By / Apr 7

America is no longer a Christian nation if one goes by the official membership rolls of churches. According to a recent study by Gallup, church membership dropped below 50% for the first time in their 80 years of studying religion. This follows a decades long trend of increasing disaffiliation, rejection, and apathy of faith by Americans. The data from Gallup points to some trends that all pastors and leaders in ministry should be aware of, but it also holds some important points about how to stem the growing number of people walking away from Christianity specifically, and faith generally. 

Problem of decline

The decline noted by Gallup is not a new phenomenon. As Gallup’s polling shows, church membership held steady at roughly 70% for most of the 20th century. However, in the mid-to-late ’90s, there was a sudden uptick in the number of people moving away from religious identity. These “nones” represent the fastest growing segment of the American religious landscape. As Ryan Burge has written in his study of this group, it includes those who are atheists and agnostics as well as those who are “nothing in particular.” It is this third group, who eschew religious labels even as they retain a limited number of religious beliefs, that account for the decrease in religious behavior. For an interview with Burge, view this ERLC article. 

However, the rejection of affiliation is not just from those who dismiss the tenets of the faith. Even among believers, formal membership has declined. What can account for this? While there has always been a fluidity to church membership in America’s religious marketplace where people could leave one church and go to another without much trouble, a trend that has accelerated with the rise of larger parachurch organizations and the ability to “go” to church online. But based on the rapid increase, it seems that there are other reasons for this decline rooted primarily in our loss of trust in institutions across society of which religion is just one victim. 

Crisis of institutions

The trend toward declining membership began in the late ‘90s and has accelerated over the past two decades. While monocausal explanations are rarely sufficient to capture the complexity of any situation, it is not a understatement to say that the past two decades have revealed deep rot within our institutions and a growing distrust by the public that institutions serve the public good. From the scandals of sexual abuse within Catholicism and Protestantism to the #MeToo revelations in the halls of Hollywood, not to mention abuses by celebrities and leaders (both religious and secular), the last decade especially has evidenced the deep problems that exist. 

And the effect of this crisis is that younger generations are less likely to see a reason to join any traditional institution because of a creeping cynicism about the motives and purpose of the institutions. Rather than being places of formation, the institutions are viewed as means for those in power to protect themselves and ensure their ongoing prosperity. And the response increasingly is “Why bother?” Why bother with a church that prioritizes politics over fidelity to the gospel, an abusive leader over protecting the vulnerable, or that is satisfied with “only preaching the gospel” without ever asking what the gospel requires of us when we go into a world filled with injustice? A church that is no more sanctified than the local Kiwanis Club is not worth the effort it takes to invest your life, and at least the Kiwanis don’t require you to give up a Sunday morning. As Russell Moore has said,

“The culture often does not reject us because they don’t believe the church’s doctrinal and moral teachings, but because they have evidence that the church doesn’t believe its own doctrinal and moral teachings. They suspect that Jesus is just a means to an end—to some political agenda, to a market for selling merchandise, or for the predatory appetites of some maniacal narcissist.”

Places of hope and renewal

But it is not all bad news. In fact, the problem reveals the solution, even if it is a generations long project. First, though church membership is declining, religious belief still remains strong. Though the nones are growing, and growing rapidly, over 70% of Americans still identify with some form of organized religion, even if they are unwilling to formally join that religion. As discussed above, it is the institution that needs to be reformed as well as the individual; just because people aren’t on the roll at their church doesn’t mean that they aren’t finding their identity somewhere else. So the task of Christian leaders and congregations is to help situate their members’ identity primarily in the gospel, and especially in the context of a local church that is part of a global body. Institutions are strongest when they are places of character and identity formation.

Someone who goes through the military comes out a certain type of person. He or she has been molded and shaped by the norms of the institution into a person who values, loves, lives, and acts in accordance with institutional norms and expectations, often to such a degree that it is apparent in all areas of their life. 

The church should be no different. The decline in church membership is not the real problem, only the evidence of the deeper problem that people are not being formed into the type of people that prioritize the local body. In order to change this, a perspective is required that looks not just at the immediate circumstances, but generations down the line and into eternity. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, it is in the everyday choices that we are being conformed into either a heavenly or hellish creature. It is an ongoing process of formation and molding—or sanctification, to use the terminology of the New Testament—that occurs over a long period of time. 

More importantly, the church should hold out the beauty and power of the community that is the church to the world. The early church had its share of struggles and growing pains, with division between rich and poor, Gentile and Jew, and controversies over who had baptized them, all of which were rebuked. They were also called to unity and community because of their shared identity in Christ. It has become increasingly obvious over the past year that we are not meant to live life alone. Isolation is not good for our souls. And the community the church offers in its rituals and membership is a fellowship that goes deeper than just a Kiwanis meeting. 

The church is a place of vulnerability as we reveal our pains and hurts. It is a place of love as we are served by and serve those around us. It is a place of welcome as we are brought in without regard for our past and are seated at the table where the cup and bread are passed from one broken individual to another. And it is a place where the markers of identity that matter outside the church—race, gender, income, marital status—are not ignored, but they are subsumed in the deeper identity shared by all who are united to Christ. People are looking for community. May they see the church as a place where they are pursued and welcomed into deep, lasting relationship.

By / Mar 30

At the very core of who we are exists a deep desire and fundamental need for connection, belonging, and security found only within relationships. This eternal truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

God’s design for connection

The community between the Father, Son, and Spirit is imprinted on the human soul—we bear the imago Dei, “image of God.” As the creation narrative unfolds, God reflects on his creation of Adam, remarking, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s response to Adam’s solitude is the creation of Eve, Adam’s partner. The height of joy and depth of trust experienced through loving relationships and secure attachment are fundamentally God’s idea and God’s design. 

More than 2,000 years later, we take our place in history longing for connection—remembering this foundational truth and holding onto this eternal hope for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and perhaps most importantly for our children. Yes, God created us to be in relationship—at peace with him, with others, and in our hearts. And yet, with the fall of mankind into sin, we now experience the pain of broken relationships and the vulnerability of isolation. This is the painful reality for many of the children Show Hope seeks to serve—children who have been orphaned. 

It is not uncommon for children who come home through adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions may surface. We must ask ourselves, How do we effectively communicate the truth of the gospel—an invitation into a forever relationship with Christ—to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear?

As scientific research expounds, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and advocate for children Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationship, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have been affected by early loss and trauma, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Furthermore, by choosing to love children from difficult beginnings, we are afforded a front-row seat as God’s miraculous work unfolds. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the sacredness, beauty, and peace of imago Dei is reimagined and reaffirmed as our children become at home with our love. 

Surely, no one person could do this work alone or without the encouragement and support of a wider community. This is why Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support exists. We understand—as many of you do—that the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. Because of the difficult beginnings many of our children have experienced, we must work diligently to help them reimagine home and experience belonging and connection.  

Learn how to build trust and connection with vulnerable children

Families affected by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU, which exists to bring attachment and connection in families. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

And, so, while TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, at Show Hope, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, 

The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.

Build a community of support

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching a support or small group for individuals and parents affected by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through is Created to Connect. This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

As part of that support or small group, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone. As a local church or individuals, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Find hope for the journey

Show Hope’s new Hope for the Journey Conference will premiere on Friday, April 9, with a broadcast period through Mon., May 31. The conference includes training in TBRI, a new teaching component called The Gospel + TBRI, and Practical Perspectives videos featuring the voices of adult adoptees and foster youth alumni as well as adoptive and foster families. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care, and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and other organizations as they support and equip the families, caregivers, and the communities they serve. It can be a great opportunity to educate volunteers on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

Will you join with us in showing up and showing hope?

By / Mar 10

As we observe the anniversary of the United States’ dramatic shutdown due to COVID-19, there are many things we could not have predicted at this time last year. 500,000+ deaths, long-term shutdowns, virtual schooling, and a prolonged lack of contact with loved ones were certainly not things I expected. But on March 11, 2020, when I checked my phone after a women’s Bible study to discover the NBA had suspended its season and Tom Hanks had tested positive, I got my first glimpse. The dominoes continued to fall with aggressive speed in the following days. 

While most of us couldn’t have predicted those aforementioned circumstances, we couldn’t have predicted the speed and efficacy of vaccine development either. Yet by the grace of God and the efforts of many, the vaccine for this terrible virus is effective and increasingly available to many who need it most. 

Our varied experiences with COVID-19

In the early days of our nationwide quarantine, I heard someone say we were all encountering the same virus but we were experiencing it differently. I have thought of this often in the past year. For my family, quarantine meant making space for each other as my husband transitioned to working from home, and we began homeschooling our children. Our proximity to high-risk family members meant more caution and care on our part so that we could see them. But compared to many, our life change has been minimal. We have experienced the past year quite differently than have many others. For a lot  of people, a return to a “normal” life is impossible without vaccination. 

My friend’s aunt, a resident in a nursing home in Georgia, has not left her room for eight months, except twice a week for bathing. With nursing homes closed to visitors and often short-staffed, there is little accountability for care. Patients are regressing socially, physically, and emotionally. 

A family member living in a lower-income community in Midwestern Indiana paints a picture of the past year that is vastly different from our experience. The lifestyle of her community does not often allow for virtual work, social distancing, or proper hygiene. Outbreaks are high, and the community suffers more than most from closed schools and lack of employment. 

Light at the end of the tunnel

These are just two examples of millions who will not live anything close to a normal life without the vaccine. Older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions, and caregivers for both the latter and former will be greatly served by vaccination availability. Some racial and ethnic minority groups are at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Vaccination is a light at the end of the tunnel for those living in isolation and fear for the past year. 

In my more myopic moments, I easily forget that my experience of the past year is not universal. Because I do not see how others live, I can’t fully appreciate the sorrow and fear they have felt. But I have seen the relief on friends’ faces as they take their aging parents to be vaccinated. As my parents receive their first doses, I am thanking the Lord for sparing their lives and giving them a chance to hopefully return soon to a semblance of normalcy. 

For the good of others

I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and encountering many passages in which God calls His people to care for the vulnerable in their midst—orphans, widows, sojourners, immigrants, and others. Many of these calls to compassionate care are still relevant to us, but the vulnerable in our midst also include those who are more susceptible to sickness and death. The principles of care that required the Israelites to sacrifice for the vulnerable in their community find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. He sacrificed His life for the sake of those vulnerable to death because of sin. 

We must emulate this example as we look for ways to help those in our communities access the vaccination and consider what neighborly love requires of us in the coming days. We may be called to sacrifice further, in all  kinds of ways,  but we follow a Savior who willingly laid down His life for us. Greater love has no one than this, and this is the love that compels us to serve our neighbors. All of us may not have experienced the past year in the same way. But by God’s grace, we can experience the same joy as we set aside our preferences and desires and act for the good of those around us.

By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Jul 9

COVID-19 has swiftly changed the lives of millions, both in the United States and abroad. Daily rhythms and schedules have been dramatically altered, and millions of people find themselves sheltering in place. Times of immense stress can make us fearful and anxious, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by anxiety. In the midst of this global pandemic, Christians should consider not only how to care wisely for their families, but should give serious thought to how to love and care for others. The coronavirus is affecting the most vulnerable among us in profound ways—children and youth currently living in unsafe and abusive homes, those in foster care, and children awaiting adoption. Domestically and abroad, vulnerable children are suffering the impacts of the coronavirus, and Christians must be ready to stand in the gap for them.

Vulnerable children in the U.S.

Our nation’s child welfare system is tasked with the important job of ensuring that children live in safe, stable, and permanent environments. Right now, the child welfare system is facing unprecedented challenges as they seek to carry out this mission.

Research shows that increased stress can increase the probability that children will experience abuse or neglect within the home. Some of the stress factors that can lead to neglect or abuse include:

  • A lack of support from family members, friends, neighbors, or the community
  • Substance use disorder (likely to in- crease during times of immense stress)
  • Physical or mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety
  • Socioeconomic stress from financial issues, unemployment, or medical problems
  • A lack of parenting skills to help cope with the pressures and struggles of raising a child

All of these stressors are likely to dramatically intensify during the coronavirus pandemic. Several states have already reported spikes in child abuses cases. Teachers, daycare workers, and medical professionals help provide extra sets of eyes on children, and can report potential abuse. But with schools going online, children at risk of abuse or neglect won’t have that extra layer of protection.

The economic impacts of the coronavirus are going to hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest: singles, parents, poorer families, and low-income workers, many of whom often live paycheck to paycheck, with slim margins. Increased stress, combined with financial difficulties, could be potentially devastating for at-risk children.

Domestically and abroad, vulnerable children are suffering the impacts of the coronavirus, and Christians must be ready to stand in the gap for them.

Another effect of the coronavirus is that family courts have dramatically slowed down, prolonging the length of time a child remains in foster care, and delaying reunification with their biological parents. Finalized adoption visitations between children in foster care and their biological parents have also been paused due to safety concerns. 

Vulnerable children internationally

The coronavirus is also affecting the world’s most vulnerable children. The Department of State is advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. Families who have spent months in the international adoption process will be unable to travel to finalize the adoption of their children. There’s a lot of uncertainty around when it will be safe to travel again and when waiting children will be brought home with their forever families. Because of the coronavirus, there will continue to be a spike in deaths, which will lead to more children losing one or both parents. On the other side of the pandemic, there will be even more children who need safe and loving families. Intercountry adoption should remain a viable option for welcoming those children into families.

It’s important to remember that the coronavirus has likely been extraordinarily traumatic for children and youth who have existing trauma. For many vulnerable children, safety, security, and stability are often elusive, and this pandemic might cause even more fear and uncertainty in their hearts.

How you can get involved

Below are a few ways you can get involved in caring for vulnerable children during the coronavirus crisis:

Give: Nonprofits are often on the frontlines of serving the most vulnerable, especially in the midst of this global pandemic. With so much uncertainty surrounding the long-term effects of the coronavirus, one practical step is to financially support organizations that are involved in caring for vulnerable children. Consider giving on a monthly basis, instead of a one-time gift, because the monthly support helps nonprofits have some financial stability.

Get involved: Pay attention to the children you’re still coming into contact with, whether that’s children in your neighborhood or children in your son’s or daughter’s virtual classroom. Keep a close eye out for signs of abuse or neglect. Many local child welfare organizations are currently gathering nonperishable food items for vulnerable families in their areas. Reach out to local ministries and see how you can safely serve in your community. 

Consider adoption: The need for safe, permanet, and loving families is as great as it has ever been. There are thousands of children waiting for families, and that need will become greater in the weeks and months to come. Since many families are currently at home, now is an excellent time to begin the adoption process. Many adoption agencies will virtually walk families through the home study process. Now is a wonderful time to get a head start on the paperwork involved in becoming an adoptive family. 

Pray: We should commit to pray for vulnerable children. Below are a few prayer prompts.

  • We should pray that orphans and vulnerable children are cared for, safe, and loved in the midst of this pandemic.
  • We should pray for families to consider opening their homes and hearts to vulnerable children through foster care or adoption.
  • We should pray for social workers on the front lines and for child welfare agencies that are continuing to serve vulnerable children.

In the midst of these uncertain times, may we be people that show God’s kindness and love to vulnerable children. May we pour out our time, talent, and treasure for the good of others and the glory of God.

By / Jun 18

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no one unscathed, least of all the world’s already vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons. World Refugee Day should prompt us to reflect on how countries around the globe can step up to alleviate this new layer of suffering among refugee populations.  

The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that 2019 witnessed the highest level of individuals fleeing violence since World War II. The onset of a pandemic in 2020 made a bad situation even worse by increasing vulnerabilities for already-displaced persons and likely set the stage for further displacement of other communities.   

In Asia, refugee crises come in all shapes and sizes. From displaced Burmese Muslim Rohingya in Bangladesh, to North Koreans fleeing to freedom, to the potential for new refugee populations emanating from China, the needs are great, and the demands for assistance are high. The U.S. should continue to lead.  

Rohingya refugees  

The world braced itself for news of the first case of COVID-19 to be reported at the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. It arrived on May 15. The camp is home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees where social distancing is a physical impossibility. Compounded with a lack of access to medical care and the Bangladeshi government’s decision to limit access to information, the conditions create a perfect storm for a potentially massive outbreak of the novel coronavirus.  

Rohingya have already endured so much. In August 2017, the Burmese military drove them from their homes. The UN believes that the Burmese military went further than that, perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity among this oppressed Muslim minority.   

The U.S. has yet to issue an atrocity determination—a decision the secretary of state has the authority to make at any point in time. Now is a particularly auspicious moment. Should the U.S. decide to take this step, it would go a long way toward galvanizing aid from around the globe to alleviate the plight of Rohingya, particularly in the midst of vast and ever-increasing humanitarian needs during COVID-19.But Rohingya are far from the only refugees suffering during the pandemic.   

The people of North Korea  

Many worry about the effects of COVID-19 on the people of North Korea. An oft-overlooked population are refugees who had dared crossing the 38th parallel to seek freedom. According to Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization devoted to smuggling North Korean refugees to freedom, they have had to suspend rescue operations. LiNK anticipates that few, if any, of those wishing to flee the regime will make it out of North Korea this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.   

And what of the North Korean refugees who managed to get out of the country but had not yet made it to freedom when the outbreak began? They may now be stuck in third countries like China or other parts of Southeast Asia. Due to COVID-19 regulations in those countries, their movement is also likely to be restricted. In fact, one report indicated that jails in Thailand, usually full of North Korean refugees waiting for their refugee claims to be processed in South Korea, now sit empty.  

While North Korean authorities claim there have been zero cases of COVID-19, policy changes in Pyongyang suggest otherwise. Increased border controls and reductions in trade between North Korea and China are likely to have dire impacts on food security and economic stability inside the country.   

Should North Koreans’ lives get even harder due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we may well see a spike in the number of refugees fleeing once those restrictions are relaxed. The U.S. should watch closely to see whether the rate of resettlement in South Korea begins to increase as restrictions in North Korea are eased and maintain contact with on-the-ground groups involved in smuggling North Koreans to freedom.  

Other critical conditions  

The pandemic also facilitated conditions that may lead to additional displacement elsewhere. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China has seized on the moment of distraction to undermine political liberties in Hong Kong. The CCP’s steady erosion of freedom in the special administrative region may, in fact, create more refugees, particularly if the Chinese government opts for a military intervention.  

The United Kingdom has already offered visas to approximately 300,000 Hong Kong citizens. And Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has said she will offer safe haven to Hong Kongers fearing persecution at the hands of Beijing. In the U.S., Congress is considering legislation that would extend Priority 2 refugee status to the people of Hong Kong. It has been heartening to see the world come together to support Hong Kongers who are witnessing an historic loss of freedom.  

The situations in Burma, North Korea, and China are emblematic of the various forms of suffering refugees face. Though vastly different from each other, each presents an opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to lead in promoting freedom.  

Prioritizing refugees is often the most practical thing the U.S. can offer to hurting populations suffering at the hands of their own governments. When governments abrogate their duty to protect and defend their citizen’s rights, other freedom-loving nations must step in to fill the gap. Sometimes it involves resettling refugees within our own borders; other times it means providing aid and assistance to frontline states. Both promote the national interests of the U.S.  

COVID-19 added insult to injury for many refugee populations. Their suffering, already so great, was only amplified by the global pandemic. While other countries may be tempted to turn inward as they combat their own novel coronavirus outbreaks, the U.S. should lead in assistance and encourage others to do the same.  

By / Jan 19

Jenny Yang discusses caring for the vulnerable at the Evangelicals for Life 2018 Conference. 

By / Jan 12

The start of a new year is usually brimming with resolutions as to how we want to improve ourselves. Perhaps you desire to eat fewer carbs, spend less time at the office, spend more time at the gym, read more biographies, or take on a new hobby. While these are all worthy goals, as citizens of heaven, I think we should resolve to improve our pursuit of God’s kingdom on earth.

For the believer, our highest priority is to seek the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33). As we do this, our values will begin to reflect God’s values. Russell Moore says in Onward, “The kingdom tells us what matters and who matters, and that the criteria for that is sharply different from the social Darwinist values of success, power, utility, or strength.”

Valuing the vulnerable

God values the vulnerable, and one of the ways we can be more like him is to care for the vulnerable ones around us. We were all vulnerable in our inability to save ourselves from God's wrath. But God didn’t abandon us in our vulnerability; he had compassion for us. He sent his son. In the book, You Can Change, Tim Chester says, “Jesus was God getting involved with us.”

God values the vulnerable, and one of the ways we can be more like him is to care for the vulnerable ones around us.

God is with us. He is Immanuel (Matt. 1:23) and is characterized by his compassion for us. As his image bearers (Gen. 1:27), we must be known by our compassion, too. Are we not ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), representing him and his kingdom on earth? So, in response to the grace shown to us by our father, I pray we would get involved in the lives of the vulnerable as we seek to proclaim God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Here are a few ways to help the vulnerable.

Become a prayer warrior. Fight on your knees. Pray for those in bondage. We do this because we worship the chain-breaking God.

Stand for life. This means more than being against abortion. Value the imago Dei in all human life. Russell Moore says in Onward, “Human dignity is about the kingdom of God.” Join the ERLC in January in Washington, D.C., as we gather with others passionate about all of life at the Evangelicals for Life Conference. You can livestream the conference if you’re not able to attend in person.

Engage the global orphan crisis. Foster, adopt, and support families who do. Fight for the preservation of families by walking alongside families in crisis. Participate in sustainable income projects around the world to help families afford to provide for themselves.

Honor the elderly. Bring your kids to visit widows in nursing homes. Include elderly couples, widows, and widowers around your dinner table. Help with physical labor in their homes.

Encourage persecuted Christians. Write letters to imprisoned believers around the world. Sign up for the free newsletter from Voice of the Martyrs to learn more.

Battle against abortion. Honor life from the womb to the tomb. Support political candidates who value life. Walk alongside expectant mothers struggling to make the decision to keep their babies.

Help single parents. Come alongside them in the demands of raising children. Babysit, help with chores, include them around your dinner table.

Invite refugees into your life. Introduce them to people who can help them find work. Tutor their children. Practice conversational English with them. Set up playdates for your kids and theirs.

Show compassion to the homeless. Keep gift cards for common food places in your car to give to the homeless when you see them on your city streets. Volunteer your time to serve at a local homeless shelter. Engage in conversations, and share the love of Christ with them.

Fight for freedom for modern-day slaves. Educate yourself about the global human trafficking problem. Advocate before your sphere of influence on their behalf. Seek to be a wise consumer, only buying from companies that make products in ethical ways. Flee from pornography, which fuels the sex trade. Eliminating the demand for pornography is a practical way to fight human trafficking.

Partner with parachurch organizations and justice ministries. Find organizations that help the local church serve vulnerable people. Some examples include 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, and Safe Families, a nonprofit that partners with families in crisis by providing temporary care for their children while they work through critical circumstances.

Befriend orphans as they age out of foster care or children’s homes. Welcome them into your homes. Include them in your family meals. Help them find jobs and scholarship opportunities. Take them shopping to provide a new outfit for interviews. Help them launch into adulthood financially and relationally.

Show hospitality to people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Widen your social circles to reflect God’s valuing of diversity. Your home is your base of operations. Use it for God’s glory.

Be an advocate. God commands in Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Use your voice for the voiceless. Leverage your influence for the vulnerable. We must create a culture of advocacy, remembering that advocacy has its origins in Christ. He is our advocate before the father (1 John 2:1).

Seek justice for the vulnerable. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause.” Seeking justice should be a default mode for Christians. As image bearers of the God of justice (Isa. 30:18), we should be seeking reconciliation for that which sin has broken.

Meditate on Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage, Jesus explains how our care for the vulnerable is reflective of how we care for him. He emphasizes to the righteous and the wicked that their concern for the marginalized demonstrates their concern for him. Likewise, their disregard for the poor, sick, and displaced is seen by God as disregard for himself.

David Platt says, “And while we stand with conviction and courage, we must live with compassion. Amid a world with massive social needs around us, ranging from desperate poverty and orphan crises and millions of girls being trafficked for sex, to the degradation of marriage and the abortion of babies, we need to speak and act with selfless love on all of these issues.”

As you determine what you want to do better this year, remember the vulnerable. Concern yourself with their plight, and get involved with them as God graciously involves himself with you. Resolve to pursue God’s kingdom on earth by caring for the vulnerable through compassionate living.

By / Apr 20

Did you know that every time a lion pride hunts together it is a lightly organized operation? They do not test their potential prey for weakness like other predators do. The only weakness they are looking for is isolation. If they can remove a single animal from it’s herd, lunch is easily delivered, even if the animal they are hunting is much larger or faster than the lions themselves.

Knowing our place

We are much like a lion’s unsuspecting prey, because we are all made weak and vulnerable by isolation. We may be living life, oblivious to the threat, but the threat is there, and it is real.

First Peter 5:8 puts it this way, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Staying disconnected has the power to do much more than simply make us feel lonely. It may be what the enemy uses to prey upon you and bring you down.

Back to the Garden

Let’s head back to the Garden of Eden to take a look at exactly how isolation led to the fall of all mankind.

In Genesis 3:2-5, the serpent, who likely had been lurking in the grass for a while, sees his opportunity to deceive God’s children and moves in for the kill.

“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

I believe Satan was hunting Eve. He waited for a moment when she was not surrounded by her community. Verse six tells us that Adam was nearby, but maybe he was just slightly out of earshot. And even if he wasn’t, Eve apparently didn’t take the time to talk to him about what was happening. We see in her the first woman with an independent streak as she determined that she would process the information Satan was giving her and make the decision all on her own.

Would things have turned out differently for Eve if she had simply said, “Let me talk to my husband about it,” before taking a bite of that rotten fruit? Certainly, she would have been even more protected against this attack if she had talked to her husband and consulted with God. God had given her a double-layered safety net through a relationship with him and a relationship with Adam, but she cut right through the net and put herself in grave danger by deciding to go at it alone. What happened next reminds us that we are all daughters of Eve.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen. 3:7-8)

Isolation set Eve up to sin. Then, her shame led to an even deeper isolation and feeling of loneliness.

Here’s the big takeaway: When we step outside of community, we become infinitely more susceptible to temptation and sin. In this way, loneliness is less of an emotion and more of a military strategy effectively used by our enemy. Our shame then lies to us and tells us that isolation is the only way to regain control. In this way, loneliness and shame become a two-edged sword that is very effective at takings us out at the knees.

A church at the stadium

Researchers recently surveyed those who regularly attend church services to get a feel for their experiences. Sixty-six percent of the people they talked to said they feel they have a “real and personal connection” with God while attending church.

However, the study also revealed that more than a quarter of those surveyed agreed with the statement that church feels “like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event but who are not connected in a real way.” Another nine percent of those surveyed weren’t sure if they were connecting to others in their church or not. I have to wonder if the people in this group know what connectedness feels like if or they’ve settled for a synthetic substitute.

What people were saying is that for them church feels like going to a football game. They stadium is packed. They are surrounded by people who all want the same thing. The mood is light, but they are not really connected. At the end of the day, the sermon, the service, the game, they will go back home to their lonely lives with the same sense they could never tell what’s really going on.

I think this trend is less a reflection on the state of our churches, and more evidence of a personal problem. To start, many of us have a bad theology of the church. We don’t get that God’s clear vision for the church is that it be our family—the unit in which we become more like Christ— and the hub of the gospel. Instead we think of it more as a social club. What’s more, as individuals we refuse to get real about our sin. We want to keep up appearances. We want people to think we’re really good people. We prefer to think of church as a country club where we wear our best clothes, including a pretty mask, instead of a hospital where we can get bound up and healed through the loving care of others.

Are you lonely? If so, is it possible that sin is the root cause? Can you look back and see that Satan waited for moments when you were outside your community? He attacked, and then he lied to you and told you shame should banish you to the bushes, making you feel even more alone.

It’s time to fall into your safety net. Seek God, and ask him to reveal the sin in your life. Confess it to him right then and there. Don’t hide yourself or your junk. But don’t stop there. Tell your Christian friends. Tell your pastor. Tell your mentor. Tell your family. Keep telling until you see the lion pride slink away and set their sights in a different direction.