Orphan Train

Across from our shop, there is a mural that tells the story of the first “Orphan Train.” In October of 1854, 45 children– some orphaned, others abandoned–arrived in southwest Michigan from New York City. Conditions for such children in the large cities were dangerous. Floods of immigrants included children who had lost their parents on the voyage to America, or who had been separated from their families upon arrival. There were very few orphanages, and almost no resources dedicated to child welfare. Hunger, disease, crime, and exposure to the elements meant that many children never lived to maturity. Most of them lived on the streets; ignored, preyed upon, or simply forgotten. A group called the Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1853, had tried helping children– especially boys–but their limited resources were overwhelmed within the first year.

Orphan Train mural, Dowagiac, Michigan (Ruth Andrews)

It was the idea of a man named Charles Loring Brace that large numbers of these children could escape the dangerous environs of the city and find safety and hope in the expanding “West.” With the help of the new railroads, groups of children could travel west, where kind-hearted families could adopt them. Food, shelter, education, fresh air, opportunity, and a loving family- this was the promise of the orphan train. For some children, it was the start of a wonderful new life. For some, it was trading a hard life in the city for a hard life on the frontier.

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I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for the first train-load of orphans to travel here. Few people had ever traveled by train in those days. Some of the children had never traveled more than a few blocks from where they had been born– had never seen a farm or a forest. Part of their journey was on a steamboat. The journey would not have been comfortable, but it would have been exciting and even terrifying at times. They had no guarantee of finding homes or families who would be willing to take care of them– only the hope that someone might.

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What does this have to do with prayer? Well, the obvious connection would be that everyone involved with this venture must have prayed diligently. All 45 children were placed with local families in that first journey. And the success of this first placement encouraged future endeavors. The “orphan trains” ran for 75 years, and carried nearly a quarter of a million children to new homes throughout the growing United States. And while not every child found a “happy ending” with their new family, most of them survived to create a new life as adults–an opportunity many other orphans had been denied.

Orphan Train Mural, Dowagiac, Michigan (Ruth Andrews)

But it struck me today, as I was looking at the mural and thinking about the fate of these children, that we are or were all in a similar situation. I am so thankful to be able to pray to my Loving Father– but there was a time when I was lost and without hope. There was a time when Sin had made me an orphan. I was alone and frightened and helpless to save myself. Like the orphans in first part of the mural, I was sick and sad, my best intentions were no more than tattered rags. Even as they line up to board the train, their faces show fear and pain.

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It can be frightening to call out to God– frightening to leave the life we know, even when it is dangerous and unhealthy. God’s way takes us to uncomfortable and unfamiliar places–we can’t see the road ahead, and we don’t know what our “new” life will be like.

As I gaze once again at the mural, the last section shows an idealized version of the “new life” experienced by the riders of the “Orphan Train.” It shows a groups of children in a circle, holding hands and playing in the sunshine among grass and trees, while a bird flutters nearby. It is a heavenly place– the children’s clothes are clean, and they look healthy and happy. And while this is an ideal, rather than the reality for some of the children, it is a reminder of the contrast with the life they left behind.

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Thanks be to God for His Grace that rescues us from the ravages of Sin. He offers us an escape to a new life– complete with a new family and a glorious hope of Heaven. He offers full adoption– guaranteed by the blood of His own Son– for those who will choose to leave their old life of Sin behind and travel as an orphan on His own “Orphan Train.”

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Galatians 4:1-6 ESV (via biblegateway.com)

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/adoption-the-heart-of-the-gospel

…And I Will Dwell In the House of the Lord..

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, churches are being asked to suspend meetings– worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings–all must be conducted via internet, or some other remote broadcasting option. This will be the first Easter in modern memory when millions of people will be unable to celebrate in church.

I miss going to church. I miss seeing and talking to my friends. I miss singing as a congregation, and praying together. I miss my weekly Bible study group, my Sunday School group, and I miss seeing the kids jumping and twirling and full of energy. I miss visiting the “house of the Lord.”

But there are three very important things this time is teaching me:

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  • I miss “visiting” the house of the Lord, not “dwelling” there. There is a huge difference. As a member of the “body” of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28) IN Him. I do not “visit” the body– I AM part of the body– which brings me to..
  • The building is NOT the “Church.” Our church is still operating– just in different ways for the different circumstances. Members are making phone calls, sending e-mails, greeting cards, and creating web content to help share resources, provide encouragement and prayer support, and inspire others. We’ve been praying for those who are battling COVID-19— some are suffering from the disease; others are on the front lines– doctors, nurses, emergency workers, “essential” services workers in groceries, post offices, truckers, and more; some are suffering financially from lay-offs and losses. We are sharing specific names and needs as they arise–church members, neighbors, extended family, needs close to home or around the globe. Even if we are not meeting face-to-face in a particular building, we are still The Church, and I am “dwelling” there.
  • We have been asked to “shelter in place”– to stay in our dwellings. And that is precisely what God asks of us, as well. We need to dwell in the House of the Lord through this crisis. He is our shelter, our place of safety, and our rest. Instead of seeing this as a negative, or a set-back, we can use this time to celebrate the safety of our eternal dwelling place– safe in the arms of our Savior!
  • Finally, I WILL dwell in the House of the Lord– I already am a member of the body; I already dwell in unity with the Church; I already live in the presence of God and with His Spirit– someday I will dwell with Him face-to-face in the same kind of intimacy I am missing now with my fellow believers. What I am missing now should cause me to be joyful! This is temporary– what will be is eternal and will never be interrupted by disease, distance, or the imperfections of our current fallen world.
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COVID-19 is the visitor– unwelcome, scary, dangerous, yes, but as a child of God, I dwell in the House of the Lord– and COVID-19 can’t change that for me or for anyone else who calls on the name of Jesus! Ever!

Of Mighty Winds and Strong Towers

Seventeen years ago today, I was, like many people around the world, glued to a TV watching with horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were spewing fire, ash, paper, and even bodies before collapsing.  I sat in shock as I watched footage of the second plane smashing into the south tower.  People running away as rescue vehicles rushed toward the panic.  And as the towers fell, the smoke rose, filled with the last breaths of those trapped inside, along with the collective breaths of their families, friends, and the world.  A silent gray gasp– a frozen moment of silence in the midst of sirens and screams.  Time stopped at least twice that day.  Motions and emotions were suspended in those columns of smoke– love and memory, hopes and dreams– all drifted silently away from the open wound that was lower Manhattan.

History Channel 9/11 Timeline

Reports came of further hijackings and an attack at the Pentagon.  We were stunned; we were horrified; we were helpless.

fireman holding hose during daytime
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And then, amazing things started to happen.  Stories of heroism and miraculous rescues.  The initial estimates of people killed ranged in the tens of thousands–all morning, they climbed higher– by Wednesday, they began to fall as more people were located.  Others were rescued from the debris as thousands of workers poured in to help.  Caravans and convoys of supplies– food, water, medical supplies, rescue workers and excavators– rolled, sailed, walked, or were ferried in.  In the first years, more stories emerged.   As horrific and tragic as the events of 9/11 were, they could have been even worse.  The initial panic morphed into resolve.  People who wouldn’t have spoken to their neighbors now worked side by side in shelters and clean-up efforts.  People who shouldn’t have lived through it did, while others who shouldn’t have cared willingly shared their time, their resources, their skills, their homes, and even their lives to help others.

fire fighter wearing black and yellow uniform pointing for something
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Ironically, the buildings were designed to withstand a hurricane.  Today, the east coast of the U.S., including potentially New York City, is preparing for the arrival of a hurricane.  The buildings of the World Trade Center were built with the hope that they would be strong enough to survive high winds and floods; able to provide emergency shelter and protection to thousands in the event of a natural disaster.  They were leveled by an unnatural force of evil and hatred meant to destroy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

aerial view atmosphere clouds cold front
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There are no man-made towers that can protect against the force of evil in our world– mighty winds of change, forces of nature, powerful attacks, acts of war, and collapse can occur without warning.  There is only one strong tower that can withstand the deadly forces of sin and hate and despair.  God stands firm and unshakable, offering to save all who come within His embrace.  He may not bring us through without wounds; He may even allow us to go through the valley of the shadow of death.  He doesn’t promise perfect weather or days without struggles.  He won’t remove us from the storm, but He invites us to take our shelter in Him.  He won’t make you take shelter; he won’t make you evacuate your house built on the sand.  He may calm the storm or stop the winds and waves.  He may ask us to weather them in their full force.  We may even lose this mortal life, but He will keep the soul that is stayed on Him.  And He won’t leave us to face the storm alone.

island during golden hour and upcoming storm
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Today, I pray for those who are remembering that horrible day in 2001, and those who are facing an uncertain 9/11 today.  May each one feel God’s strength, shelter, and comfort in the midst of this life’s storms.

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