Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Aleppo and Advent

Just over 2000 years ago, an oppressed, forgotten people waited for a Saviour.

A Messiah. A King.

And they expected chariots and fire and revolution and war. They expected the overthrowing of their oppressors by a mighty king and ruthless warrior.

Instead they got a baby. A carpenter. A small-town boy who just so happened to be God Himself.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

Today, oppressed and forgotten people wait for a saviour all over our bleeding, broken world. Today, the oppressed, forgotten people of Aleppo wait to be saved, and many wait in vain.

And we expect fire to rain from heaven. Miraculous intervention. We expect Him to move mountains and do the supernatural.

It’s the season of advent. A season of waiting. And we wait. We wait and we wait and we wait... But what if He’s waiting for us? What if He’s saying: “I already came. And I left it now to you to continue.”

What if this whole bleeding world is waiting for us to be the Body of Christ—broken and poured out and given?

We wait. And rightfully so, we wait for the day that He makes all things new.

But perhaps we can do more. Perhaps He is actively making all things new and how can He do that but through His Church? Through His Body. Through us.

So, as we wait in this advent season, let’s consider that maybe the world is waiting for us. Waiting for us to stand up and mean it when we say “never again”. Waiting for us to stand up and be the Church. Waiting for us to stand up and be the broken-and-poured-out Body of Christ to a world that so desperately needs Him.

Let’s not utter Come, Lord Jesus, unless we’re willing to be the vessels through which He comes.

Let’s not celebrate His birth unless we’re willing to be the ones who breathe a courageous, Mary-like yes to birthing Love Himself into the world each and every day.

Because it’s advent, and millions of people are waiting for a Saviour.

So, come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Here are 3 ways we can can be the Church to the people of Aleppo and Syria:
:: Sign this petition, calling on the Canadian government to protect the people of Aleppo.
:: Sponsor a refugee family to come to Canada.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons on Giving from the Country of Haiti

My reflections on my family's recent trip to Haiti to visit our two Compassion children...

The Western World has given a lot to Haiti.

Billions of dollars in aid. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shipments of in-kind donations and material goods. Countless missions trips, volunteer trips, foreign consultations, UN missions, humanitarian missions, long-term placements.

And yet Haiti remains the most underdeveloped country in the Western Hemisphere.

All too often, people point to Haitians and say they must be doing something wrong with all that they've been given. But the people I met this summer - they are bright, warm, vibrant, welcoming, kind, compassionate, humble, joyful, smart and hard-working. They have families that they want the best for and futures that they dream of. They are just like you and me. They are no different, and no less capable of taking what's been given to them and creating a life in which they, their families and their neighbours can thrive.

In fact, being capable of that is part of the DNA God created us with. God gave to humanity all of creation and charged us with stewarding it to cultivate life, beauty, and community... to be human is to be capable of thriving when given something that Creator God deems very good.

And so perhaps, just maybe - could I ask a hard question here? 

Could it be us? Could it be us in the West that is doing something wrong with all that we've been given? 

You see, we were given all of creation and told to cultivate something beautiful for ourselves, for each other, for the glory of our Creator... but that wasn't enough for us. We wanted more. And in this greed for more, we've gotten good at taking what we've been given to create good lives for ourselves. So good, in fact, that we've created comfortable lives. Luxurious lives. Extravagant lives.

And what started out as using our God-given gifts to fulfill our mandate to cultivate creation and thrive in community, has turned into a horrible, destructive, broken tendency to create luxury for ourselves at the expense of others.

At the expense of a country like Haiti. 

It's rare of me to make sweeping generalizations about a country. And to be sure, there are huge inequalities in Haiti. There is a middle class and a select few ultra-rich.

But generally, what I saw there was poverty like I'd never seen it before. I saw poverty not as a crippling thorn or an urgent need. I saw poverty as the accepted way of life.

All because the West has given Haiti its leftovers. We've given our second-rate stuff. The stuff we need to get out of the way in order to make room for the next season's latest. We've given our time but not our lives. We've given haughty advice but not humble attentiveness. We've given money but not sacrifice nor love.

This is a super common sight everywhere here in Port-au-Prince... second-hand clothes for sale everywhere you see. These are clothes donated by people from America & Canada. Yes, donated clothes ending up being for sale! We who are from the first world need to curb our appetite for excessive consumerism which results in over-stuffed closets and having to donate our clothes often. If we own less and if we wear our clothes to the threads, then this problem wouldn't exist. Yes, it is a problem... because this practice has literally killed the garment industry here in Haiti. It is now mostly just for export. Haitians get to buy the very clothes they made only when those same clothes come back into Haiti as donated second-hand garments. This is just one aspect of this problem... I could say more, but this post is long enough already! This Jesus-call to live justly has many layers and many different ways of how we can change the way we live & consume... one of which is "to live simply so others may simply live." #Esparaz2Haiti #DoJustice #LoveMercy #WalkHumbly
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

For the first time in my life, I understood why Jesus condemned the rich people who gave at the temple out of their excess because I saw the damage that giving out of my own excess has done. The clothes I've bagged and sent to thrift stores without checking where those clothes actually go. The cheap toys or second-rate stuff I've sent with mission teams. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I have not always given thoughtfully, sacrificially or generously.

We've given to Haiti out of our excess. We've given our leftovers, our second-hand stuff, our after-thoughts. What we've given has indeed not been what Creator God would call very good.

You see, we've given clothes, but we've taken away the business of a seamstress.

We've given rice, but we've taken away the livelihood of a farmer.

We've given houses, but we've taken away the dignity of home.

We've given stuff, but we've taken away the empowerment in choosing your possessions for yourself.

We've given aid and development programs, but we've taken away the pride in building up your own life, your own community, your own nation.

We thought we were giving so much, but were we really? We were giving the leftovers of our luxury so we could replace it with more luxury, and in the process we've taken away the people of Haiti's ability to fulfill their God-given mandate to take His very good creation and cultivate beauty, life, and community.

And yet.

Despite all that we've taken, the Haitian people and the country of Haiti still give.

They gave to my family and me as we were their guests for 6 days.

They welcomed us warmly. Like that moment when the mother of our Compassion boy Bell Bradley, Margaret, welcomed us into her home with such exuberance and joy and song that our translator could barely get a word in - but it didn't matter... Welcome sounds the same in every language.

A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They opened their homes and their families to us. Like that moment we sat in our Compassion girl, Linsey's home and shared conversation and laughter and gifts and precious time with her entire family. Or those crazy-bumpy car rides during which we shared laughter and conversation with Bell Bradley's family.

#1000gifts #Esparaz2Haiti ~ Here we are inside Linsey's home with her mom and her 3 siblings. I want to just take a moment and tell you about her mom. This women is the same age as me. A single mom, struggling to feed her family. Her average income is US$100 per month. The difference between her and me is merely because I was born into privilege and she wasn't. We could've easily switched places... We asked what her family's greatest need is right now because we wanted to buy them a gift and she told us... a solar lamp, so that the kids can do their homework at night because electricity is very much touch & go here in Haiti. A solar lamp. Having light. Their most pressing need. Friends, we take that for granted in Canada! Needless to say, we got them a solar lamp! Proverbs 3:27-28 says: Do not withhold what is good from those who deserve it; if it is within your power to give it, do it. Do not send your neighbor away, saying, “Get back with me tomorrow. I can give it to you then,” when what he needs is already in your hand. Friends, we hold so much power & privilege in our hands. Let's do something with it to lift up the poor and the downtrodden among us... it's the least we can do! #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

#1000gifts ~ This is our @CompassionCA son Bradley. He & @genius4jesus are birthday buddies! Next week, Jon will turn 16 and Bradley will turn 10! Two boys whose lives could not be any more different. One born into privilege in Canada, one born into extreme poverty in Haiti. We are grateful that God has used the ministry of @Compassion and invited us to be a part of bridging this gap. Bradley is a budding trumpet player and attends Holy Trinity Music School, home of the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra, the country’s best! Bradley is part of a program specifically aimed at youths living in the most disadvantaged areas of Port-au-Prince. This school provides training in music for Haitians of all ages and from all social strata. With Compassion's help in paying for school uniforms and extra school fees, Bradley is able to attend this prestigious school & has a head-start for the future! #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

They shared their talents with us. Like that moment Linsey burst into song and shared her beautiful voice with us as we sat with her in the Compassion Centre's library. Or that moment Bell Bradley did the same the next day! (Singing was a theme of our visit days.) Or like those vendors who shared their beautiful crafts with us to take home as memories of our time in Haiti.

This is George whom @papa2greatkids is talking to. We met George & a few of his friends, Remy & Arnold among others, right when we arrived at the beach. They paddle along the beach selling souvenirs that they've made. Occasionally, the guards from the resort come by to shoo them away. At one point, we saw armed military personnel come to "scare" them away from the shore. My first inkling of what they do came from a local, a Haitian man who, like us, is also enjoying the resort. He said to me, "If you are looking to buy souvenirs, you should buy from them. They're just looking to make a living." We ended up buying about US$35 worth of souvenirs from three of them... a painting, a couple bracelets, a fridge magnet. They said we could haggle, we didn't. All day we were at the beach. They were too and I didn't see them have much more sales all day. Wow! If you buy into the stereotype that the poor are poor because they are lazy, this story should make you rethink that. All day long, these men paddle along the beach in the scorching heat. We saw them again the next day. That's hard work. Very hard work for probably less than $15 of sales. Sales, not profit. My point in sharing this story is this... the poor are hardworking people. They just lack opportunity. When it is in our power to give them a hand up, we should! One way that I know works is through child sponsorship with @CompassionCA/@Compassion. Friends, it works! I've seen it firsthand. Also, next time you're vacationing in one of these countries, make sure you engage with the locals and buy your souvenirs from them & not from the resorts' boutiques! Oh, and please don't haggle. ;) #Esparaz2Haiti #TheDifferenceIsJesus #ChildSponsorshipWorks #InTheFightAgainstPoverty #JesusWins
A photo posted by Aimee Esparaz (@mama2greatkids) on

Haiti gave me rest and rejuvenation before the beginning of this new school year. Like those days at the beach resort where ocean waves and sandy beaches were the perfect company to rest and reflect and prepare my soul for the year ahead.

Haiti taught me lessons that a classroom would never be able to teach me. Like lessons about the power of a faithful organization such as Compassion, faithfully reflecting Christ to their own communities as the local church and gaining the trust and respect of even the most feared gangs in Haiti.

Daily, they give to so many other guests who I can only suspect had their lives changed or their faith renewed or their souls touched while in Haiti. Like the countless other Westerners I saw also travelling to, from, or within Haiti.

And they give to each other.

When given something very good, the people of Haiti, like any people, build something beautiful for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. Yes, they're broken; yes, it's messy; yes, the make mistakes... just like you and me.

But just like you and I try to do each day, they cling to Jesus, put forward their lives to invest in their communities and invest in the Kingdom, and trust that Christ will do something beautiful in and through them.

I visited two local churches, just two examples of many, who are building something beautiful in their communities through the ministry of CompassionIn Jesus' name, they are raising up children out of poverty and into leaders who dream of becoming doctors and lawyers and engineers and everyday people who steward what God's given them to cultivate beauty, life, community, for themselves, for each other, for the glory of God. 

And after all they've given us, despite all we've taken, isn't time we gave something real? Something sacrificial? Something very good?

Like the rich in the temple, we've proudly given out of our excess, given our leftovers for long enough.

Might we start giving our best, our very good? Might we start giving with a posture of sacrifice rather than from a place of excess? 

Becoming a Compassion sponsor is one of the most tangible places to start. What they do is very good - I've seen it. Compassion isn't perfect, they don't have all the answers - nor would they ever claim to. But they are committed to faithfully putting what they know is very good - the influence and support of a strong local church, and most importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ - into the lives of children in poverty, and watching those children begin to thrive. 

How can you give beyond your excess, your leftovers? Perhaps it's sponsoring one child. Perhaps it's three. Perhaps it's three hundred.

But I dare you I dare us to start giving better than our leftovers. To start giving what our Creator God would call very good. 

I dare us to start giving of our money, our time, our influence, our power, our privilege, our talents, our love, our very lives in radical, Kingdom-shaped ways... Because I believe that the beauty, the life, the community that God intended for us way back in Eden is waiting on the other side of that radical generosity. 

additional resources:
When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
Poverty Inc. documentary

Monday, May 2, 2016

When Grace Comes Full Circle

There once was a twelve-year-old girl, who grew up in church and strived to follow Jesus with her all. She did all the right things, and checked them off a list... Morning devotionals, bedtime prayers, midweek church and Sunday school.

Little did she know all that she was missing by simply going through the motions.

Thankfully, God's got an abundance of amazing grace.

And so, one day, that girl stumbled upon a series of articles about the ministry of Compassion International in a magazine.  They featured youth not much different from her, telling their stories about how they've partnered with local churches in the developing world to release children from poverty in Jesus' name... all because they had become Compassion sponsors.

Of course, she didn't know or understand all of that great stuff right away. She just thought this sounded like a cool idea. Sponsor a child. Write some letters. It'll be fun. It would be a good thing to do, right?

So she begged and begged and begged her parents to sponsor a Compassion child on her behalf. After a bit of skepticism, they finally relented. Fine, they said, we'll try it out.

Probably hoping she would just forget about it in a few months so they could cancel. ;)

Regardless, they became Compassion sponsors and eventually sponsored a little girl named Florianlyn from the Philippines.

And that girl who had begged and begged and begged? She was stoked.

Little did she know, this would literally change the trajectory of her life. In fact, it would change the trajectory of her entire family's story.

They would go on to all become volunteers with Compassion.

Their Compassion family would grow to include 10 children and 2 graduates.

They would visit the field not once, not twice, not thrice, but 4 times in just over 6 years of being Compassion sponsors.

She would go on to host Compassion Canada's youth curriculum, True Story: What God Wants Us To Do About Poverty.

Her mama would even end up working for Compassion Canada as their Ministry Relations Rep in the Greater Toronto Area... and she would relentlessly tease her mama - from skeptic to employee! ;)

Her family would begin to understand God's heart for the poor... and start to embrace the beautiful, messy, frustrating, and fulfilling journey He calls us to in the margins, serving society's "least of these". 

Today, that girl is 19. And she's pausing here in the journey to write this post and reflect on how far He's taken her from just going through the motions in her faith. And she is incredibly thankful for His abundance of amazing grace.

And sitting here, on the eve of starting as an intern with Compassion Canada as part of the Flow Internship program (!!!), she's smiling at His latest installment of grace...

Because you see, little did she know all those years ago when reading about Compassion in a magazine, that almost seven years later, a column of her own would appear in a similar youth magazine called LoveIsMoving, telling the story of how she's partnered with local churches in the developing world to release children from poverty in Jesus' name... all because she and her family had become Compassion sponsors. :)

And when she held that magazine in her hands for the first time, she couldn't help but be incredibly, incredibly in awe of how grace comes full circle, as our Father continues to shower more and more of His amazing grace.

Check out LoveIsMoving Magazine... You might just see a familiar face! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Welcome Home

When the day was over, all I could think about was what a shame it is that anyone could ever say no to this... and miss out on all this beauty.

Because all of this - yes, it's about this beautiful family being welcomed home. It's about their tears and relief and safety and joy. It's about giving them the opportunity to safely and freely grow and learn and laugh and love. It's about exemplifying a radical Love to them until all the hate they've ever known melts away.

But at the end of what was quite possibly one of my favourite days ever, I realized that this might be more about us, than them.

Because you know what? Without us, this family would've still been welcomed to Canada. The Canadian government would've still accepted their application. Another sponsoring group would've been in our place. This family would've still had loving sponsors who would've been committed to moving them into an apartment, helping them register for school and ESL, sourcing furniture and household items and raising funds to support them for a year... all of it.

The only ones who would've missed out is us. 

We would've missed this beauty. We would've missed this joy. We would've missed the opportunity to get to know the Jesus we follow in one of the most real ways there is, because when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Him.

We would've missed out on experiencing the Body of Christ come together in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever witnessed, to declare with our lives that Love is greater than fear, apathy, intolerance or hate.

Because yesterday, I saw 35+ people - and not to mention the hundreds more that have generously given money, time, donations, prayers and love to get us to yesterday's move-day - come together as the Body of Christ to move a formerly displaced Syrian family into their new home, filling it with furniture, household items, laughter, life, and love.

From empty apartment... warm, home sweet home. 

And this family... they've been through far too much brokenness and pain. The displaced, broken parts of every human heart - those parts that choose fear and violence and apathy and hate because our human hearts war and rage against Love Himself until we displace ourselves from the Love that created us - that brokenness left this family without a home or a safe place to grow, live, and love. 

In fact, those displaced, broken parts of our hearts have left millions without a safe place to call home. 

My mama read it to us just today, on the way home from visiting our family... "There are 60 million displaced persons in the world," she reads, "12 million in Syria alone."

It's a staggering, overwhelming number... One that grows each day as war continues unfazed.

"But you know what?" I responded to my mama's stat, "Four of those 60 million people aren't displaced anymore."

No, they certainly are not. They are laying their heads down tonight in their very own home - safe, warm, together.

And as I quietly smiled at that fact, I thought -

Perhaps those displaced, broken parts of our own hearts might just have a chance as well.

Definitely one of my favourite days ever. It's hard to express the fullness that we all felt at the end of the day. Please continue keeping this family in your prayers as the settle in - that in the midst of what is surely going to be a tough next few months that they might find peace and hope in the Love we will try our hardest to continuously share with them. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Dear Sweet Little Girl*,

This all started with a little boy just a little younger than you and your brother.

This entire day, it happened because of Aylan's tiny, lifeless body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean.

And quite honestly, sweet girl? I was discouraged for once. This optimist wasn't so hopeful this time around. I didn't let my heart hope for even a second... I thought I knew that Aylan's photo would cause a lot of retweets but not a lot of actual action.

I had accepted that all that would come across the air to Canada from Syria would be more stories of despair.

Yet here you are.

I suppose I forgot that there are good people in the world. I forgot that there are many, many people just waiting for an opportunity to birth Love into this world.

Because yesterday, sweet girl, I saw Love birthed into the world like I've never seen before. I saw the Body of Christ come together and come alive and bear His image to you and your family in one of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen. 

I can only imagine how confused you must feel right now... They told you that you were coming to Canada, and then you got on a plane, travelled 16+ hours and were put up in a strange hotel in a strange city for the night. Then in the morning, you were shuffled out of that room and told to wait in the lobby.

Your poor parents were told nothing of a sponsoring group... Nothing of the God-sent apartment that had been rented for you or the sweet family with beds made in their spare room just waiting to host you for the week while the aforementioned apartment's paperwork goes through. Nothing of the team of people who have sourced furniture and found Arabic-speaking doctors and researched schools... none of it.

I can just imagine how disorienting this must feel. Like maybe this was all a bad idea after all.

And when I saw the tears and relief in your parents' kind, weary, and courageous eyes as our translator told them that we had been preparing to welcome them for months, my heart could've just about burst.

When the whole lot of us huddled into that conference room of that hotel - the whole mismatched group of us, beautifully brought together because of a desire to welcome you - and your papa said that thing about feeling like we are your new Canadian family? Oh, little girl, I think even the toughest of us were tearing up.

Because this is it! This is the Love we get to share in the midst of a broken world. And how could we ever say no to this? How could we dare to miss this?

And then we went to that restaurant serving up meals from your homeland and okay, the whole party of us? We were hard to miss.

So a regular at that restaurant leans to the waitress and asks What on earth is going on over there? and the waitress tells her the bits of our story that she's gathered in all of five minutes of us being there and soon after that regular customer leaves, that waitress is over at our table letting us know that our entire tab had been picked up by that stranger.

But it didn't stop there. That waitress herself picked up the tab for our coffee afterwards, and the owner sent you home with a box full of meals on the house for your first week in Canada... A taste of home to help with the homesickness.

And I'm realizing that we live in an ocean of grace. We live in a world where people are ready and waiting to birth Love into this world, and we can believe in the hatred we see on the news, or we can believe in Love. 

Dear sweet little girl, it is just all too fitting that your family is ringing in the new year in a new country with a fresh start lying ahead. Yet I can only imagine how tough this coming year will be for you. It will be a long process of getting accustomed to life here - one that will at times be messy and frustrating, yet also, we hope, fulfilling and incredibly beautiful.

Know that we, your new Canadian family, will be there with you every step of the way.

Because sweet girl - we believe in Love and we pray that you and your beautiful family will come to believe in Love, too.

Yes, the first of two Syrian refugee families that our church family is sponsoring landed in Canada this week! We met them yesterday, New Year's Eve - and how fitting is that?! Your prayers are mightily appreciated as we step into this year-long journey together. #WeWelcomeRefugees

*As of now, our family prefers not to be named publicly on the internet.
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