Monday, August 28, 2017

Anchoring at an Altar

Jessica Hogan, Volunteer, Honduras

Anchoring to an Altar
The alarm sounds early, waking Ivan from his slumber. He slips out of bed, rubs his eyes, and makes his way to the chapel in the early morning darkness. A rooster crows to announce the new day, and the crickets continue their steady chirping cadence.

He opens the chapel doors and turns on the lights, already joined by a few others who chose to give up some sleep. This small group calls themselves the Remnant of Intercession. 

Ivan walks to the front and faces the altar. The students at Escuela El Sembrador (School of the Sower) in Honduras will be waking up in an hour, and the chaos of the day will begin. But for now, he embraces the stillness. For now, it is only him and God, sharing a quiet moment.

On his knees, he bows his face to the floor.

He breathes.

He begins to pray.

Ivan is the residential life counselor with a missionary’s heart at El Sembrador. Caring for over 80 residential boys is a daunting task, which is why Ivan decided last year to dedicate the first hour of the day to prayer.

“I wanted to give God the first moments of the day,” he said. “In that time I could give all my burdens to God, and it helped me begin my work with new strength.” Over time a small group of students joined him, and together they prayed for their classmates, for El Sembrador employees, and for the leadership of the school. 

The boys at El Sembrador have a routine of school in the morning, work in the afternoon, and studying and playing in the evening. From the time the bell in the dining hall is first rung in the morning, Ivan’s work is nonstop until the boys share a devotional and then go to bed at night. It is very important for Ivan to set aside some time every day to enjoy the calm that comes with resting in God’s presence. These moments are an anchor for Ivan so that he is ready to face whatever life brings him. 

GIVE:  Many students at El Sembrador come from broken homes and are rarely told they can bring positive change to their lives. By sponsoring a student, you are letting him know that someone loves him and is invested in his success. Through your prayers, written letters, and financial support, you are investing in the future generation of Honduran leaders. Sign up to sponsor a student today!

Monday, August 21, 2017

I Fell in Love in Kenya

Rebecca Denning, Volunteer, Kenya

I Fell in Love in Kenya
I fell in love in Kenya...with a dirty, hungry, homeless, 9-year-old boy. He was swinging on tree ropes near my home on the missionary compound at Tenwek Hospital. I could tell he was enjoying himself, smiling and pumping his legs hard as if it would swing him into a new life.

“Hey buddy, time to go home,” I said.

 The pumping stopped, and he walked toward me, eyes on the ground. In broken English he said, “I have no parents.”

Another missionary walked by and I said, “Hey Jenny, this boy says he doesn’t have parents.” 

“Yeah, he told me the same thing earlier.” 

The neighbor’s daughter, a Kenyan, was passing by so we asked her to translate. We discovered Emmanuel had been living on the streets and truly had no family. The three of us walked to a storage closet for orphans. We found a few outfits, a backpack, toiletries, and a teddy bear. For the next two days, Emmanuel slept at Jenny’s house and even learned to ride a bicycle.

Those days were filled with social workers and child services attempting to gather the pieces to Emmanuel’s story. Emmanuel shared that he had been homeless for at least the last six months, but the gaps in his story suggested far longer. His mother had reportedly died of HIV when he was very young, and he didn’t remember his father.  

After two days of investigative work, no family could be found. It was now time to decide what to do with this precious little one. Peter, a dear Kenyan friend, helped us arrange for Emmanuel to be placed at nearby Mosop Children’s Home, which doubles as a boarding school and has high standards for cleanliness, nutrition, academics, and medical care.  

Peter and I loaded Emmanuel in the car, his new teddy bear peering out the side pocket of his backpack. Emmanuel was squirming and showing off his toothy smile, thrilled to be going to school. As we pulled in the driveway, he practically jumped out of his seat in excitement, yelling, “Mosop-school! Mosop-school!” Children dressed in neat brown uniforms ran along the fence to greet us before teachers led us to a room where they gave Emmanuel an academic examination. It was determined he would be placed in Class 1 (the equivalent of first grade) because of his inability to write. He would need special attention to keep up with the class, but he was expected to do just fine. 

I asked that he be examined at the clinic and receive an HIV test. The teacher agreed and then offered me a tuition breakdown and a list of required school supplies. He needs what for first grade? She then told me it was time to take him around the school and orient him to his new home. I asked if I could join them, to which she politely responded, “He will be fine; we’ll see you tomorrow.” Got it, time to let him go. 

I hugged my little friend, told him I would see him tomorrow, and left him at that big school with people he had just met and a bunch of kids who I prayed would be nice to him. All night I thought about and prayed for that little guy.

I’d only known him for three days, but I felt like a part of me was missing. As I prayed, God brought three words to my mind: “God with us.” Burdened with emotions, it took me a second to remember that Emmanuel means “God with us.” Emmanuel has never been alone, forsaken, or homeless; and neither have I. 

The next day, I stuffed his footlocker with supplies, clothes, and extra goodies, including pictures Jenny’s family had laminated. Emmanuel loved opening his footlocker, coming to the pictures saying, “Tank you, tank you!” 

I was told his HIV test was negative, but he has hearing difficulty in his right ear. Inside, I breathed a great sigh of relief about the former but had a thousand questions about the latter. The teacher beat me to the punch, saying, “I think I’ll ask the nurse; I’d like to know what’s wrong with that ear.” God is with him. Okay, got it! 

For the next week, I learned how to embroider “Emmanuel Kiplangat” on all his clothes. With every letter sewn, I thought about his smile, his laugh, and his goofy “Yah!” he uses to express happiness. I thought about what I’m going to do when I leave in July, who will come to visit him on my behalf, and when I’ll be able to come back to see him. As much as my heart breaks to think of leaving him, I know Kenya is Emmanuel’s home and that the staff at Mosop will raise him to be a strong man. Instead, I should direct my thoughts and prayers on how I can support him from afar.

So, I’ve fallen for a 9-year-old boy. I can honestly say, I would give anything for his happiness and success in this world. No matter the impact I’ve had and will continue to have in Emmanuel’s life, I pray that neither of us will forget that God is with us. He is with us when we have nothing; when we are homeless and hungry, without family or friends; when we’re brokenhearted and deeply saddened; and when we have all we need and more.

GO: While volunteering at Tenwek, Rebecca met Emmanuel, and both lives were changed forever. Are you ready to have your heart broken in order to share the love of Jesus with others? Click here to find your mission field.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Do You See the Cross

Shushan Richardson, Missionary, Lithuania

Do You See The Cross?
In the days leading up to the trial that would eventually result in a not guilty verdict for the man who killed my youngest brother, I went on a private spiritual retreat. It was a time of prayer and seeking God.

In those days of quiet, I read the Bible and Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper. During those days, God brought me to the cross and helped me to see it. Before, I saw the cross as a picture of God’s love, grace, and victory. My view was beautiful and joyful, but it was shallow. I realized that I had been missing the cost, cheapening the unimaginable suffering of Jesus. The cross is an amazingly powerful reminder that we are called to die, called to give up illusions that this world is fair and safe and just and easy.

It is a reminder that no matter the pain, difficulty, or cost, we are called to love and live and suffer as Christ did. I now see and feel the cross differently, overcome by the fullness of the vision. Worship for me has become all about the cross. 

Like life, missions is full of uncertainty. I had hoped to return to Ukraine, but the opportunity to serve with war-affected students drew me to the country of Georgia. There, I was presented with a new cross—the Georgian interpretation where the arms of the cross point downward. At first, I bristled at the strangeness and thought it was irreverent. But then I heard the beautiful story of a missionary to Georgia in the fourth century. She came to Georgia, sharing the gospel and living such a devout life that even the king took notice. She constructed a cross of grapevines, which she bound together with her hair. Eventually, she was able to lead the king to Jesus. Not only did he become a believer but also Georgia was a Christian country by the year 337. And the cross made of twisted grapevines remains a symbol of a life and a country dedicated to Christ.

When students from Iraq and Syria were unable to enter Georgia, the ministry was relocated to Lithuania. Here, too, the cross is a central theme. The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is an awesome site. Hundreds of thousands of crosses have been placed on a small raised area outside of a city. The hill began as a memorial to soldiers lost in battle in the 1830s. It became a place of prayer for peace, and more crosses were erected. Under the Soviet Union, crosses and other Christian symbols were not permitted. Three times during the Soviet occupation, the crosses were destroyed. Yet under threat of punishment, Lithuanian people continued to sneak in in the dark of night to place crosses at this site, proclaiming their faith in God and praying for peace.

Now, I am serving at LCC International University in Lithuania, and we have 16 students from Syria and Iraq. They have suffered the horrific events that we have only seen a glimpse of through news reports.

Recently, I was sitting with some students from Syria. We had the opportunity to speak with filmmakers who made a documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis. They asked the students how they are adjusting to Lithuania and what stereotypes they face as Muslims. One young man was quick to speak up. He said, “I will let my Muslim brothers answer, but first, I want to tell you that I am a Christian. Yes, Jesus is in Syria.”
And Jesus is in Iraq, also, evidenced by the small wooden cross one of my Iraqi students wears proudly around his neck.

Yes, life and missions are uncertain, but God is not. Wherever I go, God has already been there. The cross asks if I am willing to do more than love. Do you see the cross? What great joy and sorrow, what amazing love and suffering, what overwhelming hope and despair, what unimaginable peace and pain; but above all else, what an awesome God! I see the cross and because I do, my view of everything else has become tainted and shallow.

Do you see the cross? Look again.

GIVE: Be a part of building up believers—many of whom have survived war and persecution—in the Middle East by donating to the Yemen Crisis Relief Fund.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cynthia's War Room

Carolyn Wade, Missionary, Kenya

Cynthia's War Room
Have you seen the movie War Room about a woman who prays faithfully from her closet? My Kenyan friend Cynthia (name changed) was so inspired by that movie that she created a similar space in her own home. 

I first met Cynthia in 2011, when we met with several girls who wanted to leave the sex industry. She has continued ministering to them since that time. Cynthia has a missionary heart, encouraging and supporting widows and other needy people in her community. 

I knew the Holy Spirit was guiding me to mentor Cynthia. When she came to our first meeting in my home, she brought her oldest son, Joshua. This had not been anticipated! I knew we would discuss sensitive issues, so Joshua was sent to lunch with our worker while Cynthia and I talked. 

She was in crisis at the time. She and her children had been victims of physical and emotional abuse by the children’s father. The chief had given a letter of warning to the father, and Cynthia left the home with the four boys. She had been praying for a resolution in the family.

Cynthia related how the movie War Room had impacted her prayer life. She learned that there is power in secret prayer. This had been a strengthening spiritual experience for her in the midst of all the challenges.  

She had constructed a wardrobe in which to hang her clothes, and this wardrobe became her prayer closet. Each time she wanted to pray, she removed the clothes from the wardrobe and went inside to pray. She poured out her heart to the Lord about all that concerned her and her children during those precious moments of prayer. 
Joshua had been observing her going into the closet, and one day he asked to go in, too, saying that he had some things to talk to God about. Soon, all four boys were spending time in the closet praying to God. 

The family has since moved to a larger home, and Cynthia created a new space for prayer. This “closet” is a curtained-off area of her bedroom. She and the boys individually bring one request before the Lord and post it on the wall. When the Lord gives an answer, they mark the response. The answers to prayer are flowing!
  • One day, Joshua went into the closet to thank the Lord for the cup of plain tea they were drinking. He told the Lord that he wanted to be grateful for the plain cup of tea, because surely the Lord had chosen to give their sugar to someone who needed it more. Joshua was trusting the Lord to supply for their needs. Soon after, there was a knock at the door. A woman handed Cynthia two kilos (about four and a half pounds) of sugar and a large bag of tea leaves. Later that day, three packets of milk were brought to the house. The answered prayer came about in the supply of all the ingredients needed for a proper cup of tea!
  • Caleb, Cynthia’s second son, had broken his right arm playing soccer. Local physical therapy was causing extreme pain for him. Cynthia prayed over him, and the family was able to go to Tenwek Hospital to seek answers. The cast had been removed too quickly, and his arm was splinted for another 10 days to assist in healing. Caleb has to continue with daily exercises to bring back full range of motion to his right arm, but he will not need the painful therapy he had endured. 
  • Cynthia has started a small shop selling produce, French fries, soap, and matches. We believe God is going to bless this business as she tithes. 
  • All four boys are in school with fees paid by Cynthia. Joshua was chosen the leader for the Christian Union at his high school, leading devotions each Friday. This occurred even though he was late starting school, because the principal was amazed at how well Joshua knew the Bible. Cynthia has been teaching the boys from the Word of God for many years!
  • Helping former sex workers earn clean money and discipling them are two of Cynthia’s goals. Recently, on her birthday, nine girls accepted Christ as their Savior and left the sex industry. Four of them are now washing clothes for other women, and Cynthia is working to encourage them all in their new lives.
A closet is certainly not required for God to answer prayer. However, Cynthia loves being alone with God in her prayer closet. It is also teaching her sons the value of prayer and that God does hear and answer.  

PRAY: Please pray for Cynthia, Joshua, Caleb, Shadrack, and Levi. Pray for spiritual growth, the provision of daily needs, blessings on Cynthia’s small business, and continued passion as Cynthia helps unreached girls who lack direction in life. May Cynthia’s life also inspire you to have a special prayer place where you regularly seek God’s face in faith. God is faithful, and He will answer your heart’s cry. Is He hearing from you?