Send: cause to go; to cause to happen; to dispatch by means of communication; to cause to be carried to a destination; to cause to issue: such as to pour out, send forth a cry, send out in waves of perfume, to grow out in the course of development; to dispatch someone to convey a message or do an errand.
On June 22, 2018 RiverLakes Church sent a group of eleven on a mission trip with Children to Love International. We stepped on our plane each with different personalities, unique giftedness, our own expectations, hopes and fears. Each one of us returned as family having shared an experience we couldn’t even put to words with our closest loved ones. We were poured out, yet filled with love; we conquered fears and grew in ways expected when one’s faith is taken from heart to foot.
As I reflected on our trip, I was drawn to the book of 1 Thessalonians, which was written by the Apostle Paul after he and Silas were driven out of Thessalonica because of their missionary work. In a span of what some say was as little as a month God used Paul and Silas to convert many and build a community of zealous believers. They were strong in faith and rich in love for one another. Listen to the words of Paul as he speaks of the report received from the Apostle Timothy concerning the young Thessalonian Christians: 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Before going to Romania, I researched the country and felt I understood the small impact I could have on the lives of their orphans. My prayer was that I could be a light in the midst of their suffering. I was prepared to give, to serve, to love, to share my faith. I was expectant to see how my own daughter, who was part of our team, would be stretched, but what I wasn’t anticipating was the gifts God was preparing for me to receive. Those gifts came in many forms: a greater call to humility, a better understanding of serving through weakness, flexibility to work as a team, being a light or a shadow and working with joy amongst family in both roles, gratitude of my citizenship to His kingdom and the family that comes with it, a balance in my material desires vs. needs, and being mindful of my thoughts and words when hunger or exhaustion set in. But here is the one that was unexpected and overwhelming and immediate: the extreme love and joy of the children we encountered and my immediate bond and desire to protect them. I didn’t expect the faces of these children to dance in my head once I came home, I didn’t expect their plight to become a new song in my heart which has vibrated to the point of action.
During our time in Romania we were overwhelmed with story after story of the hardships, the neglect and the abuse these orphans have endured. You would assume that after the cruelty and abandonment these children experienced, they would be shut down, cold and indifferent; I was awe struck to see the very opposite. As soon as the children saw us, they immediately rushed us, they clung to arms, grasped our hands, and kissed our cheeks. Through extreme adversity, these little ones’ capacity to love had not been diminished. They accepted us with a sincerity that was overwhelming and their love needed no translation.
There was another unexpected gift the Lord had prepared for our team and this was equally rewarding: the humility and dedication of the CTL staff. Words cannot express the impact they had on my heart. Day after day I felt the weight of the emotional and physical suffering these children were facing; I struggled with my own physical and mental exhaustion. Yet every morning the CTL staff would walk in with smiles on their faces, words of encouragement, eager to begin our daily devotional and worship time. They were always ready to answer any question our team had, they knew each child by name and shared the stories of each one with great affection and concern. And then the children would arrive… and they were running everywhere, shouting with excitement, wanting to go on the trampoline, or play basketball, or cards, or just jump all over you. There were moments throughout my day I would sit and observe the CTL staff and was taken to the image of my Savior washing His disciple’s feet. They were selfless, humble, loving, patient, and engaging with each child. No one was unnoticed, every child was known, food was always available; the love they had for these kids was infectious and visceral.
And here’s the greatest thing, you saw the trust in the eyes of these children. They felt safe, they knew they were loved, and regardless of the all the new faces and the acceptance they gave us…they always ran back to the familiar ones. The consistent love that the CTL staff pours out to these children is genuine and sacrificial; it is the type of love Christ expects each one of us to reflect. After a little over a week in Romania, our team went home to rest and contemplate; the CTL staff members pour out their love, their energy and their wisdom to these children day after day and then must go home and care for their own families. It is truly a reflection of their love and dependence on Christ; there is no other answer.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8; 13, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophesies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. So now faith, hope, and love abide, those three; but the greatest of these is love.”
After spending time with the staff and the many children they reach, our team had a firsthand account of what the Lord is accomplishing through CTL. With all the advancement and privilege, we have in our country, CTL is doing something we cannot do at this time in our own; they are first line soldiers spreading the hope of Christ throughout the foster care system in Romania, Uganda, India and the Ukraine.
Here is some brief information and history on Children to Love International:
“Children to Love is devoted to helping meet the needs of the suffering children of the world, providing help and assistance to empower ‘the least of these’. CTL seeks to equip all children to become independent, contributing members of their communities, and fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. CTL was founded in 1993 in response to the orphan crisis in Romania resulting from the 1989 collapse of the oppressive communist regime. Since their inception they have opened two “Home of Hopes” in Romania. These homes take children out of an orphanage setting and place them in a loving family environment committed to Christian principles” (Excerpt from CTL Website). By God’s grace, CTL is establishing roots across the globe; with the partnership of faithful contributors CTL has expanded their ministry to India, Uganda and the Ukraine.
Psalm 82:3, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”
James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How we can join hands and support CTL:
Let us not forget the orphans and widows, the less fortunate, those at the front line; pray for CTL, its staff and the children they love. If you’d like further information connect with them on Facebook or Instagram. Explore their website and email them if you have questions (www.childrentolove.org). Consider supporting CTL financially or sponsoring one of their orphans. Each and every contribution allows for one more child to be touched by the love of Christ and nurtured by the truth and hope found in the Gospel. Consider joining CTL on a Mission Trip and experiencing firsthand the love of the children and the depth of faith and humility of the CTL staff.
A few of our mission teams impact statements:
Sheri Giesel, “It’s amazing to witness the hands and feet of Jesus in the CTL staff. I was completely humbled by the pure and absolute trusting love that poured from the children’s heart. This mission trip was amazing on so many different levels. I feel I got way more out of it then it got out of me. I have a bond with my team that will live with me forever.”
Grace Giesel, “I was amazed to watch these teenagers come to the CTL house on their own. They weren’t forced to hang out with us. They could have gone anywhere but they chose to come to learn about Jesus.”
Heather Sproul, “Melissa and Mona were sisters who lost their mother two weeks prior to our arrival. Mona (the oldest) carried around a framed portrait of her mother and shared it with everyone. One morning she attached herself to me and called me ‘mommy’ a few times by accident. I pray there are more ‘mommies’ willing to visit her and hold her hand. There is so much pain in the world. Many ask how God can allow it, the real question is how can believers?”
Avery Brogdon, “My experience during this mission trip is something I will never forget and has changed my heart in a way that I know only God could change. I am so grateful that God chose me to be His and called me to make disciples of the nations.”
Jeremy Rathbone, “After being home for a while now and still soaking in everything that happened on our trip, I don’t think God sent me over there to love on those kids: I think God sent me over there so those kids could love on me. These neglected children ministered to me on how my attitude and outlook should change in my own life. These kids don’t have a choice about their harsh living conditions, yet not one of them focused inwardly; not one of them acted like a victim. They were happy to be around us and the CTL staff. Their focus was outward. There was a gleam in their eyes I long to have, it was a gleam of hope and pure love.”
Romans 10:13-15, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Missionary work can be a fearful and intimidating step in our faith; but let me offer these sobering words: People all over the world are lost and dying without the love and hope of Christ. “According to UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund) there are 153 million orphans worldwide. If orphans were a country of their own, the population would rank 9th in the world.” You might hesitate to be sent on a mission trip of this nature; it may sound overwhelming and too crushing but I challenge you to think differently. There is a reason Christ tells us to come with a childlike faith and to hold love in our hearts for the least and the lost (Mathew 18:1-5; Mark 10:13-16; James 1:27). Love is a universal language God has planted in each of us, it is a powerful force which needs no translation (1 John 4:19; John 3:16; John 15:12-13). A trip with CTL will not break your heart, it will soften it and it will inspire you to love and live with the childlike faith of these orphans. Their love is simple, filled with joy and acceptance and their faith easily takes God at His Word.
On my first mission trip to Honduras, I heard this quote, “If you want to plant for a year, you plant rice; If you want to plant for 30 years, you plant trees, but if you want to plant for centuries, you plant men and women of character.” What better model of character can we offer to children than that of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ? If the Lord has stirred your heart, perhaps it has been stirred for the orphans of CTL. For further information and details of our mission trip please consider joining us on August 5 at RiverLakes Church for our Mission Team Debrief.