Thursday, August 24, 2017

Culture or Christ

As we were preparing to go Stateside someone told me that I will not like America anymore.  The person was saying this because all of the change that has taken place since our last visit.  They went on to talk about what is on television, in media, the way people speak, dress, the way anything goes, and how selfishness rules.  I have heard things from many people and I do still live in this world so I am not totally naive.  In one sense nothing changes.  In reading history with my kids in school the sin, wickedness, anti-God, anger, lust, immortality, persecution...were all there in some form or another.  The devil and evil doesn't change.  It coats itself in different cultural ways but he still uses the same tools to kill, steal and destroy.  He is the deceiver and there is no truth in him or his ways.  I see all the evils and results of them around me here too.  On the other hand, it doesn't matter that evil has always been in our world.  It is simply sad to see our nation accepting these ways.  I grieve over it.  I hate sin and long for the holiness of our God.

After this person said this to me, I thought well I shouldn't be the only one who doesn't like what America is becoming.  All Christians should not like or accept the change.  God has told us His way, His will, and desire.  He has told us what is true.  This is what all of His children need to live by and stand for.

My response to the person was that I know that everywhere needs Jesus and so everywhere I go I see it as the mission field.  I don't go to America and think I am now home, all is fine and I can sit back and do my thing.  It is not just Africa that needs the Good News and truth.  No matter where I am I am God's representative.  I want Him to use me, flow out of me, and share His love through me.  My life's purpose is to share my Savior - no matter where I am.  It is every believer's mission.  Jesus told us to start at home and then go out from there to all.  The world is our mission from God.

The whole discussion made me think about a spiritual gifts test I took several years ago.  One gift that came up for me was prophet.  I didn't know exactly what that meant and looked it up.  Basically the gift of a prophet is one who speaks God's truth.  Then I understood why it came up on my test.  I love God's truth and feel called to share it.  This "gift" makes me very nervous though.  As I look at all of God's prophets, those who speak God's Word, most were hated, misunderstood, mocked, and even persecuted.  Speaking God's truth is not an easy job!  And you will not be popular.  I have often said that people either love me or hate me because of what I say.  This was really hard for me until I realized it was the same for all of God's people.  We all have been given God's Word and have His truth, so really we are all His messengers or prophets.  Are we willing to live it and share it when some will hate us?

I was reading in my devotions the introduction to I Corinthians and it speaks so clearly to today.  The followers of Jesus were a new creation with values and a life style that confronted and clashed with the world around them.  The Christians struggled with their environment.  They were surrounded by corruption, every sin thinkable, and felt pressure to adapt.  Paul wrote to them to help them know how to live in a sinful society.  He calls all Christians to be careful not to blend in with the world and accept its values and life style.  We must be different, set a part, for God.  Biblical truth needs to guild our actions.

I was also reading a book on praying the Psalms and the introduction to Psalm 2 spoke to me.  The Psalms teaches us to pray our intimidation.  Everyday we face a hostile world.  Each day is filled with noise, lies, scheming, violence...underlying this is the spirit of anti-Christ (anything opposed to Christ).  Jesus told his followers to be in the world but not of the world.  The world will have tribulation, but we must take heart as He has overcome the world (John 16:33, 17:14-16).  Prayer is our spiritual weapon.  Prayer works because God is at work.  God's answer to our intimidation, and to the world, is the Messiah.

2 Cor. 7:1 says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." 

So this all comes down to culture or Christ.  We talk about culture all the time here.  As missionaries we can see clearly the culture here and our cultural differences.  In our church here and in our teaching it is common to challenge is this from culture or Christ?   Are you following culture or Christ?  It can be difficult for people in their own culture to see what is from our culture and what is from Christ.  In other words how the culture has shaped our Christianity.  Have we mixed culture with Christianity?

Here are a few ways I check to see if I am following the culture or Christ:
1. What I view.
Many people have told me there is NOTHING worth watching on TV anymore.  I often ask then why do you watch it?  I know they are because I can see what they are watching on their big screens from the road.  I hear people say it is their let down, way to relax and unwind, and not have to escape.  Have we followed the culture or Christ?  Does Jesus say not to be sexually immoral, lie, and murder BUT it is ok to watch it all and put it in your mind?  Jesus wants to be your escape, your place of rest and He wants us to unload on Him.
2. What I talk about.
From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  What goes in comes out.  When I love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength I can't help but talk about Him.  When I seek the Lord and He is first in my life, He overflows out of me.  When I know God's Word, it is in my heart and on my mouth.  When Jesus is my best friend and I spend time with Him, He is who I talk about.  And there isn't room for negativity, the lies (even little ones), the disrespect, mean and meaningless talk.
3. How I dress.
I am a temple of the Living God!  I want no part in causing a brother temptation or my daughter getting attention because of her body.  It is wrong.  When fathers let their daughters wear revealing clothes or mothers wear the same things we have followed the culture.  When our husbands, brothers and sons cannot sit in church without temptation because of what is worn it is a problem.  Why would we want to show our bodies to everyone - let alone our daughters being seen by everyone?  Do we understand the gift this is, that we are holy, God lives in us?  Are we following Christ or culture?
4. How I spend my time.
Everyone seems to say they are too busy - too busy to spend time with God.  Everyone seems to have time to keep up with everyone on social media but too busy for God and His work.  Too busy for prayer, worship, church, rest, family, marriage.  These are God's priorities and His desire for us.  Are we following the culture with our time or God's ways?
5. How I view and use our money.
We say it is all God's as Christians but how do we spend our money?  I am the first to tell people how generous Christians are in West MI, but I will also say we are wealthy and with that comes great responsibility.  Jesus did not praise the wealthy for giving big amounts, but the poor for giving sacrificially.  Do I give sacrificially?  Do we give instead of getting a bigger house, new furniture, going on vacation, playing sports, going out to eat...?  We are so very blessed and it is not for ourselves.  We are blessed to bless others.  God is the giver and owner of all we have.  He wants us to use it for His kingdom.  Don't believe the culture and want it all and spend it all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Home Service Schedule

Home Service in Michigan
            In just less than a week our fridge will be emptied, our bags packed, ministry will be wrapped up, and goodbyes will have been said.  Leaving is more than the physical; it is unplugging, packing up, pulling away and preparing our hearts.  We are so thankful we are at a point in missions that we love the people here, our local church, and the ministry.  They are a part of us and we belong here.  Can we call time in America “home service” when our home is now here?
            On the other hand we are excited to see our families, visit friends, and share with our supporters.  We look forward to the beauty, seasons, and comforts of America.  After five months in Michigan we know it will be difficult to say goodbye again.
            So, ready or not, here we come.  Please pray for peace as we leave and safety as we travel many miles.  We leave home August 21.  We will spend a few days with friends before flying August 24.  We have a layover in England where we will visit with friends and see many things we just learned about in our Middle Ages unit in History - learning at its best!  We will arrive in Michigan August 29.  From there we travel to Canada for a Freedom in Christ Conference.  After that we will be speaking at supporting churches and the kids will be attending school.  Pray for our adjustment back to the States and for God to use our time for His glory.

Home Service Speaking Schedule:
17  Rudyard CRC
24  Faith Community CRC
1    Kellogesville CRC
8    Georgetown CRC
13-14 FIC Discipleship Course in Falmouth
15  Prosper CRC
22  Christian Reformed Conference Grounds
29  Friendship Gaylord
5    Ivanrest CRC
12  Cadillac CRC
19  East Martin CRC
26  Lake City CRC
3    Jamestown CRC
10  Lucas CRC
31  Highland CRC
7    Vogel Center CRC

14  Calvin (McBain) CRC

Friday, August 18, 2017

Celebrating Freedom in the Prison!

This is one of those times which my words cannot describe.  Tuesday was the graduation celebration at the prison and  I wish you could have been there.  I can tell you that my heart is full of joy.  I can't stop thinking about it.  God is doing great things!  I truly have a love for my brothers in prison.  They have touched my heart with their joy, thankfulness, change, receiving God's truth, freedom they have experienced and their worship.  I am challenged by their faith in difficult circumstances.  I am encouraged as I see what God's Word does in lives.  I am humbled to have a small part in what God is doing.  And I know once again that there is NO greater joy than seeing people grow in Christ.  There is NO comparison in this world to the joy of serving the King and being in His kingdom!

So the celebration was for 29 prisoners who faithfully came to Josh's Freedom in Christ and Timothy Leadership Training on Saturdays and Tuesdays since January.  They are assigned as pastors in their wards and wanted training.  Many other prisoners came to the Saturday teaching and other joined in the Tuesday teaching but it was the 29 who attended the whole time.  Josh, Pastor Martin, Pastor Robert and I went to the graduation.  YWAM is also very active in the prison and was also invited to the celebration.  All 700 inmates were welcomed including the women's side (interesting note that several women have their young children or new born babies in prison with them).  Because it was a celebration we had loud speakers, chairs for all the honored guests, and everyone seemed excited.  We began with worship which I always enjoy in the prison.  There were lots of choirs and speeches, Josh taught his last lesson, he handed out certificates and then it ended in what I like to call a Jesus party!  Joy filled singing and dancing!  A real celebration.

One of the interesting parts of the day was hearing for the officials at the prison.  Josh has always talked very highly of them and has appreciated their desire for the church to be at work there.  The officials were very happy with Josh's teaching.  They testified that it was the church that brought change to the prison and the church does 50% of their work.  The chief official thanked Josh for being a man of principle.  When he was given 15 minutes he took 15 minutes.  I could see there was a trust and respect between Josh and the officials.  

There was also a celebration going on because the chief official was moved up in rank to the regional position.  Everyone seems to love and respect this man and they were very happy for their official.  And the day of the graduation the new chief official arrived and was part of the celebration.  It was great to hear him say the door is always open for Josh to come and teach.    

Everyone was also happy because Josh provided a bull for the celebration.  That means all 700 inmates would be eating meat and rice instead of the posho and beans they eat 364 days a year (Christmas they get meat).  This alone would make Josh the honored guest.  I had to laugh at all Josh had to buy to feed so many people:
-440 pounds of rice
-3 gallons of oil
-44 pounds of tomatoes and onions
-And about 6 pounds of spices
I am just thankful we didn't have to cook for 700 people!

The testimonies and thankfulness of the graduates moved me.  They love Josh because he brought them God's truth.  It seems many come and do evangelism, but coming faithfully each week to disciple is unique.  These men got these lessons.  They will tell you they know who they are in Christ, what forgiveness is, how to forgive and that they are forgiven, they recognize the lie and know truth and now they are free!  They learned how to preach pointing to God and grace, about stewardship, marriage and family God's way, how to be free from addictions...  They will say, "Joshua, you gave us so much and we have nothing to give you except to see our changed lives."  It is more than all the wealth of the world to see people changed by Christ.  I so understand why Paul said many times in his letters to the churches that they are his joy.  It is true.  These men, lives touched by God, are our joy.

God is really working in one of the men who graduated.  He is there for a long sentence and hasn't been honest about what he did.  He has not had one person visit him while in prison.  He asked Josh for clothes for when he appears before the judge for sentencing.  He has been in for a long time but has not yet been sentenced.  Josh did give him a pair of clothes last week but told him that he believed he hasn't been honest but wants to give him the clothes to show him what grace is - it is undeserved.  Later the man gave Josh a note admitting to what he has done.  The day of the graduation he told Josh that he now knows that it is truth that brings freedom.  Three times rain stopped him for going to be sentenced, now when he goes he know he has to speak the truth.  Josh encouraged him to share that he received Christ in prison and is ready to share the truth and take the consequence.  And to remember that God is the Judge and He has made you not guilty for eternity.  Oh, how I would love to be there so see the judges reaction to someone who would admit and speak truth (not common).  This is evidence of a life changed by God.  Isn't interesting that God, the one in control of the rain, kept this prisoner from sentencing until he learned His truth.

Another one of the graduates will be released in 24 days.  He is leader and has taken this teaching to heart.  I really believe God is going to use him and I hope we are not done working together.  

Now, I know not all lives were changed and some who have been still have a long, hard road ahead of them.  Some may fall away.  I have to remind myself often that this is still a prison.  But we still rejoice over all God has done and I believe will continue to do.  Jesus rejoiced over one lost sheep found not the many who were already safe.  

We are praying about how to minister to prisoners who get out of prison.  This is when it is very hard and they often fall.  The officials too are asking for help in this area.

I am so thankful for Josh, his gift of teaching, and his faithfulness in going each week.  He makes understanding God's truth so easy.  I am proud of him.  I am also thankful he plans to continue teaching in the prison when we return.

Today we stopped at the prison to drop off pictures and give Bibles to 8 prisoners who earned them by memorizing verses.  We decided to bring our kids to see where Dad teaches each week and what we are so often talking about.  The chief official was sitting outside under the tree (where he often is) and welcomed us.  He was so happy to meet the family we had to have a picture together.  Two of the graduates, ward pastors, were also very happy to meet our kids.  Everyone was happy to see us and really did not want Josh to leave for a few months.

So, today I sit here writing this with tears streaming down my cheeks.  They are tears of joy, thanksgiving, love and sadness as we have to say goodbye and leave for a while.  I have told myself and my children over and over the last few days it is better to love and have pain than to not love and have no tears.  I am so thankful God gave us the opportunity to love the prisoners here.  They have shown me that is it not what we wear or what we have done that identifies us, it is who Christ says I am.  It is not bars that keep us imprisoned but our sin, and it is not the world that gives us freedom but Christ is the one who sets us free.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Youth Day!

We love the youth here and all God is doing in and through them!  We wanted to spend some extra time with them before we go on home service so we decided to have a youth day.  We worshiped, shared God's Word, and played games.
We had about 65 youth come to our youth day.  We were happy to see many new faces.

Lunch!  It is a big job to cook for 65 youth over a fire.  How thankful we are for Whinny's help.

After lunch we divided into four teams to play games.  We wanted to teach working together, encouraging each other knowing you win as a team or loose as a team - and we wanted to have fun!
We started with an obstical course talking about the traps out there to mess us make.  There are dangers that we need to avoid.

There were many little spectators too.

The sac race was a huge hit and everyone laughed like crazy.

Working together as a team with the hola hoop relay.

Tug-a-war was super fun until the rope snapped!  Thankfully it was the last war and no one got hurt.

Water relay.

After games we went back in for our last teaching.  I love sharing God's Word with them.  I like being with them just letting them know they belong and encouraging them.  We have opened our porch every night to any youth who need a place with light to study.  It is another way to open our home to the youth.  Josh gave a Bible challenge to all of them.  If anyone memorized Ephesians 1 they could have a Bible.  One week later one of the girls said the chapter and received her Bible!  I look forward to seeing all the ways God wants to use these youth for His kingdom.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Maybe you remember Faith our friends child with Edwards Syndrome.  Last week Friday Faith died.  Faith had many disabilities and difficulties.  We helped them with her clubbed feet and she had gone to the heart doctor in Kampala several times hoping to repair the hole in her heart once she was strong enough for surgery.  I thank God that two weeks ago Grace really wanted to visit and see Faith.  We walked to their house and they were very positive about the improvements Faith has made.  She was happier, she could hold her head up, and was eating.  I am so glad we got to see Faith one last time.  Faith had a lot of breathing problems (cold like symptoms) and several times her parents were not sure she would live.  Last Thursday Faith went to bed well but by morning they were rushing her to the doctor because of her breathing.  She died on the way.  Faith was 18 months old.

We went on Friday when we heard she died.  I sat with the mother next to Faith and cried.  Emakulate (the mother) kept having to gently keep Faith's eyes closed.  It is hard here with no funeral homes and such.  It made me cry even more.  I know her death really means healing and life for her.  God saved her from so much.  But we are sad.  I can't imagine how empty her mothers arms must feel after carrying her every day for 18 months. 

I do not like funerals here.  Death is never easy but here there are hundreds of people, wailing and sometimes collapsing from grief (seem like a lot of show to an outsider), all day service with many introductions and even political speeches.  But we went because we loved Faith and we love her family.  I prayed God would use us to show His love.  Josh did a great job sharing and quietly I hoped I would get to say something.  Later they did ask both of us to come up again and I was able to share.  Well I cried and tried to share.  I thanked Martin and Emakulate for caring for and loving Faith.  Faith had many difficulties and many people here would just leave her, but you loved her.  I rejoiced that now her heart is healed with Jesus.  But we weep because we loved her.  That's what I can remember.  The answer to prayer came after the funeral when I was walking with my friend and she said I heard people talking and they were touched by what you said.  They know they do not love children like this.  And they saw that you mourn and you love us.  You are together with us.  Some say whites don't cry when someone dies but we now know.  Praise God He used my tears to show His love.

After the service the pastors, including Josh, were called to carry the little coffin to the grave.  This is always the hard part for me.  The final look, the letting go.  I can't imagine how a mother must feel.  It is so hard.  I couldn't even talk when I hugged Emakulate and when I saw Martin.  I just cried.

I am thankful for the true faith I saw in Martin and Emakulate.  They really do trust God.  They trust that it was His will that this happened.  It is in the hard times that our faith can shine.

We visited the family again a week after Faith's death.  They were tired but thankful for people visiting them each day.  It is hard to know what to say - especially crossing cultures and language.  Lydia prayed a beautiful prayer over them saying Faith was God's artwork and thanking God for using Faith's life in all of our lives.  Pray for our friends as they continue to mourn their loss.