Walking in a Foreign Land

 

When I learned about the possibility of doing overseas missions this Summer, I was ecstatic about the prospect but concerned because I knew I could never afford such trips. Then I learned about the generosity of my Hoover church family and their willingness to help send us. Because of their help, I have been extremely blessed this summer to attend not one, but two overseas mission trips. I hope they know that their giving has not been in vain.

In Tanzania, we were able to take over 1,500 pounds of supplies, including food, clothing, toys, and Bibles. We conducted countless Bible studies and had a total of sixteen baptisms. I met three amazing families who have given up all of their luxuries in America and moved to a third world country to spread the gospel. I watched and learned from members of my church family who have been to Tanzania several times. They taught me how to effectively study with someone, despite cultural barriers and even language barriers. They maintained joy and positive attitudes, even through unfortunate circumstances, passport issues, lost luggage, and illness. I watched as people who were afraid of flying boarded a plane because they placed the needs of others above their own fear. I watched them give their own money, their own clothes, and their own food to other people that they didn’t even know. I watched as people who live on the other side of the world greeted them like family, with a very apparent mutual love for one another. And when telling about their love for the people there, tears formed in their eyes. All in all, they inspired me.

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Less than two weeks after returning from Tanzania, I began the trek to Guyana with another group from Hoover. I watched as they kept a sense of joy even when arriving to the airport at 4:00am. They continually return, year after year, to trudge through blazing heat and pouring rain in order to spread the good news. They left behind newly born children and newlywed spouses to walk the streets of a country that needed them. When the temperatures are soaring and the van rides are long, they laugh. When thunder and lightning interrupt the journey, they laugh. They enter houses that most would not, and when studying God’s word is interrupted by multitudes of mice scurrying through the couches, over the floor and across their skin, they still continue to laugh. When the flights are delayed, planes are missed, and we wearily sleep on an airport floor, they laugh. They pour their hearts into the work even when rejected and give strangers in a foreign country a true glimpse of the love of Jesus. All in all, they encourage me.

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Even as we are working in Guyana, the work of the church does not cease at home.  The day prior to our departure, I stopped by the church building and saw numerous people preparing for Vacation Bible School. They were freely giving of their time, talents and effort when they undoubtedly had numerous other options for activities or for rest. And they were doing so with cheerfulness. The food pantry continued to open, providing free food and necessities for members of our community. Members will continue to attend service at the AHEPA apartment complex, providing services for people who would otherwise have none. There will be wedding showers, youth devotionals, camping and adequate opportunities for fellowship. Members of the church will continue to bless the community in ways that they will never publicize. They will donate to the Ronald McDonald House, serve food at the battered women’s shelter, visit the shut-ins, feed the hungry, and so much more.

This has been a summer full of blessings, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve others and spread the gospel overseas. I believe I have found an area where I am able to fully utilize my talents and it would not be possible to do so without the incredible generosity of others. The Bible often talks about church members having different talents from one another. When everyone utilizes those different talents, it is like a fine-tuned machine.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” -I Peter 4:10

I’m so thankful for those who teach the young children’s classes every week because that is not my gift. I’m thankful for those who lead singing and for those who are true encouragers, like Barnabas, because those are not my gifts. I’m thankful for those who are able to fund overseas missions because that is not my gift. But I love to teach and to walk the streets of a foreign land, telling the good news, even more than I thought possible.

For those of you who were able to use your gifts to aid in mine, I am deeply indebted and forever changed. Whether you prayed for us, encouraged us, donated supplies, or funded our trip, I hope you know that you played a key role in so many parts of our mission. You helped us to spread the good news, you provided food and clothing to those in need, you went to the Father on our behalf to ensure a productive and safe journey, and you allowed us the blessing of being the messengers.

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Sitting in a church service in Tanzania, I looked at those around me and was struck by a realization that I always knew but had never meant more to me. As I looked down the row and realized that three of us had our Bibles open, and every Bible was in a different language, I was awestruck at the power of the gospel and the verity of verses like Psalms 96:3:

“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!”

In a world where hatred and sadness continually fill our news stations and our computer screens, I am so blessed to be a part of a church family that spreads the news of love and grace with all generosity. In closing I leave you with a verse that has recently resonated with me and that I believe describes our mission teams and our church with all earnestness.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22

Mungu ni pendo. God is love.

 

 

 

 

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We Are Not Called to be Safe

 

Recently, I was reading the book Radical by David Platt. There was a sentence in that book that really resonated with me.

“We [Christians] are not called to be safe.”

I hear a lot of excuses on a continual basis that use safety as a crutch for not fulfilling the law and love of Christ.

“It’s too dangerous in that part of the world.”

“You can’t take a stranger into your home. What if they hurt/shoot/rob you?”

“Don’t go into ‘that’ neighborhood. It’s not safe!”

“You can’t stop for strangers! It’s too dangerous!”

Beginning in 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul states, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day adrift in the open sea. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”

But we can’t stop to help someone on the side of the road because “Stranger Danger?”

We can’t travel for a mission trip, in a plane, having taken medical precautions for sickness, having packed more than enough food, and knowing we will have somewhere to lay our heads…Because some random, unforeseen incident *might* happen?

Making excuses for not spreading the love of Christ because of “safety” shows a complete and utter disregard for the 365 times we are told in the Bible to “not be afraid.”

Isaiah 43 says, “But now this is what the Lord says, He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overcome you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Last year, I began studying the New Testament, not just reading through, as I have done many times, but really trying to dig deep into what it means to be and live like a Christian.

It should have been obvious that the main focus of a Christian is to help those around us. Showing love to others should be apparent. But is it? I was struck by the number of times, especially in John, that we are told to love our neighbors. Loving them involves teaching them and helping them, whether spiritually or physically. Our “neighbor”is EVERYONE around us, and we are not given any leeway about where, why, when, how, or how much we are supposed to help them. Helping others is not an option. We don’t get an exemption from helping someone because it isn’t “safe.” But again…why would we even WANT an exemption?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

There are NO commandments greater than loving God and loving your neighbor. None. Not one. Nada. Zilch. Zero.  “Love your neighbor unless he is poor?” NO. “Love your neighbor unless he is Muslim?” NO. “Love your neighbor unless he is a foreigner?” NO. You just LOVE them. That’s it. And when you love someone, you help them. You treat them how you would want people to treat you. Not with animosity or suspicion. Not with “what ifs” or “maybes.” You don’t add stipulations for “possibility of danger.” You don’t say, “Well, I would like to help them, BUT…”

And if we love our neighbors as we should, we will have no fear in helping them. We will not add “safety” as an excuse for not aiding them and running to them with the words of the gospel.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I John 4:18

If ANYONE had a right to back out due to fear, do you not think it would have been Jesus? He was so distressed, knowing His fate, that he actually sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:24). He was beaten, spat upon, and nailed to a cross for sins that He did not even commit. But many Christians want to turn tail and run when things look a little bit rough.

All but one of the apostles were martyred for their beliefs.

Simon Peter was crucified upside down.

Andrew was scourged and then tied, rather than nailed, to a cross in order to prolong his suffering. According to history, he was still preaching to those who witnessed his execution.

James the son of Zebedee was beheaded. History says that his accuser was so amazed by James’s courage that he repented and became a follower of Christ. James and his accuser were beheaded simultaneously.

Philip was scourged, thrown into prison and crucified in Egypt.

Bartholomew was martyred after preaching throughout several countries. Accounts vary, stating that he either was beaten and crucified or skinned and beheaded.

Thomas was speared to death by local leaders that he angered by preaching God’s word.

Matthew was stabbed in the back by a swordsman sent by King Hertacus, after he denounced the king’s morals (and apparently rightfully so).

James the son of Alphaeus was first beaten and stoned and eventually died from a blow to the head by a club.

Thaddeus was crucified.

Simon the Zealot was crucified.

The only apostle who was not martyred was John. But he still suffered the knowledge of all of his friends being murdered and continued to preach the word. I imagine that knowing that all of your closest friends have died horrible deaths may be even worse than dying.

So let’s look at some of the apostles’ teachings about how we are to treat others. After all, these words are what the apostles died for, right?

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in DEED and in truth.” I John 3:18

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others MORE SIGNIFICANT than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

All of these verses tell us to do good unto others. There are no exceptions for “safety” or anything else.

Did you know that being a coward can keep you out of Heaven?

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

That’s right. Cowardice will keep us from Heaven. It is in the same list as murder and sexual immorality. For some reason, however, this seems to be typically ignored by Christians. It’s easy to condemn a murderer. Most likely, I do not know any murderers. I am definitely not a murderer. But what about a coward?

I have been a coward in my life, and for that, I am ashamed. At one time or another, we probably have all been cowardly. We shy away from teaching others because they might think we are weird. We don’t stand up for others because we don’t want to become alienated along with them. We don’t help the stranded passenger on the side of the road because “what if” he intends to harm us?

Matthew 25:34-40 – “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I saw to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ They will also answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”

Feed the hungry.

Give water to the thirsty.

Clothe those who need clothing.

Visit the sick.

Invite the strangers into your home.

Visit those in prison.

This is what it is ALL about! We are here to help each other and to make the world around us the best place possible. We are not here to make excuses. We are not here to cower, to berate, to withhold love, or to run away. We are here to show love, to others and to God, and to take as many people to Heaven with us as we can.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you, declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14

There are many, many verses in the word of God that instruct us to not be afraid. In fact, it is said that the command “Do not fear” is stated, in one way or another, 365 times in the Bible. That is one command for every day of the year.

I was listening to the radio on the way to school this morning, and the DJ’s had a list of the top fears that people have in 2016. They included mass shootings, terrorism, and the upcoming presidential election results. I don’t believe that anyone would be completely fearless should they have a life-threatening encounter with a terrorist. But isn’t it great that, no matter what happens in this world, our hope is not here?

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

This is a time-appropriate message since we are expecting severe tornadoes tonight, and, let’s face it, I am scared of them. I just keep reminding myself that God is in control, and I am just a stranger and a pilgrim in a foreign land. This world is not my home. My only job is to make the best of the time I am given and to spread the love of Christ as much as I can.

My favorite story in the Bible comes from Luke 8:22-25. The story reads:

22. One day Jesus said to his disciples, “let us go over to the other side of the lake. So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, He fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this man, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Jesus has the power to calm the storm and save our souls. He is all we need.

Will the Sun ever Rise?

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Victor Hugo once stated that “even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” This is a favorite quote of mine for many reasons. I spent many years believing that my sun would never rise and that I would live in darkness for the rest of my life.

You see, when I was around 13 years old, I knew that something was wrong. I started having severe cramps that would cause me to double over in pain. I also was bleeding much more than a normal woman during my period. Any time I mentioned it, I was told that I was exaggerating or that I was “too young” to have those types of problems or to simply “take a pill” and get over it. I was demeaned and dismissed, even by those in the medical community and by members of my own family.

Thanks to the dismissal of those who should have helped me, my problems escalated over a course of 8 years. I became so bad, that I gave up all extracurricular activities, I lost my job, I lost my college scholarship due to absences, and I lost every bit of hope. I would bleed puddles all over the floor in a matter of minutes, and the longest period I had lasted for 90 days. I would get migraines, vomiting, and cramps so bad that all I could do was lay there and cry for days on end. By the time I received the help I needed, it was too late, and the culmination of my disastrous medical fiasco ended in a full hysterectomy by the time I was 22 years old.

This is unacceptable.

You know what else is unacceptable? Medical professionals and “doctors” who CLAIM to be educated and who took an oath to “first do no harm” dismiss diseases like endometriosis. It’s hard work to find someone to take you seriously for any disease that involves your woman parts. Why is this? Are we living in the dark ages? Can we not seek help without someone calling us eccentric or thinking we just want attention? It’s hard to put into words how you feel when you are seriously suffering, and nobody believes you or takes you seriously.

THIS IS PRECISELY WHY THE SUICIDE RATE FOR THOSE WITH ENDOMETRIOSIS IS SO HIGH!

Just this past week, a TV “doctor” named Dr. Drew received a call into his radio show from a man seeking advice for his fiance, who suffered from both endometriosis and interstitial cystitis. Dr. Drew does not let the man ask a question. He immediately refers to both diseases as “garbage bag diagnosis” with “no discernible pathology” (in other words, it’s a “crap disease that isn’t real”) and tells the man that his fiance should see a therapist rather than a medical doctor because she’s been sexually abused. THEN, they go on a laughing spree, making sexual innuendos and jokes about women with pelvic pain who have been sexually abused. The truly sad and disgusting thing is that people will actually take him seriously. And what really depresses me is that poor fiance, who undoubtedly has been battling physical and emotional issues for a long time, has just been mocked and humiliated. So not only is she in severe pain and possibly depression, but we can go ahead and add embarrassment and humiliation to that list. FIRST DO NO HARM, DR. DREW.

I have seen many excuses for his behavior and words, including “well, everyone makes mistakes.” Yes, but NOT everyone makes purposefully arrogant mistakes on a public network, demeaning a severe and crippling disease and can cost people their LIVES! Do you understand that, Dr. Drew? Do you understand that people DIE from endo and IC? Do you understand that your arrogant, woman hating view is the same view that caused me EIGHT YEARS of my life before getting a real diagnosis?

It’s time we hold people accountable for their words and actions. It would’ve been just as easy (and more respectable) for him to say “I’m not an ob/gyn or endo specialist, so I can’t answer. She should find a specialist.” But instead, he shot off at the mouth and disrespected an approximate 176 MILLION women worldwide.

So what are we going to do about it?

It’s time to speak up! Don’t let ANY doctor make you feel inferior. Don’t EVER feel ashamed to tell your story, no matter what people say. If we keep sitting in the shadows, bowing down to people who demean us, our sun will NEVER rise.

Make your sun rise.

For the sake of 176 million suffering women, stand up and make the sun rise. For your daughters, sisters, and mothers who are suffering or are at risk, speak up and make the sun rise. For the husbands, fathers, and brothers who have to watch their loved ones suffer, it’s time to speak up and make the sun rise.

Stop sitting in the darkness. Stop being afraid. Stop giving lenience to people who deserve none. Let your voices be heard. Until then, the sun for 176 million women will never rise.