Complacency; a wily assassin

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

~Poet Ralf Waldo Emerson

 

Recently a friend sent Sal and I a video about the man who started the Free Burma Rangers. His family tells an incredible story of being called to the mission field in the middle of a war zone and ethnic cleansing and how they demonstrated the love of Christ by helping the oppressed, extracting children caught behind enemy lines, equipping local peoples and more. As I watched him run through ISIS gunfire to rescue a young girl who sat clinging to her dead mother, I was convicted to tears. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I am so easily distracted and lulled by the mundane. Help me to keep running and not to take my eyes off the prize.”

Photo courtesy: Chris Sinclair; Christianitytoday.com
The Eubank family, founders of Free Burma Rangers.

 

Paul writes, “… we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” (Romans 5:3-5) I think the inverse is also true. One could say, “We know that comfort produces complacency; complacency, passivity; and passivity, apathy. And apathy is the enemy to love and will ultimately destroy us.”

Picnic tables encourage quality family time much more than couches do for the Sanchez Family

One of the greatest struggles in my life has been continually living with intentionality. Sure, it’s easy to stir up some fiery emotions and get motivated for a time, but as hours stretch into days and then into weeks and years, it’s so easy to be lulled into a stupor by the relentless cradle of the mundane. Comfort is one of my greatest enemies. When we are stateside and friends visit us, they often ask if we’d like a couch or a television and they’re confused when we decline. But the truth is, typical American comforts make me lazy. When we stay with friends and family who have couches, I find myself spending a ridiculous amount of time sitting and sending my kids to fetch things that I should be up getting myself. Now, to be fair, there is, of course, nothing inherently evil about the couch; the problem is my own lack of self-discipline. However, why needlessly subject myself to such a source of temptation to be lazy?

The temptation, however, doesn’t end with physical comforts. In the absence of these things I’m drawn to seek comfort in routines, schedules and programs. I start to conjure up a false sense of security which leads to a satisfaction with how things are- with the status quo. When I get comfortable, I relax and my awareness of the needs of those around me gets dull. What a precarious life we live!

A couple of our kids out in Rhino Refugee Settlement

Sometimes the things we see overseas and the abject poverty that surrounds us haunt me when I return to the US. I feel guilty about living comfortably while knowing that one of my unofficially adopted daughters overseas is facing eviction, or that a beautiful little girl who used to come to Sunday School in the refugee camp will be sleeping in the mud, or in a grown man’s bed. We will take our family out to eat at Pizza Hut and suddenly I see lovely but gaunt faces looking in through the window at me.

Because of this, sometimes I live rather existentially. By only focusing on what is immediately in front of me, I can avoid some of the unpleasant feelings, but this causes other problems. Without meaning to I can loose motivation, lose the heart that drove me forward to make a difference and deaden the voice of God in my life. I’m not saying that we should wallow in sorrows that we can do nothing about. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” However, we do have to guard diligently against getting distracted and loosing sight of our mission.

After all, if we are children of God, we have a heaven-assigned mission to do good and to share the Good News in word and deed.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

~John Wesley

Hadassah reading before bed

I believe that one of the greatest tactics of the devil in America is busyness and distraction. The statistics on the average amount of screen time we spend daily are staggering. I get it; when that notification goes off alerting me to a new message I’m like Pavlov’s dog drooling at the sound of a dinner bell. The amount of social media communication that people expect from us is insane. Demands on our time from work, school, family, church, sports, etc. seem impossible to satisfy. I’m always surprised how strong the pull of this American lifestyle is and how quickly I get sucked into it every time we return stateside. I’m constantly re-evaluating how I’m spending my time and reorganizing my priorities.

What does this have to do with a video I watched earlier this week? Please bear with me as I try to pull my thoughts together. Not too long ago I was unwittingly just going through the motions. Without realizing it I had lost much of my zeal, bogged down by the daily grind. We were moving forward, fundraising, sharing about our vision in East Africa and the Horn, making plans on how we would return amongst the Covid crisis and sending some aid to our partners still working in Uganda. However, my heart was heavy with a lethargic tiredness. That’s not to say that I had lost any belief in our work. On the contrary, I was and am genuinely excited about the direction God is taking us. However, at some point the necessary focus on things like budgets, travel plans and preparing another school year turned into being consumed by the concerns of this world and too much passion was wrung out from my heart.

Arua kids who come for one of our weekly children’s programs

Then I watched this video about a missionary family doing something truly extraordinary for Jesus and it was like a defibrillator shock to my heart. It’s crazy how our God-given calling is so intertwined with how we see God. All at once I was reminded of the bigness and goodness of God, of my love for Him and challenged to live radically for Him. I was reminded that God’s plans for us are bigger than our pocketbook or budget, wilder than our dreams and imaginations, greater than our natural abilities and so beyond us.

He fills my heart with passion and motivation, and like Peter, I have to keep my eyes on Him if I am to walk on water. The moment my attention turns to the cares of this world I start to sink. God will also guide me in processing the sorrows without detaching from them so that through sanctification I can become more like Christ who was at once a man of sorrows and filled with joy.

Rhino Refugee Settlement, Northern Uganda

And I wonder if I am not alone in this. If a missionary to Africa can get lost in the seductive draw of the mundane, distraction, comfort and complacency, I have to imagine that American Christians immersed in this culture can also fall prey to it. Please be encouraged to discover or rediscover your God-given destiny for adventure and a life that is significant because it makes a difference. God made you for a purpose and it will undoubtedly be a destiny filled with excitement, sorrow, joy, pain, adventure, love, loss and daring, but you have to break out of the world’s cookie-cutter to find it.

Thank you for reading this post and God bless.

“Why do so many people do nothing? I think it’s because most of us look at the evils and injustice around us, and we become overwhelmed. The problems look too big for us to tackle. We say to ourselves, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ One person is a start. One person can act and make a change by helping another. One person can inspire a second person to be intentional, and another. Those people can work together. They can becoe a movement. They can make and impact. We should never let what we cannot do keep us from doing what we can do. A passive life does not become a meaningful life.”

~John C. Maxwell, Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters

Farm Life

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Luckily this business didn’t mind me parking in their lot for hours as I wrote my blog. It’s one of the few places I get wireless internet.

As a homeschooling RVing family, we have thankfully been minimally affected by the Covid-19 crisis. It is, in fact, the reason why I am writing this post while sitting in my truck parked outside of a Title Loans business that doesn’t mind loiterers rather than typing comfortably at a cafe while sipping on a chai latte. It’s also the reason this post is significantly late in being uploaded, but on the scale of genuine consequence, that ranks pretty low. For this reason, and because everyone else seems to be talking about it, I feel no need to add my opinions to the never-ending global editorial on the Corona virus situation. Instead, I’m going to share some reflections on our first months in North Carolina and life on the farm.

A couple of months ago we moved full-time into our 26-foot camper. We pulled it out of a northern Michigan snowbank and headed for warmer weather. Our first landing spot was a farm just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. In exchange for farm chores we got a place to park our camper while we settled into the Charlotte area.

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Mila feeding the farm animals

The girls were assigned the chores of feeding the animals (an assortment of goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits), cleaning their pens and gathering eggs. With incredible ease they settled into a routine of waking up early to complete their chores before school hours and penning up the chickens before bed. Having a farm with animals is a dream of our family, one which we recognize is unlikely in our future, so the girls really poured themselves into the responsibility and cherished every moment knowing that it was only temporary. As we prepared to move off of the farm, the girls told me that the thing they would miss the most is their farm chores.

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For my eldest daughter’s birthday, we took a trip to the coast for the weekend. It unexpectedly included civil disobedience and running off the beach away from police. Please don’t judge us too harshly; we did practice social distancing. 😉

We live a fairly simple life. All we own fits in our camper (plus a small spill-over closet at mom’s house). We don’t take fancy vacations or go to fancy restaurants. Having a very cultured and mature worldview, our girls try very hard to avoid the typical American teen drama (except perhaps my youngest who is quite the drama queen). We don’t usually give gifts for birthdays, we do something special as a family instead. When we do give gifts, they are usually necessities, always practical and often homemade. Such is the life of a missionary family, and we love it. It creates an atmosphere of simple peace and rears children who get giddy with excitement at Christmas after getting a book and who decide that doing chores is the best part of living on a farm.

Because we arrived in Charlotte in the middle of a chilly Spring, we also learned to work a wood stove, split and haul wood and bank coals. It was fun learning how to do these things alongside the girls; they are dying but worthwhile skills. We’ve also enjoyed the sunsets and open skies above the fields and are getting good at identifying constellations.

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Talai on the job building a tiny home

The girls (primarily Mila) helped to build tiny homes on the the property. It was their first time earning a real hourly wage and they loved it. I do have my doubts about motivating them to do extra tasks around the house for 50 cents anymore, but I’m glad they had the experience. I was hopeful they would exhibit good work ethics, and was very pleased to hear that they were some of the hardest workers on the job. Today’s workforce suffers a terrible deficit when it comes to hard workers. Somehow work ethics seems to have eluded our younger generations and I was curious to see how my own girls would perform. When I heard that they were committed and diligent workers, I let go a sigh of relief and had one of those “thank goodness I did something right” parenting moments.

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Mila on the job staining the tiny home

I don’t really have a ton to say about our time on the farm, namely because it was so peaceful, simple and uneventful. Because of all of our ties in Michigan, our time there often feels hectic and sometimes stressful. The farm was a great crashpad to kick off a new season of life in the south and seeking God for the next step towards returning to Africa.

We are now off of the farm and settled onto a secluded wooded spot with lots of room for the girls and pups to explore and a bass-stocked pond to fish dinner from. We were told to help ourselves to the turtles which was a unique introduction to the area and a little bit of a culture shock, but we’ve definitely eaten stranger things in our travels. There’s no internet, electric or running water on the lot and cell service is spotty, but again we have found that the simplicity is more of a blessing than anything else and we’d trade it for modern conveniences any day. It really is the perfect place to be under a stay-at-home order. I’m sure I’ll write more about our new location soon.

FB_IMG_1543377844780 Just the other day I asked my husband if he ever, in his wildest dreams, imagined us in a place like this – living a life like ours – those almost 15 years ago when we got married. He didn’t. I remember our early years together when getting our college degrees, starting careers and buying our baby nice Christmas presents held paramount importance. We were caught up in the American dream dance like so many others we know. Then God got through to us and wrecked our little world, and we’re so glad that He did. Looking back, I know now that Sal and I would never have been satisfied chasing the big dollars and the big house. Today we’d take a simple minimalist life with an unknown future that is firmly in God’s hands over any amount of security or comfort that the world has to offer.

For even more regular reflections you should check out my husband Salazar’s Facebook page, “A Father’s Missionary Journal.” He has a pretty unique way of seeing the world and journals about what it’s like to be a man, missionary, husband and father amidst the different cultures we find ourselves. There’s a link to it in the right-hand column of this blog.

As always, thank you for checking in today to read my blog and for tracking with my family. I pray that you are blessed and find your own bit of simplicity to rest in during these very unique and complicated days ahead. May God bless you.

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These goats stole the girls’ rake while they were cleaning their pen

Finding courage; Part two

This post continues where the last one left off. If you haven’t read that yet you may want to before continuing.

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Another event that occurred during these past couple of weeks required my 11-year-old daughter to fight her fears, quite literally. She decided to join a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. Not long ago she had competed in an unofficial tournament where she had gotten seriously hurt. At one point she was fighting a boy who was double her weight and the referee was allowing him to do illegal moves like slamming her and picking her up by her neck in a standing guillotine. It was my daughter’s very first competitive experience in Jiu-Jitsu and she was really shook by it. Honestly, we failed as parents as well. We should have thrown in the towel and then confronted the referee, but it was one of those unexpected moments where you’re trying to decide on the fly what the right thing to do is and we chose poorly. (You can read Sal’s reflections on this whole ordeal on the Facebook page “A Father’s Missionary Journal” by clicking on the link in the right-hand column.)

So when Sal mentioned that there was an official Jiu-Jitsu competition at the end of the week, Talai was less than enthusiastic, even though it had a strict rule-set and weight divisions. My husband gently, but persistently encouraged her to go and eventually she agreed. For the rest of the week she studied the rules and rolled with her sisters. We could all see that she was afraid, and though we repeatedly tried to reassure her, she remained very nervous right up until the tournament.

FB_IMG_15840677153665511“Do you think I’m doing the right thing having her compete?” my husband asked me. I didn’t have an answer. I knew this competition would be different, but would it help her confidence or break it further? We didn’t know. We prayed continually for her and for a good experience.

Saturday came and Talai weighed in at the Grappling Industries tournament with Sal as her coach. She was the only girl in her weight class. All of our nerves were stretched as we waited to see how Talai would do. She won her first bout by points with her opponent on the defense the entire time. During her second match, her opponent shot in super fast but Talai pulled off an impressive reversal and took him to the ground. An exciting match followed and she wound up getting the boy in rubber guard, which she had only just learned that morning. From there she threw him in a triangle choke that no one, including Sal, saw coming and even the referee was impressed. She won the fight by submission and took home the first place medal for her weight division,  kicking off her official record as undefeated.

Her performance alone that day was enough to make Sal and I extremely proud of her. Many spectators complimented her great form and several coaches approached Sal with words about how well trained she was. But they only saw part of the victory story that day. Talai had faced very legitimate fears and quite literally stepped up to fight them. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have shown that level of courage if I was in her shoes. She demonstrated incredible bravery, and for that, we couldn’t be more proud of her.

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Talai awarded first place in her weight division at a Grappling Industries Jiu-Jitsu Tournament

So, back to my initial question: how can I teach my kids to be brave? As missionaries and avid travelers, I want our girls to be able to face our vast world with confidence, poise and courage, but the necessity to be brave is no less for someone who doesn’t travel much. The world, at times, is a scary place, and I’m afraid I foresee it getting worse, not better. How can I prepare my youngsters so that they will thrive?

I don’t really know. But having watched my girls these past couple weeks and the courage they exhibited, I was filled with hope. I think perhaps the best thing I can do is not hinder their adventurous spirits or fill them with fear. I have to allow them to experience and challenge the adventures that God has painted right into His creation. Nature is full of wonders and risks and I need to let our girls discover and embrace them. I must not hold them back because of my own fears. I need to teach them to trust God and good companions, to get up and try again, even when it hurts, to take risks and not fret over possible misfortune, to take on life as it comes at them and not hide from it (or perhaps that’s what they’ve taught me). I liked how Ana put it in the movie Frozen II to “do the next right thing.” I must encourage them, tell them that I believe in them (and mean it) and remind them to focus on the goal or prize whether it be the light at the end of the tunnel, a gold medal, or a life which pleases Jesus. We must encourage all of our youth to be strong and courageous, for they were born into such a time as greatly demands it.

As always, thank you for following this blog and my family. I pray that you and yours will be blessed.

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Our girls posing in the cage at Warrior Combat Academy, an awesome MMA gym we used to train at and the team Talai represented in the Grappling Industries Jiu-Jitsu Tournament

Finding Courage; Part One

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Amtrak takes Hadassah and I through a cute town in the Appalachian Mountains

As I write this I’m on an Amtrak train headed for Toledo with my worn-out-but-wiggly-even-asleep eight-year-old sprawled across my lap. I’ve got my laptop perched on the fold-out table attached to the chair in front of me (like the ones you see on planes) and she keeps bumping and kicking the table as she twitches sporadically in her sleep. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that I ordered some red wine hoping that it would help with this splitting headache I’ve got and each twitch brings the glass closer to spilling all over my computer and lap. Everyone is so freaked out about the Corona Virus that I was afraid to ask for some Tylenol so I ordered an over-priced cheap cup of wine instead. Earlier today I had entertained the fantasy of sophisticatedly sipping a glass of wine as I typed out a blog post with my daughter sleeping peacefully beside me. Oh well, I suppose that, in it’s own way, this reality is even better.

As far as an update goes, we’ve been busy doing the typical settling in things as well as a bit of exploring. Certain events from these past couple weeks, however, have caused me to return to a topic I often consider. Courage is a common theme of discussion in our home. We talk about how the Bible admonishes us to be brave and about having the courage to stand up for what is right, to defend the helpless and downtrodden and to speak boldly for Jesus even when it’s unpopular. We talk to our girls about standing up for each other, their belief system, their God and their country. We read historical accounts and fictitious stories about courageous men and women, boys and girls who stood fast despite great peril. But as the stories tell, courage always involves risk, sacrifice and discomfort. Being immersed in a culture that worships self, entertainment and comfort, how can we find it within ourselves to choose great courage and sacrifice, let alone teach our children to do so?

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

~ Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

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photo courtesy: Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t actually have the answer to those questions, but a couple of events these past weeks have prompted me to ponder them and I’ve concluded that my girls have taught me much more about what it means to be courageous than I have ever taught them.

Recently we went on a fun little hike that led us along a stream. The stream had tall banks (for a stream, that is) suggesting that it had previously carried more water than it currently contained. Along the banks were a series of small caverns that turned into tunnels burrowing into the ground horizontally. My girls jumped down the banks, stuck their heads in the caverns and shouted into them. Most of the time, the sound echoed and then disappeared, but one cavern proved different. When they shouted into it they realized that their voices emerged ten feet upstream from a one-square-foot half-submerged hole in the bank.

“I’m going in,” declared my oldest. “Mom, can I have your phone so I can catch this on video? I promise I’ll do my best not to get it wet.”

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The girls checking out caverns in the stream bank

I looked at the cavern and then upstream to the small hole we suspected was connected. The tunnel was pitch black and trees grew up to the bank directly above us. I could just see her getting stuck between a wall and root four feet underground, or the ground caving in on top of her, or the tunnel becoming so small that she got stuck. My oldest has an insatiable taste for adventure which causes her to be a bit reckless at times and I had no doubt that she would press on when most others would turn back. However, I told myself that this was the perfect opportunity for her to build confidence and practice courage. It was her chance to prove to herself that she has what it takes, that she was brave enough. So I handed her my phone, held my breath and forced my best encouraging smile.

Just a couple minutes later she wiggled out on her belly from the small hole upstream. “That was awesome!” she exclaimed. “Hey, want to go through it with me?” she asked her sisters. Thanks Mila; now I get to visualize a catastrophic underground accident involving all three of my girls. I wasn’t too worried about my 11-year-old. Her history said this would be a piece of cake for her. My eight-year-old, however, was another matter. She doesn’t really like the dark, or tight spaces or being cold, or taking instruction from her older sister. The day was chilly and the water was freezing and anyone going through the tunnel would get quite wet and be cold for the whole hike back to the car. Despite this reality, all three of my daughters looked up at me with hopeful eyes.

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The girls inside the entrance of the cavern that led to a small, half-submerged hole about ten feet upstream.

“Look here Hadassah,” my husband piped in. “If you go into that cave you’ll get wet and cold. It will be pitch black and you may run into spiders and mice. It will get tight and you’ll feel the walls pressing up against you. If you get stuck, neither mom or I can make it in to rescue you so Mila will be your only hope; you must listen to her no matter what and not panic. Once you make it through you’ll be wet and cold all the way back to the car. That said, I believe you can do it. Do you understand the risks?”

“I understand,” responded Hadassah solemnly.

“Well then,” said Sal, “what do you want to do?”

I watched Hadassah’s face as she recounted and considered all that my husband had laid before her. On it I saw fear and watched as determination chased it away. “I can do this Dad,” she finally responded. “I’m going in!”

“In that case,” said my eldest daughter Mila, “we should start upstream and enter there.”

“Wait a minute,” I cut her off. “That would mean that you are entering at the smallest scariest part of the cave and that once Hadassah enters she’ll have no choice but to go forward. There would be no turning back from the start.”

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My brave young explorers

“Exactly,” replied Mila. “It would be scary at first but then the worst would be over. I think that will be better for Hadassah than having all that time to worry. I think it will be easier for her to navigate that way as well. Please, trust me on this one.”

Hadassah grabbed my hand, looked up at me and said, “It’s okay Mom, I trust Mila. I can do this. I’m brave enough,”

Every instinct in me told me not to let her go, but how could I deny her this: her very own chance to be brave? What message would I be sending her if I refused her? Sure, I could tell her that she was the youngest and should wait until she was older, but having already allowed her older sister to go through, I wondered if such a blow to her self-esteem would be worth keeping her safe. After a deep breath to slow my own heart I nodded approval and watched my youngest disappear inside a dark underground tunnel. After a minute or so I heard Hadassah calling out in a panic-fringed voice. She started to cry and I immediately prepared to dive into the larger part of the cave and get to her even if I had to dig my way through the dark to do so. Then I heard Mila’s calming voice responding and guiding her. It was quiet again for another couple minutes before they emerged downstream.

Hadassah’s face wore worry as she emerged, but as soon as the sunshine hit it, it became radiant with victory and excitement. “That was awesome!” she shouted. We shared high-fives and fist-bumps before hiking hurriedly back to the truck with the girls laughing and talking about their adventure the whole way.

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Talai using a key to try and entice some ducks along our hike a little closer

I was so proud of all three of my girls that day. Not only had they demonstrated their perpetual courage in the way they sook out adventure, but the youngest faced legitimate fears that many adults would have succumbed to. She confronted and overcame them, even regaining her composure without mom or dad in a moment of weakness.

This post is getting lengthy so I will conclude it in a day or two. As always, thank you for reading this blog and tracking with me. May God bless you and yours.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

~ Joshua 1:9

Above is the footage of their underground adventure that the girls recorded.

A paradigm of joy and sorrow

Hello friends and family. Please accept my sincerest apologies for  my lack of recent articles.  Several factors prevented me from getting timely updates posted, but I am committed to overcoming these challenges and posting more regularly from here on out. As it stands, I have a few unpublished articles that I’ll be posting in succession over the next couple of weeks. Where they may seem slightly outdated in this age of instant news at your fingertips, I think they still offer insight into our lives as missionaries and I hope you will enjoy them.

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Talai gets her hair done at Dreamland, a South Sudanese orphanage that relocated to Rhino Refugee Camp in Uganda because of the civil war.

So without further adieu, allow me to start with my most recent post: The Christian life: a paradigm of joy and sorrow.

To follow Jesus’ example is to know both joy and sorrow intimately in great manifestations and often simultaneously. The same Good Shepherd that rejoiced greatly over finding His lost sheep was also a “man of sorrows” who grieved over his beloved yet rebellious people and who sweat drops of blood. In other words, He “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross,” (Hebrews 12:2). I believe that most Christians who are walking sincerely in their faith carry these two things – joy and sorrow – both as nearly constant companions. Many Christians wrestle quietly behind closed doors with the challenges in their lives while struggling to reconcile the abundant joy that the Bible speaks about being available to all the saints in any and all circumstances. I do believe that we have done ourselves a disservice by insisting on a paradigm that completely segregates joy, peace and happiness from sorrow, sadness and grief. Indeed I believe that we, as image bearers of God, are capable and designed to experience these complex emotions in unison.

Over the past several years, Sal and I have worked increasingly with people who have suffered severe trauma. These experiences have prompted me to a studious examination of this theme. Allow me to share a recent story and example of where I have personally confronted it.

Here in Arua, Uganda, there is a group of children who regularly gather at my back fence. They range in age from newborns carried on an older sisters’ back to mid teenage

years, but most are between two and ten. We talk and laugh, they teach me phrases in Lugbara and fall into hysterics as I slaughter their language.

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Talai plays with a group of local children who gathered at our back fence.

We play various games like Simon Says or toss a balloon back and forth. In fact, I am rarely able to go out my backdoor without small ones calling to me and/or gathering at the fence. At times I have lamented my lack of privacy, but that frustration quickly dissipates when confronted by the contagious joy beaming from a plethora of beautiful brown faces.

One day I gave them a couple of balloons to share. You would have thought that I had just handed them tickets to Disney World. They tossed them back and forth to each other and squealed delightedly as they dove to stop them from falling to the ground. The smallest thing: a sticker, a balloon, a pencil – things that many Western children would scarcely think about – are great treasures to these children. They “thank you” profusely and smile ear to ear.  It is so easy and so lovely to revel in their delight.

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A bonfire with other girls from the base in our backyard

Three of the girls who come regularly share the name Queen and the youngest is around two years old. She is a beautiful girl with big brown eyes and a smile that would make a grumpy old troll laugh. She always appears to be enjoying some grand joke that no one else knows anything about. We have fun passing flowers back and forth and our favorite game involves her drawing near to me and then trying to jump away before I can tickle her. Her visits have caused much joy and laughter in my life, but about two weeks ago her mother died.

I knew someone in our neighborhood had passed away because the funeral occurred behind our house and continued for five days straight. In Uganda, funerals are grand to-do’s. Night and day groups of people broke out in sporadic communal wailing, some of it quite gut-wrenching. Several times I startled awake in the middle of the night because their wailing had entered my mind causing me eerie dreams. Many, many of the villagers came to pay their respects. People camped out, sang, prayed, cried and sang some more. In general, Ugandans are very vocal and expressive and all of this was intermittent with what Linguists call “non word interjections.”

Before I knew who had died I observed the whole thing with a sort of anthropological curiosity. Even though tradition determined much about the funeral, I wondered if week-long funerals were developed, at least in part, to meet a need to fully grieve and move on in a culture that has known too much death. I have often considered that many cultures seem to have a much healthier grieving process than my own homeland where most people don’t understand grief and are clueless to help others who have suffered loss.

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The funeral gathering behind our home

During the funeral I had very few visitors, but a few days after it’s conclusion my young friends returned to the back gate. I inquired about the events and they told me that Little Queen’s mother had slipped while mopping, apparently hit her head on the way down and died. Life is tough enough on girls in this land where arranged marriages and domestic abuse are the norm, and now Little Queen faced a future with all it’s challenges without a mother. I was told that she was being sent away to be raised by her older sister; it’s unlikely I’ll see her again. And just like that, a young child that I had grown attached to was orphaned, out of my reach and out of my life.

Many people who work with children, both secular humanitarians and Christian missionaries, have a “don’t get attached” policy. It’s quite similar to how healthcare workers who work with the elderly tend to keep an emotional distance from their patients or how juvenile detention workers tend not to get attached to the kids in their charge. It’s a self protection mechanism; we try to prevent excessive heartbreak by not allowing ourselves to get emotionally involved in the first place. A few years ago when we first started working consistently with traumatized children, I tried taking this approach which was recommended to me by several fellow missionaries. It’s all fine and good to sing on Sunday mornings about how we want to love everyone as God loves them, but when we love we share in another’s joys and pains, and when we work with so many children who have such deep and painful wounds and who live in sometimes desperate situations, how can we share in their pain without being drowned by sorrow?

At first I served those children, who then were the street children of Argentina, as I was

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A Saturday children’s Bible study at Rhino Refugee Camp

advised and held back my love, but this did nothing but make my heart restless; I had no peace in the matter. My heart told me that in order to love these children as I loved myself – as Christ commanded- I had to love them as my own children. Still, these children were orphans and/or children of prostitutes. Sometimes their mother’s “customers” payed extra for access to the child as well. Some had been forcibly drugged, raped, beaten, abandoned and exploited in many other ways. How can someone carry that on their shoulders without becoming a depressed, pessimistic Atheist? And yet, if truly the greatest power to heal and to set free is love – pure, unadulterated, involved, intentional, selfless love – and if Love’s name is Jesus and we are to be His ambassadors, then how could I in good conscience not care for these children as if they were my own?

I began praying that God, by His supernatural strength, would help me to help these children. I was amazed by the change that God orchestrated in my heart. He enlarged my capacity to love. Suddenly I could immerse myself in their lives, empathize with their pain and pray through tears that God would change their situations, and I wasn’t consumed by grief. Surprisingly, my capacity to experience joy also enlarged. I could play, and laugh and dream and hope with these children as well and be 100% present and involved. As a mother, I know no deeper agony than watching my own children go through very real pain, and I know no greater earthly joy than to experience their pure and sincere love and affection towards me. I’m not saying that treating troubled children as your own flesh and blood is the easier route; the depths of my sorrow for them can be profoundly deep at times, but so too are the heights of my joy. However, to love at arm’s length is insincere, and whereas it may bring about some good and change, the kids can always sense it. The higher road is to love as Jesus loved: profoundly and with abandon.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers to the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”

~Shakespeare

And so, I can’t just forget girls like Little Queen. I weep for her loss, pray for her safety and future and laugh as I remember the beautiful times that we shared. Sometimes I cry while I am laughing. I believe that is what it is like to become more like Christ in the way we experience joy and sorrow.

Not all Christians will find themselves on the international mission field working with

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A craft/science experiment day at our house for base and local kids

traumatized children. However, I believe that all Christians will experience loss and grief of their own at times and have to wrestle with how to grasp on to the perpetual joy that God has promised them. Also, all Believers are missionaries in their own spheres of influence. We’re surrounded by lost and broken souls who are hiding behind anger, pride, perfectionism, depression, apathy and a myriad of other masks. If we are to be Christ’s presence to the world, we must love the world, and if we are to love the world, we must immerse ourselves in other’s lives and pain, and if we are to take that step, we must be prepared both to grieve and to rejoice profoundly.

This post is a touch more theological than most that I write, but it’s a reflection of my heart. As always, we appreciate your support and prayers. We pray God both challenges and blesses you.  Thank you for reading.

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The Fifth Gospel

Salt and light… a light not hidden… a salt uncompromising…an understandable gospel for those who won’t read the the written Gospels.

Please, allow me to start by telling you a story.

Two nights ago in Arua, Uganda I was sitting with a new friend, Sheikh ***** **** Muhammad (for his protection we will refer to him simply as “Muhammad”). Muhammad was, a Sheikh (an authorized teacher of Islam) and has a wife and 15 children. His first-born is a Sheikh as well. In fact, his father, grandfather and so on for 5 generations have been Sheikhs.

Growing up he went to an Islamic school and eventually studied in a Shiite University in Kampala. Later he moved to Saudi Arabia where he taught as a Professor in the Sunni University for 17 years. After returning home, Muhammad, being a Sheikh, continued teaching Islam in his homeland of Uganda and developed quite a following. Until recently, that is. You see, Muhammad is now a Christian. He told me that one day, as he was out walking, a forum caught his attention. Christian missionary was explaining the difference between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Koran. Muhammad heard and instinctively knew some of it for true. Inside his heart he yearned for the truth.

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“Josh” (the missionary) had said that Jesus was the Truth and that the Truth would set him free. That same day Muhammad secretly gave his life to Christ. Yet for two years, Muhammad lived publicly as a Sheikh who privately didn’t believe in what he taught. As I understood it, he finally felt that he couldn’t live that life anymore; it was hypocrisy. Only four days ago, he came out as a Christian. He told me that he could no longer put his light under a cover. “No.” he affirmed, “I must not be ashamed; no compromise.” Since publicly proclaiming Christ, all of his disciples have accepted the Lord which makes sixty in all, of all ages and races and all being former Muslims.

The day after his public proclamation, a car pulled up in front of a his home and the driver yelled, “Muhammad quick come here!” As he walked out the door, he was abducted. His mouth was taped and he was beaten and taken to a deserted place outside of the city and left for dead. “As I laid there I prayed, ‘Jesus You are still king.'” He told me. “And, as I was crying and praying, a woman came to me from out of nowhere. A woman came to me…Where did she some from? Where was she going? A woman came to me and she saved my life.” This woman took Muhammad to a hospital in Arua where he received medical treatment and was released.

This brings me to the day I met him. Sid (a YWAM buddy) said he wanted to take me to meet a guy he knew who had just been released from the hospital. We picked him up, took him to Sid’s house, made him food and encouraged him. He told us about how he would soon be returning to his home. Because, as he shared, “The time has come and there is a change in my City. They are ready for Christ.” He continued, “When I come back, many will see and not be afraid. Jesus will come with me…”

The former Sheikh had become uncompromising salt and light.

To better clarify for you what the Lord has been speaking to me over these past five weeks in Arua, Uganda, I have to tell you another story of another man, who I highly respect, of his pursuit of the Lord and for the way it transformed his family. It is a story of the change he made from being a passive Christian to a burning one.

Shane has set himself on fire with a passionate relationship with Jesus through His word, actions and prayer.

As he spoke with me he told me about a change that had occurred. Shane said, “I was living a compromised Christianity.” He shared how his family went to church every Sunday, how they invested time and money in the institution and were good people by American standards. But, something was missing. He had no burning desire for the Lord, and neither did his family. He made a conscientious decision to submit his whole life to the Lord and root out every compromise in his life and heart and to live a real gospel. He prioritized and completely reconstructed his daily life, right down to avoiding the TV shows he usually watched with his wife and kids. It didn’t happen overnight, but his family soon followed his example, seeing the Truth evident in his life. Him being that fifth gospel was more effective than a plethora of sermons on Sunday morning.

His story touched me. I met his family and I prayed my girls would grow to be as Godly as his children are, burning with love for Jesus and the world. I heard what people said about him and his family, that he was a man on on fire for Christ, that he was a man who lived the fifth gospel. As my wife and I visited with Shane and his family and they told us their story about how the power of Christ transformed a family when the the father and husband relentlessly strove to know Christ deeper and be more like Him, I was convicted and inspired.

Finally and briefly, I’ll tell you about a man whom I love dearly. He is like a second father to me and my children call him “Grandpa Dan.” His name is, of course, Dan. He is a salt spreader. I could write a book about what he means to me and all he has done to shape me, but I will save that perhaps for a later blog. Just know, he is a walking gospel.

This brings me to the point of writing this post. As I’ve been praying, and I’ve been praying a lot since I’ve been in Africa, the Lord is giving me direction, or vision, or perhaps a mission. I believe that the Lord is guiding me, guiding all of us in fact, to be the Fifth Gospel. This is nothing new but I’m just now getting a hold of it, or maybe he’s just giving me revelation in a way that I can understand. With some luck, the lesson He is teaching me can become revelation to others as well.

Here in Africa there are a lot of people who either can’t read or would never read the Bible: Muslims, witches, Hindus and even ex-pats. But everyone watches, observes, listens, weighs. What has he gained? they wonder. What has he given up? they ask themselves. Why is he here? Where has he come from? Does he live what he say he believes? Is this Christian like the Christ I heard about?

I see the story I’m about to share repeated in my own life. But where my story takes place in a refugee camp in Uganda, the following story takes place in Tanzania.

A group from my church in Wyoming, Family Life Church, went to Tanzania to fix wells and drill some new ones. When they arrived in one village they saw that a well which they had previously drilled was broken and in need of repair. Throughout the several days it took to repair the well, it seemed as though the the village has assigned a man to supervise them, if that’s what you could call it. As the team worked fixing the motor, putting up protection for the solar panels and making other repairs, they would stop from time to time and try engaging this man in conversation. He made no reply but instead just stood stoically by watching their every move. The man was part of the village group of elders with whom the US team had been working with for years. Even after drilling and putting in the well years ago and promising to stay in touch and help in whatever way they could, the elders of the village seemed skeptical and suspicious. However, after days of labor to repair their broken well as well as teaching locals how to keep it running and repair it themselves, the “supervisor” finally spoke, saying something rather astounding. He said, “Now I know that you are true and you are a man of your word. Now I can trust what you say.”

This has great implications for the gospel. It shows that the gospel message is often best received from men and women who are living the Gospel, speaking Gospel, and demonstrating the Gospel. They have salted the food; they have erected a lantern on a hill; they have not compromised or taken the easy way out. Instead, they conquered all obstacles to prove themselves true to their word which in turn gave validity to Christ.

 

This is what the Lord is teaching me about: embodying Jesus, being the salt, shining light in the darkest places and bearing peace and calm even when it’s hard. Even when I don’t get what I want, or when I’m afraid, or even when I feel like I am taking on a very large burden, it is for His sake.

The Word commands us to take up our cross daily and to do all things for the glory of God. This is my mission: to be light and salt; to be a Christ bearer, the fifth Gospel account; always ready to give the reason for the hope that I have in Christ that he may gain glory and that people may be saved. Just something on my heart. Thanks for reading and may God bless you.

2018: A year of HOPE

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Photo courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net

As I peer out over the uncharted waters of 2018, there are tempests and waves, darkness and thunder; but through it all stands a man to whom the winds and waves obey, who penetrates the deepest darkness and who embodies love and mercy. The times grow increasingly uncertain, the urgency of the hour is palpable; and one thing rises above the melee: HOPE.

I believe this will be the theme of this new season which the Lord is drawing us into: hope. We sense it in our own lives and see it at work in the greater body of the saints.

“So the poor have hope, And injustice shuts her mouth.”

Job 5:16

As we counted down the seconds to midnight and bid 2017 adieu, our family was surrounded by abount 20,000 other Christians all gathered at the Kansas City Convention Center and bringing in the New Year with worship following the 2017 OneThing Conference. At a time where radical liberal agendas are forwarded in our nation and globally at unprecedented speeds; where civil discourse retreats before hostility; where Christian ideals are increasingly portrayed as dangerous and detestable; and where the kingdom of darkness seems to be steadily advancing, I looked around at the vast crowd of primarily young people lifting their praises to heaven, pledging their allegiance to the King of Kings and offering themselves entirely to the Lord and an overwhelming sense of hope swelled in my heart and spirit.

 

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The Lord’s arm is not short. He is not surprised. He cannot be usurped. He is in control. And He is raising up an army of selfless and courageous Christians for such a time as this. I am reminded of what John Wesley famously said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”

New Year’s Day found Sal and I stuck in Kansas City without the funds to get home. Unforeseen circumstances had taken from what we had budgeted for the conference and we had enough either to pay for one night in our hotel or one tank of gas (which would carry us one-third of the way home). With our eldest daughter running a fever and outside temperatures dipping well below zero, we decided to purchase another night.

After check-out the following day, we thanked God that our daughter was healthy again and then headed to a neighboring cafe where we spent our last dollar on two 50 cent coffees. Normally Sal would have been stressed to breaking point, feeling the weight of his responsibility as protector and provider for our family. Multiple times he looked at me and said with a touch of wonder, “I should be freaking out, but I feel great and filled with joy. This is crazy.” He seemed…hopeful. The Lord has been calling us for a while to relinquish control and depend whole-heartedly on Him for our every need. I think as a woman this just came easier to me than it did Sal. New Year’s Day marked a pivotal moment when the obedient agreement Sal had made with God in his head to let Him take full responsibility for our family became a reality in his heart.

“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

Romans 8:24-25

While enjoying our coffee we visited with an old friend and fellow missionary who had just completed an internship at Hope City in KC. She told us, “God told me to pay your way back to Wyoming, but I won’t have access to those funds until midnight.” We brainstormed but failed to come up with a good option for a place to stay that night, and since temperatures were still well below zero, the van simply wasn’t an option.

When a change of scenery was due, we headed to the public library. Our friend informedImage-1080_1920_20180111T065400.jpg us that she needed to pick up her friend but she would meet us there briefly. Sal, starting to feel ill himself, took a nap in the van while the girls and I read books and performed puppet shows. It was a very fun time. Somewhere between two and three hours later our friend and her companion arrived and we rendezvoused in the parking lot. She opened her trunk and produced three bags of groceries. With only a few dollars in her own bank account and unable to purchase food, she had visited a local food pantry on our behalf. She then instructed us to follow them to a gas station, explaining that her friend (also a missionary) wanted to fill our tank which would carry us until midnight when our friend would send us the remainder of what we needed to get home via PayPal.

We spent a brief but beautiful time in prayer huddled in the gas station parking lot. Not even the constant subzero wind could detract from the beauty of that moment where brother and sisters united in praise, petition, affection, faith and hope.

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

Romans 12:9-13

We made it home without incident. The Lord even strengthened me to drive much later than I thought I’d be able to stay awake allowing Sal, now a bit feverish, to get some decent rest before taking over for me.

At home we prayed that the Lord would guide and direct us as well as open doors that we might fulfill His will. Our plan had been to drop Sal at the Denver airport on the way home, sending him to Uganda, but we had been unable to secure the tickets. We told God that, just as we had waited upon him in Kansas City, so too would we wait on Him to clear a way for us to head to Uganda. The following day our pastor from Michigan got a hold of us and told us that a large donation had been made to us. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait very long for an answer to that prayer.

And so, Sal leaves for Uganda on the nineteenth of this month and will return on the

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Photo courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net

22nd of February. During his time there he’ll set up a place for us to live, clarify our responsibilities with our YWAM leadership, get to know the people we’ll be working with, get a feel for the local people and culture and work in the refugee settlements. We’ll be around for approximately three weeks after his return and then we’ll move to Arua, Uganda as a family.

Keep checking back as we’ll be posting articles and pictures of Uganda soon. May our Lord richly bless you and strengthen you as you face your own challenges, victories, battles, choices, sacrifices, joys and trials in this coming year. May you choose radical obedience to Him and reflect Jesus to the world in all  you do. May you be fruitful with the Good News, patient in suffering, faithful in uncertainty, repaying evil with good, giving love in exchange for hate and being abundant in grace. And may you be hopeful, keeping in sight the enormous hope that dawns on the horizon of 2018.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

 

Lord help me, I married an Evangelist

Our whole family is intrigued with history.  So as to do something fun and largely unique to the western world, we decided to go to the Michigan Renaissance Festival this coming weekend. In addition to our typical homeschool curriculum, we’ve added classes on the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Knighthood. We’ve also been working on costumes, because an opportunity to learn history through interactive immersion is a homeschooling mom’s dream.

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As I hurried to put some costumes patterns together (and begged my mom, a seamstress, for help), Sal kept changing his mind on what persona he wanted to go as and so put off giving me a solid costume idea. It wasn’t until I threatened to send him in a potato sack that he finally gave me something to work with.  Yesterday morning he told me, “I want to go as a Renaissance-era Missionary.”Monk-800px

My first though was, “Jeepers, can’t you just put aside saving the world for one day and have some fun?” Visions of our typical joint shopping trips began filling my mind. Whenever Sal accompanies me grocery shopping I have to plan for it to take three times as long in order to anticipate the theological discussions with strangers which seem to have made their way onto my shopping list.

But immediately following I was convicted of how wrong-headed this train of thought was. Firstly it implied that we can’t have fun and share the love of God simultaneously. Anyone who has worked in children’s ministry could debunk that idea in a heartbeat.  And worse yet, I was guilty of seeing being a missionary as an occupation; as something we do and not as an identity; who we are. Truthfully it is the very identity of the Christian believer which should compel him or her to be ever vigilant, seeking the spiritually deceived and oppressed and shedding the light of truth in their lives.

Therefore, I would argue that it is every Christian’s duty to be mission-minded. Anything less and one risks living in violation of the Great Commission and Jesus’ very last words:

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”

~Matthew 28: 18-20 (NKJV)

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I’m not saying that every Christian should start packing their suitcase, but I do believe that a faithfully lived life is one lived within the constant tension, or awareness, that we’ve been called to “Go.” Some will be called to take the Gospel to foreign lands and all should be open to that if God so directs them. Most, however, will be called to “go” to their workplaces, their schools, their families, their neighborhoods and all their spheres of influence. Not every Christian is called to be an Evangelist, but we’re all called to evangelize. Not all are called to be Pastors, but we’re all responsible to bear witness to Christ and edify His body, the church. Not every Christian is called to witness in nations, cultures and tongues unfamiliar to their own, but we’re all called to love and to do good to all men and to preach the Gospel wherever we go. As Christians we should be mindful of the needs of the people around us and actively help relieve those needs while sharing the Good News. The Lord has truly brought the world to our doorstep here in the United States. As hatred and division intensify in our nation, we should be the firsts to reach across cultural and ethic lines extending hands of friendship and brotherhood.

joust knightThere is no “life as usual” in biblical Christianity. Every day we awaken with breath in our lungs is a blank page in the adventure novel that God is writing with our lives. Do we let Him take the pen or do we struggle to control the ink and smudge the page in vain attempts with an eraser? Do we see ourselves as protagonists in an epic love adventure, filled with danger and evil now, but ultimately with a happy ending? Routine can be, and often is, a very good thing in life, but if our lives are mundane we have probably become our own authors. Submission to Christ as Lord and God the Father as supreme Author are the keys to meaning, significance and adventure.

The church of America is being awakened to function in her identity.  The disciple James said that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). I know it has become cliché, but it really is time to stop doing church and to be the Church, and that applies not only to Sunday morning, but to every day of our lives. We see the acceleration of negative change all around us. Will we, as the bride of Christ, rise to the occasion and meet new challenges and trials with love and compassion in our eyes and in our hearts? Will we be missionary-minded?

Thus this Saturday, with my daughters dressed as a Ranger, Viking and Dame and my11947825_10206654063942842_8571285058587944600_o.jpg Evangelist/Apologist husband  dressed as a medieval Friar, we’ll take the Gospel as undercover missionaries back in time and forward in relevance. Do you have eyes to see the adventure God is weaving into your own story? Can we feed the sick, father the orphan, lead the lost, pray for the hurting, heal the sick, comfort the mourning, die to ourselves and preach the Gospel to every creature, every day? In these days, the world cannot afford apathy from the bride of Christ. received_10211148165972584.jpeg

Thoughts on the cost

Last week the girls and I were doing our morning prayers and intercession when Talai prayed, “Dear heavenly Father, when we go to Uganda, please protect me, and please help me to endure if I become an orphan. No matter what, help me never to deny You, but always follow You faithfully.”

Hadassah prayed a similar prayer ending with “Jesus please help me to follow you no matter what and if I have to go to an orphanage, let it be one where they treat the children nicely.”

Whoa! Right? What kind of nine-year-old or six-year-old prays that in complete johnny-automatic-girl-praying-800pxsincerity? So came my moment to respond and I sat silent for a while contemplating what to say. Should I assure them that God would not allow Sal or I to die or that they would never be orphans? As a mother wanting to quench their fears that was my temptation, but I couldn’t honestly give them any assurances and I would not have them disillusioned with God because I put false promises in His mouth that He did not keep. How would you respond?

 

I fear some will misunderstand what I am about to say. I love my children more than life, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I have sacrificed a career, much of my education and more to stay at home and spend time with them, watch them grow and give them an exquisite education. This was completely contrary to my plans before becoming a mother, but I count it all a joy now and would not have it any other way. However, my love for them is ashes compared to the extravagant love their heavenly Father has for them. For this reason, the best and most loving thing I can do for them is to be obedient to God and trust Him with their lives.

That said, please be gracious as you read my response if I do not communicate as clearly as I should.

Firstly in response, I hugged all three of my precious darlings because even though Mila did not voice such fears I’m sure she wrestles with her own. I told them that God has a plan for each of our lives, for theirs and my own. If we are walking in His will nothing and no one can kill us until we have completed God’s intended plan. Just as God protected David while King Saul hunted him through the wilderness and how He protected Jesus when those of His own town tried to throw Him off of a cliff, so too will God protect us while we still have His orders to carry out on earth, orders that probably include being around to raise them.

However, that didn’t mean that God would not allow them to be orphaned. I told them that I did not think that Sal or I’s deaths were a part of God’s plan any time soon. God has promised much to us that we have yet to see manifested and given us much instruction that we’ve yet to accomplish. But we all need to be ready to give everything, even our lives for God’s Kingdom if it so requires. However, the Bible teaches that the angels who watch over children are ever before the face of God, and I assured the girls that, no matter what, God would watch over and protect them. I also told them they shouldn’t ever end up in an orphanage because they would live with family or friends should anything ever happen to Sal and I. And finally I encouraged and fortified them to never forsake Jesus for any reason. As long as we hold fast to Christ, we will see each other again.

reverse silloutte crossI know this response may sound radical to the Westerner, including many Western Christians. However, I recently heard Michael Ramsden speak on this topic and he said something that merits repeating; As Western Christians, we live in a time that is unique. The peace and prosperity that the Western church enjoys is peculiar not only historically, but also globally in our present world. The normality for Christians, that which has been typical since the day Jesus died, is a life of suffering and/or persecution, but even so, a life of joy and peace, of generosity and beauty.

Hebrews 11 gives us a goose-bump raising account of our Christian legacy:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword;whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” (v. 32-35a)

How much would we love to see these kinds of miracles in our churches and in our lives? How many of us have inquired of God why these things tarry? Perhaps the key can be found in the very next words:

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (v.35b-38)

This part of our Christian legacy continues today as many endure such conditions for the sake of Christ. If you don’t believe that, you should go on a mission trip.

I see a lot of the Western world’s desire for comfort and security within the heart of the Western church and even within my own heart. Yet how much of the security that we enjoy is an illusion? One has only to turn on the television to hear of wars and rumors of wars, of division and schemings. Ramsden also said that the type of persecution that we see in places like the 10/40 window is “only ever one generation away.” I truly believe that.

But even were peace not so fragile, what would I be should I not follow the call of God on my life? No one wants to be Jonah. No one wants to believe themselves a coward, and that is definitely not how God created us to be. But how do we overcome fear when called to a place where the odds are stacked dangerously against us?knightingoldenarmor-2400px

The beautiful simplicity of the trust and faith my daughters have in their heavenly Father was deeply convicting for me. It was unbridled by the the reins of doubt and burdens of past experience that so many of us grown-ups haul around with us. It is no wonder that Jesus taught that we must become as children to enter the Kingdom of God!

I recently had a pastor ask me bluntly, “So what is the cost (of following God’s call)?” It was difficult for me to give an answer. Anything Sal or I have “given up” thus far seems quite unimportant and superficial and hardly meriting the title “cost.” Anything that may arise in the future remains hypothetical. So I suppose the costs we’re counting as we say “yes” to God are largely control, security and pride. To be willing to be utterly out-of-control of of our situation even when physical danger may be present, to be willing to face danger head-on without the security of a safety net and pride in that we may not always have the answers or solutions, and of course to look like complete fools in the eyes of the world.

Yet by God’s grace, we shall say “yes,” agreeing to whatever costs and willing to trust Him with everything. Hopefully we may in some way prove ourselves worthy of our amazing daughters who could school us on graciously surrendering to God’s will and perhaps take one step closer to being worthy dwelling places of Christ Jesus.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and may God bountifully bless you and yours.