24 Ways to “Give This Christmas Away”

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In the words of Jesus “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)  and nothing could be more true when it comes to giving at Christmas time.  The novelty of receiving gifts quickly wanes, while the blessing that comes from giving is much more fulfilling for our souls. 

I recently picked up a book called “101 simple and thoughtful ways to Give This Christmas Away” by Matthew West.  Here are some highlights from the book, if you want more, you will have to check it out!

1. Take a second look at that old shoe box (for Operation Christmas Child)
9. Be an angel of the night (shovel snow for someone else at night)
12. Set an extra plate at the dinner table
13. Help those who help others
18. Give the shirt off your back (or jacket)
24. It’s payback time (pay back an outstanding debt you have with someone)
32. Pass the buck (hide money in public places for strangers)
33. Volunteer at a homeless shelter after Christmas (not just around the holidays)
35. Collect a cart (return stray grocery carts or help someone with theirs)
43. Invite a friend to church
44. Leave a message (sing a Christmas song on someone’s voicemail)
50. Have an advent-ure (do things each day of advent)
51. Cross the big one off your list (remove the most expensive thing off of your own wish list)
52. Bake an extra dozen
60. Lose your cool (don’t worry about being cool)
64. Give what they want, not what you want for them
73. Give a goat
81. Give your teenagers the opportunity to shine
84. Surprise the angels (check out the Angel Tree program)
88. Read the name tag
89. Park in the back (leave good parking spaces for others)
100. Give them a glimpse of Jesus
101. Fill in the blank

And what is my “fill in the blank”? 

#102 Host an orphan

Giving your Christmas away is a big thing, you literally may have to give many things up in order to invite an orphan into your home.  You may have to give up some of your savings; your children may have to be willing to give up some of their gifts; you may have to give up some holiday traditions because they may overstimulate or trigger a fragile and traumatized child; you may have to give up a guest room; you may have to give up sleep; you may have to give up the comfort of your typical holiday routine. 

Christmas 2010

But, let me tell you, the blessing you receive in return is so much greater than what you may have to give up. If you have hosted before, share in the comments how you have been blessed by giving your Christmas (or summer) to an orphan.

It’s not too late to give your Christmas away!  New Horizons for Children is signing up host families for this December until Monday November 3rd at midnight (EST).   Visit the Facebook page to see photos and stories of real children who are waiting for someone to give the gifts of Christmas, family, love, and Jesus to them.

Then he said to them,
“Anyone who welcomes a little child
like this on my behalf welcomes me,
and anyone who welcomes me
also welcomes my Father who sent me.
Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

Luke 9:48 (NLT)

Christmas Is…

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…coming! 

I feel like I have never been so prepared or looking forward to Christmas as I am this year.  When we hosted Sasha I was so looking forward to Christmas, but definitely not feeling prepared at all! 

Early in October, I was ready to listen to the carols, watch my favorite holiday movies, and start decorating.  I doubt it was the commercialism that got me in the mood, I think it as more that I have been thinking about the Christmas hosting program since August ended. 

To me, Christmas is about family and celebrating Christ’s birth with the ones you love.  It’s about love, family, and Jesus. 

And that is exactly what our orphans need… love, family, and Jesus.  So many people are already in the holiday spirit… the giving, the love, the generosity, the thoughtfulness.  I just can’t think of a better time to invite an orphan into your home.  To include them in the memory-making and the celebrating.  The children we serve have never had holidays like we celebrate them here. 

I just imagine my memories of sitting around the fireplace, opening presents, sharing laughs, waiting for Santa, reading the Christmas story with my family.  Do you think any of that can be replicated in an orphanage of 200 children?  Where there is 1 caregiver for every 10 children and no individual attention?  Where everything is sterile and not warm at all?  Where all are treated equally and therefore all get the same generic gifts?  That’s a Christmas far from the one I would desire as a child.

There are only 4 days left for 32 more host families to be found for orphans this Christmas.  Please, if you can give some love, family time, and Jesus to a child in need this holiday, please don’t hesitate!  Contact me or visit the NHFC website today!

http://www.newhorizonsforchildren.org/orphan-hosting/view-available-kids-here/

Christmas Orphan Hosting–And a Blast from the Past

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One little storyline from a tv show I watched during my junior high years planted seeds of the orphan hosting concept in my heart 15 years ago.  Can you just imagine how much this old Boy Meets World episode means to me now when I look back at it?  It’s amazing how the littlest things from your past add up to big things in your future.

 

 

–Eric, nobody expects you to take care of all the needy children.
–Then why were they sent to me?

 

Do you think I can have parents for Christmas?

 

Why would you send me that little boy?
Why doesn’t that nice little boy have parents?
Why doesn’t that nice little boy have parents? 
Why did you send me that little kid?

 

I will take care of this.
I can be responsible for the happiness of one little boy.

 

You see, Tommy here doesn’t have a family,
so I thought it would be nice if he could spend Christmas with us.

 

Eric said we can hang out on weekends.
–Yeah it will be like he’s got a big brother… I figured it was something I could do.
 

 

It’s not too late for you to make the difference in the life of a needy child this Christmas!  New Horizons for Children is still looking for Christmas host families.  Deadlines to host Eastern European children begin just 1 week from now!  You can sign up here to take a peek at some of the awesome “Tommys”  out there who just want a family for Christmas.

 

NHFC - Christmas is Coming

Hosting Reflection #31–You must lose your life to find it

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‘Honey, you’re changing that boy’s life.’ ‘No.  He’s changing mine.’ ”  This line from “The Blind Side” stands out to those with a heart for kids in need as well as those who have never given these kinds of kids kids a second thought. 

It’s pretty common for those from the outside looking in, see people like me as someone who is in this to make a positive impact on a child’s life… a do-gooder on a mission to change the world one child at a time.  And perhaps it does begin this way, but it doesn’t end there. 

So many times I meet families who give of themselves to host an orphan for the good of the child.  And within a matter of a few short weeks, somehow the tables are turned.  By the end of the short hosting program, families often say “I never expected to be so blessed by hosting.  I feel like what I have given to this child is only a fraction of what they have given to me.” 

I was no exception to this trend.  When I first heard of hosting, I wanted to give up whatever I could if it meant it could change the life of an orphan.  And I can say, without a doubt, that Sasha’s life has changed since 2010.  What I did not expect, and have found to be exceptionally true, is that I feel like he did even more to change my life.

– – –

As I am approaching our 3 year anniversary of hosting Sasha, I’ve been reflecting on our whole journey.  As I look back over the things that I wrote during that time, my prayers, challenges, fears, and miracles, I have come to be reminded of some big sacrifices I made just to have him here for Christmas. 

The first challenge I faced was finding a way to have an entire month off of work.  I was working part-time in an office where I had virtually no benefits or paid vacation.  I knew it would be a risk to take that much time off.  I pretty much told them, either I get the time off or I will quit.  What, quit?? Did I just say that??  I had no idea what kind of job I would find if I did quit, but faith reassured me that God was all over this and not about to let me down.  Within a week, my boss said they would find a temp to cover while I was gone and I would get my job back whenever I returned.  Amazing!

Next, I was in my 3rd semester of graduate school.  I was scheduled to take an exam the same day that I was supposed to pick Sasha up at the airport in Chicago.  With 8 hours between the university and airport, I knew it would not be possible.  I told the professor what I was doing and asked if there was any way I could take the final earlier.  Her first response is that dates and times of final exams are non-negotiable and there are no exceptions.  Hearing that, I resolved to pray and if she did not reconsider, I would just have to withdraw from the class and start all over again in another term.  Within a week, the professor sent me an email saying that I could take the final exam early and if any other students complained, they could take it early as well if they are also hosting an orphan for Christmas. ; )

Finally came the finances.  While I had gotten an unexpected check that covered nearly the whole cost of hosting, there were still many other expenses that went along with it.  There were costs of flying my dad to St. Louis to attend host parent training, getting an unexpected hotel room on my way to pick Sasha up at the airport, lost income from not working for 4 weeks, as well as all the other items and outings that I got for Sasha while he was here.  I honestly don’t know how I got through, but God provided. 

– – –

Now, I don’t share all this to gloat about all the things I have done, but to share how much had to be given up in order to bring Sasha here.  For a 33 day stay, I put my financial stability, job, and education on the line.  I risked some very important parts of my life in order to make a difference in Sasha’s. 

And his life was changed.  He experienced a loving family for the first time.  He experienced safety.  He heard the truth of God’s Word.  He was accepted unconditionally.  He was forgiven.  He was given the opportunity to have a family forever.  He has been changed knowing that he has a family who will always love him. 

And yet, in all of this, I feel like he has changed my life even more.  He has changed my life by showing me what it means to move beyond a painful past, to trust, to be vulnerable, to be open to love, to be hopeful.  He has changed my life by letting me live out this love that I had only heard about. 

Before Sasha, I thought I had life.  It wasn’t until I actually put all the important things in my life on the line for him, that I really found out what life is all about. 

And, my dear friend, what about you?  Have you really discovered what life is all about?  If you continue holding tightly to the trivial things you have, it’s going to be hard to see what life really is.  Take a good look and see what it is you can start putting on the line.  It’s when you do that, that you will actually find what your life is for.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25 (NIV)

“Family Portrait in Black & White”–Review

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I recently watched a documentary called “Family Portrait in Black and White” and it was too great for me to not share about it here on my blog.  Not only does it hit at the heart of my blog – orphan care in Eastern Europe, but also brings to light issues of race, nationality, family, and even orphan hosting!

“In a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya, raises 16 black orphans amidst a population of Slavic blue-eyed blondes. Their stories expose the harsh realities of growing up as a bi-racial child in Eastern Europe.” (IMDb.com)

This documentary, filmed in 2010, shows so many aspects of modern life in eastern Ukraine (Sumy), not only the life of the orphan, but even more at risk, the life of multi-racial orphans in a very Caucasian society.  Interviews show both Ukrainians and international visitors explaining the reality of life for these ostracized children.  Many people come from the middle-east and Africa to get a cheap education, and while studying in Ukraine, the end up getting white Ukrainian women pregnant.  It is a very shameful thing for these girls to bring home a mixed-race child, so it is commonly accepted fact of life that all these children end up in orphanages. 

They are Diamonds

I love the way Olga Nenya, the foster mom whose family is the focus of the film, talks about her foster children.  She says: “Many European families that host the kids in the summer call me saying they want to adopt this child.  But I don’t think Ukraine is such a wealthy country to give such ‘diamonds’ as presents to other countries.  Ukraine should value each and every one. They are Ukrainian citizens. Ukraine needs them.” Although she is preventing these children from being adopted – which is a totally different issue – it is because she values them so much.  She sees worth in children that so many others see as worthless. 

Orphan Hosting

Another thing I loved about this film was the way it gave a different perspective of orphan hosting – which is not at all mentioned in the trailers or descriptions, but actually seemed to make up a big part of their story! 

According to the movie, “Since the Chernobyl disaster, European charities have been helping disadvantaged Ukrainian children.  Seven of Olga’s foster children spend their summers with host families in Europe.”  I have never heard that orphan hosting is connected with Chernobyl… and I actually doubt that statement’s validity.  But to the makers of the film, there was some connection between that and the time orphan hosting began. 

All of her children who were hosted went to families in Europe – France and Italy were the ones mentioned.  To her as foster mom, she did not see them as a second family.  She saw them as strangers who cared for the kids and helped her alleviate some financial needs while the children were not at home for the summer. 

The film shows Maxim, one of her foster sons, and his hosting experience in Italy.  He had a single host dad and grandpa he stayed with every summer and Christmas.  You got to see them playing together, working on math homework, cooking dinner together, chatting about memories from previous hosting sessions, and speaking an impressive amount of Italian.  Sadly, his host dad could not adopt him because the countries do not allow single men to adopt, and Mama Nenya would never have allowed it anyways.  It was also heart wrenching to watch their goodbye, as both the boy and host family cried, and Max loaded a bus full of other hosted orphans headed back to Ukraine.  You could just see how bittersweet it was for him to leave a host family he loved and also return to a foster family he loves. 

This helped me to get a little more of a glimpse of what it’s like for our NHFC kids to be hosted.  Although they do not return to a home and a foster family, it is bittersweet for them to leave the US and return to a place they call home, although it may seem inferior to what they had during the summer or Christmas.  It is still home to them. 

Philosophical Parallel

At the end of the film, one of the older boys who has gone off to study in the University is featured with some very poignant statements.  Towards the end of his time in the foster home, things went bad between him and Mama Nenya.  Their mindsets were very different. 

This wasn’t the typical teen vs. parent conflict, and the film presents the ideological conflict that makes this documentary transcend the simple family/orphan storyline.  There is a montage of interview clips back and forth between Kiril, the older boy now on his own, and Olga Nenya, who is still at home with the other children but still very disapproving of Kiril. 

Mama: “We are living through times of change, Perestroika in Ukraine.  Moral norms are changing drastically.  Now it’s all about individual freedom.”   
Kiril: “None of mom’s older children are university educated.  Their values in life are discipline and constant physical labor.  What ‘art’? What ‘music’?  These things are not even considered.” 
M: “ ‘You have no right to impose your will on me.’  I disagree with that.”   
K: “If you think about it, our family resembles a totalitarian, Soviet regime.” 
M: “Soviet pioneers used to have duties.  Having a duty is very different from choosing whether you want to do something or not.”
K: “It’s like a herd! Perhaps, this comparison is rude but it’s accurate.”
M: “A child knows only food, potty, and parental care.  What opinions can he possibly have?”
K: “Mom is "’The Leader’, like Stalin was ‘The Greatest Leader’.  The rest are ‘Masses’.  Masses work together, perform collective work, and obey the decisions of just one person.  If not, your spirit will be crushed.”
M: “I saw something in Kiril which is not there.  I made a mistake.  It hurts.”
K: “I felt I was a dissident in our family.”
M: “He grew into a student but not a son and not a good person.”
K: “The children turned their back on me. Simply because they do what mom says.”
M: “I don’t want to talk about that person.”
K: “Now I only have three people in my life: Anna, Silva, Roma. They stayed with me through everything, never betrayed me.  I hope every one of us will have a happy life.  I wish that one day we might get together as friends, as a big, happy family.  We would talk about what we do, and where we live, and who became what in life.”

This part of the film really brought up some questions for me…
Did she really raise her foster children with a Soviet-like ideology?
Can you do both that and be totally loving?
How could a loving mother deny him as a son, a good person, and not want to talk to him?
Is this how family life should be?
I living in a loving and yet totalitarian home better than being in a cold institution?

The film did not provide answers, but really causes the viewer to ponder these deep concepts.  And I’m still thinking about it myself…

As for you, I really encourage you to check out the film!  It’s not your typical heart-warming orphan story.   It really brings issues of race, philosophy, family, and love into a different light. 

For more info & to watch the film online: http://www.familyportraitthefilm.com/story/

To keep up with the kids stories and news on the documentary: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Family-Portrait-in-Black-and-White/115413608526324
(I love this, it really makes the family real because there are updates… like photos of one of the boys being hosted this summer!)

Trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvzGzdXVprk 
(and shared below)

And like the video says at the end of the credits…
“Please consider becoming Summer Hosts to Eastern European Orphans in your community”!!!

Disclaimer – I have not received any compensation for writing this review.

Sundance Trailer

Hosting Reflection #30–The Love of a Dog

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“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them… And filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.” 

Committing to bring an older orphan into your home for 1 month can be a scary thing… for many reasons.  How will they act? How will we communicate?  How are they going to treat our family?  How will they connect with us?  How can we make them feel comfortable and safe?  It can be overwhelming and nearly impossible to really plan. 

It had been 24 hours since Sasha’s plan landed in the US and we were finally getting home.  His plane had arrived in Chicago on a Tuesday night and we had planned to make the 5 hour drive the whole way home, but the snow had gotten really bad and we had to stop and spend the night in the hotel.  The next morning Sasha got up very early, he was still stuck in old time zone ways, and we continued the drive back home.  He was good but very quiet.  We talked on and off in Russian, but I think he was still trying to make sense of everything… and I don’t blame him!

Once we got home, he really started to settle in.  He got to meet the rest of the family, move into his own room, and adjust to the time change.  But I think the thing that helped him most of all was our family dog, Pepper.  On that very first day at home, I heard him say his first English phrase “Come here Pepper” and my face and heart smiled.

Sasha took to Pepper so quickly.  He love to play with him… and try to trick him sometimes too.  He loved to give him treats, take him for walks, and just love on him.  He told me about the dogs at his orphanage, which he seemed to love as well.  But I know with him, and many other children like him, dogs are more than a fun pet.

Animals are not as socially complex as humans, tending instead to live in the moment.  Dogs, in particular, are forgiving and loving creatures that do not play the same mind games and dance the same confusing social dance as humans are so want to do. 

~ Dr. Gregory Keck, Parenting Adopted Adolescents

Sasha is a thoughtful, kind, empathetic kid… but he didn’t entirely come to us that way.  He came to us guarded, unsure of what to expect, naturally trying to protect himself.  He probably had just as many questions as we did.  How will these people treat me?  What will they do if I make a mistake?  How will they react if I make a poor choice on purpose?   How much do they really care about me?  What if they don’t like me?  What if they don’t love me?  Imagine the pressure…

But Sasha did not have to worry about any of that with our dog.  He knew he would be loved no matter what by Pepper.  Our playful and highly tolerant dog was always there to give Sasha attention, physical touch, and companionship.  I truly believe the bond that Sasha made with Pepper in those first moments at home helped to put Sasha at ease in our family.  The love he felt from Pepper and the love he showed back to Pepper opened the door for Sasha to share in our family’s love. 

Sasha was not a huge fan of taking pictures while we hosted him.  But towards the end of his time with us for hosting, he wanted to be sure to get photos of the special things from our home to take back with him.  Who was first? Pepper.  He wanted the picture to be perfect and he was no longer camera shy when he requested several shots with the dog until he he was happy with just the right one.

Trying & trying until it was just right!

Since we hosted Sasha and he returned back to his home country, we would often call him on the phone.  Nearly every time we talked with him on the phone, he asked how each member of the family was by name, including Pepper. 

Pepper turned 16 this year.  Over the past year or so, his brother and sister (from the same litter) passed away, so we knew his time was coming soon.  This summer, I told Sasha that Pepper was getting old and probably would die soon.  Sasha was so sad to hear this and insisted it couldn’t happen. 

Just this past week, Pepper had to be put down.  We have not gotten to tell Sasha yet.  In Pepper’s 16.5 years with our family, some of the best times were when Sasha was with us.  That little dog made all the difference in our hosting experience with Sasha and, I believe, in his life as well. 

Thank you little Pepper for leading the way and showing an orphan unconditional love in the purest form.  Thank you God for using a little animal to change in the life of a hurt boy and our family!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

 

A little clip of S & Pepper on our first full day at home and 1 week later on Christmas

Use What God Has Given to You–Orphan Care

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Caring for orphans takes a lot of work.  It can be costly, difficult, risky, and makes you vulnerable.  So many people think that it is too hard, that they have nothing to offer, or that orphan care is just meant for a  small group of brave and crazy individuals.  I believed that to an extent, but after recently reading the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25, I have come to think about orphan care a little differently.

Parable of the Talents – Traditional version in the ESV
Parable of the Talents – Modern paraphrase in The Message 

Here’s a little breakdown of reflections on what I read in the Scriptures:

God gives us talents
God gives each of us gifts, talents, something that he intends for us to use.  He gives them to us for a reason, so that we can use them to multiply his purposes and his Kingdom.  They are not meant to be selfishly hoarded or even kept safe.  It can be risky, but He trusts us with his blessings and resources and we need to trust him to multiply them for his glory.

According to our abilities
God gives us gifts according to our abilities.  This is not an issue of fairness, it’s a matter of what God knows we are able to handle.  He is gracious and takes each person at their own pace.  It may be difficult to look at others and compare ourselves to those who seem to have more resources, more talents, or more money. But we need to trust God and accept that he has a reason.

Those with more, made more
Those servants who were given many talents, they were able to multiply them and make even  more.  It’s just like the principle of sowing and reaping… you need to plant the seed to be able to reap.  When you use the talents, they will be multiplied. 

The master was pleased
God is so pleased when we are faithful with what he has given us.  He is pleased when we trust him, and I believe he honors it by allowing it to multiply. 

The master entrusted them with more
When God sees our faith, he will give us the chance to do even more.  It could be more opportunities, more resources, more faith… whatever he gave will be multiplied.  And he did so with joy.  He will trust us with more work to be done, more gains to be made for his glory.

The one with the least hid it
The scripture says that the servant who was given the least was afraid.  Who knows what exactly he was afraid of, but he was afraid enough to not do anything with the single talent he was given.  Was he afraid he would lose it? Afraid he would disappoint the master? Afraid he couldn’t do as much as the others?  Afraid his one talent wasn’t good enough?  Afraid others would see him as inferior because he only had one talent? 
I think many of us can relate to the fears of this servant.  We second-guess ourselves and question if God really wants us to use what seems to be insignificant.  We may lie to ourselves and think that God already has more than enough and can do without our little talent.  So we hide it, keep it away from the world, don’t use it for God’s kingdom… out of fear.

The master called him wicked & slothful
This is where it gets serious.  The master did not gently correct, forgive, or patronize the servant who didn’t use his talent.  He was harsh.  He was real.  The servant was rebuked.  How many times to we pass by opportunities to use our talents and think that God will not notice?  He sees it all.  I surely don’t want God looking down on me calling me ‘wicked and slothful’. 

The master insisted he should have done something
God gives us talents to use them.  No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, he wants us to use them.  He entrusts us with them and will give us opportunities to use them.  Even if it wasn’t as big or extravagant or prosperous as the others, I believe God would be pleased with the littlest use of our talents.

The master sent him away & into the darkness
The servant who did nothing and hid his talent was not given another chance.  He had one opportunity and when it was gone, he was no longer working for the master.  What if we looked at our opportunities, resources, and talents in this way… if we did not use them then they would be gone?  And then we would live in purposeless darkness for the rest of our days? 

When I read this Scripture, I remember that orphan care is a command of scripture and every believer has some God-given talent they can use for the defense of the orphan.

Like the last servant, we may be tempted to think that what we have is not enough, we may be afraid it won’t compare to what others can do, we may hope that God won’t notice our inaction.  But he does. 

He is trusting you with what he has given you.  And the promise that goes along with this parable is so encouraging… when we are faithful with the small things, he will give us even more. We may start out with not much to offer, but with faith and action, He will come to entrust you with much more!

Where do I start?

Start with what God has given you &
use it to fulfill God’s command to care for the fatherless!
(Click the underlined links below to use what God’s given you now!)

If God has given you a Facebook profilelike NHFC’s page to support our ministry.

If God has given you a desire to shop onlineuse our link before making your next Amazon.com purchase.

If God has given you the opportunity to browse the internet often… sign up to support NHFC every time you do a web search through GoodSearch.com.

If God has given you faithpray for a waiting orphan to be hosted.

If God has given you faith-filled friendsask them to pray for an orphan who touches your heart.

If God has given you a church, Bible study, Sunday School classshare with them about our ministry.

If God has given you some extra money in your budgetdonate towards a waiting child’s scholarship.

If God has given you time to praypray for our ministry.

If God has given you room for one more in your family this summerfind out how you can host an orphan!

 

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. 
You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:21 & 23 (ESV)

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