The Road to the Unwanted

This is the actual road we traveled down to arrive at the boys prison in Burma

This is the actual road we traveled down to arrive at the boys prison in Burma

So this is what the road to the unwanted looks like. This thought was flooding through my mind as we traveled outside the city of Yangon, Burma. It was only supposed to take an hour to get there, but we were now past two hours and headed down a long narrow dirt road that seemed to lead to nowhere. We were headed to a prison for young boys ages 6 through 16. There was a great unknown as to what the conditions might look like. I was expecting the worst. Beyond the unknown, I could hardly wrap my mind around the need for a prison for boys this young. What conditions in life have to exist for boys this young to commit crimes to land them in prison? We finally arrived to a setting to which I was pleasantly surprised. You could equate it to a decent youth campground that was well taken care of, nothing special, but clean. No overbearing security fences or guards were to be found. We walked through classrooms of boys dressed in their student uniforms, hard at study.
Young boys studying - notice the tattoo

Young boys studying – notice the tattoo

Things on this compound seemed organized and disciplined. We learned there were 400 boys present and they were split into two areas on the compound. Around 200 of the boys were there because they had committed crimes from pick pocketing to murder. The other 200 were vulnerable children who had been rescued off the streets and were being given a place to live, being fed and had the opportunity to learn. Of these 400 young boys, 130 of them were specifically known to be orphans. As we walked through the barrack type dormitories, the young boys stood at attention.
This dorm was primarily made up of orphans rescued from the streets of Yangon

This dorm was primarily made up of orphans rescued from the streets of Yangon

Their young innocent faces stared at the foreigners who were in their midst. Despite the best and honorable efforts of those in charge of these young boys, I could not help but think about the families who were absent from these boys lives. What circumstances lead to these boys becoming unwanted? This question would only be amplified as I departed from Burma and joined our team in Nepal.

I had already heard the stories from some of our team members who had been out on the streets to interact with the street kids, but nothing could prepare me for seeing these children with my own eyes. Our team was headed back into Kathmandu after visiting and saying our final goodbyes to the boys at the Joyful News Home. Once we reached the city, I got out of the van to join Samrat on the back of his motorcycle.

A motorcycle ride with Samrat I will never forget

A motorcycle ride with Samrat I will never forget

As we departed from the team, we only traveled about a quarter of a mile before we came upon a group of young boys sitting alongside the road around a small fire.
Center, on the curb - Robin (12 Years Old)

Center, on the curb – Robin (12 Years Old)

Each boy was sitting inside of a small box and the rest of the cardboard was being used to fuel the fire. Before I exited the van, I put extra layers of clothing on to stay warm as we approached the midnight cold. Here, some of these young boys sat in shorts and flip flops around the fire. One young boy answered the questions Samrat was asking him. His name was Robin and he was 12 years old. He told us he had been on the streets on his own from the age of 2. I was still trying to process the fact that this 12 year old was out on the streets close to midnight when I heard he had been on his own since the age of 2. The road to the unwanted made more sense to me in Burma where we traveled well outside of town, away from the normal flow of life to alienate the unwanted. But this group of boys sat on a main thorough fair directly across the street from the edge of the fenced in runways for the Kathmandu International Airport. Everyday, people from all over the world travel by this exact spot coming and going from their excursions to see and experience God’s creation of the Himalayas. All the while, these far more important creations of God go unnoticed.

It felt like the most shallow and meaningless prayer I have ever prayed. Their eyes looked up at me as to ask, aren’t you going to help us? Even though my main purpose was to simply observe on this night, as I have reflected back, James 2:15-17 has come to my mind. It says, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” As I got back onto the motorcycle and rode away, the cold air blowing on my face was the only thing that kept me from weeping uncontrollably. On this night, I knew I was eventually headed back to a warm hotel room to sleep on a bed, while those young boys sat in a box on the side of the road in the cold. As Samrat and I headed to our next stop, we were detoured by some military men because of a bomb threat. As if what I was experiencing was not already emotionally overwhelming, there is nothing like being detoured because of a possible bomb. This detour lead us to another location along side a normal city road. As we parked next to a six foot rock wall, Samrat asked me to wait on the motorcycle as he climbed the wall to check things out. He wanted to assure it was safe for me to join him. As I scaled the wall and walked up a small embankment, I noticed a small makeshift tent attached to the building next to this empty lot. You would never know this tent was there from the street. Bricks had been gathered to form an L shaped wall that held the plastic tarps which was also attached to the wall of the building.

Kids sleeping in their makeshift tent

Kids sleeping in their makeshift tent

As we walked up to the opening of the tent, two small candles dimly lit the inside of the tent. I could barely make out about 8 kids lined up and sleeping on the ground inside the tent. Samrat introduced me to a young man named Kanchha who was 22 years old and had been on the streets since he was 6.
Samrat & Kanchha

Samrat & Kanchha

He shared his dream of being able to save enough money to buy a rickshaw style bicycle to be able to earn a living and eventually get off the streets. It was clear he was the leader of this group of young kids. As we stood there and talked, another young boy staggered up to the tent, high on the glue he had been inhaling, laid a piece of plastic on the ground and quickly went to sleep. Kanchha informed Samrat that none of the children, including himself had had anything to eat on this day. It was now after midnight and Samrat gave him some money for food. As we headed back to the motorcycle to leave, Kanchha along with another young boy he woke up were off to buy some food for those in the tent.

In conversations prior to heading to the streets, Samrat described to me in more detail the struggles these kids face on the streets. The end result for many of these kids is huffing glue to cover the many hurts and pains they experience on the streets.

The effects of huffing glue

The effects of huffing glue

You see an innate survival mode come alive in these young kids. But in the midst of their survival, there is a loss of innocence and value for life. They live in the midst of pure evil most of us cannot even begin to fathom.
The unwanted of Kathmandu

The unwanted of Kathmandu

How do you instill value for life into those who have experienced the greatest sense of abandonment and betrayal a person could feel, being unwanted. The most shocking aspect of our conversation was the reality that many of the young girls on the streets become pregnant by other street kids, perpetrators and even police. Many of these girls carry these children full term, give birth, only to watch these newborns be killed or die from lack of care. In the cultural context in which they live, most of these newborn babies are then burned up in a fire. Upon hearing this disturbing information, my unexpected journey to care for orphans, which began in 2001, when my wife informed me she felt God laying on her heart to adopt a little girl from China had reached a breaking point. What started off for me as a focus on adoption, then was expanded to the needs of children in the US foster care system at Summit 9 through the movie “Faultless,” was now global unwanted faces with names. I have always been convinced it is much easier to look at the pictures of orphans or vulnerable children if you don’t know their names. But now, I had looked into the faces of Robin and Kanchha and something changed for me. Orphan care for me moved well beyond a perceived fad or ministry trend to the all out spiritual battle to which it always has been and continues to be. Ephesians 6:12 became real to me in a way I have never seen it before. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Every life matters and every soul is cherished by God. I began to ask myself, what if the call by God to Christians found throughout Scripture to care for orphans is simply ignored or taken less than serious? Jesus obviously had a special place in his heart for children. There is purity and innocence in the faith of a child. When Jesus says to his disciples in Luke 18:17, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” In Matthew 18:1-7 it says, “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.” What if the childlike faith God places in these little ones is stripped away by the injustice and pure evil they endure simply by being unwanted. And what if the value for life is stripped away to the point they themselves become the perpetrators of such a grievous act as to take the life of a new born baby. The road to the unwanted takes on both a literal and figurative dynamic when we see the children in which Jesus loves and who he died for carrying out acts that can only be attributed to the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The road to the unwanted is not always intentional or malicious. We know tragedy, illness, natural catastrophes, poverty, addiction and cultural perversions have lead in large part to the estimated 150 million plus orphans and vulnerable children around the world. But even if the original cause was not intentional or malicious, the unfortunate outcome for many of these children is far less than the best God intended for them. The stigma of orphan or foster child is not one that is easily overcome in most cultures. The door of opportunity for the one who comes to kill, steal and destroy is dramatically increased and makes these children very vulnerable to those who have less than good intentions. It is easy to attribute blame to those who cause so much injustice and evil in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. The Bible makes it clear there are dire consequences for those who cause children to fall into sin. The other side of this coin though is the responsibility of Christians to engage in the lives of these same children so they have an option other than being exploited, abandoned and unwanted.

As I have reflected over these past number of weeks on what I experienced in Burma and Nepal, I have asked myself, what do I do now with this information I have heard with my own ears and seen with my own eyes? Although I have been to Burma and Nepal before, in all my years of ministry and all of my travels, I have never been as deeply affected as I was on this trip. In my life, Psalm 139 has been a very meaningful and significant passage of Scripture to me. In particular, verse 16 which says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” In all, I have lived a very blessed life. As I have reflected on the days God has ordained for me, I realized I have not come anywhere close to knowing what it feels like to be unwanted. I have certainly experienced tragedy, felt the sting of rejection, struggled with the doubts of being good enough, but never have I felt abandoned or unwanted. In November, my family had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents and my brother and his family in North Carolina. This planned time together was also done in celebration of my parents 50th wedding anniversary as well as my brother and his wife’s 10th wedding anniversary. As I continued to wrestle and process my experience in Burma and Nepal, I was faced with the unexpected irony of the blessings of my life and experiences. As I wrote the majority of this blog, I sat in a multi-million dollar, lavish, 6000 square foot log cabin on top of a mountain with an amazing view. Our family was blessed to use this beautiful home through a family connection. Beyond this blessing, I reflected on all the love and stability I have experienced my entire life from parents who have always been there and provided for me, even to this day. After seeing the boys in the prison in Burma, and the kids on the streets in Nepal in the midst of abject poverty, it is hard to understand why the days ordained for my life are so vastly different from theirs and have included the love, stability and blessing God has allowed me to experience.

In the midst of all the negative and heart wrenching images I saw in Burma and Nepal, I also saw the positive where the unwanted are being rescued and cared for in the name of Jesus. In Burma, international adoption is not even an option.

Heritage Team at the Galilee Children's Home

Heritage Team at the Galilee Children’s Home

I continue to be amazed each time I have the privilege to visit the Galilee Children’s Home in Yangon, Burma where Dr. Morris & Sonia Liana have created an environment of love and care deeply rooted in the love of Christ for these orphan children. I had the distinct honor and privilege to meet Samrat Sunchauri for the first time in Kathmandu, Nepal. Samrat runs the Joyful News Home where young boys who are being rescued off the streets of Kathmandu are brought to be loved and cared for and have the opportunity to have shelter, food and gain an education. At both orphanages I had the pleasure of experiencing extended times of worship with these orphans and those who care for them.
Before - On the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal

Before – On the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal

It is hard to describe in words the genuineness, authenticity and purity of worship that comes from these children. It is as if they worship from a place in their heart I don’t fully comprehend.
After - Worshiping Jesus at the Joyful News Home

After – Worshiping Jesus at the Joyful News Home

A place or life they know they have been saved from that overflows with thanksgiving and gratefulness expressed in worship to Jesus. In reality, the worship coming from these precious children would never have taken place had they not been rescued and been introduced to Jesus Christ by those running these orphanages.

I recently read a quote from Mother Theresa that summarizes and expresses the feelings I experienced in Burma and Nepal. Seeing so many vulnerable and unwanted children still not connected to an environment where they could be introduced to a God who loves them and cares for them. She said, “The greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to just be nobody.” What a tragedy to know there are still so many orphaned and vulnerable children who fall into this description and are plagued with this disease and suffering.

As we have just come through the Christmas season, I could not help but to think of Jesus purpose in coming to bring hope and healing to the world. He came as a rescuer to save and seek that which was lost. As we are called to follow the example of Christ, to take up our cross daily, we must also strive to seek and save these children who are lost and unwanted. I know the Christian orphan care movement in the US has taken some harsh criticism in the past few years. The further I get involved with the global orphan care movement, I realize there are no easy answers or easy fixes. Despite this reality, we should not shy away or cower from the biblical mandate God has given to those who follow Him. Our motivation as Christians to engage and bring justice to the marginalized, the vulnerable, the unwanted must come from our obedience to Christ and Scripture. We might not always do it right, but we can never stop our pursuit of bringing love, care and purpose to these lost and vulnerable children. As Christians, we are the rescued. But we are also to follow the example and attitude of Christ, with great humility became the greatest rescuer the world has ever known.

My greatest concern for the Church as a whole is when we are unfazed, unmoved and indifferent to those who are the most vulnerable and who need us the most. It is as if we are losing the spiritual battle because we are unwilling to even enter the battle for the very souls of children who have no hope otherwise. If we truly are unfazed, unmoved and indifferent to those who are the most vulnerable, why should the Church be surprised that those who sit in our services each weekend are unfazed, unmoved and indifferent to their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who don’t know Christ, and by appearance are without need. As an Outreach Pastor, I have learned the things that are closest to the heart of God are often the hardest things to get people to try and do. So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. What Jesus said long ago is still very relevant for today. Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.’

On Friday, December 6th, my day off, I intended to finish writing and posting this blog. Early on on that morning, I received a call from my mom that my dad was in an ambulance, unresponsive, and being taken to the hospital. Sadly and unexpectedly, my dad went to be with the Lord on December 10th from complications from bacterial meningitis. We are grateful to God and celebrate our week long Thanksgiving vacation together in North Carolina, celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary less than a week before my dad got sick.

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad

I want to honor and dedicate this blog to my dad who exemplified and lived by example what it means to serve Jesus by caring for the marginalized, unnoticed and unwanted. My dad loved and cared for people and in serving others was one of the most unselfish people I have ever known. One of the things I shared at my dads memorial service was the fact that it has never been hard for me to understand and accept the love of my Heavenly Father because of the great love my dad always showed me. In this unexpected loss, I have found a renewed fervor to serve God by serving others. My dads life was an amazing example of the importance of serving people and that in the end, ministry is all about people. I have a new, more personal appreciation and understanding of James 1:27 in caring for orphans and widows. Although I do not consider myself an orphan, I do feel the real loss and emptiness of being fatherless. I feel the real loss for my mom who is affected the most after losing her husband of 50 years and by no fault of her own becomes a widow. I am fortunate to have a lifetime legacy from a father who loved me, cared for me and taught me so many things to now model and live out for my children. My heart aches for those children who never experienced this type of love and care from a father who was present or absent in their lives. One of the great joys of my life was talking to my dad on the phone almost everyday. The last time I talked with my dad was the day before he became ill and became unresponsive. He called to see how our adopted daughter was doing as we were heading home from the hospital with her after she had surgery. I already do, and will forever miss those daily conversations with my dad. Almost daily, my dad would end our conversations by telling me how much he loved me and how proud he was of me. I choose to honor my dad by carrying on his legacy of loving Jesus and loving and serving others. I love you and miss you dad! I am so proud to call you my dad and to see the impact you made in so many lives. Your life, was a life well lived!

16 thoughts on “The Road to the Unwanted

  1. Eric, this is a wonderful blog reflecting a powerful experience and work of grace and ministry that God is working in you. I’m proud to know you as a friend. And I am thankful that God is still in the business of saving his children in every way, and moving his servants to be more like him.

    • Thanks Kerry! I appreciate your friendship and have always enjoyed our racquetball games over the years. Hope you are doing well.

    • Thanks Nic. I had to wipe away a few tears on several occasions so I could continue writing.

  2. Eric, thank you so much for attempting to put to pen and paper the immense love and magnetized connection that God puts in our hearts for these kids. I felt it…as real as if I’d been standing next to you in Nepal, and surely as I have stood shoulder to shoulder with you in Burma. May a God continue to give us breath to stand up and speak for the lost, the left behind, and the world’s most vulnerable…our children.

    • Rena, it has been an honor and privilege to walk this journey with you in Burma. I am so grateful for your heart and obedience to love and care for the kids at the Galilee Children’s Home. We will continue to strive to bring an awareness of the needs of these children we have grown to love and so many like them who long for this same type of love. I appreciate you and your heart for the vulnerable more than words can express.

  3. So touche’d by your words and sorry for your loss, your dad would be proud, blessings to you and healing to all your family. Grief comes in our lives in different ways. May you be encouraged.

  4. Eric,

    Thank you for taking the time and passion to write this, and more importantly THANK YOU for taking the time to go to Burma AND Nepal!! Samrat and the boys already had a special place in my heart but now even more so because of your experience and your testimony! Praise God for your obedience to go and to do what you did while you were there… and more importantly for your heart for orphans which inspires others!! ♡

    • Lisa, thank you for your heart and your investment into Samrat and the boys at the Joyful News Home. This has been an unexpected journey for me to speak for the orphan and the vulnerable. God has allowed me to experience and understand a deeper level of His love through our own adoption journey as well the lives of orphans I have had the privilege to meet in a number of countries. It is a honor to speak on behalf of those who have no voice.

  5. Eric, Having been with the street kids in Kathmandu I relived the experience as I read your words. You have a gift and a passion for the faces that we may forget but that God does NOT. My heart burns daily for these children and for those living in the tent cities who do not have a home. I remember Shiva, one of the older boys who was the leader of one of the tent cities. For a seventeen year old to be “Dad” to these kids is beyond anything one can imagine having to do in North America. I have not been able to get his face out of my mind. I pray that God continues to burn into my heart a love for the least of these who have no one to speak on their behalf. I praise God for Samrat who shares this passion. Thank you, Eric, for putting into such eloquent words what beats in my heart.

    • Cathy, it was a privilege to share this journey with you and the rest of the Heritage Team. I am so grateful for your heart and passion for these boys and for Samrat. I am thankful for your obedience to head back to Nepal this April. Thanks for your kind words.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing. I was so moved in my heart, tears for you and your family, and tears for the orphans. Thankful that you took the time to share your life with Christ and your experiences and Thankful for your words and Love for Christ. Your words have moved me!!!

  7. Eric- This blog post was so moving and opened up the eyes of my heart. My initial reaction when seeing and hearing about such things is to turn away, because it’s so painful and so heartbreaking. However, we are called to care for those who are helpless. We are all called to be the hands and feet of Jesus – not to be rescuers, but to let the Rescuer move through us. I’m not sure what this means for my life, but I do know that your words have helped open my heart so I can follow the Lord’s leading! Thank you for passionately serving and sharing your journey with all of us. You inspire myself and so many others – Your dad was and is still so proud, I’m sure.

    • Thank you Mary for your kind words. I appreciate your heart and openness to God working through you to be the hands and feet of Jesus. My desire in writing has been to bring awareness and allow people to think how they can impact the lives of the most vulnerable. It is an honor to share my ongoing journey of how God is challenging me, so others might be challenged as well.

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