God Loves a Cheerful [Joyous] Giver
Introduction by Matthew Harrison
At first, the prospect of studying “joy” in the Bible presented me with no joy at all. Yet I was offered the suggestion by a dear friend in Christ. I could not put his suggestion out of my mind, try as I might. Trying to duck his joyous advice, the apostolic words reverberated ever more loudly in my mind: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4 ESV). I have run through the inspired Scriptures, shaking loose every available shred of information on topics such as cross and suffering, faith and mercy, but joy? Really? Would a serious and sober Christian really concentrate on joy? Isn’t joy merely a byproduct of faith in Jesus? Isn’t joy a subject more like the “froth on the beer” than the brew itself? Nevertheless, disarmed and hardly exuberant, I resolved to look at the Bible.
With the help of memory and concordances, I began inspecting the texts. Soon I was racing through the pages, Genesis to Revelation. It was all gift and joy over the gifts. All the while, the words of my friend bounced about my brain like a pinball. And the more texts I encountered, the longer the ball stayed in play. One part of me wished to see the happy little chrome ball slip into the pocket of despair, joy presumed, assumed, consumed, subsumed, and entombed. Game over, I could simply walk away from the table, back into the world of my less joyous, undisturbed prejudices. “So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today,” my friend observed. “These are difficult times.”
I knew he was on to something. I raced through the Psalms and found joy and rejoicing everywhere, even in the penitential Psalms. I found joy in the Old Testament, in Moses, in the prophets, in the books by Solomon. I found joy in the Gospels. I found joy on the lips of Jesus and in the lives of those whom He touched, again and again and again. I found joy on the lips of Mary and Zechariah, in the womb of Elizabeth, on the lips of angels. I found joy at the manger. I found joy at the resurrection. I found joy over life, joy in the midst of death, joy in worship. I found joy in persecution and suffering. I found Paul’s letters packed with joy and rejoicing. I found joy in references to faith and hope and love. I found joy over the simplest gifts of friends, work, family, food, children, and marriage. Stranger still to me was that, as I contemplated these texts in rapid fire, one after another, I—even I— began (dare I admit it?) to rejoice. I found myself “surprised,” encouraged, and even delighted by joy in Christ. And wonder of wonders, I found in the Bible reference after reference to the Lord’s joy over me: “More rejoicing in heaven over one sinner [a.k.a. crusty Lutheran] who repents” of his aversion to joy (Luke 15:7, 10).
Why mention joy here? “God loves a cheerful [joyful] giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). In fact, God Himself is a cheerful giver. And in Jesus, He gives us joyous, generous hearts after His own.
Rev. Matthew Harrison (http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com) is executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
When an LCMS World Relief and Human Care Mercy Medical Team trekked to Kenya in July, health care volunteers treated hundreds of Africans. Many parents came to the clinics with their own children as well as orphans suffering from malnutrition and parasites.
Onyalo proudly explained that she had graduated and now works on the staff at that same Lutheran school. You could see in her face and in her demeanor that she had a real sense of accomplishment, especially considering where she had come from, says Karner, who was surprised and touched when the Kenyan asked for her picture to be taken and her story shared. She wanted people to know how their support had made a difference in her life.
Over the years, WR HC has worked with the ELCK to sponsor orphan support programs and build orphan rescue centers (a more acceptable term in Kenya than orphanages). Each effort was made possible by WR HC ministry partners and generous donors.
CLM introduced the idea for the program as a way to help the growing number of Kenyan orphans that CLM president and chief operating officer Keith Frndak calls “an absolute human crisis.”
“Children are traveling in packs and being exploited for the sake of a meal,” Frndak says. “We know from our conversations [with ELCK leaders] that the spiritual support of a Christian family and the opportunity for an education can save children from all sorts of vices, including childhood prostitution and forced marriages to older men.”
Kenya is in the throes of a three-year drought that has seriously diminished the country’s food supply. Along with hunger, the AIDS pandemic has hit families hard, especially children who must fend for themselves. Some 1.4 million of the country’s youngsters have lost parents to AIDS, and an estimated 8 percent of Kenyan adults are living with the HIV virus, according to Rev. David Chuchu, Diakonia Compassionate Ministry project coordinator for the ELCK.
Extreme poverty affects more than half the country, Chuchu says, and about 65 percent of Kenyans struggle to live on less than a dollar a day. “The waters have so far dried up, resulting in the disastrous death of cattle, camels, sheep,” Chuchu said in an e-mail. “This has also translated into [a] dilapidated household economy, resulting in famine, diseases, and insecurity.”
Through 1001 Orphans, ministry partners aim to guide at-risk children into the homes of loving families and under the wing of ELCK congregations that can help youngsters become educated, responsible Christian adults. “1001 Orphans is an opportunity to reach out with mercy and give orphans what we want every child to have—a loving family and the love of Christ,” says Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS WR-HC executive pastoral assistant. “It helps meet physical needs, such as hunger and education, but also provides spiritual nourishment.” (To learn how you can participate, see the “Help Change a Life” sidebar to this story.)
1001 Orphans builds on two foundations: the ELCK’s commitment to human care and the Kenyan culture’s devotion to family and children, a devotion so strong that many Kenyans already struggling to feed their own children take in orphans. The goal is to ease the financial burden on these Kenyan families and provide each orphan:
Family and spiritual-care support, by placing each child with a Christian family with ties to a local ELCK congregation.
Economic support, by providing money or food to supplement the already stretched-thin resources of a Kenyan family caring for an orphan.
Education support, by providing funds so each orphan can attend school.
ELCK pastors “are so thankful for this program,” Collver says. “There are so many children who need help. This is only scratching the surface.”
The “1001 Orphans” name reflects Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ roots. The Cabot-based ministry now serves older adults, but it began as an orphanage. From 1881 through 1954, Frndak estimates CLM cared for 1,000 orphans.
CLM and ministry partners seek to reach 1,000 Kenyan children—“plus one lost sheep,” Frndak says. “We made the number 1,001 as a reminder that there’s always another person who needs care, and that the church’s work is never done.”
Looking ahead, Frndak and ministry partners hope the Kenya program is so successful they can consider expanding it into other regions of the world to help more orphans and disadvantaged children.
But even as the program begins, LCMS WR-HC executive director Rev. Matthew Harrison already has seen the difference caring Christians can make in the lives of hurting children. In 2006, he attended the dedication of a new Lutheran rescue center in Othoro, built by WR-HC donors and the ELCK. While most attention focused on the boys moving from an old mud-hut orphanage into the new facility, Harrison says he will never forget another young African.
Both of Samwel Omondi Ogutu’s parents died from complications of HIV and AIDS when he was a child. After his grandmother could no longer provide for him and his siblings, the boy was taken in by an ELCK orphan-support program. That support helped Ogutu graduate from high school and continue his education at a university.
In a recent e-mail, Ogutu says he is now enrolled in the Advocates Training Program at the Kenya School of Law and plans to use his training to serve others through the church. He expressed his appreciation for sponsors “who didn’t even know [me],” but changed his life.
Samwel Ogutu and Phenny Onyalo are just two young Kenyans who tragically lost their parents but found hope through Christ’s mercy. While many programs assist orphans, Harrison urges fellow Lutherans to consider the importance of caring for children’s physical needs as well as reaching out spiritually.
Says Harrison: “When we do both, that’s when we can make a truly lasting difference.”
Your Opportunity to ‘Help Change a Life’
Lillian, 13, works hard in school despite worries that her mother can barely feed her and her brothers since their father died, also of AIDS.
These young Kenyans are only two children LCMS ministry partners are working to connect with Christian families, educational support, and spiritual care through this phase of the 1001 Orphans program coordinated by LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR HC), supported by Concordia Lutheran Ministries (CLM), and carried out by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK).
1001 Orphans sponsorships are now available. A gift of $400 just a bit more than $33 a month provides home based care, food, education support, and spiritual care for one child for one year. Each sponsor receives a picture and information about their child.
In Kenya, $400 can make a huge difference, says Rev. Jamison Hardy, a CLM board member and pastor at Peace Lutheran Church, McMurray, Pa., who has traveled to Africa 10 times over the years. This is an opportunity for God s people to put their faith into action and help change a life.
To become a 1001 Orphans sponsor, send your gift to:
LCMS World Relief and Human Care
(If writing a check, designate "1001 Orphans" in the memo line.)
You also can make a credit card gift by calling toll free 888 930 4438 or online at www.lcms.org/1001. For more information, call LCMS WR-HC toll free at 800 248 1930, ext. 1380, or visit www.lcms.org/worldrelief.
Sharing Your Blessings on WR-HC Sunday— and Beyond!
The 1001 Orphans program is only one way WR HC strengthens local Lutheran partners and reaches out to people in need with Christ s mercy in 70 countries, including the United States. Other body and soul work includes:
LCMS WR-HC receives no funds from the Synod s unrestricted operating budget and depends completely on your generous gifts. Because needs and ministry opportunities constantly change, the most efficient, effective way you can lend a hand through the Synod s mercy arm is to designate your gift where needed most. To make a gift:
LCMS World Relief and Human Care
Call toll free 888 930 4438 to make a credit card gift.
Give online at http://givenowlcms.org.
For free, downloadable WR HC Sunday resources, visit www.lcms.org/worldrelief or call toll free 800 248 1930, ext. 1380.
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Kim Plummer Krull
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