficking so I've studied it over the years. And when I saw a very young girl picking up her little one from preschool, I knew. The passion within my heart automatically deepened. Sharp pains swept across my chest that afternoon as I watched girl after girl pick up her young child, some pregnant with a second. Needless to say, I went back to the hotel and had a good cry. 

It's something I heard about. It's something I knew the facts about. But to come face to face with it broke the deepest, most impassioned part of my heart. Here's why: they're in this for life. In a place like India, the likelihood of a marriage ending is slim. Divorce is shameful and death, while inevitable, is more than likely a long time away. When a girl is married off at 13, 14, 15 years old, she's been stripped of her right to choose. Her life has been planned out for her, whether she wants it or not.

At the root of so many of these marriages is poverty which means that under different financial circumstances, this probably wouldn't be her reality. 

Throughout the week, I met several young girls living in extreme poverty along with their husbands. One was married at 13, pregnant at 14, and had a 9 month old on her hip at 15. There was a beautiful 15 year old who was married to an 18 year old a few weeks ago. Their future is grim as he doesn't have a job and they plan to move into a shack across the busy road from their parents. 

I think the thing that bothered me the most is WHY? What's the point? Sure, it alleviates some of the financial pressure from the parents. And maybe religious reasons contribute to it, but what's the point in stripping away a child's future and setting her up for a life of poverty and suffering?

These children start having children of their own, they struggle to feed and educate their babies, and the cycle continues on. 

It seems hopeless but there is always hope. The contributing factors can be addressed holistically and future generations can be set free from the struggles my eyes have seen. More than that, healing can happen. Lies can be undone, pain can be reconciled, and lives can be restored. It's this hope and endless possibility that keeps me running this race that Jesus has called me to.

Friends, I'm in a new season. It's the start of a new chapter and I cannot wait to reveal what's being birthed from this deeply burdened and passionate heart of mine. I am determined to be part of the solution and together, we WILL be!

Stay tuned for more. 

SANAM'S STORY

I had the pleasure of talking to Sanam on one of my recent visits to India. He is the epitome of joy and fully committed to his daughters, which he serves wholeheartedly. I wish there were more Sanam's in the world. Here's his story:

 

When hired in 2011 as a part-time tuition teacher, Sanam had no idea the ways God would use him in this ministry. In 2013, he was promoted to full-time academic coordinator and father figure in the home. Over time, his name has changed too – from Sanam Sir to Dad. 

When I talked with Sanam about his role as a father figure, his face lit up. He said, “I only come for the girls.” There is no other motivating factor beyond his love and the heart he has for the girls and this ministry. He said he doesn’t feel like an academic coordinator. Instead, his main role is being “dad” to a house full of girls. 

From taking care of school payments, attending parent-teacher meetings, ensuring uniforms and supplies are maintained, to combing hair, Sanam has been fully integrated into the family. He loves the girls the same way he loves his own son, who affectionately refers to the girls as his “didis” or older sisters. 

For Sanam, this isn’t just a job. He has brought his own family into the ministry with him. His wife and son are part of the family too. They love the girls, visit them frequently, and pray for them daily. It’s their support that allows Sanam to be so devoted to his large family. 

One indicator of how deep his relationship with the girls has grown over the years is the fact they call him “daddy” outside the home. When they see him at school, it’s the name they call him and the teachers and staff know which girls belong to him. He advocates on their behalf, ensuring their educational needs are met and keeps them engaged with daily activities to aid in their development. 

He contributes his parenting success to the ongoing education and support that is provided, which teaches him and the rest of the staff about parenting and child development. He has successfully incorporated the things he has learned into the home where the girls reside and at home with his own son as well. For Sanam, being a good parent to his children is of upmost importance to him. 

In his words, “I praise God for the ways He is working marvelously here.” Just like any proud father, his heart swells with affection and a smile fills his face as he talks about his daughters. He wants what’s best for them and he wants to be prepared for the years to come. He jokingly asked, “Do you have any extra guidance on parenting teenagers?” 

A house full of teenage daughters is on the horizon, but Sanam is joyfully up for the challenge because after all, he is their dad. And a great one at that!

ROMANIA: A PERFECT DAY

I remember sitting in our apartment in India about this time last year, crying and sharing the desires of my heart with Ricky. We were in the midst of making the gut-wrenching decision to return to the USA so we were sorting through our deepest thoughts, longings, passions, etc. During this discussion, he asked me this question: “what would a perfect day look like to you?” As I thought about it, I said, “I want to sit with women from hard places and make their value known. I want them to know and understand their identity and worth. I want to hold them in my arms and let them know it’s all going to be alright.”

But that never happened while we were there.

Photo by Lida Mathews

Photo by Lida Mathews

Before I left for Romania, people kept asking me what I was most excited about and I never had an answer. I’d just say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect.” And I’m so glad that was my position because it allowed me to keep an open heart and mind.  What God did in my heart through this trip far surpassed any hopes or expectations I could have dreamed up.

He used the people around me to confirm my calling, inspire me, and force me to dream bigger. He used the kids to show me the need of the Gospel and His love in the life of every person. He allowed my interactions with them to be nothing less than Holy. He built my confidence to lead, to inspire, to help.

But most of all, the words I spoke a year ago came true on this trip.

Photo by Julie Latcham

Photo by Julie Latcham

It wasn’t a woman from a brothel in India; instead, it was teenage girls living in orphanages in Romania. I held them in my arms, I spoke words of truth and life over them, I was a shoulder for them to rest their head - and it has brought more joy to my heart than any other experience ever has.

These kids long to have their parents or a family of some kind and face an array of difficulties growing up as orphans. They don’t have stability, guidance, or experience love. They are often shunned and not given equal opportunities. They have few people cheering them on to succeed. They have been abandoned for a multitude of reasons. Their parents have died, have moved to other countries for work, are in prison, or simply walked away. I don’t know all the reasons nor understand them, but I do know this: these children are worth loving. And, they’re longing to be loved, to be seen, to be heard.

Photo by Lida Mathews

Photo by Lida Mathews

I’m learning firsthand the power of speaking truth over others. These children need to be told how amazing they are, the potential they possess, and know that someone believes in them. We can’t adopt them, but we can support them – and that’s orphan care too. 

This is something we all can do. We can all love the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed that live among us and around the world. With our support, they can overcome the odds so let’s reach out, encourage, and love deeply!

Photo by Lida Mathews

Photo by Lida Mathews

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