Be [You] tiful

Thursdays and Fridays are their favorite days of the week for two reasons:

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Most of the pregnant residents at Mercy House enter the home with only the clothes on their back and that’s it.

But even though their hands are empty, they carry a lot of baggage.

It’s the first time in their lives, they have the opportunity to eat three healthy meals a day.

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They have been rescued from hell. Situations so unthinkable, it’s hard to imagine–like young girls passed around and abused by older men, violent home lives riddled with extreme poverty, HIV and even defilement by becoming second wives as 14 year old girls.

Their pride is gone. Their self esteem shattered.

And with their lovely dark eyes downcast, the last thing they feel is beautiful.

Immediately, the residents begin in a skills class five days a week (along with intense counseling), a few hours each day. Making product is a result of the class, but it’s not the real reason behind it.

Something transforming happens when these girls are given an outlet to create.

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As they begin to adjust to their new life and God’s love is spoken over them and to them, change starts from the inside out. Hope is restored.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they learn jewelry and sewing and they marvel at what they can make from paper and fabric.

Stunning:

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But if you ask them, it’s Thursday and Friday they love most.

Because that’s the day they get to be beautiful.

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For six months, salon classes teach them how to intricately wash, braid, and style hair; perform manicures and pedicures and much more. And while they massage each other’s feet and hands, paint toenails and braid hair, something miraculous happens.

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They begin to believe they are beautiful.

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Something we could see all along.

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Maybe you’re feeling used by this world, ugly inside and out. I think we’ve all had those days. But it doesn’t change who we are and how much we are valued.

We just have to believe it.

 

[Want to wear Charity’s gorgeous necklace? We have a limited supply of this brand new style at The Mercy Shop.

Write yourself into the amazing Mercy House story by checking out the current Wish List.

Special thanks to Dayspring for their beautiful donations for the new home in Kenya. We appreciate their generosity!]

 

How To Really Give Our Kids An Education

Today I witnessed a miracle.

A couple of years ago, we brought Edith to Mercy House.

You might remember her story is memorable because she is the only teen mom who had her baby before she entered the home. She was rescued when her baby was 3 days old, born premature to a mom who didn’t even know she was pregnant. She had been feeding her baby water dripped from a rag because she didn’t know what else to do. The baby was just hours from death. They were both hospitalized for weeks.

Her babe, Hawi, is two and a half years old now and while she plays with her friends at the home, learning her numbers and Bible songs, her mom attends a very good school nearby.

Hawi’s first selfie:

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For the first two years, Mercy House moms are homeschooled to keep up their education. Then they are tested back into the school system, something they are deprived of when they become pregnant. The importance of education in Kenya cannot be stressed enough. It is absolutely crucial for survival, as most who have less than an 8th grade education don’t make more than $1-2 a day.

What makes it even more complicated is a good education isn’t free. It costs around $500 a year per student for fees, not including books and uniforms and transportation.

The staff worked for months getting the older residents into school–with interviews and entrance exams.

Today, we visited Edith at her school of 800 students-most very poor children, sent to the prestigious private and competitive school by generous sponsors.

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Her teacher was excited to show us her grades and said, “I tell my students that people sacrifice their wealth for you to be educated. Don’t waste it.”

Edith is ranked #6 in her 9th grade class of 41 students. She is two years older than most of the other students. And she’s a mother. She wants to be a journalist.

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And it may not sound like much a of miracle, but watching her walk towards us in her school uniform, I thought I would cry.

Because I know where she has come from.

I can see just how far God has brought her.

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After we visited the schools some of our girls attend, we went on a field trip to a nearby (and famous) elephant orphanage. Movie star photos lined the walls. It’s a charitable foundation that rescues baby elephants.

It was the first time most of our girls had ever seen an elephant in person (in a country where they roam every national park), much less pet one.

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It was so much fun hearing their squeals and giggles. They were wide-eyed as they learned.

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We all understand the importance of education.

I have a daughter going into the 9th grade. She is taking journalism, too. She has never suffered or longed for a chance to go to school.

I couldn’t help but thank God for the education my kids are getting.

And I’m not just talking about school.

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Here’s how to really give our kids an education:

  • Get them out of their comfort zone: It doesn’t have to be Kenya or even another country, but it’s important to get our kids (and ourselves) a little uncomfortable. Because that’s when we really learn. Feed them food from another country, take a risk. It might be feeding the homeless or helping refugees in your city or knocking on a new neighbor’s door. Do something that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Introduce them to peers in other countries who have less than they do by book, movie or in person. Sponsoring a child or even writing letters to unsponsored kids, watching documentaries and learning about how kids in other cultures live–where they sleep, what they eat, what their chores are-will expose your children and might just give them a great big dose of gratitude, too.
  • Give them hard work that benefits someone besides themselves. Tonight after spending all day at Mercy House, we ate a late dinner at Maureen’s apartment. And while we talked, my kids and husband helped Oliver, Maureen’s husband with a tedious work project. It was hard work and we talked about wages and costs and I watched my kids learn something good while they served someone else.
  • Teach them what really matters: We need to teach our children the value of human life. Today I learned that it costs $226,000 to provide and care for 21 orphaned elephants a year. It costs less than $200,000 to provide and care for 30 teen moms and babies and assist more than a dozen single moms in the slum for the same amount of time. There’s nothing wrong with supporting an orphaned elephant. It’s a great idea. But helping people is not an option.

Would you like to give a one time gift to sponsor one of our girls to attend school for only $40 a month? Or $500 for a year or $10 a week for a recurring payment? 

Sometimes the most important thing we teach can’t be found in books or a classroom.

The Stain of Beauty and Brokenness

Once Africa’s red dirt gets under your nails, it’s hard to get it out.

The red clay is caked to my shoes and the cuffs of my jeans and it has stained my heart.

There are majestic animals roaming wide open spaces and breathtaking sunsets filling the horizon.

Vibrant colors wash the city. It is a constant contrast to the extreme poverty that desperately works to strangle out hope.

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Gridlocked traffic jams and thick exhausts plagues the city. Suffering tinges this country.

Today we stopped at a gas station on the way home from a quarterly Mercy House board meeting, next to a bright, outdoor market where handwoven rainbow bags swayed in the breeze, inviting us to behold their beauty.  An elderly beggar was asking for money outside the window. The gas station attendants told him to leave and when he wouldn’t, they took his walking cane and beat him with it.

He limped over to our van and asked again.

It’s not just this land. It’s the people that capture. It’s their resilience. It’s their beauty. It’s their brokenness.

Beauty and Brokenness–built on red soil–that’s what brands the heart.

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We spent 4 hours in our meeting today talking about just that.

I was reminded again of the impossibility of what we seek to do. Rescuing a girl and her unborn baby from the clutches of evil is audacious work.

It is heartbreaking. It is heartwarming. It is both at the same time. The magnitude wrecks me. We are believing God for the impossible, the improbable.

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We take two steps forward and one back.

We make slow or no progress at all, but we are faithful and when we look behind us, we can see how far we have come.

We have 4 guards, protecting two houses, two dozen moms and babies with more coming. A gardner who also serves as a driver, and a social worker and a counselor and . . .  and I felt a wave of panic today at this responsibility.

Rescuing and redemption. But again, this is God’s work, not ours.

Today we played ball and laughed and chased toddler boys, who randomly stopped to pee pee in the bushes and on the rocks every chance they got.

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Sitting in a circle, we asked shy new residents what they wanted to be when they grew up. I can hardly reconcile listening to 12 and 13 year old girls whisper their childlike dreams while a baby kicks in their wombs. My kids, the same age, sit next to them.

And I am undone.

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One of the residents at Mercy House painted my fingernails red today. Crimson polish stains my nails and my skin.

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It’s the worst manicure I’ve ever had.

It’s the most beautiful one, too.

When we look again, we see something impossible-we see both.

The breathtaking stain of beauty and brokenness.

The House That Mercy Built

This is the house that mercy built.

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This is the window that sits in the frame of the new house that mercy built.

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This is one of the babies who lives in the home who looks out the window of the house that mercy built.

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This is a mom to one of the babies who’s life is being transformed at the house that mercy built.

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This is a hutch that houses animals to feed the residents who live in the house that mercy built.

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This is the hair and nail salon that donors built that teach the girls skills for future living in the house that mercy built.

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This is the garden that grows the vegetables that feeds the girls and babies at the house that mercy built.

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This is the playroom that entertains more than a dozen babies at the house that mercy built.

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This is the couple that gives their lives away in the office at the house that mercy built.

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This is one mom who is grateful for your yes at the house that mercy built.

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These girls are the new addition to the family that God created . . .

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Because your yes matters at the house that mercy built.

The Difference Between Their Daughters and Mine

She is 14. She longs for adventure and freedom. She loves to learn and is at the top of her class. She helps her mother with her siblings and she doesn’t mind it. She snatches her mother’s bright shirt from the laundry and twirls as she holds it to her chest. She has dreams.

She is not my daughter.

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But she could be. 

The only difference between that girl and my own is where they were born.

One was born into freedom. The other oppression.

My daughter will live adventure. She will know freedom. She will continue in school and work to stay at the top of her class. She will help with her brother and sister and she will dream.

The girl born in the red dirt of Africa will be kidnapped from school in the middle of the night and held at ransom, probably abused or worse. 

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Every time I read that females are the most oppressed people group in the world my stomach knots and I feel sick.

Because I have daughters. And I am a mother. And I love God and He loves them. And I long for things to be made right in this world. For the girls to come home, to be free, safe. It’s the compelling force behind Mercy House. It’s the story behind the story.

In our world of sky scrapers, hand-held computers, busy schedules and lovely Pinterest, it’s too easy to think this good life we lead is normal. It’s not. This is not how most people in the world live.

And my girls painting their toenails and giggling in the bathroom is a luxury. They do not know oppression. They do not fear being taken in the middle of the night.

Do you know what the number one fear in the slums of Africa is? It’s not starvation or lack of water. It’s not provision. It’s violence. Girls fear being violated. Because the odds are they will be on their way home from school…by strangers, by their fathers and uncles, policemen. It’s a thought so sickening, it keeps me up at night.

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How do we help these girls?

How do we stop the oppression of women and girls?

How do we put an end to the violence against them?

We pray.

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And we pray some more.

And we continue to pray until they are rescued. Until they are redeemed. Until they come home.

I was sitting in church the other day. My eyes were closed as I sang. I lifted my hand in surrender and when I did, the twine on my prayer bracelet snapped and the little heart fell onto my lap. How fitting. Holy hands. A Holy God. A Holy Fight to remember girls all over the world from Nigeria to Kenya to South America to the brothels in Thailand to the elusive massage parlors in my city, to the refugee moms we teach to crochet.

We feel helpless. But when we pray we unleash the Great Helper.

We feel inadequate. But when we pray God is more than adequate.

We feel defeated. But when we pray Jesus defeats the enemy.

This week, today, now, the staff at Mercy House are talking to helpless, hopeless pregnant girls who will be our next in-house residents. They are setting up a mentoring group in a nearby slum for those who won’t be residents. We are taking Mercy House to them. It’s overwhelming, heart-breaking work. The stories-oh, Jesus-the pain the girls in our world endure. We pray. It’s the one thing we can do.

3 Things We Can Do Today For the Most Oppressed People Group in the World:

  1. Sure, go ahead and light up social media with #bringbackourgirls. But at the same time, do battle. Shine a light on the darkness of terror that will draw attention from every corner. It’s time we fight on our knees.
  2. Wear a love mercy prayer bracelet. Every time you see it or touch it or feel it on your skin, whisper a prayer. It’s a constant reminder not to forget them and to pray for oppressed girls everywhere.
  3. Most of all, pray. Right now, wherever you are. Whisper this prayer to God on their behalf:

“God, we humbly seek your face and lift up the girls and women in our world who suffer in bondage and fear violence. We ask that you would set these captives free. We pray they would feel your strong arm of love in the midst of their suffering. Please give me the courage to stand against oppression. Bring back our girls. Amen.”

Do you know what the difference between their daughters are and mine?

Nothing.

 

[Does your church have a bookstore, coffee shop or do you own a restaurant, boutique or know someone who does? We are now offering our love mercy prayer bracelets at a low wholesale cost to help spread awareness. Please email for details.]