Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don't fret...there is still hope for the future

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.  -  1 Tim. 4:12

I cannot adequately express how wonderful the kids at HCA really are.  I am referring to all of them, but on this occasion, the high schoolers.  I had the awesome privilege of accompanying our 9th - 12th grade students on their annual retreat to Lookup Lodge in Traveller's Rest, SC last weekend.  The three days were full of activity, laughter, and singing.  From the silly games to the genuine worship of our Savior, these kids really demonstrated their desire to be different from the modern teen world.  When I look back at my spiritual condition at 15-16 years old, and then see how mature these students are in the Lord at thier age, I am thrilled at the potential they have to make an eternal difference in this world.  It is an honor to work with them, talk with them, and learn from them. 

There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the toughest time to be a Christian in the history of America.  The introduction of technology at our fingertips over the past two decades has opened the door to a whole new world of pitfalls.  Teens today are not tempted in different ways than their parents were.  The flesh is the same.  However, their access to sin and their ability to act on that temptation is infinitely greater.  I am convinced that the average Christian teenager today cannot spiritually stand on his own (with a few extraordinary exceptions).  That is why Christian schools are so important.  They provide a spiritual support group and accountability. 

Of course, every student at every school has sin to deal with.  But, how many schools have 16 year-olds who are willing to look another student in the eye and encourage them to stay strong in the Lord, and to not give in to the world?  That is the type of stuff I saw last weekend, and continue to see in the halls at school each day.  Again, they are still young, and do dumb things at times, but the average kid in the high school at HCA has a spiritual maturity that I don't think I had until I was 25-30 years old.  God, thank you for building a strong foundation in these young adults.  Please enact your perfect plan in their lives, and use them for your glory!  I continue to be blessed beyond measure...

A few visual highlights:

Group Bible Study

Unity Building

Paddle Boat Races


Sydney Kaiser, Mr. Maier, and Kailey Hunter tackle the "big swing"
The hope for the future

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rescuing a lost generation

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me.  My boy was just like me.
                                                                           "Cat's in the cradle", by Harry Chapin

Statistically, about 80% of teenagers who are active in their church youth groups throughout middle and high school, end up leaving church completely within 3-4 years of graduation.  That is a sobering thought to every parent who thinks that adding more "churchy" stuff to our kids' lives is a solution to the world's spiritual assault.  While there is no absolute formula for raising godly kids into godly adults, it is almost certain that these weekend fixes, by themselves, do not accomplish the task as much as we would like to believe. 

We have become an activity-based culture in America, taking our kids from baseball to gymnastics to swimming to the next mega-pirate-ninja-jedi-princess-castle birthday party.  We entertain our children better than any culture in the world, and give them more to do by the time they are 18 than our grandparents did in their entire lives.  Unfortunately, church, youth group, and the like often become just one more check on our list of a "well rounded" kid.

Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with playing baseball, pretending to be a princess, or attending youth group.  All of these things are beneficial in themselves, when approached correctly, and I am certainly not advocating pulling our kids out of any of them.  The problem is that we often use these things as a substitute for biblical child-rearing.  What pleases God more, and what is the greater benefit...putting my son on a baseball team, or spending an hour throwing baseball with him in the front yard myself?  What about spending gobs of money on a princess party for my girls and their friends, or sitting down with my girls to be thier prince for a day myself?  The same principle is true with church, youth groups, and spiritual training.  It is our responsibility as parents to invest in our children.  Part of that could be finding a good youth program for them, but if I am not spending quality time as a dad, training up my children in righteousness, then apart from a miracle, the youth group is no different than the baseball team...just another activity that can be discarded when I get tired of it. 

So, how do we want our kids to turn out?  What are your visions and dreams for their lives?  The way we approach them every day will send our children a clear answer to this question.  The average Christian kid probably thinks that his parents want him to be a star athlete, who earns a scholarship to an elite secular college (getting free tickets for mom and dad along the way), earning his masters degree, and making millions in big business by the time he is 30, while consistently attending church on a weekly basis, and producing several grandkids down the road.  Why would he think differently based on what we push as parents, and when most of us sit down and think about it, we really do want this don't we?  But, you might reason that "sports will provide a sense of teamwork and dedication, while college will open his mind to the things of the world, and teach him independence, and the master's degree will give him more opportunity, and the millions will provide insurance, retirement, and income to keep the grandkids healthy and fed, and going to church...well, it's just the right thing to do for a young family." 

Again, each of these things might have some degree of truth, and they can be individually beneficial.  But, as Christian parents raising Christian kids, shouldn't we set Christian goals above secular ones?  Even in Christian circles, I rarely hear parents say, "My dream for my child is for him to to completely devote his life to Christ, no matter what that might look like, or where it might take him."  What if that means he ends up ministering to homeless folks every day, or sharing the gospel in the lost world, or even taking the grandchildren to Africa as a full-time missionary?  Our first inclination as parents is often to say, "how will you make an income?"  "Is this normal?"  "I mean, Christianity is great, but don't you think you have taken this a little too far?" 

When it comes down to it, we just have a hard time resisting the temptation of the American Dream for our kids, even if it costs them spiritually.  Ironically, most Christian parents would be more excited if their kids got a high-level job in a secular corporation than if they served the poor on the mission field.  Again, I am not saying that God could not call someone to either of these options, He certainly could.  But, we must be careful to allow God to make the choice, not us. 

Do you really want to give your children the best opportunities in this world?  Phillippians 4:13, says "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  All things?  All things!  How?  Through Christ Who strengthens us.  We are way too incapable in ourselves.  Can our kids do all things through a master's degree?  Can our kids do all things with 10 million dollars?  Can our kids do all things through athletic accomplishments?  We would all agree that they cannot.  So, if we believe the Bible (and that really is the question, isn't it?) is true, then why don't we push our children toward Jesus more often, instead of all these other things?  Even deeper, in John 15:5, Jesus says, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing."  So the home runs, touchdowns, doctorates, and riches are completely meaningless without a real relationship with Christ?  Yep.  When He says "nothing", He means NOTHING.

Here's the kicker.  In Luke 6:40, Jesus tells us that "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher."  This can refer to professional "teachers", but in reality, refers to those who spend the most time with a child (parents, family, teachers, coaches).  In an average week, my kids spend approximately this much time in various parts of their lives:

3% at church
8% at activities (sports, friends, etc.)
24% at school
30% awake at home
35% sleeping (they sleep alot on Saturdays)

Doesn't this list stand to reason (prompted by the above scripture) that home has the greatest influence on a child, followed by school?  Then, why do we seek so many other options to create successful kids?  This is why my kids attend HCA.  Gayle and I only have 30% of our kids' lives under our direct supervision.  And, when we reduce this to our true quality time, it is certainly far less than that.  Taking sleep out of the picture, this means that about 35% of their lives are spent being influenced by someone else.  If Jesus' words are true, then whomever is teaching them during this 35% will significantly mold who they will become in life.  As a Christian dad, it is my responsibility to make sure that those people are leading my kids in truth and righteousness, allowing them to be "transformed by the renewing of their minds", and not "conformed to the world". 

The key, as in any human relationship, is time.  How much time am I investing in my children?  How do I lead them to use their extra time?  What does their time away from me look like?  Is it spent in action, discussion, and thoughts about what is "true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise"?  (Phil. 4:8).  Or is it spent on worthless things, like video games, television, or gossipping through texts and Facebook?  (By the way, texting and Facebook can be used for good purposes, but if you are not supervising these things with your child, you are making a grave mistake)  As parents, let's commit to monitoring our time and our kids' time.  Let's invest in them completely.  This is the only chance we get. 

HCA would like to renew our commitment to partnering with Christian parents in promoting scriptural holiness and righteousness to our kids, through adults who are devoted to the Lord in their personal lives, so that we can all be excited about the fact that our students will one day be just like their teachers.  None of us are perfect, but there is truth in the statement that "there is strength in numbers".  We are all in this together, for the same purpose.  Our kids, families, friends, and our God deserve our very best.  Nothing else matters.

It continues to be an honor to serve Him while serving you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hope in Haiti - Introducing Liberty Academy

I have the honor of spending this week in Haiti, working on the foundations of an American-style school in St. Marc.  The school has operated since 1995 (same as HCA, by the way) under Youth With A Mission (YWAM), but has always struggled to stay alive with limited funding and inconsistent staff and faculty.  Our ministry, New Vision Ministries, has chosen to take over the directorship of this school, and to try to establish real Christian education in St. Marc, a city of over 100,000, but without any quality schools. 

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of schools in St. Marc, but the Haitian government schools are pitifully run, and even moreso than in America (amazingly enough), they completely rely on standardized tests to determine success.  Since I mentioned it, let's all step back and think about this for a minute...If my kid can recite enough information to pass a test that his teacher did not create, should I really be satisfied as a parent?  Has he actually learned anything?  Or is he just a good memorizer?  There is a big difference between producing a great thinker, and a Trivial Pursuit Champion.  OK, off the soapbox and back to my day...

While I have been working in schools in Haiti for years, most of my work has been in meeting basic physical needs.  We feed children lunch, who would otherwise go hungry.  We deliver school supplies to kids who could never afford them.  We provide uniforms to poor kids who are not allowed to go to school without them.  We sponsor teachers and principals to provide leadership in schools that cannot possibly pay their employees.  And all this is wonderful and fulfilling to say the least.  However, the potential in this school will be different from the others I have worked in. 

For one thing, this school is led by American teachers, uses American curriculum, and focuses on the values of Western Christian culture, like honesty, integrity, respect, etc.  You might say, it is very arrogant to claim that the American way of education is better than the Haitian way.  Maybe, but I have spent enough time here over the years to easily support that claim 1000 fold.  Plus, real arrogance would be to have a great thing and refuse to share it with those who are in need.  We were blessed to have eight American young ladies volunteer to spend a year in Haiti to get the school off to a good start.  Five of them are going to teach, and the other three are helping with the logistics of running the school, including our own Elizabeth Johnson (HCA class of 2009).  And, of course, my good friends, Kerry and Joy Reeves are going to oversee this process as another commponent of New Vision Ministries. 

So far, we have 31 students signed up to attend Liberty Academy this school year, most of them in K-5, but about six of them in middle/high school.  Our hope is that the school will mirror HCA's mission in Equipping Children Today to become God's Leaders Tomorrow.  As desperate as the United States is to have true Christian leadership, Haiti is infinitely more desperate.  I am sitting in a country that has over 80% unemployment, and 50% literacy.  The people here are taught to grab what they can get, even if it means lying, cheating, and manipulating.  I know you may be thinking that it is that way in America these days as well, but at least we know it is wrong.  These things are so engrained in the Haitian culture that they don't think twice about it.  It is very difficult to alter a culture, but if you are going to do it, it must begin with the children.  This is our opening. 

The school will be an English-only school.  There are several reasons for this.  One, if a Haitian kid learns English, his chances of survival and success in this world muliply greatly.  Secondly, all the quality curriculum is written in English.  Third, it is so much easier to find good English-speaking Christian teachers.  I have spent this week working with these teachers, training them in scriptural world-view education, sharing with them classical methodology, and praying that God will choose to give them success.  These young ladies have come with a wonderful attitude and a sacrificall heart.  None of them will be paid for teaching this year.  It is their sacrifice to the Lord. 

This is the second international school that HCA has had a hand in creating  and supporting over the past three years, the other in Lares, Puerto Rico.  Please pray that God continues to allow us to have an impact for His kingdom in Hickory, North Carolina, and around the world.  I am honored to represent each of you as I look into the eyes of these precious children who are seemingly born without hope, and to point them in the direction of their only rescuer, Jesus Christ.  Just as He is the only reason that HCA is great, He will be the only reason that hope comes to the hopeless in Haiti, or anywhere else in the world.  Please join me in praying for Liberty Academy this year.  To whom much is given, much is required.  HCA has been given so much.  It is awesome to be able to share our gifts in such tangible ways. 

See you next week, and tell your kids to behave while I am gone!  Thanks again, Gayle, for holding down the Robinson fort while I have been gone.  You are wonderful and amazing. 

Liberty Academy Faculty and Staff, including Liz Johnson from HCA (far left)

Liberty Academy, St. Marc, Haiti

View from the other side

First and Second Grade Classroom

Pillow Case dress made by my mom for
Gigi Ville, one of our sponsored kids.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Liam Taylor joins the HCA family

Congratulations to Matt and Katie Taylor on the birth of their first child.  Liam Taylor was born Sunday night, Sept. 4.  He was 8 lbs. 4 oz. and 21 inches.  He has a cute little round head full of black hair.  Mom and dad are doing great, and we are so excited to have a new kindergartener on the waiting list for the 2016-2017 school year.  Mrs. Taylor will be home with Liam during the first semester this year, and will return to her 6th grade classroom in January.  In the meantime, we are so blessed to have Connie Hall teaching the class.  New babies, covered classes, wonderful people...God is so good!

Matt, Katie, and Liam