A Front Row Seat to God At Work

I want to tell you a little bit about Mike. I don’t even know Mike’s last name (though I have heard it before) but Mike has played an important role at GLA. How so?

There were a number of years where GLA needed and hired security to ride with on airport runs. The atmosphere was such that there was concern about the safety in between the airport and the orphanage. Mike was a friend of the Bickel family and he ran a security company that provided that security. Let’s just say that I felt a lot more secure with Mike or one of his staff riding shotgun.

At the time of the earthquake, Mike and his wife and daughter were living at the Hotel Montana. Mike was working with the US Embassy providing security, training, advising and coordination. He was at work when the earthquake happened. He was not able to find out what happened to his wife or daughter for over 2 days.

It was known already on Tuesday night that the Hotel Montana (which was actually more like an apartment complex) was devastated by the earthquake. Many foreigners lives there and many of them died there. So, on Tuesday night, Mike already knew that the Hotel Montana had been devastated by the quake. But he did not know what happened to his wife and daughter in the quake. He was not able to find them for two days.

Can you imagine not knowing for 2 days what happened to your family? And still doing your job because you knew that others lives depended on you? That’s the kind of dedication I admire and respect very deeply.

As it turns out, Mike’s wife and daughter were safe. They were able to get out of the country and returned to Miami where it was a lot safer for them to live while the “dust” settled. While they were in Miami, Mike was working and staying at the US Embassy. When I say staying, he was working 18 to 20 hours a day and sleeping on a blanket on a cement floor inside the Embassy. Truly putting the needs of others, the needs of the children at God’s Littlest Angels and those injured and homeless above his own comfort and even his own needs.

While this was going on, I was talking to Laurie Bickel (Dixie’s daughter). She’s been a friend of Mike’s since high school and I asked her if Mike needed anything – was there anything that our supporters and our adoptive families could do to help him and show him a little of how grateful we are for what he is doing and has done? She said she’d talk to him and find out.

The next day, she came back and said, “Hey Tom, I talked to Mike and he said that all he needs is a laptop. He lost his in the collapse of the Hotel Montana and he uses it a lot to advise the Haitian police, to manage intelligence reports, to track trouble and clear routes and it is really hard for him to do his job without his own computer.” “I’m on it.”

So, I sat down and spent about 30 minutes writing out the story. I hit “submit” and posted it on the blog and then I sat back and waited.

20 minutes later, I got an e-mail from a lady in Florida – “Tom, I’ve got Mike’s computer, let me know the specs he wants and where to get it.”

20 minutes and someone heard Mike’s story, realized what he was giving up to help those who are less fortunate and the need was met.

That’s what I call a Front Row seat at watching God at work.

True to Their Profession

One of the amazing things that I witnessed during the first weeks after the earthquake was the way that the medical profession stepped up to help those devastated by the earthquake. Let me give you a few examples:

Thursday night is when it was decided that my wife would be part of the medical team traveling in to help at GLA. By Friday, we had doctors and nurses collecting supplies and bringing them to our house for her to take along. A couple of the doctors who brought supplies to us drove more than 2 hours to get it to us in time. Thanks to the generosity of them, she was able to bring more medical supplies down and medical supplies that those of us who are not medical professionals probably couldn’t provide.

There is an international business that is based in West Michigan who, for several months, used their private planes and flew teams of doctors down to Haiti to help and provide medical and particularly orthopedic care. I’ve heard it estimated that a private plane costs $40,000 to fly down there and back. If that’s true, then they spent a LOT of money helping in Haiti.

The University of Miami set up a hospital at the airport in Port Au Prince. They would fly doctors in from Miami, they’d work a 30 hour shift and then they’d fly them back to Miami. So, not only did they set up an entire hospital, they flew doctors back and forth at least 6 or 7 times per week. That’s a serious dedication to helping the injured and the sick.

There’s a doctor outside of San Francisco who, when asked by one of her pharmaceutical reps to help find 2,000 tetanus vaccines to be sent to Haiti said, “Even though there’s a worldwide shortage of tetanus vaccines, we’ll find them.” More to that story later.

There’s another story that I’m going to tell you about later…

There are countless other stories of doctors operating (literally) in horrific conditions after the earthquake, saving countless lives and providing medical care that was desperately needed without concern for their discomfort, their exhaustion or any cost. It was truly impressive to witness and be involved in in a very small way.

On behalf of those who needed help after the disaster, thank you to all of the medical professionals who answered the call.

Facebook and the Book of Job

Many things can be said about Facebook – some of them good, some of them bad.    But I bet very few of them tie Facebook to the book of Job.  

Facebook is, in many ways, like the “water cooler” of another age.   It’s the meeting place for millions of people – where they can share the good, the bad, their frustrations, their sadness, their victories, their defeats.   In short, it’s an opportunity to share life with your friends whether they are across town, across the country or around the world.

And many of those “life moments” that are shared are not happy ones.   Death, job losses, plane cancellations, ChickV virus impacting little children, troubles with __________ (fill in the blank with your choice).

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that when someone posts one of those  moments that aren’t happy, there are a lot of friends who respond, not with a simple, “I’m sorry.”    Or, I’ll be praying that it improves or I hear you.    No,  instead the tendency is to “spout” Bible verses.   Verses about God having a plan, verses about God not giving us more than we can bear, verses about the “joys” of being a Christian.

People, that is NOT what someone wants to hear when they just dealt with a job loss.   That is not what they want to hear when they just finished helping their child through a major emotional crisis.  

Read Job 2:11-13 (The Message) about what Job’s friends did after he lost everything – all of his earthly belongs and all of his children:

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.

There were a lot of other things that they screwed up on, but in this issue, I think they got it right.    For 7 days and nights, all they did was sat with their friend Job in his sorrow.    They didn’t try to say anything to cheer him up.    They didn’t try to make it go away.   They sat in the sadness and made sure their friend didn’t feel alone.

The next time one of your friends, in real life or on Facebook, posts some bad news, some sad news, some difficult news, don’t try to make it all better.    Odds are very good that they know all of those verses already.   Instead, sit with them in their sadness.    Allow them to be angry, allow them to feel sad, to mourn the loss.    Be with them, make sure they don’t feel alone.

That’s the best gift that Facebook can give someone who is hurting…….


Be Weird…..

Jeff Goins is a writer who I’ve truly come to admire.   He has a very refreshing way of looking at things and I’ve learned a lot from him about waiting, about being “in the moment” and about looking for God’s plan.

He wrote a piece called “Illusions” that has come to mean a lot to me.    I wish I had known it (and believed it) many years ago when I was younger.  

A couple of things that he said that hit home……

“what makes you weird is what makes you you” – think about that.   Many people feel like they are weird, many people feel like they don’t fit in.   But they do.   They fit in like their own individual piece of the puzzle.   Go people watching at a major international airport some time.   You’ll see a lot of weird. 

But it’s not really weird.   It’s just you and you and you and you being the you that you were meant to be.   And it’s not the urge to conform, the urge to fit in that allows you to make a difference in the world.   That actually gets in the way of making a difference.

And soon, you will see that the weirdos, the misfits, the outcasts, these are the people who get things done. Who truly change the world.

It’s the Harvard Med School graduate who used to live in a school bus (Paul Farmer).

It’s the college drop out who built a computer company and now is out to do radical things like eliminate diseases (Bill Gates).

It’s the attorney who rides a longboard to his office at Disneyland’s Adventure Cove and spends a lot of his time fighting child trafficking in Uganda (because Love Does) – (Bob Goff)

It’s the high school senior who fell in love with a country and a continent and came back to adopt many of the girls there – (Katie Davis).

It’s the “stay at home mom” who couldn’t ignore the needs of the kids in Kenya (beyond the two she adopted) and started Mothers Fighting for Others (Rocky Turner)

It’s the mom who adopted two kids from Haiti and stayed to start a business that employs hundreds of Haitians so they don’t have to put their kids up for adoption (Shelley Clay)

It’s the……  I could go on for hours and days listing all of the amazing people who many would consider weird.

But these are people who are changing the world with their weird.  They are changing the world with their initiative, changing the world with their willingness to be different.   The world is a better place because of Paul, Bob, Katie, Rocky, Shelley and more.

If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be starting my own non-profit organization with the goal of combatting poverty and eliminate the poverty orphan syndrome through online business and prayer, I would have said that you are the one who is nuts. 

But God’s got a sense of humor and here I am.   The Vulnerable Project is still in its infancy but it will have three distinct parts to it:

  • The online store – all of the items that will be for sale at http://thevulnerableproject.org/store/ will specifically benefit The Vulnerable Project, organizations that are already on the ground in Haiti and elsewhere and most importantly people in that country who are struggling to make a living.
  • The grant program – the target (at the start) is to invest 50% of The Vulnerable Project’s proceeds back into the organizations that we work with.   These investments will be focused on specific measurable projects that help them do their work better.
  • Prayer – I firmly believe that we are engaged in a deep spiritual battle and a concerted effort will be made to combat that through targeted prayer.    I hope you’ll join us.   http://thevulnerableproject.org/praying-for-the-vulnerable/

Weird?  To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever combined these type of efforts together.   So, I guess you could say so.

Exciting?   It is.    It’s going to be exciting to see what God has planned.

I hope you’ll join me!


p.s. It feels really weird to talk about these people who are changing the world and talking about my plans in the same post…..   I guess that’s a good thing?

30,000 Ft. Questions–Part 4–Is Sean Penn a Rock star or a “Rock Star?”

How did the NGO’s(non-governmental organizations) do in disaster relief – both in the short term and in the long term? That’s a hard question to answer. There were many organizations and many people who did a phenomenal job at making a difference in very difficult situations. Not just very difficult situations, but in downright horrific situations.

But, unfortunately, there was a lot of money wasted, a lot of money that was donated that never came in and actually did anything. Many of the governments that promised aid had a requirement that it be spent with organizations from that country. So, you had countries who were “donating” the money and then it was creating jobs and benefiting companies in that country. Did they still make a difference? Absolutely. But did it make a difference as much as it could? I think the answer to that question isn’t nearly as positive.

Is Sean Penn a rock star or a “rock star?” What do I mean by that question? Was Sean Penn involved in Haiti to make himself feel good and/or to look good? Or was Sean Penn involved in Haiti because he truly feels that he wants to make a difference and is in it for the long haul? The closest I’ve come to actually meeting Sean is when he went through the VIP line and boarded the same plane I was getting on coming home in February of 2011.

From everything I’ve heard, Sean and his organization, JPHRO, are taking the time to do things right, to empower the local Haitians, to work with other organizations and do more than just put bandaids on things. I heard (not verified) that for the first 9 months, Sean slept on a cot in a big tent with all of their volunteer workers. So, I’d say he is a rock star in the sense of being someone who is devoted to doing it, doing it right and doing it the way that benefits the Haitians most.