Something New from Something Old

Have you ever done something because you thought it was the right thing to do, but soon discovered it wasn’t workable?

I love the Bible, and as a young Christian, I thought the best thing to do with that love of God’s Word was to go to Bible-college. As a blind person, I was relatively slow on the technology front; I hadn’t even graduated to Email or the Internet. There were no eBooks, and no accessible devices enabling blind people to read them. I needed my books in Braille or audio. My Disabled Students Allowance got me a laptop, and a Braille embosser (a large machine that converts text from the PC into Braille) for the college to keep.

The college had never enrolled a student who was visually-impaired, so they misunderstood what Braille was. Braille comprises 6 dots. Different combinations of those dots make up the letters of the alphabet. Brailing a book requires someone to type or scan text into a computer, and send it to the Braille embosser (like you would send a document to a printer). However many times I tried to explain, staff saw Braille as akin to another language. They weren’t happy with non-Christians brailing any part of a textbook, in case something got lost in translation. This meant no one from outside of the college could come in and do the work, so it would fall to staff or students.

While we waited for the Braille embosser, some students spent a couple of hours a week reading textbooks onto cassette. Mum did some reading too, back at home, and sent tapes through the post. In my first lectures, we were told how to write an essay. I would have to cite the page-number for every quotation I wanted to use. There were none on the cassettes which had already been made, and from that point on, whomever read aloud would have to remember to say the number every time they turned the page! I had to listen to everything and couldn’t scan-read as a sighted person would, so the college agreed to a more specific reading-list for each essay, but lecturers would promise said list and never actually come up with the goods. I realise lecturers have their own commitments aside from Bible-college, but that doesn’t help the student. After a couple of months, the logistical nightmare proved too much. It wasn’t just doing the course; it was getting the support I needed in order to do it. Some people are far better at banging the table to get what they want than I am!

More recently, I thought about going to a different Bible-college nearer home and trying again. Because of my previous experience, I had a far better idea of what I needed. The college were very gracious and said it was possible to do the first year of a degree course online, but in order to do the entire degree, I would need access to books that were only available in print. Having that information first time around would have saved a lot of heartache. It’s only thanks to God that I can say I don’t have any regrets.

While I was at that Bible-college far away from home, representatives from the charity CSW came to talk to us about the persecuted church. Their words about North Korea stayed with me. A year later I wrote this song, which ended up on my first album. God never wastes anything. I was a mess; everything seemed to have crumbled, but out of that came such a special song – one that made me think: “I want this to be heard. I want to raise awareness of what these people are going through.” If it wasn’t for “North Korea”, I wouldn’t have made one album, let alone two and one-on-the-way. Aren’t you glad God can take something old and unusable, to bring out of it something new and worthwhile?

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Compassion’s partnership with CardFunder inspired this post. Click here to see how they can use the leftover money from your old gift cards to meet the needs of children in poverty.

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A Letter from Jesus

It’s awhile since we’ve had a Compassion-related post, so if you’re new to this blog, you might wonder why ‘Compassion’ features in the title. Compassion as an organisation seeks to bring children out of poverty through child-sponsorship. Maybe you’re sceptical about child-sponsorship and thinking: How would they make sure my money got to the right place? To answer that, Compassion is Christ-centred, child-focused, church-based, and committed to financial integrity, so Compassion’s centres are run by local churches – those on the ground, who are best-placed to know the specific needs of their communities. My own Compassion-family are all around the world and I love them dearly.

One area I’ve never sponsored in though is South America. I’m delighted to be a Compassion-blogger and this week, some of my fellow-bloggers have gone to Ecuador. They’re there primarily to put their experiences into words – to share with anyone who’ll listen what it’s like in one of the 26 countries where Compassion works. Perhaps their posts are aimed at newbies, but as a seasoned sponsor myself, I find them just as encouraging. Ashley met a man whose sponsor had asked what his dream was (I think I’m going to ask my eldest that), and Ruth’s post on the theme of letters reminded me of something Paul said in the Bible.

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone,” says Paul. “You show that you are a letter from Christ sent through us.” Every time we show love to someone, we’re a letter from Jesus straight to them. My fellow-bloggers get to show that love in person this week in Ecuador; I get to do it through child-sponsorship.

And the exciting part?

You can too. Bri wrote that she waited too long to sponsor her first child. I know it takes some thought because it’s a long-term commitment, but please, don’t wait too long. Maybe now’s the perfect time to choose a child and start writing those letters of love, from your heart to theirs.

31 Jesus-Benefits: A Positive Change

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).

Day 21 and time to focus on one of the ways my faith has affected me:

I’ve become more outward-looking.

Previously I had been happy to absorb myself in the music I listened to, TV or writing for pleasure, but the first thing I wanted to do as a Christian was to help other people. That’s played out in several different ways, but one that comes to mind is the children I sponsor through Compassion. Compassion works in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. At school I had no interest in geography whatsoever. It was one of my worst subjects and I dropped it as soon as I could. Had I been a Compassion-sponsor back then, things might have been different. Now I love to read about Compassion Bloggers travelling to far-off places, or I find myself wondering: “What’s the weather like in India?” or “What’s the capital of Ecuador?” (it’s Quito, by the way). I can only thank God for this positive change in me.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness” (Galatians 5:22).

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As we’ve talked about Compassion in this post, there’s a book I’d like to give away to one of my readers. The author is Compassion’s former president, Wess Stafford (if you’ve read his autobiography you’ll love him). This book is “Just a Minute”, and it’s about the impact our words can have when we spend just a minute with a child. If you want to leave a comment, to do with children or impacting those around you, I’ll announce a winner on October 31st. Don’t forget there’s also the Dayspring.com $500 giveaway if you want to enter that one.

Pulling out all the Stops

I don’t know how to add photos to this blog, but if I could, I’d put one of me on my 18th birthday with Joan and Carol – 2 special people who helped me when I was at school. I attended schools for the blind for the majority of my education, but the last 2 years I spent at my local school. Joan and Carol were the ones who supported me and made sure I could access textbooks, diagrams etc. The diagrams I used in science lessons were basically black lines drawn on special paper, then put into a machine called a Ricoh Fuser, which raised the lines and made them tactile. Because Joan and Carol are both fully-sighted, I’d sometimes find the odd Braille page in a book upside-down and we’d have a laugh about it, but really they were brilliant. I’m always thankful I had the opportunity to go to my local school; I only wish I’d done it sooner.

It must be very different for children in Compassion’s centres. There was someone to make sure I had what I needed for my studies, but a Compassion-child may not even have a textbook of their own. I know how much effort went into producing my books, and I wonder if you might do something to help someone on the other side of the world have that same privilege. Will you donate to Compassion’s textbook fund?

If you’re not in a position to give financially, how about giving your time and your prayers? Compassion works in 26 countries. Why not go to their website, pick one, and pray for children in that country as they return to school? You’ll make a real difference.

June Gems

It’s the last week in June, and time to share some takeaways from the month with you all.

Podcast: I’d really recommend this preach from Jarrod Cooper on overcoming stress. He speaks truth lovingly, encouraging us that just like a broken leg, with the right care and attention, our minds can mend too. His points were so well-made and a real help to me.

Quote: “Find your us in the middle of all the rush” (Lysa Terkeurst’s reminder that people are more important than things)

Discoveries: Having said that, God does give us things for our enjoyment. Mine for this month is my new bench. I got it with 15% off and I like the little table in the middle. It really makes me smile to sit out there with my phone and cup of tea, reading an EBook. I’ve also found something I hope my sponsored kids will enjoy. We’re only allowed to send paper items through Compassion, so sometimes it’s a struggle, but I love to send gifts, specially when they’re little and you can’t write such meaningful letters. Pipity do these brilliant activity books, with paper dolls in that kids can cut out and dress up. There are also puppet-show books. Definitely worth a look.

Blog-Post: Over in New York, my friends Becky and Dave are celebrating 17 years of marriage, and Becky’s been reminding us on Facebook of their love-story she wrote a few years ago. I’m a sucker for love-stories and read it all in one sitting. I’m sharing the final part because the poem in it is beautiful.

Bible-verse: A challenging one for this month. “Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

Books: Do you have friends you love to spend time with? Does it absolutely make your day when they surprise you by popping round for a cup of tea? I’ve got friends like that. As well as being a worshipper, songwriter, pianist, preacher, recording engineer … my friend Colin is also an author, who’s recently published his tribute to Dan Dare, a trilogy and a third collection of short stories.

I don’t know whether we’ve got the same tastes, but I hope you find something here that you like. If you want to recommend something you’ve enjoyed this month, I’d love to hear in the comments.

May Mementos and a Giveaway

Can you believe it’s the end of another month already? I didn’t seem to have much to alert you to in April, so I think I’ll join 2 months together.

Watch: Over Easter, the BBC broadcast a documentary fronted by the actor David Suchet. It was called “In the Footsteps of St. Peter”. I don’t know if you can get it on DVD, but I was impressed. For anyone who didn’t know much about Simon Peter, it might have inspired them to open a Bible and find out a bit more.

Book: One that really left an impression on me is “Hadassah: One Night with the King”. I’d heard Tommy Tenney’s preaching before, so when I saw he’d written a novel based on my favourite Bible-story, I had to read it. It gives us a glimpse of what Hadassah’s life might have been like before she was taken into the palace to become Queen Esther. Esther means ‘Star’, and I love how he picked up on that theme and took it through the book. One of my best reads so far this year.

Blog-Post: My friends, Nick and Crystal, are very driven people. I’ve never known anyone else run marathons whilst pregnant, but another of Crystal’s passions is social justice, and she and her hubby are adopting an eastern European girl with spina bifida. Of course, their hope is that with medical intervention, she’ll be able to walk and have a better quality of life, but they love her unconditionally and are keen to be her parents regardless. The charity they’re adopting with, Reece’s Rainbow, takes children’s security very seriously and doesn’t give out her real name; only a code-name – Abigail. This post by Crystal answers many of the questions they’ve been asked since announcing the adoption, so please pray for the family as they go through this process.

Plea: This must be the month for Abigails! I wrote about Abigaelle in Haiti earlier this month, and I’m sad to say she still doesn’t have a sponsor. It was her name that made this 3-year-old girl stand out to me. Abigail means ‘Of the Father of joy’, and I’m sure Abigaelle will be a gift from God to bring joy to whoever sponsors her.

Giveaway: I tend to read my Bible on the computer, but I did once buy myself a chronological Bible. It’s 5 MP3 CDs, which I think play in most CD-players. I personally didn’t get on with it because it doesn’t announce which book of the Bible it’s going into, but if you just want to hear the whole Bible in date-order, it might be your thing. If you would like it, please just leave a comment and I’ll choose a winner by the end of June. Feel free to enter whichever country you live in.

That’s it from me for this month, but what about you? What are you taking away from May?

On Books, Children and Earthquakes

I love reading.  It’s taught me more about life than I would ever have learnt otherwise.  I heard just yesterday about the second major earthquake in Nepal in a matter of weeks, and it was the book “Little Princes” that helped me understand a bit about the region where these people are.  I heard reports of several feet of snow avalanching down from Everest, and I pictured staff from the orphanage trekking over rugged mountains, searching for families of trafficked children with a mind to eventually reunite them.  It was good to get the update that all children and staff were safe.

 

The earthquake 5 years ago with its epicentre in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, doesn’t make me think so much about the landscape.  Instead, it’s people who come to mind:  A family man trapped under the collapsed Hotel Montana, so far from his wife and sons; a pastor standing in the rubble that was his church, wearing a hat proclaiming “Jesus is my boss”; children still sleeping in tents years later, some without even a bed.  Hearing this week that there was a new Compassion-centre actually in Port-au-Prince, it was these tent-dwellers I thought of, happy to know there would be help for those families most-affected.

 

If you’d like to sponsor a child in this new centre, how about Abigaelle?  She was born on new year’s eve, 2011.  Mercifully, she wasn’t alive when the earthquake hit, but her parents would have been.  Nevertheless they chose to bring this little girl into the world, showing us all that Haiti still has a future, and she’s part of it.

 

If you’re too late to sponsor Abigaelle, you can search Compassion’s website for HA889 to find more children in Port-Au-Prince.

March Moments

How can it be the end of another month already? But tomorrow the clocks go forward here in the UK, and we’re into British Summer Time, so here are a few takeaways from March –

Podcasts: Find out how an old-fashioned pager helped cancer-patient Andy, or have a listen to some of Shauna’s wise words on when to take your teacher’s hat off, and other parenting advice. I found it interesting even though I don’t have children at home to look after.

Quote: My blogger-friend Kristen wrote this before she went on holiday. “You have been neighbours and friends who bring over delicious casseroles of words and encouragement.” I liked that. You may not be the best cook in the world, and you may not live near enough to certain friends to share a physical meal with them, but a plate of encouragement in their inbox is just as good!

Blog-Post: My favourite this month included a video. I’ve read Annie’s blog, and more recently listened to her podcast. She comes across as such a fun person, full of energy and always smiling. I enjoyed hearing in one of her quieter moments how seriously she takes her calling to speak to women and point them to God.

Discoveries: I went to a Compassion coffee morning earlier this month. Not only did I meet some lovely people, I also learnt new things. Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard the story of the starfish washed up on the beach and about to die. A boy throws one back into the ocean and says: “I made a difference to that one”, but did you know this starfish story has a modern-day twist? Another thing: If you’re a sponsor, have you noticed the blue corner on all your mailings from Compassion? It’s distinctive, but more than that, it points back to Leviticus 23:22, where the Israelites are told not to harvest right to the corners of their fields, but always to leave something there for the poor. What a privilege to partner with an organisation that has such a heart for God’s Word.

Book: Finally, this I’ve put on my to-read list – “Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography”. I heard Jen and Craig talk about how his addiction affected their marriage. They sound a lovely couple, and I love to read about real people and how they’ve overcome. If you’ve read the book, what did you think of it?

Is there anything you’re taking away from March?

Stories from the DR

I’ve really enjoyed the latest Compassion Bloggers assignment to promote their trip to the Dominican Republic. I’ve read along as trip updates daily came into my inbox, and alternating between Facebook and Twitter, I’ve shared a few of these:

Ruth’s story about the boy going blind who needed glasses costing 5,000 pesos (which may as well have been a million). Bri’s post about Marlo becoming the man of the house. Holley’s thoughts on ways to express love. Bonnie’s tear-jerker (or, should I say, reminder to keep writing those letters). Lisa’s son has special needs, and because of him, she found herself letting her guard down when she saw Jazmin. It’s been heart-breaking to read that several children in the town of Bonao were born with special needs due to a nearby nickel plant, which the corrupt government allows to remain, despite its effect on the locals.

If you’ve been touched by any of these stories (as I have), and if you’re not already, will you consider becoming a sponsor? If you wanted, you could choose specifically to sponsor a child from the Dominican Republic. I don’t sponsor in the DR, but mine are very important to me and I know writing to them makes a real difference. Will you do the same and share your life with a Compassion-child?

Living Generously: “Go Into all the World” Book-Review

Happy new year to my lovely readers. Praying for God to bless you with His peace and joy in 2015. Last January I pointed you to a very good book, and this year I’m doing the same.

As soon as I heard there was a book coming out by a man who’d sponsored 50 kids, I was excited to read it. I’m in a group for Compassion-sponsors on Facebook, so I kept up-to-date with the book’s progress, and David very kindly sent me an advanced copy in exchange for a review on my blog.

As a Compassion-sponsor who already knows about their 3 main programmes – for mothers and babies, for children being sponsored and for students, I found the long and detailed explanation at the beginning slow-going. If you’re a long-time sponsor like me, you might want to flip the first 30 pages and get straight to David’s stories. Once you do, it’s difficult to put this book down.

One standout for me was that not all the stories are stereotypical. When I read about a house in Bolivia with running water, a cooker and a TV, I wondered whether it ever crossed David’s mind to stop his sponsorship, but when I consider there are only 2 stories like this out of more than 30 visits, I realise how important sponsorship is. I am impressed that he included these details instead of trying to paint an unrealistic picture.

David’s character shines through the pages of this book. You might imagine someone who sponsors 54 kids on a teacher’s salary, visits 31 of them in 12 countries and then writes about it to be arrogant or prideful, so I really enjoyed reading the section on ‘Divine economy’ where he makes a point of saying: “Everything I have and am comes from God.”

I had intended to highlight my favourite story, but I can’t choose just one. I’ve heard about the impact letters had on a translator in Colombia. I’ve admired the attitude of Olga’s mother, and I’ve loved the way David related to Katherine’s family – commanding such respect from them that both parents confided in him and then, when he had to finance his own volunteering, thoughtfully finding Katherine new sponsors who could be role-models for them.

If you love children, and if you love Compassion, I think you’ll find this book very precious. It could be especially beneficial to someone who doesn’t use the Internet and won’t have read many accounts of sponsor-visits before. I’ve certainly been inspired and am delighted to own a copy.