Like so many, I have difficulty getting into the “Christmas Spirit” each year, despite the holiday music that seems to start playing on the radio and in the stores even before Thanksgiving has arrived.
Eventually, though, I can’t help but be caught up in the holiday spirit and am reminded of what really matters during this special time of year.
Did I mention this annual rekindling occurs in October?
That would have never made sense to me, either, until I began visiting Frostburg Heights, a Diakon Senior Housing Community in western Maryland, with the Flight Program, a tradition that began three years ago.
I grew up without a dad in a really tough neighborhood. My mom did a great job taking care of me, but there were too many negative influences in my neighborhood. I fell in with a bad crowd and got into some trouble. I ended up being put under house arrest, then in an after-school program, and finally the Weekend Alternative Program at the Diakon Wilderness Center.
As I write this, wrapped in a Massai blanket successfully bartered for at the market yesterday in Mto wa Mbu, I am drinking strong Tanzanian coffee and listening to the early-morning chirping of birds outside the window mixed with the soft sounds of a light rain.
As the sun continues to rise, the darkness of night giving way to a pallet of natural colors that seem to be unique to this particular part of the world, I can’t help but be awestruck and humbled by the many ways I have experienced God’s global church the last 30 days.
As often occurs when we truly sit back and ponder the meaning of God’s love, grace, and mercy in our lives, words are hard to come by and experiences difficult to capture and convey in a way that truly reveres our Father. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to share.
Earlier this year, participants and staff of the Flight Program had the opportunity to participate in a Haiti mission trip. They took care of the needs of orphanage children and spent time playing, coloring, writing letters to sponsors, opening gifts, making bracelets and assisting the nursing staff with the kids’ annual physicals. They stayed very busy in the hot, muggy weather! Along with working with the children, Flight participants had the opportunity to work alongside other missions team members in a variety of ways. They assisted the nurses, worked with the builders and even went door-to-door in a tent city to hand out supplies and pray with families. The Flight participants were moved outside of their comfort zones and, through that process, learned a lot about themselves. They learned how strong, resilient and capable they are. They left a lasting effect on Haiti and with the kids of the orphanages, and Haiti left a lasting impact on all of them. One of the participants shared about his experience:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 24.7 million children live apart from their biological fathers; many have little or no contact with them at all. The consequences of this statistic are overwhelming, considering that children lacking a father figure in their lives are at an increased risk of mental illness, behavioral issues, poverty, suicide, and substance abuse, and they are 20 times more likely to get in trouble with the law.
But there is still hope for these young people. There are men in our communities and extended families who have been filling in that gap by mentoring and “fathering” those who need it most. Several students who have been involved with Diakon Youth Services shared their stories of how someone took time to be a father figure and have a life-changing effect on their lives.
Between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4, several of us from the Diakon Flight Program, including students, took part in another trip to Haiti to assist with orphanages there. Here are some of my reflections upon returning from our trip.