In the Middle

Last October, I took a trip with TEAM, the missions organization I work for, to Spain and Portugal. On the trip, we explored the culture of each city and learned about the religious implications Spanish and Portuguese history have on sharing the Gospel today. This post is a long time coming…this trip had a profound effect on my heart and mind, but I wanted to process internally before putting it out there.

 

The beginning of a story is exciting, full of possibilities.

The end of a story is typically full of gratitude, thanksgiving, and excitement for the next steps.

But the middle of the story—that’s the everyday, one foot in front of the other part. It’s the drudgery, the hard work, the repetitiveness. The middle can be simple and even boring. But it’s also where the faithfulness is born.

One of my favorite things of my trip to Spain and Portugal was walking the journey of a church plant just outside of Porto, Portugal. I read this story from TEAM about this church’s journey and their difficulties finding a place to meet and grow as a body of believers. Communities in Porto are really suspicious of evangelical organizations. Some people might even compare them to a cult. But the Holy Spirit moved and this body of believers continued to grow—building or not.

This church got kicked out of the missionary’s living room, then moved to a space next to a bar. They were kicked out of there, and moved into a restaurant, only to quickly outgrow the space. They made another move to a larger building. They put so much sweat and tears into this next location to make it welcoming for visitors, but they outgrew this building, too, and knew they wouldn’t be able to find a building for rent that was big enough to hold them. Through more sweat, tears, and prayer, they eventually were able to purchase their own three story building and even build a beautiful sanctuary.

Porto Cathedral
Porto Cathedral

That evening, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of this church with the body of Portuguese believers there. There were young people leading worship as we sang, “Greater things are yet to come in this city.” It was surreal, this beautiful redemptive story wrapped in a bow. God provided the church with a building, where they are now thriving!

Looking back, it is so easy to forget all the doubts and questioning and the beginning and middle of this story. People came and went from this church throughout the years. Missionaries were lonely as they made a home away from what they knew. There were probably many nights wondering where there congregation could meet that week.  Yet, all the while, God was moving them closer to this moment of celebration, inch by inch.

Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal
Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal

Here’s the thing: we all have a middle to our stories. We all have the moments where we are so unsure we are where we are supposed to be that we want to quit. When things are so difficult that it’s easier to pack up and go home. But sometimes God asks us to show up in the middle and do the hard work and if we refuse, our stories don’t get the victorious endings they deserve. They don’t express the faithfulness of showing up every day to the thing you’re called to and doing it without glamor or fanfare.

A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral
A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral

It reminds me of one of my very favorite verses, “Let us hold unswervingly to this faith we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Let us show up in the middle, let us keep doing the work God puts before us. Let us keep showing up, day in and day out. Let us hold unswervingly to our faith, even when it’s plain and simple and boring. I love the beginnings and the endings, but I hope I get better at the glorious, faithful middle.

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When Hiding Our Eyes Isn’t Working

I wholeheartedly think that ISIS has continued to grow because of the lack of Christian knowledge and action to fight the spread of Islam around the world. It’s a multi-faceted issue, for sure, but the longer Christians sit with our eyes closed the more expansive this issue will become.  This hits close to home for me for multiple reasons.

1)      As a believer, and the idea that the areas where Paul and Peter and the apostles planted churches in the first century are now strongholds of the Islamic faith breaks my heart.

2)      The last time I went to Ghana, a place I deeply love, I could see a visual difference in the number of Muslims as compared to the first time I visited only two years before. (Just last week, Ghana had its first documented ISIS recruit). 

3)      ISIS recruits in areas with low education and high poverty rates, taking advantage of those in poverty.  They recruit from refugee camps, places with minimal opportunities for young adults, and prey on lonely people online.  ISIS is the one offering a sick, sick version of hope to people in need. This infuriates me, that they would take advantage of this. But it also infuriates me because Christians, the ones with the real hope, have not been sharing our faith with Muslims.  ISIS is a radical version of Islam, so I do not believe their views and actions are indicative of the entire religion of Islam. However, only 15% of ALL MUSLIMS have EVER even HEARD the Gospel. That means, most likely, ISIS members who are completing these atrocious acts have NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL. They have never even had a CHANCE to know REAL HOPE.

So what can we do? Because we HAVE to do something.

It starts with your backyard: at your college, in your apartment complex, in a suburb of your city, there are most likely Muslims. Befriend them. Talk to them. And share the Gospel with them in your actions and with your words. Most likely they are not extremists or ISIS related. But spreading hope can help stop the spread of evil.

Secondly, and I mean this in love, get your head out of your behind and start reading the news. Read the articles that make you want to throw up, because that is the Holy Spirit grieving inside of you, and He will stir you into action. Learn about the history and makeup of ISIS. Learn about the Islamic faith and what makes extremists different from other Muslims. Follow reporters who focus on ISIS on Twitter (Rukmini Callimachi is a MUST follow). Watch Half the Sky and Girl Rising on Netflix to learn more about the culture of developing countries and how it affects women and crime.

Thirdly, pray against ISIS. Pray for the women ISIS is systematically raping and selling as slaves as an act of worship. Pray at noon everyday along with the women of Hillsong. Pray the leaders of ISIS would get visions from the Lord that what they are doing is wrong. Pray for your Muslim friends in Jesus’ name. Pray that Christians, including yourself and myself, would have an undeniable passion for sharing the Gospel. Pray for the refugee crisis, that those in camps would be protected from recruitment.

Lastly, support organizations that work with the refugee crisis or ministry in the Middle East (the only ones I am familiar enough with to recommend are World Vision and iHOPE Ministries, but I know there have to be others. If you know of any, please comment below with the name).

I may sound a little harsh and ranting, but this is the issue of our generation, and I can’t keep hiding my eyes because the pictures break my heart, or because the idea of ISIS continuing to spread is the scariest thing I can think of. We need to do something.

 

Further (Much More Helpful and Educated) Reading

ISIS’ American Recruiting Tactics by Rukmini Callimachi for the New York Times

What Can Be Done About Isis? by Johnnie Moore for Relevant.com

Let’s Turn on the Light for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees by Lynn Hybels

ISIS Recruiting Next Generation Fighters by Hari Sreenivasan for PBS

ISIS and Relative Deprivation by Ömer Taşpınar for Huffington Post

5 Ways to Stand Up and Be the Church by Ann Voskamp

 

**I’d like to note that I touch on several different issues that ISIS effects, in a very simple way. As I said, each issue is multi-faceted, and I encourage you to keep reading and researching the issues that can allow such a group to come into power, and the issues a group like this brings as it continues to grow in power (and I promise to do the same)**

i’m proud of you.

Two things I am thankful for on a daily basis are my two biggest fans: my dad and my husband. My dad is my fiercest champion, and when I think of him I think of all the times growing up he took the time to look me in the eyes and say, “I’m proud of you. You can do anything you want to; do you know that?” My husband sometimes looks at me like I’m crazy, but I like to think it’s the cute kind of crazy, and he is always right there cheering me on.

Here’s the thing, though: thousands upon thousands of women don’t have those personal champions, and some are barely scraping by. The most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed was a mom dropping her beloved child at an orphanage, unable to stand by and see her child suffering from hunger and illness because of their poverty. The hopelessness on this woman’s face is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. She had no way to support herself, no money, no sort of social system to help her climb out of a life of hardship.

The unique struggles of women in poverty are overwhelming, but their beauty and strength is inspiring.

This is why I was so attracted to Fair Trade Friday when I first heard about it. This monthly box club highlights companies that are employing women around the world. These companies become champions for these women, investing in their mind and spirit. The women begin earning money by making beautiful goods that vary from earrings and necklaces to bags to coffee to soap.

Not only is all of this stuff gorgeous, but it is all high quality, too. There are several ways to buy: a monthly club with a variety of good each month (it’s waitlisted now, so you can still sign up to be notified when it’s open), an Earring of the Month Club (open and a super affordable option!), a single box, or even individual products. By buying these things, you are supporting each artisan as she learns and grows and supports her family.

Here’s the thing: you are going to buy jewelry, and gifts for friends, and coffee, and I truly believe every dollar you spend says something. It can say, “I was running late,” or “I spent too much,” or, “I got a great deal,” or “I couldn’t resist.” And those things are fine, they really are.  But here’s what I want some of mine to say: “You are so strong and inspiring. I am proud of you. You can do anything you want to.”

Sign up for Fair Trade Friday club here.

Buy individual products here.

Check out the organization behind FTF Club, Mercy House Kenya.

and yes again

Last night I was sitting in a room of 100 people celebrating a missions organization that is doing new and exciting things really well and really humbly. It’s the fourth time this year I have gotten to sit in a room full of staff, donors, retirees, future missionaries, and former missionaries.

The planning and details are habit by now; we’ve done the same thing several times. But what I am never prepared for is the moment I look around the room at all the faces and see the years and years and years and years of missionary service represented.

Have you ever seen a room full of God’s faithfulness? Have you ever felt legacy like it is a presence in the room? Have you ever seen real life heroes sitting and eating and hugging and laughing?

Here’s what it feels like: joy. Joy not in circumstances or health or even home, for most of the missionaries I’ve talked to don’t really feel that they have a true home. But joy in service. Joy in faithfulness. Joy in yes.

A speaker last night said it best when describing a time he wrote a promise to the Lord during a season of transition. His simple promise? “Yes, and yes again.”

Do you know what kind of person you want to be? I look at these people and I know. I know the pain from exhaustion and failure and transition and homelessness and even sickness will always, always be diminished by this joy beaming from their souls.

I look at these people and I know who I want to be. I want, no I need, to be someone who says yes, and yes again.

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and they’ve never even heard

This weekend, I attended a Muslim Outreach Workshop hosted by iHOPE Ministries. There was so much good information I had to share, but as I sat down to write, I realized there was so much info I couldn’t fit it all in one blog post. Here’s Part I, and Part II will come your way soon!

 

I heard something crazy this weekend.

I was extremely blessed to go to a Muslim Outreach Workshop, hosted by iHOPE Ministries. iHOPE was founded by Renod Benajji, who was born in the Middle East and became a Christian at an early age. He was persecuted for his faith when he was younger and actually grew up hating Muslims. As the Lord worked on his heart (in his words: “Sanctification sucks.”), he came to love Muslims and now runs the ministry, which equips and mobilizes churches to share the Gospel with Muslims.

The workshop focused on reaching Muslims in your day to day life—at your college, across the street, at the grocery store. It focused mostly on Muslims from the Middle East, but the principles given seemed to apply to any background. 

Renod gave some background to Islam. The most interesting part to me was the comparison of Islam to Old Testament Judaism. Think of all the worst pictures the Old Testament could paint of God if you forget all the good and take them at face value—angry, merciless, wrathful, destroyer. That’s Allah to many Muslims.

The Problem:

The workshop opened with a little of Renod’s story, then we moved into stats regarding Muslims in the world. We learned there are 1.64 billion Muslims in the world. That’s crazy, the second largest religion. But then we heard something crazier: 1.4 billion of them have never even heard the Gospel. That means 85% of people who believe in Allah’s judgement and wrath and earning his favor through good deeds have never even heard there is a God who loves them, who gives them rest, who cares for them.

Those numbers flashed on the screen and I immediately saw the picture of Islamic extremists beheading Christians. Then the words flashed over the mental image: THEY’VE NEVER EVEN HEARD.

I think of the women covered head to toe, seeing the world through narrow slit.

I think of the men praying to a god who is full of wrath, empty of grace.

I think of the college students searching for meaning and purpose.

I think of little boys growing up do anything to please Allah.

They’ve never even heard, and if things don’t change, believers, if we don’t change, they probably never will.

How can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them?

Romans 10:14 

 

iHOPE is doing some really cool things to equip the church to reach Muslims. Check out more about their ministry here, and if you’re in the DFW area, I highly recommend checking out this workshop.

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I’m Forgetting Something…

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This Easter, I’m forgetting something.

I’m gonna forget the drive to the mall, the searching through stores. I’m gonna forget about the $30+ I could spend on a new dress.  I’m going to forget about the pressure to look perfect in order to celebrate Jesus.

Easter

But I’m going to remember her:

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And him:

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I’m going to remember this group:

Ghana 294

And them:

Togo 052

I’m going to remember Isaiah 1 and Isaiah 58. I’m going to remember Matthew 25 and James 1:27.

Nothing’s wrong with dressing up. There is respect and good intentions and love in that. But this year, I am trading it in to feed an orphan!

Forget the Frock, started by Emily, whose husband used to pastor in our town, is about leaving behind the dress and instead buying a shirt from Feeding the Orphans (or another organization that provides food and water and empowers people!). Feeding the Orphans is awesome because all their sales go towards those in need—overhead costs are fundraised separately (and needed! You can donate to those costs here!).

What about you, friends? Do you want to leave the frilly dress and studly suit behind? Love an orphaned child this Easter…what better way to show respect and love towards Christ who loves orphans so deeply? Forget the Frock!

I’m Forgetting Something…

1780280_547515948689290_1012097097_o

This Easter, I’m forgetting something.

I’m gonna forget the drive to the mall, the searching through stores. I’m gonna forget about the $30+ I could spend on a new dress.  I’m going to forget about the pressure to look perfect in order to celebrate Jesus.

Easter

But I’m going to remember her:

14189_10151227016730270_1593398885_n

And him:

23912_10151227012925270_1398747009_n

I’m going to remember this group:

Ghana 294

And them:

Togo 052

I’m going to remember Isaiah 1 and Isaiah 58. I’m going to remember Matthew 25 and James 1:27.

Nothing’s wrong with dressing up. There is respect and good intentions and love in that. But this year, I am trading it in to feed an orphan!

Forget the Frock, started by Emily, whose husband used to pastor in our town, is about leaving behind the dress and instead buying a shirt from Feeding the Orphans (or another organization that provides food and water and empowers people!). Feeding the Orphans is awesome because all their sales go towards those in need—overhead costs are fundraised separately (and needed! You can donate to those costs here!).

What about you, friends? Do you want to leave the frilly dress and studly suit behind? Love an orphaned child this Easter…what better way to show respect and love towards Christ who loves orphans so deeply? Forget the Frock!

2013: looking back and pushing forward

2013

2013 has had good times. Event-wise definitely the best, but it has definitely been the most change filled year of my life thus far. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights:

pageant2pageant

Miss Valentine’s Day Pageant: First of all, doing a pageant is SO FAR outside of my comfort zone, but it was so much fun. I loved spending the week meeting other awesome girls from across campus. The pageant showed me that I have a voice, and I learned to be a little more confident in it.

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2 years: Celebrate 2 years with my then-fiancé with a scavenger hunt and Opening Nights for the Reds.

Chris’ Graduation: I’ve never been so proud. Chris is not a school guy, but he fought hard and ended up getting an award the day he graduated. So proud!

Parent’s Moving: said goodbye to my hometown in Eastern Kentucky, dealt with a lot of regrets about high school and also sad to see my parents so far away

Marriage: Marrying my best friend, learning about God through wedding planning, spending an amazing week in Charleston, SC

Bride & Groom (6)

Ceremony (28)

August brought some advice for college freshman and an examination of self-worth.

September-December also brought a huge realization that God has burdened me with the passion to alleviate poverty and work with a nonprofit that is doing just that.

It also strengthened my passion in children’s ministry through my internship.

And December brought graduation (why do I have no pictures of this?!?), co-salutatorian, and a deep satisfaction in moving on. I can never say I like change, but graduation was different. I was proud of my time in school and the work I did, but also ready to move on to something different.

So, 2013, you’ve been good to me, even when I haven’t always seen it. I can’t wait for 2014 and the things God has for me.

God said, “Go.”

One day God said, “Go.”

And I said no, because it was too hot.

One day God said go.

And I said no, because it was too expensive.

One day God said, “Go.”

And I said no, because I had other things to do.

One day God said, “Go.”

And I finally did.

And I found out he wasn’t just saying “Go.” He was saying “come.”

“Come to me, and realize what my heart is really like.  Come to me, and realize that joy is not your circumstances or money or being able to look at yourself in a mirror or food with real cheese. Come to me and find that you don’t need marriage to fulfill you.  Come to me and find that your rules and relationships and talents and churches and jobs are meaningless if you don’t care for the poor and broken and dirty.  Come to me and find out you are actually the one who is poor and broken and dirty.  Come to me. Come to me. Come to me.”

God said, “Go.”

One day God said, “Go.”

And I said no, because it was too hot.

One day God said go.

And I said no, because it was too expensive.

One day God said, “Go.”

And I said no, because I had other things to do.

One day God said, “Go.”

And I finally did.

And I found out he wasn’t just saying “Go.” He was saying “come.”

“Come to me, and realize what my heart is really like.  Come to me, and realize that joy is not your circumstances or money or being able to look at yourself in a mirror or food with real cheese. Come to me and find that you don’t need marriage to fulfill you.  Come to me and find that your rules and relationships and talents and churches and jobs are meaningless if you don’t care for the poor and broken and dirty.  Come to me and find out you are actually the one who is poor and broken and dirty.  Come to me. Come to me. Come to me.”