To say that I went to Moldova kicking and screaming would be strong, but to say I went a bit tired and with my arms folded—and a little concerned about the unrest in that part of the world—is just about right. So, where in the world is Moldova, you ask? See llustration #1


My sister’s co-worker left this on her door while she was in Moldova. In case someone needed her.

Simply put, the part of my heart that’s devoted to missions and ‘others, Lord’ was already full of the Amazon and a few long-standing activities I had going on at home—there’s only so much love and selflessness to go around, you know? But the ministry I partner with in the Amazon, Justice and Mercy International, has been working with the orphan population in Moldova for a decade now. It was time I saw the work firsthand. Still, my mantra was firm: I have no more of my heart to give away; I’m just coming to observe. To try the stuffed cabbage rolls.

And then I walked into a swarm of approximately 80 vulnerable and/or orphaned children in the western countryside of Moldova. And I realized that the space God gives a person for the poor and orphaned isn’t a fixed compartment you try to keep at a comfortable capacity. Rather, the borders keep expanding with each new face. Every fresh name. Another story of an individual life.

Enter Clara, Marta, Sofia, Nicoletta, Victor, Igor, Olga, Petro… (names changed to protect identity).

I’ll be sharing more about the work of JMI in the days, weeks and prayerfully years to come. But right now I want to ask you a question. It’s a question that was asked me a number of years ago: Do you know the name of a poor person? Not, do you know where poor people live or do you hand the homeless a dollar on occasion, but do you know the name of a poor person? I shared a few names above and they’re ones I’m putting before the throne of Jesus these days. Father, protect Sofia from the physical blows of her teenage brothers, keep Victor diligent in his school work, come to the rescue of Marta, Clara, Claudia, three sisters living in a shelter whose “mom road away on a horse one day and never came back.”—the exact quote of the five year-old.

I’ve decided that when I get to know names I have more time and more resources than I thought had—than I thought before boarding that plane to Moldova. Yes, the Amazon is still pressing on my heart and so are the people of my local church and so now are the people of Moldova and, guess what, all of them propel and inform the service of the others. God is masterful at replenishing our love and expanding our capacity when we reach out to the forgotten, those on the fringes of society.

Okay, but we have a reality happening: We’re compassion-fatigued. We’re overwhelmed by the need, flat numb from the pleas of non-profits, unsure of where to send our money or devote our time. So let me encourage you. Ask God to give you a name.

Ask Him to give you a heart for a nation.

Or a neighborhood.

Or a neighbor. 

Because when God gives you a face and a name (in America or in the Amazon or on your street or in your church), He gives you room in your heart. When you don’t think you can cut out another latte a month to sponsor that child, you’ll remember  his peculiar smile and you’ll figure it out. When you don’t have it in you to lead the youth group through another semester, that one teenager will lure you back. The morning you’re dying to sleep in, you’ll set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to pray for the orphan who stole your heart. The day you just can’t board another plane, you’ll cram yourself into the nosebleeds of coach one more time to hold a little girl, to kiss her forehead. (Even if you’re sure your hugs and kisses are all accounted for.) Because this is what happens when God gives you a name.

So, start by praying. Start by asking your local church where you can get involved. If you need another place to start, visit Justice and Mercy International.

***Lastly, I’m simply excited to share with you the bigger version of this story God has been working out in my life over the past several years. Wherever The River Runs is my most personal and honest book to date, and it may help bring focus to what God is asking of you. Mostly it’s about how loving the poor has enriched my life and my relationship with Jesus, and how it will enrich yours too.

Will you ask God for a name?