Wednesday, September 23, 2015

America, The Land of the Free

One of the things that becomes so obvious when living overseas is the incredible amount of freedom we have in the US.  Of course America is famous for it and as Americans we know it, but I don’t think I ever really appreciated what it means to hold an American passport until we’d lived here a while.  We can travel to almost any country at any time without permission from anyone.  We can work where we choose, marry who we like, and be free to practice our own religion.  It’s something much of the world dreams of.  

We are so thankful to be from the Land of the Free and are proud of our heritage.  We are grateful to the many men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others.   With all this renewed appreciation and different perspective I write today with a heavy heart over some things I’ve been consistently seeing from our amazing country.

Before I moved to this country, that is 99.9% Muslim, I had a few Muslim friends but wasn’t sure what to expect.  After living here some of my experiences are: hundreds of people asking me where I’m from and immediately saying , “Welcome!”, having strangers take me by the hand and help me find the place I’m looking for, having neighbors and new friends bring food to my house, them also having my whole family over for a meal and being given their best, and having them text me and call me when terrorists strike to make sure I’m okay.  After all this I perceive Muslims to be some of the most caring, giving and hospitable people on earth.    I CAN acknowledge that and STILL hold fast to the truth that Jesus is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6).  I can have Muslims in my home, call some of them my closest friends and STILL (along with my Muslim friends) be heartbroken over ISIS and demand that the world leaders do more to stop them.  

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, God is bringing refugees by the thousands to your state and your city who have NEVER heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  They have never heard, not because they haven’t wanted to, but because they haven’t had access to do so.  Many of them have NEVER met a Christian.  When they arrive in America what will they think of our God?  Will they know that He is loving and merciful and wants to have them as His children?  Or will they see the glances and watch the protests of their religious liberties and want nothing to do with people who follow Jesus?  

They are likely accustomed to governments being afraid of other religions.  In this country, a follower of Jesus is highly likely to experience persecution.  Maybe from family, friends, employers, or even the government.  The difference is they have a right to be afraid of churches starting here.  Because the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will penetrate lives and change hearts if that happens.  But Christian, what do we have to fear if a mosque opens in your neighborhood?  Have we lost faith in the power of our God?  Because us rejecting their freedom to practice their faith is the same mentality that I see here from their government.  But despite being thrown in jail, beaten, kicked out of their homes, losing their jobs and being shamed, believers are standing firm and God’s Word is going out in this country.  The Holy Spirit will not be stopped by a government demanding people to follow the law.  Do you think in America, if a few Mosques open, that the Word of God will cease to go out?  Do you think that the Holy Spirit will cease to move?  If it does it will not be because of a mosque.  It will be because of the believers who refuse to go and tell.  

Friends, I want to challenge you.  If you see a foreigner ask them where they’re from and how long they’ve been there.  Welcome them to America.  Invite and host them for dinner.  Go to their house when they invite you.  Show them who Jesus is.  It will not be easy at first and it will be awkward at times.  If you have small kids they’ll give them each their own can of soda and more candy than they’ve had all year.   But your kids being up all night is worth them hearing about the grace given to them by what Jesus did for them on the cross.  It is worth them having eternity in heaven with the Father.  

One of my best friends here is a national and lived in the U.S. for a couple of years before returning to her home country.  She lived in a mid-sized city with hundreds of Christian churches (around 100 of them SBC) and NEVER ONCE got invited to someones home.  Despite asking many people (neighbors, families at her kids school) into her home no one ever accepted.  She lived in a city with around 100 SBC churches, dozens more Christian churches and NEVER heard the gospel.  I came home and cried when she told me this, heartbroken.

Would you consider praying and asking God how you can show Muslims in your city the love of Christ?  God might not be calling you across the world but He may be calling you to drive 20 minutes to another part of town.  Would you be their friend and welcome them to their new home?  Don’t let your neighbor go back to their home country without being loved by a Christian and hearing the Gospel.  It may be their only chance.

If we love only those who love us, if we only greet our brother, we are no better than unbelievers (Matthew 5:46-47).  But what do we say to the fact that unbelievers ARE loving others and ARE greeting the foreigner.  Are we whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones or are we full of the love of the Holy Spirit?  

As I type this I can hear all the sheep at the houses surrounding ours “baaing”.  Tomorrow is the big holiday here where each family slaughters a sheep in remembrance of God giving Abraham a sheep in the place of his son.  If you see a Muslim today or tomorrow would you wish them a happy holiday?  You can even say “Eidick Mabrook” to them.  Maybe you’ll have the chance to tell them that this story that they celebrate is a beautiful picture of the Lamb that was slain for us (Isaiah 53).  The Son that WAS sacrificed for our sins so we no longer have to sacrifice sheep (John 1:29).  

We are praying for you as you wrestle with how God will use you to love your neighbors and love those that God is bringing into your city.  And we CAN’T WAIT to hear the stories that come from you stepping out.  

Here's a link from the ERLC that expresses similar thoughts in a much more eloquent way: 

4 Things Christians Say When They Deny Religious Liberty to Others

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Word to Senders

We’re super fortunate and grateful to have really awesome senders who support us.  Not all of my friends living cross-culturally have this so I thought I’d put a word out there to help those who maybe haven’t thought much about those they’ve sent.  I've got 4 tips for you.

 1. Tell them when you’re praying.
While we love getting an email back from our newsletters letting us know you are reading it and praying for us, but it’s even more encouraging when we know you’re praying for us at other times.  If the Spirit has brought sent ones to your mind one day send them a text/email/viber/twitter/skype etc that you are praying for them.  We’ve experienced that when the Father is bringing us to the minds of our friends it’s because we are under an unusual spiritual attack or experiencing some difficulty.  During our first few months overseas a friend told me that she was waking up every morning at 3am thinking of us and was continually lifting us up in the middle of the night.  What she didn’t know was that at 3am her time was when our family was out walking far in crazy traffic trying to catch taxis to get our kids to school and get us to language.  It was by far the most stressful time of our day and the Spirit was leading her to pray for us when we needed it most.  There are many examples of this and while it’s not necessary that senders tell us when they are praying it sure is encouraging!  I think it also blesses them to know that they are in this battle with us and then get to hear how the Father answered their prayers with healing, a practical solution, or a national friend.  

2.  Encourage them in the Word.
One of the most difficult things about being in an unreached place is the isolation from community.  Not only are workers more than likely facing the most difficult challenges in their marriages, families, walk with the Lord, emotionally, and physically in their first year on the field they are facing it without the fellowship and encouragement of the local body.  One of the most encouraging ways our pastors have blessed us is by doing a devotional for us on Skype.  Being fed in the Word by people we love has brought a lot of healing.  You can also simply send them an email about what the Father is teaching you or text them some verses from the Word.  Even if it’s a verse that I have memorized, reading it in a text from a friend is reminding me of truth and a blessing.

3.  When Skyping…
We LOVE Skype calls with friends and family!  Sometimes we get the impression people back home aren’t sure what to say.  So here are some tips…  *Ask specific questions.  Sometimes when people ask, “So how are things going?” I get so overwhelmed I say, “We are good.” When I’m thinking, “Well, our kids are screaming every morning when we leave them at school, the mold in our house is really bothering me, someone has been sick for 3 weeks, we have been really hurt by our teammates, learning language is so exhausting I have nothing left for my kids and husband.…”  So if you really want to know how your workers are doing ask specific questions like, “How are the kids doing in school?”  or “How is your relationship with your teammates?”  This allows workers to give complete answers with honesty without being overwhelmed with all their struggles.  Pray for them on Skype.  Tell them how you are doing and how things are going in your city.  Oddly enough we don’t want to talk the whole time!  We love hearing how you are doing so we can stay connected to the body there.

4.  Send a team the first year for the purpose of care and encouragement.
This was one of the biggest blessings for us this year.  A small team from our sending body came for a week with the main purpose of feeding us the Word and encouraging us.  Every night one of the men lead us in a study and we had worship together.  At the end of the week we took the Lord’s Supper together.  They loved on our kids and allowed us opportunities to share our heart and our struggles.  Nothing can replace this face to face opportunity.  They also had a chance to share truth, meet national believers under persecution and see our life firsthand.  They then took all this and shared with the body back home so they can be praying more specifically.  If you are a sending body I would get on my knees and beg you to do this for your sent ones.  

We are legitimately in an active battle.  Knowing our partners are fighting along side is crucial.  This is my humble rookie opinion on how to so effectively.

A Year of Doubt & Pain

We’ve come to a milestone of sorts and it has brought on a time of reflection.  Our conclusion: we wouldn’t repeat the previous year even if you offered us $10 million.  Seriously.   No exaggeration.  Wouldn’t do it.  

This year had some victories and of course the Father added a little blessing to our crew who we love to pieces and are so grateful for.  But overall as we look back over this year it has been one of doubt and pain.  Sure there are some stories that we can look back at and laugh.  Like the time I told the plumber, “My husband is fun” Instead of “My husband is coming”.  Sigh.  However, most of our experiences only bring us to look at the deep wounds they’ve caused and are just beginning to heal.  But the fact that they are beginning to heal is because of the Father’s faithfulness, love, and grace.  We knew it would come, we knew we were being refined by fire and that we’d come out on the other side trusting Him more and having a new understanding of His love and faithfulness.  We waited for it and longed for His return and we are starting to emerge from the flames.  Not that we have yet reached our goal but press on towards what is ahead.  

I remember texting with a girlfriend on a particularly rough day and her encouraging me that the other side of this will be peace.  I found truth in her statement and told her that but didn’t want to suffer through the present.  It hurt too much.  

He brought us through sick kids, living on three different continents, medical uncertainty, a birth, travel to a fourth continent, a house full of mold & backed up sewer, hurt and rejection from co-workers, cold water, unreliable electricity, frustrations in our marriage, being quick to anger with our kids, tears, lots of tears and a huge cultural learning curve.  We not only survived but are beginning to thrive in this new life.

We survived on the Word, it was our food, I was starving for it.  Before I even opened my eyes in the morning I would think Psalm 3:5 “I lay down and slept; I woke again for the Lord sustained me.”  And while the Word of God is living and active and sharper than a two edged sword and is always truth this verse became my lifeline.  Nothing outside of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ could sustain me.

Prayer became a constant. As I dressed I asked for strength to do so, as I got my kids ready I asked for their protection as we sent them out as sheep among wolves, as we searched for a taxi I asked for provision, when our water heater shot out flames and I was heating water on the stove for kids bathes I asked for perseverance, when I was angry with my husband and kids I asked for forgiveness and prayed for a loving heart, and it goes on….  Before when I read 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  I thought, “Is it possible to pray continually?  Like ALL the time?”  Dear friends, let me tell you, it is possible and this year for me it has been necessary.

So here we are.  There are even days now that we can get through and it seems almost normal.  But those days are followed by a week of doubt….is this really what we are supposed to be doing?  Are we making a difference?  Does it even matter eternally that we are killing ourselves to do this?  The pain of loneliness and uncertainty resurface. 

On those days I write verse after verse on post-it notes and stick them everywhere around the house.  So even when I dare not pick up the Word that will wipe away all the doubt & uncertainty it’s there in my face speaking truth to a broken heart.  

From a few of my post-its: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”  Prov 3:3-8

Often my doubt was from trying to be wise in my own eyes.  Thank you Father for drawing me back to you and giving me refreshment!

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4:1

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that but we rejoice in our sufferings…which produces hope and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

And of course the truths that keep us going:

“I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 3:12-14

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 15-18.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ”  Matt 28:18-20

I didn’t write this post to bring pity on us but for you to rejoice with us in the Father’s faithfulness.  Dear friend if you are in the midst of the flames turn to the grace and hope of our Lord Jesus Christ and do not lose heart because you are being renewed day by day.  

If you’re a music fan here are my defining songs of the year that were often on repeat while I cooked dinner: 
Though You Slay Me by Shane & Shane

Pilgrims Progress by Matt Papa

We are living the promise that He is with us always, we are seeing His grace being extended to more and more people to His glory and we are pressing on.  The hurt from this year will no doubt leave some ugly scars and we are certain new wounds will come .  We live a broken world and in a particularly dark place.  But though the pain we can look ahead to His promises being fulfilled and so can you.  We will not lose heart.

A popular blog posted an article related to this, there are no shortcuts to living this life:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why We Are Here vs Why Are We Here?!?!

A few weeks ago we were at a friend's house for lunch and I was helping prepare the food.  My friend hurriedly asked me to come cut vegetables.  It was odd that she seemed rushed but I happily agreed, thrilled that I was allowed to help and no longer viewed as a guest.  But as I began to chop I watched her pull out her prayer rug and line up behind the men, realizing why she was in a hurry.  My heart sank as my precious friend followed the ritual.  She is not a number among the lost, she is my friend who I'm sharing life with.  She is the mother of some sweet kids who fill my house with laughter.  She is a faithful wife and she doesn't know Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  I fought back tears as I prayed and begged God to reveal Himself to her and her family.  This is why we are here I thought.  For the thousands of family's in this city just like this one who have never heard.

Not long ago I found myself at another family's home.  The final call to prayer had gone off and after a day of fasting everyone began to eat and drink.  The spread of food was amazing!  I got my kiddos settled at the table and sat with them while my man sat with the men.  One of my kids sat at the table crying and was refusing to eat.  I still don't know what caused the meltdown except that despite having a late snack we were eating dinner several hours later than usual.  Another kiddo had already eaten an entire plate of food and was whining for more of everything before I even sat down and the baby decided it was time for her to eat too.

I took the crying big kid to the bathroom and had a little chat with her.  The host family was making a huge fuss over her and it was really only making the situation worse.  She couldn't tell me why she was so upset but calmed down a bit.  Then I took the crying baby to the other room to nurse her.  This triggered all my kids to get up from the table and follow me.  I was on the verge of a meltdown!   I can't even eat with the family because my kids are out of control! I can't even use all the language I've been practicing to tell them stories from the Word.  Why are we even here?!??!

I battle the two situations above almost daily.   In one moment it is so crystal clear why we are here and we are so confident in our call.  The next we look around at our struggle to make it through the day and wonder if it is all pointless.  Will there ever be fruit?

Pray for us to be faithful even when it seems that all is lost.  We trust the Father is working things for the good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dear Treasure…I mean Heart

Dear Treasure Heart,

You've been with me through it all.  And often I have foolishly followed you. But you are deceitful (Jer 17:9) while disguised in "wisdom" and "the right thing".  The enemy knows what hurts you, where your strings are that when pulled make me ache so much I don't feel like I can stand.  The worse part is he knows what makes you lead me to question the One I actually follow.

The world advertises that I should follow you, that you are true.  But the Word of Truth says whoever trusts you is a fool (Prov 28:26).

When my children are sick and I question medical care or have had a bad day solely because of cultural differences you ache.  You whisper in my ear the promises of an "easier" life for them on the other side of the Atlantic.  The enemy whispers to you the same lie he told in the garden, "Did the Father really say...."

When I am up feeding my baby at 2am and there is literally no where in our house to go that is comfortable to sit you remind me of the comfy glider that waits for me tucked in a basement.

When she is crying and crying and there is no where in our house to go that won't disturb the others sleeping you flash pictures of the beautiful home we built in the suburbs that provided such space.

When I spend 30 minutes preparing the lettuce to eat so that we won't be sick you long for the pre-package, pre-washed, pre cut up pieces that I can dump into a bowl and eat.

The things of this world make you long for the easier and more comfortable way.  But the gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

I want life.  I want to be obedient.  I want my children to see our life as following the Father by doing what the Word commands not what you, oh heart, long for.

So dear heart, you will not find what you are aching for unless you long for what the Father desires.  My treasure will not be in the things of the world but in the things to come.

Luke 12:34 "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Feeling Pummeled From Being So Constantly Humbled

Sigh.  That's about all I can exert at this point.  Sigh.

Folks, I really don't think I'm all that great but I don't think I'm a complete idiot either.  So day after day of being looked at, spoken to, and treated like one is making me feel a little pummeled.

When I speak in my new language I sound like a 2 year old.  Since I happen to have a 2 year old I know exactly how one sounds.  I say things like, "I go store buy book yesterday." Those stinkin prepositions that I can't keep in my brain! Not only do I not use the proper tense, the words that are correct are difficult for others to understand.  Most of the time I know what my 2 year old is saying because I understand the context.  When other people come in my home they only get about half of what he says.  Enter me speaking my new language…..people get about half of what I say.

Back in the good ole US of A I had a full ride to college, a bachelor's degree and a professional job helping save people's lives.  Lots of people have way more impressive credentials than that but I give you a little background to appreciate how humbling it is for the pediatrician here to think I know nothing about basic medical information.  Granted I couldn't communicate to him that I actually did know what he was talking about.  And what he assumed I didn't know required no medical degree…just some good old common sense.  I'm arguing with a doctor about common sense in a two year old's vocabulary.


My language teacher seems to suspect that since I don't know what something is called in arabic it means I all together don't know what that item/object is.  So she spent several minutes teaching me what a peel is.  "You know like on an apple or a banana.  You take it off before you eat it.  Usually you use a peeler for an apple."  Through gritted teeth I explained to her that yes, in fact, I do know what a peel is.  What I don't know is how to say it in arabic.  For the love!


And most people here also assume I have no idea how to parent my children and are willing to let me know what a terrible job I am doing.  "It's too cold for the baby"  Um it's 75 and sunny, I'd have my bathing suit on if it wasn't so completely inappropriate. "Your children should not walk around barefoot." We're from the country….period.  "They really should be learning French."  Yeah I'd actually like them to read and write well in English on top of the Arabic they are learning….thanks.


But what amazes me the most is that I am struggling with going from a respected professional who could speak in full proper sentences to well the above.  However, our Savior went from being in the form of God to the form of a servant as a human and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8 paraphrased, emphasis mine).  And I'm whining about not being able to carry on a conversation and a physician thinking I don't know what vaccines are?!?!

Because of what Christ has done verses 9-11 go on to say some of the greatest words ever written, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the glory of God the Father."

Oh, Father!  Continue to humble me if it means that many here will confess Jesus Christ as Lord!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

When A Man Loves A Woman (sing it!)

My man spent a day at language learning names of furniture and how much it should cost so he could go furniture shopping.  He then went with his friend to the market and looked and looked and talked and talked and negotiated and negotiated to buy and have delivered some dressers that I so desperately wanted.  Because friends if I'm going to lose my mind it will not be over the ten minutes I spent each morning trying to open and close the top drawer of my toddler size dresser.

When we put our new dresser in our room and I could see myself in the mirror while standing, my heart began to sing!  Before I was bending over to see myself to put on my makeup….it was not very comfortable.

Getting that furniture was a lot of work for him.  I think he loves me :)

I got to thinking how he showed his love for me by sacrificing language time and his day to get me some things that we didn't necessarily "need" but would make my life a lot easier.  (I sort of think that there is potential the motivation came from him preferring me on the sane side and not crying over dresser drawers that won't ever open.  But I'm going with the love motivation ;)

Then I was thinking back to when we were newlyweds and how showing our love for each other was relatively easy.  It didn't require a lot of work or sacrifice.  Fast forward 8 years and 4 kids later….our life is kind of messy.  Acts of love toward each other often require sacrifice and intentionality.  While our life now isn't as "romantic" or "spontaneous" as it was 8 years ago, it's so much better!

Because this kind of love reflects that of the Father.  He loved the world so much He gave up His Son. The Son loved His bride so much He gave His life.  It was not romantic or pretty.  It was really messy.  But it's a sacrificial love that changes lives….changes eternity.

I'm so honored that my man's love day in and day out reflects the same love to his bride.  I'm confident that the strangeness of it will open doors to change lives for eternity.