Dear Tired,

Lifting tired arms, one letter at a time.

DearTired has been silent for awhile. In some ways it’s been super intentional in a season of ministry that I’ll explain in a later post. In short, we have grown by almost 300% the number of churches we serve annually. While growth was planned, this level of explosive growth exceeded our lofty expectations for the year. While we are thankful, we are also tired. We’ve been busy and writing took a back seat, though I’ve been writing in my head all the time, as my lovingly patient family can attest. But in other ways, my silence has just happened. I have 3 kids now and I’ve been listening more, talking less.

Soon, I’ll be back weekly, as life has changed and I’ve heard a lot that will encourage you, too.

But for now… here’s today’s letter.

-Ryan

 

DEAR TIRED,

I formed you. I knitted you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). I will be with you and watch over you, wherever you go. (Gen 28:15) You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)  With Love, Dad

DEAR DAD,

Thank you. I am tired sometimes. Not because I am alone, but because I forget that you are always with me. Always. Wherever I go. With more gratitude than I can express, Me

Today is my birthday. I don’t announce this to invite “Happy birthday, Ryan” comments, but instead to tell you about the greatest gift I’ve ever received. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, every moment of every day.

I received it when I was 4. It wasn’t on my birthday, but just thinking about it longer than a minute makes me well up with tears of joy.

My sister, Heather, is about 1.5 years older than me. Since I was a baby and through today, she has been listening to me talk about all kinds of things. Well, when I was little, I imagine I sounded a lot like my 3 kids – talking from the moment I wake up through even after I’m asleep. Through all that time, my gift to Heather is that I built up her tolerance for noise and my life built into her a default toward patience. I’m sure she’s grateful, too.

So at 4 years old, I imagine I was a talker and not a listener. Yet she listened to me, a lot. After hearing me reflect on questions about life, love, and God, she kneeled down beside me and taught me to pray. In doing so, she listened to my heart and helped me accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My life was never the same after that.

Here’s why that prayer is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

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Its value continues to grow.

I’ll be honest with you. Our memory of her gift at age 5 and my receipt of it at age 4 isn’t real strong for either of us, I’m sure. But, day by day, month by month, the value of it has grown. Through her listening ear and willingness to pray with me, my sister introduced me to the greatest gift that I’ve ever received: a life of following and worshipping Jesus.

Its connected me to you.

My walk with Jesus has taken me to meet you. I’m reminded of how gloriously great my life is in profound ways. I’m thankful for friends who are on 6 continents (and possibly 7, with the crowd God has allowed me to run with…you all are changing the whole world – literally!). I’m grateful to know, love and respect people serving in the far corners of the world. Just thinking about how much I love you all is a great gift to me. Thanks for letting me tag along on your life journeys. I’m grateful. God has allowed me to meet you and you’ve allowed me to hang around.

Its given me hope, courage, boundless love, and joy.

No matter where I go, I have hope, courage, boundless love, and joy because no matter where I go, my God goes with me. In this world, I’ve had troubles. I’ve been held up by gun point by rogue police officers in a remote area of Africa. I’ve had several severe illnesses that left me wanting to die, but suffering under the care of people who wanted nothing more than to help me thrive again. I’ve sat with beaten children, abused women, trafficked people groups. I’ve talked with children, grandmothers, friends, strangers dying of cancer. I’ve held the hands of people before they left this side of heaven more often than I can count. But through it all, I’ve known something that the greatest gift taught me. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how little you think you are worthy of love, you are wonderfully made. Because of the greatest gift, I get to look at people in all kinds of situations and hold a mirror up to them to help them see their best selves. Because of the greatest gift, I get to know, with certainty, that you and I are loved by a God who will never leave us or forsake us. I can meet people of any walk or situation, knowing they are infinitely valuable and loved. And wow! I get to meet them! Treasured creations of the King.

Its given me purpose.

Every day, whether I’m teaching my kids about clouds and rainbows, pitching potential investors on the merits of my work, or washing dishes or sitting bedside next to a dying woman, my purpose because of the greatest gift is to love my God well and love my neighbor with the same kind of fervor. I fail more than I like to admit, but my life never lacks purpose.

It multiplies.

There is nothing in my life more significant to me than my relationship with God. Though I love my incredible wife and my stunningly adorable kids; though I have a job that constantly brings me to my knees in awe; though my health and wallet are secure with what I need… nothing is more significant than the gift I received.

Because of this, I want to share it with you. My life is one of peace, purpose and joy because I received that gift. I’ll be forever grateful. I’m so grateful that when I think about the gift, I have to give it away and share it with others. It hurts not to do so.

If you would like me to listen to you talk about life, love and how to get this gift, too, please reach out. There is nothing more important than you knowing how much I and my God want you to have peace, purpose and joy, too. You can reach me at ryanmkeith @ gmail . com without the spaces.

I look forward to sharing it with you. Doing so would be one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

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The following is an address given by Ryan Forgotten Voices’ President, at CAFO’s Summit in Orlando, Florida on Friday, May 6, 2016. Note for participants: Here’s a video and a webpage on a model for listening well. Thanks for attending the session. We are grateful you came to listen.

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Last year around this time, I was sitting in a remote area south of Blantyre, Malawi. After flooding ravaged land that had not received adequate rains in several years, I came expecting to see hopelessness and desperation. Pastors repeatedly told me that 8 out of 10 people they served through their churches were not eating even once per day. Yet, their was hope emerging from the soil of their worn souls. The more I listened to them share their hopes and dreams, the more I heard how God had been doing a mighty work in them.

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My desire to fix what I saw with my eyes gave way to my ears, who heard whispers of hope transform into roars of God’s faithfulness.
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One pastor told me, we receive $2/week in offerings and we meet to pray and listen to God on how we can bless those in need. We are looking past our trials as we hear of others far worse just nearby. As I went to see this far worse area, those pastors shared how they were receiving $1/week and were praying for wisdom about how to serve widows and orphans.

Choking back tears of awe, I heard my father – a pastor of 44 years – say to God “do they not know they are the poor?”

What a mighty God we serve. There is no economic cutoff where God’s Word stops being true. When we stop and listen, we hear how God has been on the move.

In 1900 there were 9 million Christians in Africa. Today, there are over 540 million (Sagamore Institute, interview, April 2013). The church is growing faster than the orphan crisis. Yet, too often these local pastors leading this explosion of the Gospel are not heard. Their trials are seen when those of us from the West come, but these forgotten voices are not heard.

For the past 12 years, I have been sitting with pastors and saying some form of this: “what I know is God is on the move here. What I don’t know is everything else.”

This wasn’t an intentional international development best practice. It was an honest, humbling moment repeated hundreds, if not thousands of times, as I heard pastors and dying parents discuss what should happen to their children, who would be left on this side of heaven. I didn’t know what should be done and my not knowing gave room so I could listen to those who did. These local pastors and families, with clear voices I needed to hear.

[NOTE: may not have said… time dependent: Listen to this. Did you know 74% of all Zambian families are caring for at least one orphaned child? Less than 1% of American families are doing the same. (Operation World, 7th Edition)]

Here is what I’ve learned from bringing questions to ask and notebooks to fill.

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Custom Plans. No matter where you are working in the world, God has equipped local churches and His people with gifts. Listen to hear how God has been at work in them long before you’ve come. By hearing, you build into them contagious hope. Listening allows the person being heard to testify to God’s work through them – even if our eyes at first cannot see how.

Quiet Investments. Did you know that almost always, outside funding leads to a decrease in local tithing and volunteering? What if we could listen without wanting to be seen? Is it important that the people we serve know that we’ve have been there? I have learned that investing quietly to support local churches that I’ve heard from means I am only taking what I deserve. You and I are here pontificating about the great challenges of our day, while a widow will care for her deceased sister’s children crying in the middle of this night. Hers is the voice to hear. Besides local church elders, the people served by Forgotten Voices never hear of our intervention whenever possible because we see the dignity that comes when we point people to God’s work through their local Church. They better learn of God’s love for them, even if they never hear of mine.

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Finally, Sustainable Income. Remmy Hamapande (pictured right) is our Africa Director and a Children’s Pastor in Zambia. He says that the local church will be there until Christ returns. We should all be courageously working to equip the church to stand on its own even if it means our ministries have to close our doors.

Friends, listening is not something to do to let local leaders help us, as if we are being nice to them. Saying someday they will get it if we are patient. No. That’s not listening. It’s waiting to speak.

Instead, Listening Expectantly is posturing your ears to be in awe and hear what God has done, is doing and will do without you speaking.

Listening helps us be insatiably curious and contagiously hopeful thatGod will roar always, come what may.

In listening well, we declare our weakness and point people to the God who is doing more than we could hope or imagine.

May we stop, embrace our weakness, allow for our own silence, and listen to the power of God roaring through an exploding local Church around the world. To God be the glory. Great things He has done.

Thank you for listening well.

Ryan

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanmkeith

Dear Tired,

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, I will come with vengeance…I will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)

Love, God


homebasedcareThe ooze coming out of the blisters on her arms make me cringe and look away. It’s a natural response for any person, even if I’ve seen the same wounds hundreds of times now on hundreds of people. Her children race in and out, chattering quickly in a language I don’t truly understand. Normalized by the scene that plays out for them every day, the kids go straight to their aunt, who is caring for their mom – just half asleep there, hurting with a pain I can’t take away, nor look at without wincing.

In some ways, her children have moved on to the reality that their aunt is their new mother, but in other ways they are just children who need their noses wiped or help pulling up their pants. They skip away and out, just as fast as they came.

This is their normal.

The stench from the woman’s dying body in the poorly insulated hut is masked by the smoke coming out of the fire burning in the center. Life goes on and people caring for her need to eat.

This is their normal.

Whiffs of ground corn in one pot, ground nuts and spinach in another mix with the rubbing alcohol being applied to her wounds, as I sit and watch – wanting to leave, but wanting to stay to let her know that she is loved. I resist the urge to make this ordinary and seek ways to see the uniqueness. It’s painful and that reminds me I’m human.

Almost every time, I want to lean away and sometimes do, but I’m called by God to lean in, despite the discomfort that it brings. I do so yearning to feel just for a moment what it means to be part of the body of Christ here. Where people consistently and faithfully visit their dying relatives or neighbors, clean their wounds, care for their children, and dare to believe that God is present there despite their overwhelmingly painful reality.

I fight the urge to get up and walk out to play with the kids because my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ here cannot leave.

This is their normal.

I want to co-labor with them, praying that God will take away their pain for just a moment and heap it onto my back so they may see and experience relief and know that God is sovereign over even this.

My eyes return to the wounds on her arms, now bubbling from medicine put on them. Even as ooze fades and the sores renew their long process to heal, my eyes scan down the woman’s hard-worn torso and down her too-thin to use legs. All of her is covered, a sure sign that stage 4 AIDS is about to claim its next victim. It will be hours, I think, not days.

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I can’t thank God enough for bringing me to this place, even when it hurts. Because in the hurt, I see that God doesn’t ask us to be God. He asks us to be faithful.

With one hand offering faithful and gentle strokes to the tired woman’s neck, the sister takes her other hand and reaches for mine. She asks if I will pray.

I have come to see the forgotten, so I may testify to their story back home. Deep in the sister’s eyes, I am awed by her faithfulness. Her peaceful presence and gentleness even to me remind me that you and I may look away often, but God has not ever forgotten.

Yearning for the promises of God, my mind wanders for awhile before I speak because my nature needs time to relinquish control to the Holy Spirit living inside of me. My desire to flee or use pithy prayers without feeling the desperation that is apparent in her gaze eventually succumbs to a smile that can only come from God.

I can’t explain it well, but I’m thankful that my heart hurts so much with love that I ask God to stop – it is just too much love. Only God can do that and leaning in allows me to see God at work everywhere. When I’m not here, I want to be back. When I’m here, I want the love to stop and the pain to go away. Through it all, God is with me.

For a good few minutes, I just smile at her beauty – a creation of the King.

Images of her childhood into adulthood appear before my eyes, as God reminds me that this shell of a person is a treasured gift from the Almighty. She is uniquely and wonderfully made, with each hair known by the One who made her.

The sister brushes away hair from her mouth to ease her breathing. It’s as if the world stands still, while at the same time death is racing toward us. Peace and chaos colliding.

I don’t remember what I spoke because the words weren’t mine and I don’t remember if my voice emerged at all. But I know I felt a love for her that can only come from the same God who made my 3 precious children and wife, who I left behind to be at this place.

Exodus 14:14 says, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only be silent.” Some translations say “you need only be still.” Here in Africa, my words often fail me and for that I am thankful. The magnitude of God’s love in this place doesn’t need Words. It requires and demands our awe.

For here, in hut after hut, home after home, city after city, the local church is growing faster. Equally called by God to care for widows and orphans in their distress, the Church is growing faster than the orphan crisis. Daring to believe God can do the impossible and wants to do it through His Church drives people here to lean in, when they want to run away.

Oh, how I long to be faithful to my God and not reject Him.

Following His commands to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27) is hard. Oh how I long to be faithful to my God and not run from His instruction because keeping myself pure and Holy before the LORD is hard.

My coming here allows me to listen expectantly for where God is in the world’s most forgotten places. Then, I hope to keep returning to invite you to be part of this, too.


This trip, I’m unlikely to encounter the above story, but I’m grateful my days will be filled with encouraging the faithful who live this story every day. The people Forgotten Voices serves are daily living out the calling you and I have also received.

Their faithfulness to lean in allows us the privilege to come and see what God has done. You and I desperately want to help care for vulnerable children, but we don’t know how. But the simple truth is this: local churches here know how to care for children and are faithfully loving the vulnerable. May we see past the wounds that catch our eyes at first and instead, see God doing a mighty work through the faithful. Faithful people we have much to learn from. Allow your heart to wander and consider: what is holding us back from leaning in, too?

God doesn’t ask us to be God. He asks us to be faithful.

Come and see what God has done.

-Ryan

Please follow along at http://twitter.com/ryanmkeith. Enjoy the journey.

Dear Tired:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown in “Daring Greatly”


“Don’t forget the power of vulnerability,” my friend cried out to me as I jumped in my car on the way to the airport.

I thought her comment was out of left field, unconnected to anything we were discussing. So, I got out again and asked her to repeat herself and I asked her why she said it.

“I said ‘Don’t forget the power of vulnerability.’ I’m not sure why I said it. Clay said it on Sunday in his sermon and I’m saying it to you.”

I replied, “Fair enough. Thanks.” And I drove away. On the drive, I reflected on Clay’s sermon. He had encouraged us all to slow down and walk through life with open eyes and receptive hearts, not forgetting to share what God has done for us. To be vulnerable and allow others to be vulnerable, too.

2 hours later… BWI Airport – Baltimore, MD

I was hurried and late. As I approached the line for my flight to the Midwest, I got in the back of the line behind a woman and an elderly man. Immediately, I thought of my friend’s observation, but I ignored it and instead simply asked, “Business or pleasure?”

Safe, standard plane talk, I thought.

“Neither,” the woman replied. “I’m headed to see my mom. “You?”

“Business, but also pleasure because I love what I do.”

“That’s nice,” she replied with a slight brush off.

We then ignored each other for the next 10 minutes of waiting.

We made our way onto our Southwest Airlines flight, which doesn’t have assigned seating. Because we were so late and the plane was crowded, the elderly man sat in the back row by the window. The woman followed him. I quickly realized the seat right next to her in the very back of the plane, on the aisle, was the only one left that I could see.

“Awesome,” I thought. “Next to the woman who didn’t want to talk and probably thinks of me as a talker. Well, this will be a quiet trip, I guess. So much for vulnerability.”

The plane took off and she quickly put in her headphones and got out her book, clearly signing a disinterest in talking. I started to work on my laptop. Every now and then, I noticed her looking at my presentation for a talk I would give on Forgotten Voices.

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With about an hour to go, I noticed her take out her headphones and she tapped my shoulder.

“I have to apologize,” she said. “You asked a basic question, business or pleasure and I said neither, but then told you I was visiting my mom. That was odd.”

“No problem,” I replied. “I work with families in tough spots all day long, every day. Families are complicated and you don’t owe me an explanation.”

“Is that your work?” she asked, pointing to my laptop. “Is that what you do?”

“It is. Or better yet, it’s what I talk about because the people we serve often don’t know we are involved. I meet people in Africa and listen to their stories. I’m flying to present our work to some folks who give or may give to our ministry.”

“It must be tough to see kids dying so much. I don’t know how people do that kind of work.”

“Well,” I replied, “it is hard to see kids suffer, but I also get a front row seat to see hope in the eyes and hearts of unlikely heroes. People the world never gets to meet, but I get to meet and share their stories to try and help them do more of what they already do. I try to not hide from the pain, but let it soak in because the God I serve carries the pain, not me. He carries me over and over.”

I turned to her and said, “but enough about me. You don’t owe me an explanation and I won’t bother you anymore.”

“No,” she replied. “It’s not a bother. You see, I’m going to see my mom and she had a stroke over a year ago. Our whole world is different now. My dad can’t take care of her all the time, but is so faithful. She used to take care of him.” She then proceeded to share with me how she flies every month to help and provide relief for her other family members who live locally. It was hard, but she kept doing it.


 

She told me that her father goes to church and wanted her to go, too. As she said it, it hit me the elderly man next to her wasn’t with her. He was just quietly observing our conversation and she had happened to sit next to him, just like I sat next to her. She went on to share that for the last year, she had gone to visit every month even though it hurt to see her mom as a shell of who she was before her stroke and fall.

She said, “My whole world changed – not just for bad. I was so angry, but my father always went to church every Sunday. He insisted I go because my mom always went, too, before. I was angry at God for many years. I had left the church when I went away to college, then got married and had kids. But over this past year, God did something in me and I grew to love Him again. He had never left me. I had left Him. A few months ago, my husband committed his life to the Lord and now my kids did, too. They saw I was different now. If my mother had not had a stroke, we may not be in heaven together, so the plodding along now is hard, but it’s changed everything.”

“Wow,” I said. “Thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate you telling me that. Wow.”

“Sure,” she said. “Thanks for what you do. The families you showed me when I was watching over your shoulders keep going, too. It’s amazing that you keep telling those stories even when it must hurt to see that.”

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Bing Bong. The chimes went off and the Captain said, “Folks, prepare for landing, etc…” 

The elderly man against the window, leaned over to us and spoke for the first time all flight. “I know we are about to land, but can I share something, too?”

“Sure,” we replied together.

“That was the most amazing conversation I’ve ever heard on an airplane. Can I tell you what God has done in my life the past year?”

“Yah, man,” I said with gusto. “Go for it!”

“Well, I’m going to be honest and get to it because we don’t have time. Last year, this same weekend, my wife left me because all I’ve ever cared about was my business and booze. She was right, but I was lost. Over the past year, I’ve met the Lord and committed my life to Him. My favorite verse now is Deuteronomy 31:16. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

“Amen,” I said. “Thanks for sharing. That’s encouraging.”

“No, wait,” he replied urgently. “The thing I want to share with you both is this. My life was a complete wreck and a disaster. My wife was right to leave me, but God never did. Right now, I’m flying to meet my son, whose marriage is falling apart. I wasn’t there for him and this year showed me that. I never showed him how to be a man. We both run building companies. His own house is literally falling apart, so I’m going to see him to help him fix his house so he can fix his home. I hope it’s not too late.”

“Wow. That’s incredible. This flight is like a movie,” she replied.

I chimed in. “Thank you so much for being willing to share that, sir. You are right. God will never leave you and by sharing this now, you allow us to pray for you and with you this weekend. Thanks for allowing us to help carry that for you.”

“Thank you, young man. I appreciate it.”

The elderly man, woman, and I all got off the plane and silently walked toward baggage claim. As we were all about to leave, we all looked at it each and smiled. We hadn’t spoken since the plane. No one wanted to ruin the moment. It was too precious. Too Holy.

“Well, here I go,” the elderly man said. “Me, too,” we both added.

We all smiled again and walked our separate ways, united forever by this amazing conversation. I look forward to seeing them again some day. What a great day that will be.

“Don’t forget the power of vulnerability,” my friends.

With open eyes and receptive hearts, hope is found all around.

Until next week and enjoy your journey,

Ryan

Dear Tired,

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

— Fred Rodgers


These last 2 winters, my kids and I have taken to making fires in our fireplace. Though I dabbled in boy scouts when I was a child, making fires over and over has allowed me to try different ways to build the perfect fire. Which twigs go where, how many sticks and logs right away, etc. But no matter which method I try, my kids and I never cease to be amazed that the tinniest flame grows into a raging fire. We can sit and watch it for hours, putting log after log on.

Then, just when you think it’s snuffed out after going for awhile without care, I can remove some of the wood from the top, get down on my knees and breathe short bursts of air and watch embers inside help the fire rage again. I love the peace that comes from looking at a “dead” fire, only to discover that a tiny bit rejuvenates it.


When I look at our (un)civil discourse these days, we need some hope. People are tired and angry; scared for what has happened or will happen if nothing is done. Across all political spectrums, R to D, people are in need of hope.

I sometimes wonder what my friends in Africa would say about our political circus – where polls + culture + TV ratingssensitive/complex issues that strike at the heart of our best and worst selves combine to = chaos that you can’t watch without cringing, but you also can’t look away from either. While this won’t be a political blog, I can’t help but connect this month’s theme (unEXPECTed hope) with the anger that seems to permeate our uncivil discourse in a race/brawl to the White House.

Where are the classy? Where are the gentlemen and ladies? Where are the people who sacrifice self for service, leaving ego at the door?

Are you befuddled, too? Angry? Feeling disenfranchised or unheard? Feeling your way of life is under-attack? Hopeless?

Who do I want my children to emulate? Fred Rodgers once said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

So, let’s stop. Slow down. Get on our knees and look for hope.

Is unEXPECTed hope EVERYWHERE?

After 10 years of kneeling bedside next to people no longer with us or watching economically poor widows take in children not their own, but loving them as if they are… I’ve learned that sometimes hope needs to be tenaciously unearthed because it’s not easily found. But, hope is always found in the embers of faithfulness.

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This past October, I was sitting in a rural church in southern Malawi. Ravaged by a flood earlier that year and facing another round of starvation soon, I was overwhelmed by all that I saw. It was humbling to have just come from a land of milk and honey, where my kids and I regularly throw away leftovers because we are just too full, to sit here and watch people starving before my eyes.

Could hope be found here?

Sitting with pastors I had never met before, but hoped to partner with soon, I had come to say what we always say: “We know God is on the move here. What we don’t know is everything else.” For the next few hours, I asked questions and here’s a summary of what I learned.

unEXPECTed hope is EVERYWHERE.

malawi_pastorsThe pastors on the left in this picture shared about their $2-3/week in tithes and offerings each week and their efforts to do what they can because God has called them to care for orphans. They told story after story of people starving from the washed out lands that wiped away all the resources people had planted. They told me stories of how they prayed over the little they had to give, then discerned who to help next. They shared how they trusted God. Because if God is calling them to help, it all belongs to Him anyway.

They shared how their hope is not found in earthly things. They shared that they needed to trust that God would provide for others who they could not reach. They shared that the lack of rain reminds them that we should not put our hopes in man.

Truth. But, here is the unEXPECTed hope to remember…

The folks on the left pointed to the folks in the middle and said,

“But as God would allow us, I pray we can also extend our reach to where these people serve. For there is real need. They collect only $1/week and the need is greater. People are dying.”

Then, those pastors remark, “Thank you pastor” and proceed to share the need and faithfulness to respond, trusting God to multiply. Then, they, like the first set of ministry leaders, point to the right and say, “But as God would allow us, I pray we can go there where an even greater need rests. They collect only $0.50 and people are dying every day.

8 out of 10 people served by the churches I met that day are eating less than 1x/day.

On an earlier trip to a similar place, I remember my father, a minister of 43 years saying, “Ryan, I don’t understand how these people cannot see that they are the ones who are poor. How can they not see they have done enough? Where does that hope come from?”

Friends, while you and I may see desperation, we can get down on our knees and thank God for the hope He has placed in these unEXPECTedly hopeful people.

There is no economic cut off where love and hope begin or the lack of it excused. There is no – suddenly, the words of God are true – because you’ve met some threshold. We, like all people before us, are living in moments that require us to get on our knees and look for hope, taking great care to encourage it; not snuff it out with our man-fueled doubt & fear.

We should be quicker to follow the lead of servants who serve the greater good. Lifting them up with our hearts and time will bring out the best in us. In doing so, maybe we will cease to entranced by the mirage of the doubting, fear-mongering circus that fuels our worse selves.

Traveling to places like Malawi remind me that we should expect hope to be found – always – because God has been, is, and will be at work. May the faithfulness of volunteer pastors in Malawi remind us to earnestly pray that we may be used to multiply hope.

Until next week,

Ryan

 

Dear Tired, I want to tell you an American love story.

Because every now and then, we all need a good love story along the journey of life. In the little things… in the little acts of kindness, great love is built. Today, let’s all choose to do the little things with great love.

Know that you are loved, Ryan


I absolutely love people. Every day people. We all meet fascinating people every day. Here are 2.

December 2015:

I sat down next to the most incredible couple on my flight from Houston to Charlotte, en route to home. We did not speak at all, but they told me stories with their actions that helped me feel like I’d known them for decades.

I later learned they had been married 67 years. Their love was palpable. Slight glances back and forth between the two communicated volumes of meaning that gave me pause – a refreshing change from my usual fast paced life.

Before we took off, they had fallen asleep holding hands and I didn’t want to bother them. I typically like to at least greet my seat-mates, but I instantly felt I was in the presence of great love that was better left undisturbed.

Every time the plane jostled him awake from his short naps, she would stir, stroke his arm, and lull him back to sleep. In between her checking on him, he checked on her when she fell back asleep. He’d reach to check her seatbelt every time there was any turbulence.

They were the embodiment of faithfulness (and sooooo adorable!!!). Two souls in love just as much today as they were 67 years ago when they married.

loveringsAt the end of the flight, all the passengers on the plane were in a rush to somewhere. As usual, people crammed the aisle and pushed forward.

But like fine wine, aging takes time.

Slowly, the husband and wife helped each other gather their belongings and walked down the aisle slowing, ensuring their steps were sound. Their slow movements forced all of us to slow, too.

We were all almost stopped. Some were disgruntled, but most disgruntled faces thawed.

The other delayed passengers and I smiled at each other, knowing while it was inconvenient to wait, we were observing a sacred love that is rarely seen so close.

67 years of marriage.

How did I know? When past them outside the gate, I started rushing to my next flight and then stopped, reversing course. I had to know their names.

Sensing their hearing was weakening, I leaned in and said:

“I ask your pardon for disturbing you.”

“No bother,” they replied.

“I’m sorry I didn’t speak with you on the plane. This is odd, but I was just so taken by your admiration for each other. May I just say that it was a joy to watch the way you love each other and it was an honor to sit next to you on the plane.”

“Son,” he replied, “my wife and I have been married for 67 years and we are in love.”

“May I ask your name?”, I asked.

“You may. We are the Loverings.” (pronounced like Love – reens)

“Wow. How fitting,” I said.

“Indeed. Enjoy your trip, son,” was his reply.


Enjoy your journey, friends. With eyes open – expecting to see love in others – we all may have far more fun and learn to love more deeply than we thought possible.

Dear Tired,

I will do a mighty work in you; not you for me. I hope you learn to rest in the truth that I love you for who you are – mine – not in what you do for me. So, come as you are and see anew the unexpected love all around because my love for you knows no end.

Love, Me


As Forgotten Voices approaches 10 years as a non-profit, we are thinking about what it means to stop and see the unEXPECTed around us. While we expect God to provide for our needs, He is constantly surprising us with his unEXPECTed LOVE. This post will also appear on our blog.


January 2005: Peterson teaches me to love well.

Two hours removed from the closest city of note in Zimbabwe, I skipped down a dirt path to let my 2 traveling partners know I had just pooped behind a rock (boys will be boys). It was my 2nd trip to Africa, but I was beginning to feel at home.

peterson_home

credit: Krista Guenin at kristaphoto.com

Little did I know what was ahead. Looking back at that day, I’ve learned I was trying hard not to feel more because, honestly, I had felt enough that day. We had visited many people, all cursed by HIV/AIDS and all in need of greater love than I could offer them.

Over the next hour or 2, I would watch a dying woman younger than I am now grunt gestures of love in the direction of her worn out, bone-tired parents caring for her and toward her 2 small children. I had never seen people so poor, let alone about to die. Phlegm in her throat made her unable to offer words of comfort to children who had clearly experienced more pain in their lives than I likely ever would in all of mine to come.

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Prudence, age 4. Photo on day before her mother passed away.

Watching from afar in two different places, Peterson (7) and Prudence (4) fearfully surrounded their mom, almost standing guard between their mother & death’s request to take her away. Yet, they were helpless. She would die the next day.

grave_peterson_ryan

credit: Krista Guenin at kristaphoto.com

 

I have grown to loathe the expression: “I have no idea.”

As a child, when requests from my sisters or parents like, “do you know where my keys are?”, “I have no idea,” would be my response. Over time, through faithful correction from my father to consider the possibilities instead of dismissing the need, I grew to loathe hearing myself or others say, “I have no idea.”

But here I was, with absolutely no idea what to do next.

I had come to offer hope and love. I came thinking God would use me to be the expected source of love for the hurting and orphaned. Yet, death won the race that day. In the middle of a village, in southern Zimbabwe, far from my home and any known comforts, I stared at death, life, and love in the face with no idea.

I wanted to provide love, but I would soon find it through Peterson’s love for his sister.

I have told that story hundreds of times and may one day return to that here, but for now, I move on to the next day. After hearing the mother had passed, the 2 Zimbabwean pastors who took us around invited us to return. Drawn back to the place’s humbling effect on my perspective, I desired to observe it all anew.

As we passed through the intricately constructed gate, a blend of wire and sticks unlike any job I’d seen back home, I saw our little friend, Peterson again. The morning sun cast a long shadow on this 7 year old, making his frail and timid body seem larger than life if you didn’t look him in the eyes.

God was with him. He just had to be, right?

After death is when reality hits. What would happen to the children? Who would care for them? Where was the help? How would this work out? Where do I fit? What can I learn? What joy or hope or love can be found here?

Yet, God was with him. He just had to be.

I had come to provide hope, but I felt hopeless. A 7 year old child, left with a 4 year old sister. For reasons I won’t fully understand, for almost 12 months after, they would be left alone – with their grandparents thinking that best.

Both kids were born HIV+, leaving their bodies at a fraction of fully developed. His sister was even more under-developed, unable to walk or talk.

He carried her for a year.

For 12 months, Peterson carried her on his back for about 2 miles to the local hospital, dropped her off for physical therapy and speech coaching, and continued on to school. After, he would pick her up, and then tend to the goats, work the fields and do his homework.

Why? Because that was where he was and how he could love her with what he had to give. God was with him, every step of every day.

peterson_ryan

credit: Krista Guenin at kristaphoto.com

Despite his heroic efforts, Prudence would die about a year after their mother. She was simply too weak. Through it all, Peterson demonstrated faithful, unEXPECTed love to many who saw him. God did a mighty work through him.

We are asked to love with what we have, no matter how little we may think we have to give. We are asked to lean in, love deeply, and to do so faithfully, even when it hurts. But through it all, we are loved because God loves us – wherever we find ourselves.


While it is incredibly sad what happened, Peterson’s faithfulness and our friendship that was birthed from tragedy gave birth to a vision. His faithful love and my helplessness caused us to look to local pastors, who wanted to equip family members to care for him but lacked the resources to do so. I didn’t know how to help, but they did and would. I wouldn’t have found him, but they already knew him.

It also helps me see anew that when we see the “poor”, we should not dismiss them as a burden for our generosity to fix. To love well and be surprised by the unEXPECTed is to trust that no matter what you see with your eyes, God is there. Always. I’ve unexpectedly met him through a little boy, who loved and lived more by age 7 than your or I will in a lifetime. He has taught me to love well.

peterson_fishface

credit: Krista Guenin at kristaphoto.com

If Peterson can get up and take care of his sister, I can do what God has asked me to do today. If Peterson faithfully walks lonely roads, I can, too. Along the journey, every person we meet is not a burden, but a reminder of God’s love before our eyes.

Dear Tired, There is no journey where you walk alone. God doesn’t ask you to be God. He asks you to be faithful. His love for you is all around, often in the unEXPECTed.


 

I’m thankful for the talented eye of my friend, Krista Guenin, who took more pictures of Peterson in 2007. She reflected this week on lessons she’s learned from Peterson:

“Part of what is so brave and wonderful about that boy’s spirit is that he was not completely crushed. He survived so much horrible loss and could easily have given up on life and let this disease take him… but he has LIVED. He has lived through all of this pain and suffering, he’s survived, he kept going to school, kept believing in his future… and that is a big part of what makes his spirit so remarkable. He didn’t give up on his sister when his mom died, and he didn’t give up on himself when his sister died. He’s bravely faced more than most of us. We freak out when we’re stuck in traffic. We want to die when the waiter gets our order wrong. We grumble & complain about EVERYTHING. But Peterson keeps going… how incredible is he?!”

NOTE: You can see more of Krista’s photography at kristaphoto.com. Please also take time to check out Untouchable, a documentary she helped create, which tells the story of precious children who also have lived through trial and have much to teach us. Thanks, Krista!

 

 

Dear Tired,

“Tired” is sometimes you and sometimes me. Too often, it’s all of us. We live in a world that rewards burnout by distributing trophies for acting busy. But this is not wise or sustainable. Trust me. I know. // “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6).

All the best, Me (Ryan)


Looking back now, this journey has NOT been about trying to build an organization, though that is happening. It’s been about learning and relearning how to say yes every day to what God asks of me, even when more times than I like to admit, I had wanted to say no.

I write this because I’ve met so many people trying to do awesome work, but they get tired and quit. I write because so many orphan care advocates, teachers, moms, checkout line ladies, coffee makers, bus drivers, and random strangers on trains who I have met are just too tired. I’ve learned some things about doing sustainable work, so… I’ll write.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve quietly dedicated part of my heart to George’s story so that I never forget (our story #1 here).

That immeasurably tragic reality led me to George, who led me to trust a God calling me to wander down a new path for my life that I considered ignoring to pursue my own.

Dear Tired, will be a place where I tell you a story that I hope lifts your tired arms, too.

HarvardListening_small

Urgently needed lessons often come when we slow down to listen. / “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” (Walter Hagen) Photo: James Masterson

It will be a story of once tired arms and unfinished tears, yet also a story of courageous embers of hope that stir deep within people I’ve met; unexpectedly hopeful people who will help lift your tired arms, as they have helped lift mine.

Hope is not often found in the seismic, but in the mundane. The faithful steps of faithful people, saying yes to love over and over – far away from the spotlight. Stories like my friend (our story #2). Encounters with goodness and hope may be missed if we don’t rise each day and look for them, then be sure to tell others who may be tired, too.

Along the way, I have been tired.

But God has faithfully carried me. So many of you have helped. This will be a place for us all to pause and reflect. A place to declare what God has done; a place to share how God began a new life in me from meeting a child whose parents jumped into a well.

Perhaps you are tired, too.

Through the grand adventure I invite you to join, I have learned all of us yearn to belong to something bigger than ourselves, but we are often too tired and consumed by the busyness of our world to see how to simply rest or take the next small step.

May the stories of unexpected hope in others fuel our spirits to trust, with solid steps, that God has ALWAYS been present, abounding in love.

Until next week,

All the best,

Me

Dear reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what stories or questions you have about doing sustainable work, especially in hard situations. Feel free to email deartired@forgottenvoices.org.  Tired seems to reign in our culture. Know that I’m praying for you and know you are loved.

Dear Father,

I want to know you, Lord. I want to hear your voice. I want to know you more. (from “In the Secret”, Chris Tomlin).

With new doubts and longstanding hope, Tired


Dear Tired,

I am with you and will watch over you, wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Gen 28:15)

All my love, Father


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Taken in Zimbabwe in 2005 on my 2nd trip by my friends Trevor & Dale. It was on this rock that in 2004 on my 1st trip, I knew I would be back and the quiet whispers of villagers below would begin stirring in my soul a song yearning for me to return. God was not done with me here, yet. I had no idea what was ahead, but my ears were listening to the song.

Almost everyone in my life thought I was crazy to pass on Harvard for a 2 week trip to Zimbabwe – a land I did not know much about. I wondered the same a lot before my chat with George and even still after (our story #1). But, a small few believed they heard whispers from God that I was walking in the right path. Along the way, we will zoom in on more of these encouragers, but for today, I focus on one.

Note: I share this story to the best of my recollection and reviewing my journals at the time. Over the years, I’ve talked with several friends who walked this journey with me and I tried to journal their recollections, too.

The early morning I talked with George led to little sleep. Not because it wasn’t restful, but church was starting soon and I had news to share.

After sharing my “I’m going to Zimbabwe! news” with my senior pastor Phil and young adult pastor Dale (who were co-leading the trip), they both were surprisingly confident that God would provide the $3,200 I needed to raise over the next 12 days. Up to this point in my life, I had raised no more than $400 for a trip in high school for DC/LA, a youth group worship conference.

I was scared, but they were confident.

After church, I called one of my closest friends to share the news. We lived far away from each other, but we had been through a lot together discerning life choices. From him over the years, I have learned to lead with questions (something I did/do? not do naturally). He was/is always quick to listen and slow to speak. When he did speak, he always asked questions. But this conversation would be different. After excitedly recounting my conversation with George and urgently amplifying my angst about the money needed, he said, “Ryan, God will provide. He always will provide.”

I was scared, but he was confident.

My friend then shared something I’ll never forget. I pray you don’t, either, when you are tired next.

A few months prior, while praying over my decision to go to Harvard, he remembered that I had once mentioned a desire to go with the church to Zimbabwe. But when I got into Harvard, I told him the Zimbabwe trip would not be wise for me or the church because I was told I can’t go on the 2 week trip and still go to Harvard after. It was a vision trip and work would result from the trip. I was in or out. Harvard was a childhood dream. I was out.

He knew in my spirit I had some unspoken doubts and he was praying through it, without letting me know he had doubts about Harvard, too. In his prayer time, he felt I would get a new urge to go to Africa — that God was working on me and as my friend, he needed to be ready to affirm my faith when I discerned it, too.

So, as a recent college graduate and living at home while working a couple jobs to make ends meet, he began putting money away each pay check to help me if/when I felt the need to go to Zimbabwe. He never mentioned this to me before, but had committed to praying. He was praying that I would be faithful to listen to the whispers of invitation to Africa and the whispers of doubt about Harvard. He believed I needed to go to Zimbabwe.

With tears streaming down my face as I walked up and down my driveway listening to him, he let me know that 1/3 of my need was covered and he would send a check the next day. This conversation set off an abundant provision from God, where in 8 short days God provided 3x more than I needed, allowing my funds to help cover others on the trip still in need. Most of the people who gave to my 1st trip I did not know. Checks came in from all over the country, as friends shared a story of hope, faith, and love with their friends.

Several pastors and church staff would independently reach out to me that week of provision, asking me if I had heard what was happening. Their arms were lifted higher and higher, as they, too, watched God in awe at the awesome provision of our God. Just recently, one of them told me that those checks from strangers were a pivotal moment in his faith affirmation.

Each gift was a whisper to remind me that God does not ask us to be God. He asks us to be faithful.

prayer

On the same rocks in Zimbabwe. Credit KristaPhoto.com, led by my friend, Krista Guenin.

Any amazing moment in my journey is coupled by hours or years of faithfulness from others, who have surrounded me with prayer. Because I did not know them and they did not know me, many who generously gave to my trip may not have seen the beauty that followed their gift’s wake. Yet, I know that I will spend a lifetime thanking God for the ones who listened to the whisper in their souls to say yes. Their yes helped lift my tired, scared, and doubting arms.

When you are scared, go to God and invite friends to go with you.


 

Looking back on trends in my spiritual walk, there always seems to be a slight step back after a big step forward. Scared is how I felt after my chat with George. Whether that is always true for all, it was true for me.

199753_4691689313_790_nIn rock climbing, my friends who do it well tell me that it is just as important to look back down for sturdy steps that will be there after a big climb up as it is to look for secure rocks to grip above.

Sometimes it will be your turn to have doubts after your mountain-top hope. Sometimes you will be the firm rocks other people grip going up from the bottom of their well. Still other times you will be the support below, letting them know to keep climbing – whispering God will provide.

My friend’s listening to the whispers of God helped affirm my listening too, which in turn helped both of us hear a roar from God that we may have dismissed if it were more overt. Two simple yeses created a roar — a roar that traveled across the country, as people generously gave to be part of a story that was (and is) unfinished.

No matter why or where you are tired, too, REMEMBER God cares for you and is whispering truths to you and those who call out to Him on your behalf. You are NOT alone.

I am cheering you on. May the whispers of my past lift your tired arms today.

Until next week,

Me

This project has has been years in the making, full of setbacks, doubts and fears. I scrapped all I had and began writing anew. I don’t know where this will go, but I’m excited. Thanks for journeying with me. -Ryan


April 2004

Dear Father,

Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain! (1 Chron. 4:10 NIV)

Sincerely, Tired


Dear Tired,

I grant what you have asked. // I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (1 Chron. 4:10b, Jeremiah 29:11)

Sincerely, Me


I will never know what it means to fall to the bottom of a well.

Thankfully, few of us do. But that is an image that has been with me for more than 10 years. For many who know me, this may be new. That’s why I begin Dear Tired, here. Little did I know that a simple yes to a friend would usher me into a story of new pain that would turn my eyes to hope. This simple yes would change the trajectory of my life.
Traditional_Well-Kerala

Shortly before my 1st journey to Africa began in 2004, I met a precious young child named George over AOL Instant Messenger. A friend of mine was volunteering at an orphanage in Asia where George lived. My friend had asked me to chat with George to help improve his English.  Little did I know this small act of saying yes to a friend would help change the direction of my life.

July 2004: Chat with George; Very hot Saturday evening (or really EARLY Sunday), ~3am:

Continue on as planned to go to graduate school at Harvard? Or go to Zimbabwe on a 2 week missions trip with my church I was about to leave behind if I went to Harvard? I had to decide later that morning and was up late because I couldn’t. I was wrestling with God and discerning – or the other way around. Then, George suddenly came online & said hello.

George knew nothing of the most important decision I faced that night – likely the most significant in my life up to that point. He didn’t need to. But as I chatted with him, I asked George what he would do with his life if he could do anything in the world. Without much pause, he replied, “I would go to Harvard.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I hear if you go to Harvard you can do anything!”

Right then, as I read and reread and reread his answer – with this boy completely unaware that I was contemplating Harvard or Zimbabwe – a peace that can only come from God descended upon me.

I leaned back in my chair, smiled, and said to myself, “it’s decided. I’m not going to Harvard.”

Here was a young boy living in a remote area of Asia, in an orphanage. How did he get there? From everything I recall learning from others who knew him…Shortly after he was born, George’s 2 parents made the excruciatingly painful decision to give up their son because they believed they lacked the resources or abilities to care for him adequately. Knowing the orphanage in the community only took children who had lost both parents, they decided to jump into a well and take their own lives.

Let me type that again. They decided to jump into a well and take their owns lives, believing there was no other way to provide for their new son.

The angst of passing on a childhood dream of attending Harvard rushed out of me. I felt George’s answer was an invitation from God to worry less, trust more, and watch God do infinitely more to usher hope out of darkness than I could imagine. I was off to Zimbabwe, in part because a kid I’ve never met told me he wanted to go to Harvard. The reality was, I could go and do anything already and I wanted to see how my life could be used to help prevent parents making the painful choice his made.

CupOfWaterI knew nothing about Africa, orphan care, or most anything I would encounter, but I knew God loved George and me. God wasn’t asking me to be God, but He was asking me to be faithful. He was asking me to say yes. Nothing more, nothing less than yes.

The grand adventures we look back on are merely steps of obedience, with eyes open to see all God is doing all around us, all the time.

 

With you, He will remain. May you find rest in that truth.

Until next week,

Ryan

Dear reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what stories or questions you have about doing sustainable work, especially in hard situations. Tired seems to reign in our culture. Know that I’m praying for you and know you are loved.

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