Monday, November 30, 2009

Our family at Thanksgiving!!!

We had a great Thanksgiving. Some brought the flu with them, and were sick over our holidays, but that did not dampen our spirits or time together! What a blessing!

I leave for Venezuela on Tuesday, December 1 and will be there until the 9th.

I am amazed at how our Lord uses us in spite of ourselves. He stretches us beyond our own comfort, and uses our obedience to speak into the lives of others.

I am a homebody. I would prefer not to travel. I like being at home, and doing outdoor stuff. Cavorting around the globe was never on my personal "bucket list."

I am very comfortable in my own space. I like being comfortable. I like not having to meet the expectations of anyone but me. Then, when I fall short, I only disappoint myself.

Being an approval junkie, makes this extra difficult. I want to please those in my life. It affects the way I think, process, make decisions, even write. I want to be liked by others. I don't much like the fact that I like this.

I have learned through the years, that I will disappoint others, regardless of my choices. I will not always please everyone. I groan within when I realize I have let others down, especially those closest to me.

I strive to make choices that please my Lord, and then have to trust that others will understand, whether or not they agree. I am not always successful. Sometimes, I fail my Savior.

This trip to Venezuela, is to coordinate contacts and scheduling for a summer team I will send back in the summer. I am going with three other men. I have spent time with one of these men. He is my pastor. The other two, I have shared a round table discussion with for about an hour.

I do not know exactly what to expect. I am thankful these men have all been there before. They know the contacts and the lay of the land. I wish Deanna was going. I would rather not make these trips without her.

I will be making day trips with a man I really don't know. He is older and wiser than me. We will travel to several cities to meet with local pastors. That should make this a low pressure situation. I am usually the one shouldering the pressure. It will be a nice change to allow someone else to be in charge of most aspects of my life. I hope I can surrender them to him.

I like things the way I like them. I like people to like things the way I like them. I have a feeling I need to learn to like things the way he likes them.

I am not sure I am ready for that, but will try.

One thing I do enjoy about travel this time of year, is seeing how other countries prepare for, advertise and celebrate Christmas. I was in Peru with Brad and Walker two years ago, around this time. The volume of ads is far fewer, but their approach interesting.

During this season when we are supposed to be focusing on our Savior, His birth, and the incredible gift He is, it will be good for me to have to let go of the things I like and submit to someone else. It's good practice for how I am supposed to live my life for Christ, each day.

Somehow, its easier to submit to God than man. Men are silly. God is not. Men do dumb things for no apparent reason. God has a purpose in all He does. I'd rather submit to God. I have to practice being a good follower, and submit to man.

It will be good for me. I know we will have a blessed time together. I know we will stretch each other. I trust, we can have impact for His kingdom. After all, that is what this is all about.

Nothing else really matters. Bringing glory to God is our goal. Bringing honor to Him in how we serve and love Him and one another, is the point of living. I should be able to live for nine days, right?

I sure hope so, because if I can't do it for nine days, then why should I expect others to do serve under my leadership?

If you can't follow well, you won't lead well.

I am going to be a good follower... of Jesus!!!


Monday, November 23, 2009

My brother in Christ, my friend and my hunting buddy... Steve!

Those who do not want to read about this hunt, should feel free to leave now. I understand not everyone agrees with hunting.

A couple of writings ago, I talked of returning to hunting. I did.

This whitetail buck is the sort of trophy men and women hunt their entire lives to find. Few actually ever see them. I was tremendously blessed! I have no doubt that this hunt was provision from the hand of the Lord! He gave me a view of what this day would look like, and it came to pass.

I had to be patient, and saw Him do as He laid in my heart He would.

This past summer, a man named Steve went to Panama with me for 10 days. I knew him as the father of my leadership partner, Katie. This was Steve's first mission trip. God did an incredible work in his life. He returned with a passion and enthusiasm for the Lord that had not been previously, demonstrated... at least not in missions. He is now raising up others to go to serve with his church!

His daughter Katie (who also works with me), read my aforementioned blog, and contacted her dad, an avid hunter.

He invited me to go deer hunting with him on the opening day of gun season. What Steve did for me at no cost, would cost multiple thousands of dollars, had it been done by a professional guide.

I arrived on Friday night at his home. We had great fellowship! We set a plan for the following morning. He made sure I had all the equipment I needed, and allowed me to borrow what I was short.

We viewed photos from his trail cameras that captured a huge buck. We joked about taking it, but recognized the chances were slim, as this size deer rarely shows itself during daylight.

We awoke around 4:30 am. I headed to the kitchen to find him making a bountiful breakfast of what I'd call a western egg scramble (I forgot to ask him what he called it!). We ate to our fill, then headed out.

After a fifteen or twenty minute drive, we arrived at a 150 acre property he has groomed along the Cimarron River. He has worked hard preparing the land for wildlife habitation. It is complete with crops they enjoy, that will also increase their health.

We parked the truck and hiked in at about 5:40am. The only light shone from our headlamps. In sheer darkness, I ascended my assigned tree stand. It sat just aloft a growth of evergreens in the crotch of a large hardwood tree.

Steve headed to another tree stand around a half mile away.

I sat down on a small wooden bench on my 3x5 platform, twenty feet above ground and waited for daylight.

I heard many creatures below me scurrying in leaf debris. I could make out none of them.

Birds ushered in the break of dawn.

I waited patiently for life to begin.

As pale light began to splash over my surroundings, I caught my first glimpse of the environment I would spend the next 12 plus hours in.

Steve had equipped me with incredible snack food. Around nine, after better than three hours of waiting and watching, I decided to eat something. I knelt in my small platform to open my backpack.

As I did, I saw on the horizon, the first deer of the day. I grabbed my binoculars and drew into view a small spike buck, 150 yards out. He warily crossed a clearing, stopping occassionally to graze.

This would not be my choice. I had an idea of what this day was to look like, and I knew I needed to be patient. I would not shoot just to kill. I would wait for what I knew was to be God's provision. I watched him disappear into the thicket.

Three hours later, I was growing a bit anxious for something to happen.

I began to hear a squirrel scolding... something. I realized this would only occur as he felt threatened. I knew I was not in his view, so was curious what could be disturbing him.

I slowly rose from my position. In a break of trees, I detected movement. I grabbed my field glasses once again, and focused in on a nine point buck. I was not here to just shoot... or just for meat. I would be satisfied just to be back out, to have seen the deer and to go home empty handed, if the right buck did not appear.

I watched him for the couple of minutes he grazed 50 yards from me. He disappeared into the woods.

The next 5 hours, I would watch birds from my perch atop the evergreens. I saw many I could identify and many I could not. I love viewing His Creation, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The overcast skies suddenly gave way to sun, nearing 5:00pm. Shadows were cast, receded and recast as the setting sun flirted with the ebbing front in the western horizion.

A noise and movement captured my attention.

Not 40 yards from me appeared a third small buck... another spike buck, probably a yearling at best. His attention was drawn down the meadow. I followed his gaze to an appearing doe.

Next, he moved toward me. As I watched another spike buck appeared and walked towards the first. They muzzled each other, then instinctively began deer games of sparring with their tiny tines. Then they returned to muzzling. Adorable!

Suddenly, movement down the treeline captured both of their attention!

I pulled my binoculars back to my eyes and searched for their fear.

Exiting the brambles was a large antlered mass. My vision was blocked by the last of the fall leaves still clinging to their branches.

The little doe down the meadow watched intently. He began toward her, then turned abruptly towards the button buck duo. That meant he was heading for me.

I released the binoculars, and pulled up the rifle, finding him in the scope.

He was facing me, giving me the least amount of target. I heard the echo of Steve's last words to me, if he gives you a shot, take it, because you aren't likely to get a second.

This was a high risk, low odds shot. I chose not to take it.

He turned and headed back to the treeline.

I was a bit frustrated, but knew that at that range I could easily miss.

Suddenly, as though he just realized what he'd been up to, he came back out into the clearing and headed away from me... towards the doe.

She stood waiting.

He was even farther away, my chance, I feared was evaporating.

Another doe appeared acrossed the field.

I made a loud grunt trying to get him to stop. He did, he made a quarter turn presenting me a slightly better view. I had to take it.

I did.

I missed!

All of the deer present, bolted... but him, he froze. I quickly took aim once again, he quartered away, the other direction.

I fired.

He fell.

Steve had heard the gunfire and quickly texted me... "was that you?"

"Yes!" I replied. "I hit a huge buck!"

He texted back, "Is it him?" (meaning the huge buck from the photos)

"I don't know," I responded, "the vegetation is too high!"

As I neared him, it became clear he had not expired.

I was startled. I was mid text to Steve, when I dropped my phone and ended it (I should have waited longer to approach him).

I cautiously walked up to him, lifted his mostly hidden antlers for a clear view.
My knees turned to jelly.

It was him!

I furiously texted Steve... "It's him!"

The next morning, we headed to church. Steve shared with his Sunday School class about God's providence. He told them who I was, and why I was with him.

Then he told them, "My daughter called me and let me know that Brent wanted to deer hunt. When she said those words, the Lord let me know that this huge buck was for him. I believed he was going to take it and I am glad he did!"

This man who had poured so much of himself into this field, into growing healthy deer, was completely unselfish.

The buck you see, is a once in a lifetime find. Few see them. Fewer take them. He could have been as many are... focused on what he had done to grow this buck and want him for himself.

This avid hunter, who has many trophies in his home, yielded willingly to the Lord's prompt. He is thrilled for me. He continued to help by pointing me to a taxidermist and processor.

I am blessed by his witness. I am thankful for this buck. All hunters would be. However, God showed me this hunt was about His provision and perfecting the hearts of His own.

Thank you, Steve!

Thank you, Lord!

This Thanksgiving, I find myself incredibly humbled at His Provision and Grace!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

the wedding of a dear friend I recently got to perform...

It seems that recently, the Lord has surrounded me with men and women who have a true passion for our Savior, and understand what it means to live for Him... which means dying. Some have been revealed in books I'm reading, others who die in their lives every day.

I confess I need these people in my life to remind me of why I am here. I can get weary, and lose focus all too easily.

In our office, we received a letter from one of our fighting men, currently serving in Afghanistan. He relayed stories of battle. I am tremendously humbled by what he has seen and experienced. He is a leader of men, and speaks about covering each time they "leave the wire" with prayer. I assume that means leaving the safety of the base.

He and his men do this twice a day. He has seen and experienced many IED's. He saw seven men give their lives. A memory he says that will be forever etched in his mind.

(I often wonder what impact watching Christ give His life for me might have on may day to day choices).

He speaks of knowing that the Lord has his wife and sons held in protection, whether he lives or dies. Clearly, he wants to return to them. However, he understands the greater purpose.

Understanding the greater purpose in life is something I am afraid many tend to miss.

Our men and women who go off to war understand the potential cost.

War wages around us every day. Few of us are prepared or believe it necessary, to pay the potential cost.

We abide in a "microwave existence."

Everything from our day to day choices to our theology, point to instant gratification. We seek to serve the god of self, over a Savior who bled, died and resurrected that we might have eternal life. Most of our decision making serves to meet our immediate needs and desired pleasures, rather than bringing glory to Him.

Even our lack of knowledge in sharing the Gospel reveals what is truly important to us... relationship with Christ is more about keeping oneself from eternity in Hell, than making sure others have the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

One of the results of our lack of understanding of our relationship with Him is that someone like BJ becomes the exception instead of the rule.

He loves each of us so much and set forth a plan that was designed to reach the world. It involves us telling people the greatest news ever! Even in John 9, when the blind man washed in the pool of Siloam, was set free from bondage and gained spiritual sight (as well as physical) he understood that "saved" meant "sent."

So, he went. He told people about Jesus.

I think of the man in Afghanistan that lays his life down everyday. He does this to protect a greater cause. He happens to be a believer who understands that he serves a God who is in control. He has all authority over every IED, over every son of every father or mother over there. He yields to that control and trusts Him for whatever outcome brings Him the greatest glory.

Too many times, I don't yield.

I listened to a sermon recently that talked about the greatest form of idolatry being "self." I was greatly convicted as I listened to it twice. He spoke of our need to yield even our "free time" to the Lord.

The activities we engage in when not occupied by work, church or other are to bring glory to our Savior.

I assure you, I find no glory for the Lord when I watch my latest, favorite show on tv.

We all need down time. But if down time fills our minds with activities or principles which draw us closer to the world than the Lord, then we need press the reset switch.

I don't like this message. In fact, I despise it. I am good at disengaging when I have an opportunity. I want the freedom to relax as I see fit.

Unfortunately, too often, what 'I see fit' means doing what brings me pleasure, to the exclusion of a mighty God.

This is where dying daily really connects or comes unhinged. It's not just about going to church or having personal Bible study. It's about seeking to bring Him glory with every breath... every decision... every activity... every thought.

How can I change my routine to incorporate more of what points others to Christ?

I can leave the tv off and pick up the Word or another book which sharpens my mind to His precepts. I can pour into my wife. I can pour into my children. I can volunteer. I can speak into the lives of others, even when I don't feel like it. I can engage in discussion on worthy topics in relaxed public settings (I don't mean to promote my own holiness but to edify others who may not hear otherwise).

People around the world are dying. Some lay their lives down willingly. All have an appointment at the judgment seat.

If "faith without deeds is dead," (James 2:26) then isn't it time we do something about the stench of decay rising from within our own hearts?

He is worth any cost... dying daily is only the beginning!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

on the streets, among the mountain people of Huamachuco, Peru

I am growing more excited about the season! As the holidays draw near, I can hardly wait to be with family. Whitney, Jared and the puppies are coming for Thanksgiving. Lauren will be here. It's gonna be great!

I cannot remember the last time I ate at Cracker Barrel. For some reason, Sunday we did. We waited in line (which is one of my favorite things). Waiting would made easier by the many gift options available. It would be, but there were so many people that just trying to stand still was uncomfortable. A bit like being in a crowded elevator and waiting for the door to finally open.

Anyway, once out out of the cattle chute, we were able to enjoy our meal. That place is so 'down home' that it just makes me think of family.

I raked my yard this past weekend. Cleared it of my neighbors tree leaves... mine haven't fallen off yet... they are oak and like to be last off. My mistake was that I did not rake his yard too.

Wind plus time equals my yard needs raked of my neighbors leaves, again.

The weather has finally turned fall like. Yesterday was in the 40's for a high! Today is to be the same. I like this. I want snow!

For the last couple of years, I have had winter trips scheduled. Each time I leave, it snows... or ices. Deanna has been home alone during these lovely times. She would rather do without.

For those in the Tulsa area, I leave December 1 for several days... you may want to get your shovels and snow blowers ready (if you live in Tulsa and have a snow blower, you do understand the word 'hope').

I'm thinking of taking hunting back up. It's been years since I did. My kids are grown and will no longer talk about the fate of "Bambi," if go. I think the timing might be right.

I still remember being with family and seeing a buck lying in the back of a pick-up truck at a breakfast stop. I had to explain why Bambi was sleeping there. I think I told the truth, I can't remember.

If I'm going to hunt, I'm going to need some supplies. I have arrows from Uganda, but no bow. I have a knife from the Bedouins of the Sahara and a machete from Panama, but I don't plan on hand to hand combat. I'm pretty sure that went out with 'Rambo.'

Come to think of it, why is that show on every time I turn on my tv?

Hunters today, all wear camouflage. I don't own any. I could do an Adam and Eve thing and use my neighbors leaves!

I really don't think it matters to the deer. Why do we dress up for them anyway? I'm pretty sure this is the guys version shopping for a prom dress.

Anyway, I love this time of year! So much anticipation. The aroma of baking fills the house. Spiraling columns of woodsmoke ascend from the chimney. We can unplug those glade contraptions and burn candles with scents of the seasons.

I bought a new candle at Cracker Barrel. It must be good cause it was really expensive. Something about a "wood wick." I don't know what that means, but it smells like Frasier Fir when it burns, and my whole house smells like Christmas!

I don't know what she's baking, but it smells wonderful and I am getting hungry!

Wait, maybe she's not really baking. Do they make a 'warm brownie butter' candle?

All foolishness aside, I cannot imagine celebrating the upcoming seasons, without my Savior! I love my family, but without Him, all would be meaningless!

Seeing Him change lives from the inside out is a blessing. Celebrating who He is with family, is a privilege. Getting to tell others about Him in the process, is an honor.

Oh, how I love Him so!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Last day in Peru

Somewhere around a year ago, I began to hear from a young woman who lived out east. She is of Asian descent, and grew up in a Buddhist family. She never knew anything of Christ.

Through a series of events, she would find "I Would Die for You." After reading it, she surrendered her life to Christ, contacted me, and eventually joined me on the mission field this past March. God was doing a radical work in her life!

As Christ saved her, He began to cause within her, a desire to see others receive His Salvation. As each of us are supposed to do, she took her role of being Saved and set apart for a purpose, seriously.

In the following testimony, watch how she reached out, when compelled by God's Spirit.

I praise God for her life, and for the life of the young man who sent me his testimony! (His name has been changed)

Today is an extremely important day. A day that I never thought would come, but I’m so glad it finally did. Today, on 1/17/2009, at 1:30pm, sitting on the side walk next to my house in Belize waiting for a bus to come, I, John, found Jesus! I’d like to share the story of how this came to be. God has taught me that by writing it all down, my faith will be strengthened, I will gain wisdom, and I will experience joy because life is all about giving the glory to God! So I must tell you my friends, for me, this is the most exciting thing I have ever written.

I was blind towards living a better, joyful life throughout my childhood and teenage years. I had no sense of sin and I believed that deep down we were all good people. I smoked weed often at the start of high school. I drank liquor until a passed out or threw up, all through high school and college. I was also bulimic, and I must let you know that during this time, I was never once at peace or experiencing any lasting joy. I was simply escaping the strong sense of hopelessness I had for my life.

I realize now that until I was 23 years old I was completely lost. The worst part was that I couldn't even comprehend I was lost, and how do you find yourself if you don’t even know your lost? Only though the grace of God was I saved from that horrible life. I lived an upper middle class life as a US citizen too, so I’ll tell you right now, it doesn’t matter how much money you or your family make, if you don’t have God, life sucks.

Towards the end of college I began to see the signs that something was immensely wrong. After class I would go back to my room, turn the light off and lie on the floor for hours staring at the ceiling with this horrible mindset that everything in life was meaningless. It’s the scariest place you could ever be; because it’s in moments like these that you begin to believe that if life is so pointless, then why don’t you just kill yourself. I had thought of this idea many times growing up, but those nights in college, the power of that extreme depression, it’s a miracle from God that I’m still here today to write about it.

Things were looking pretty grim. The only thing that brought me any joy was playing sports. That joy would only last moments though. After that it was back to feeling that awful numbness. I would attempt to socialize with school friends, but truthfully, 95% of the conversations I had were of no interest to me at all. This portrayed me as the quiet guy in the group. Mostly I was just waiting, waiting for life to become exciting again like it once was when I was a little boy. The feeling never came. Not until I let God into my life.

I was getting desperate, and right when I needed it, God smacked me with a wake up call. I was playing sports like crazy because it was only during those short moments of prideful fame that I felt any joy at all. God knew that if I were to continue living my life like that I would have destroyed myself. So He stepped in.

I jumped up for a pass one game, and landed uncharacteristically awkward, with no one else even close by that could have caused such a sloppy landing. I heard a tear. I ignored it, kept running, but suddenly I was struck down by the intense pain of a knee cap popping out of place causing muscles and tendons to further tear. It’s the most physical pain I’ve felt so far in life.

I was furious and terrified at the same time. My one source of pleasure was stripped from me. My prideful self (aka Satan) told me it would heal in a week or two. But again and again I’d find myself back on the field running and pop, each time the pain would be worse and the injury would take more days before I could walk without limping. I must have popped my knee about 20 times over the span of a year, thinking each time, it’ll get better.

Eventually, the physical and psychological pain became so unbearable that I broke down crying in a phone conversation with my parents, finally asking for help to get an operation to heal my leg. I cried for hours and hours that night and didn’t fully understand why until right now. I was asking the wrong person for the wrong thing, I should have first asked God to come into my life and guide me.

Broken and beaten by the world, I started dating a girl. She was lost, same as I was. We knew nothing of the true joy of God, the eternal love of Jesus Christ. In our broken state of low self esteem we acted out of lust for one another, faking a sense of marriage and oneness which in the end drove us away from each other through selfish desires.

I’ll tell you right now, any lasting joy in a relationship with anyone can only be sustained with God in the center of it. I’ve seen so many people out there in relationships that are so selfish and empty, void of any possible joy, people cheating on each other left and right, constant divorces, unhappy marriages. But it isn’t even this; it isn’t this life experience and knowledge that I have come to deduce the only way a relationship can work, no, not even close. It’s through the wisdom that God has given me through prayer, that I am SURE there is no other way.

There were some positive things that came out of my relationship with this young woman though. God worked with us both to have her invite me to church.

At this point, I had a feeling, just a subtle feeling that there was something better out there for me. I was cautious about this feeling at first, like an unpopular, paranoid king eating his breakfast slowly thinking someone might have poisoned it. It had been so long since I experienced any hope for a better life and if I went out and reached for it only to have it pulled away from me, I wouldn’t have been able to go on. But God is trustworthy, as I would come to realize much later.

So I went to the girl’s father to profess my feelings about her, but at the same time I sounded lost and depressed. Her dad, the Christian that he is, picked up on my pain and explained to me why I felt so lonely and how I could live a more joyful, meaningful life. I was intrigued by the possibility of something better. I began to go to church with my girlfriend and on the first day, sitting down listening in the middle of service, I looked up and felt the presence of something powerful and peaceful looking down on me.

At 23 years old, God struck my curiosity.

For about six months straight, I went to bible studies, and mass, loving every minute of it. My thirst for the word of God grew, and I started believing in it. But the sins I had been continuing to commit were tearing me apart. After those six months, I joined the US Peace Corps, something I had begun planning to do a year earlier. It was an awful experience for the entire first year. I slowly began to lose my faith and question scripture. My priorities were solely based on seeing my girlfriend because I missed her terribly. I had made her more important than anything else, even God.

I swear, one time as I was heading home to see her, I thought I heard my flight was canceled while I was at the airport and she was going to pick me up. I almost completely lost my sense of reality and let rage cause me to scream at this poor teller to get me on a plane to Miami or I’d kill her.

Luckily, a millisecond before I could say that, she repeated the message which was apparently for another flight. Satan almost had me there. But I was so crazy about this girl to the point where nothing else mattered, and that my friends, is so unhealthy. I’m clearly seeing now the importance of putting God before any person.

She and I eventually ended things through the advice of a Pastor. I literally could not end it on my own, so I trusted in a spiritual advisor. It saved my life. Not because she was awful, she wasn’t, or that we hated each other, we didn’t. But the sin was killing me and I could feel my life and my faith slipping away to that place of numbness again. It freaked me out because I never wanted to go back to that place.

I had to go through all the withdrawals of addiction to something worldly. Eight months of pain, lying on the floor at nights again, feeling so lonely, sometimes shaking from the loss of fake oneness and lust for a woman. It was bad; sometimes I would fall and take a look at her pictures, and try to contact her, prolonging the amount of time it took to heal. I reached that point of numbness again, I would be riding my bike and a bus would rush pasted me at 60 miles an hour literally brushing the hairs on my elbow. It had no effect on me. I lost my fear of death completely.

I began to test myself to see if I could find even an ounce of a need to survive by provoking drunkards and angry men. They never did attack me but there was no fear in the possibility that they might, and that they probably had a weapon on them. I was there again, in the hellish pit of life without hope, life without God. Only this time I knew better, I had learned of the way out.

It was time to heal.

God waited patiently for me to ask for his help, to send a rope down to me and pull me out of the pit I had dug for myself with Satan's shovel. And I swear to you, right when I began praying for wisdom and a better life, He presented me one. I still took a little while to accept his invitation. My heart was rock solid at that time. My pride was through the roof. I clung to the belief that I could get out on my own. But His invitations were there, and slowly my heart melted and I began to let Him in.

The messenger He sent me, hilarious now that I look back on it, was my high school prom date. It was so random that it was funny. God does have a sense of humor. I sensed she was filled with the Word of God and His spirit. It was something that I was able to sense when first meeting my Pastor and his family two years before. It was as if the colors of their faces were brighter, more vivid, and they contained no “fakeness” in the sound of their voices. It was a very strange but pleasant feeling.

I later realized that these were the attributes of a follower in Jesus, who has God living in them. My messenger had it as well. I experienced much joy hanging out with her, talking about life and God. But this joy was lasting, it didn’t stop!!! I was so surprised and thankful and I craved more of this feeling. I wanted the light of God to shine in me like it had in them.

I struggled with my belief in Jesus for two years after God touched me that first time in church. I was too paranoid and skeptical. I read the entire bible from beginning to end and still couldn’t let Him in. Then, the heavy story reader that I am, I prayed for God to send me something my style that I could learn from. I asked for a more modern book with a main character and a bit of a story line. And I kid you not my friends, THE next day, I received a present in the mail from my messenger, it was a book, a very powerful book, about a young man coming to faith and loving Jesus, who died not three years ago (“I Would Die for You: One Student’s Story of Passion, Service and Faith)”.

I did not ask her for this book. She could have sent me thousands of other text style books on God, but she didn’t. God had her mail me this book the day after I asked Him, not her, and it takes weeks to get things to Belize from the States. I started to see that God is real, and if He’s real, it’s time to start living for Him.

After beginning to read this book and reading through a couple of lengthily messages from my messenger, my faith began to grow. I thought about everything that night.

In the morning I was getting ready to go to my host family’s house sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the bus. I had just finished reading a message the young man in the book was writing to a good friend of his. He told his friend how he can pray to God, to ask Jesus to make Himself known and receive the Holy Spirit.

Right after reading that message the bus had arrived. I entered, sat down in the back and gazed out the window. I thought back to what the young man had said to his friend, and in my curiosity, I talked to God myself, “God, I want to know you, come into my spirit, let me know if your Son is real. GOD ANSWERED!!!

I was looking out of the bus window and the colors of the world came to life. My heart was filled with joy and a powerful love, everything was so clear. When I got off the bus with a dazed smile, I was confused. I asked God, “What is this?”

He answered again, “Jesus is real.”

He answered so clearly that I yelled in excitement “Jesus is real!”

I was so thrilled by all of this that I told all my friends. The love that had poured into my heart was powerful, something I had never experienced before, and it wasn’t going away. I had received the Holy Spirit of God and I was experiencing the joy of my salvation and the love of God.

To all of you who know me, this letter will probably come as a bit of a surprise. I myself, before the last couple of years, would never have even imagined that this was the way things would turn out for me. But this is too important to be kept quiet, even the threat of losing people’s ability to take me seriously after reading this doesn’t faze me at all. I don’t want to sound condescending, but I have searched many areas for an alternative to making me happy and giving me meaning. I never found anything that would give me lasting satisfaction and I never would have.

The only answer is God.

I want all of you out there to share this joy with me. I pray that you will find your way. Ask yourselves, does this life satisfy me? Could there be something better out there for me? I’m telling you there is, and if you let down your pride for just one minute, you might hear the whisper of God telling you the same thing.

Let us go and tell others of Jesus Christ, the Saving One!!!


Monday, November 09, 2009

Malia and me at Awe Star Ministries, iGo Missions Conference this past weekend! It was amazing!

This past weekend was powerful! We had over 200 students from around the country who came to our Missions conference. God blessed and moved over us in amazing ways. Many are seeking His direction for serving on upcoming trips. Most went home with a passion to serve where they are now!

I love working with this generation of students. Their passion for our Savior is unequalled. Their love for one another is inspiring. Their desire to be found obedient is refreshing.

One such student attends Boyce Bible College in Louisville, Kentucky. I have not yet met him, but hope to soon. He recently got in touch with me and over a period of days, shared the following stories with me.

"Sometimes I look back on life before I was in high school and what my friends and I were like. Then I start to think about how we all changed when we got to high school. Now in college, I wonder what happened. The one thing that pops out the most in my past of high school, was a young man that moved to the school my freshman year from Carmel, IN. Though, at the time I was not a Christian, but after his example I became a Christian a little over a year later. Half of America today claims that God doesn't exist, but how can God not exist when a 15 year old boy laid down his life for the Christ. BJ, oh how I wish more would have realized how real the God is that you lived and died for. Today, I pray that you continue to be an example and help the lost in this world realize that your God is real...and I know this as fact because I know Him too!"

Example? Yes BJ is an example. But so is this young man!

We will call him Shawn.

Shawn grew up in central Indiana. He has three siblings. He was raised in a family who did not believe. Well, at least Shawn didn't.

As reasons for not doing so go, his was perhaps more understandable than most. Shawn is the oldest of four children. He found it impossible to believe for a long time. Impossible to believe that a loving, Holy God could exist with what he had witnessed.

When he was five years old, he was beside his mother and two of his three siblings, when the unthinkable happened.

His mother was murdered as he stood holding her hand.

A five year olds view of life is unique. An experience like this would cause many to be pressed to disbelief and an inability to trust. I cannot imagine the brokenness of watching the life ebb from my mother, as I stood over her.

Unforgiveness claimed his heart. Hate became his sidekick. He would never forgive one who would commit such a heinous act! Who could blame him?

Ten years later, a young man moved into his school district. He came from one of the premier schools in the state. This did not earn him favor among other students.

He was different. He was consistent. He was unusual because he regularly told people about his Savior. His words matched up to the way he lived his life. Others took notice. Shawn took notice.

He said, "It brings tears to my eyes when I think about how BJ treated me even when I wasn't a Christian, but he treated everybody else like that too.

A young man carrying bitterness... a deep secret that BJ didn't know... was impacted by a life of one who reached out to others, in love. He ran contrary to the world, and showed people that caring about others was important. Important, because His Savior loved. His Savior forgave.

Shawn had not spent much time contemplating forgiveness. His heart was hard towards the one.

But seeing the life of this young man brought new questions to his mind. He genuinely cared for others, and in the process, made him curious about this Savior.

He watched BJ spend time among those others cared nothing for. This spoke with significant volume. Who would do that. Why would they do it?

Later in life, Shawn would say, "The thing that struck me the most is that he would hang out with kids that others didn't want to hang out with, or made fun of, and he still never failed [to hold] his ground, even though it did get to him. It reminds me of what Jesus did throughout the Gospels!"

After he heard about BJ's death, he was drawn into deeper contemplation about what real "Truth" is. It caused him to begin to search. He connected with a youth pastor that took him under his wing. He learned more about forgiveness. He begin to long for it. He would surrender his life to the One who would forgive him.

He found his own sinful stench to be a wall that prevented him from forgiving himself, even after he had forgiven his mothers' murderer.

He bought "I Would Die for You," upon it's release. He learned more about loving and forgiving.

His youth pastor guided him into the deep forgiveness of self that had eluded him longer than anything else.

His life forever changed when He found Jesus Christ, the Saving One. When he learned to forgive a murderer, he eventually learned to forgive himself.

The Lord used a young man who loved Him so, to reveal His own likeness into the life of a bitter and broken soul.

Now he seeks to walk a similar life to that of His Savior. He attends a Bible College and is seeking to become a youth pastor! He is praying about joining us on the mission field next summer!

I praise God for Shawn. I am thankful that he was delivered from such a vile offense that caused him to rebel and grow bitter.

Today, he weeps for his former classmates who don't get it. They are seeking hard after the world, when Jesus is what they need. He wants to know, "who will tell them?"

He has surrendered his own life to do so. He is hoping we will surround him and do likewise!

Praise God for this generation of passionate students!

Oh, how He loves them so!


Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Turkana woman and child, selling tribal made charcoal, in Kenya

Today, we continue with Becky's story. She currently serves in Kenya, as a missionary. After graduating from high school, at 18, she followed God's call to go. Who among us is He calling to do likewise?

Right before I stepped on the rickety wooden stage, my youth pastor prayed for me. As he prayed, I truly believe I heard the voice of God for the first time in my life. It was not a voice booming from the heavens that I heard, it was more of a gentle whisper that said, “Tell the Beach Story.” It was the strangest thing that I had ever experienced in my life, and I had no idea what to do as I stepped up on the stage and grasped the microphone in my hand. It felt like I had a million thoughts buzzing through my brain at that very moment. What am I going to do? I do not even really remember that story. What if I make a fool out of myself in front of all these people? I am supposed to be a perfect smart girl, and they always follow the plan. I took a deep breath and remembered my prayer, crumpled up my planned testimony, and started to tell a story I did not remember or understand.

One day when I was little, my parents, my two younger brothers, and I decided to
go to the beach on one of the hottest days of the year. My sister was visiting a friend, so I was the oldest kid there and could not be more proud. As we spread our towels out on the hot sand, my father gave my brothers and I the routine talk about the rules. He told me not to swim past my waist and babbled on like most overprotective fathers do. I did not think much of it, and I decided to run off and play, my two little brothers trailing behind me. We had so much fun building sand castles, playing volleyball, and just being goofy kids. Eventually I decided that it was time to dip our toes in the water, after all it was very hot outside. My two little brothers followed me into the water as I began to look for seashells in the shallow end. We laughed carefree as the wind blew through our hair.

It was nice for me to get away from everything and just enjoy myself. After a while of wading in the shallow end of the water, I decided to go out a little deeper to find bigger shells. My brothers, of course, were trailing behind me. John, my youngest brother who was 4, was completely covered in sand and could not stop laughing or smiling at me. Tim on the other hand, had a quirky buck tooth grin of contentment. It felt so good to finally be the oldest and have my little brothers look up to me. As my brothers playfully wrestled around in the sand, my mind began to drift as I watched the body surfers in the distance. They looked like they could be out of a movie. They were all beautiful, laughing, smiling and very skillful. They looked like they were having way more fun than I was, so I wanted to try it.

I took a couple steps out towards their direction, and then I remembered what my dad said to me. I felt fine as I waded up to my knees in water, choosing to ignore my dad's warning. I slowly inched out further and further and my brothers followed me. Everything was fine, in fact the waves were better further out and my brothers and I were having fun just like the other kids. Obviously my dad did not know anything of what I was capable of, so I continued deeper into the water past my waist and convinced my brothers to body surf with me.

We were just like the older kids. It was such a good feeling conquering the waves and being the same as everyone else. After a while I was starting to get tired, so I asked my brothers if they wanted to go back. They agreed.

As I started to swim back towards shore, I realized I was paddling unusually hard with my limbs and I was not getting far. It was an unusual feeling for me because I was a good swimmer. I did not think anything of it and started to paddle harder.

I was not moving.

My heart started to race as I could start to feel my body being pulled out farther and farther by the water. I looked over at my brothers, and they were getting pulled in just like I was. John was crying as he kept paddling to keep his head above water, and Tim started to scream for help. I cannot describe to you how truly ashamed of myself I was at that moment in my life. The waves started to get bigger and bigger, crashing over my head. I could barely breathe as the waves beat up my body. I knew I could not handle it. I knew my dad was right. I knew it was my fault and no one else’s that my brothers and I were about to die.

As the waves approached me, at least 3 feet over my head, I screamed before my body was pulled under. As I sank, I knew I was going to die because nobody could hear our cries for help.

Facing death, I saw everything flash before my eyes; I would never graduate high school, I would never fall in love, I would never have kids, I would never get to truly experience life. The guilt that I felt was worse than any pain I have ever experienced in my life because I loved my brothers so much. I had no other idea what to do besides pray. I barely believed in God, but I prayed in desperation as I sank deeper and deeper, “God if you are out there save us!”

Immediately after I said that, I felt a hand pull me up to the surface. It was my dad. He and another man he met at the beach rescued me and my brothers. Questions of how did he get there so fast and how could he possibly hear us or know we were in trouble, filled my mind as my dad helped me. Once I was up to my waist in water and out of the undertow, my dad let me go, and I walked to the shore hanging my head in shame of what I had done.

As I saw him ahead of me on the shore, I knew I had to talk to him. I was prepared to face my punishment. I did not care what it was because I deserved it. When I looked my dad in the eye, he said nothing but the words “I love you,” as he hugged me.

I cried.

As I told my story on that stage all of the people around me began to cry, and I
felt the presence of God. He gave me the words that I did not know, and he helped me
explain to the people there what the story meant. In life when you see other people living in sin, it looks fun and glamorous, and when you first try, it is that way. Although it is enjoyable, it gets a hold of you, it consumes you, and there is only one way to escape and that is through Jesus, our Savior.

Even though we sin and do horrible things in life, Jesus is always going to be there for us if we call on his name, and he will not be there to say, "I told you so." He will be there to say “I love you.”

Until that very day as I stood in front of that crowd, I never understood what truly
[had] happened or why. That one experience has completely changed my life. I know now that God saved me because he loves me and wants to use me. Not a smart perfect girl... he wants me, Becky, as imperfect as I may be.

Since my trip to Africa my sophomore year, my faith in God has grown exponentially. I know that he has put a burden on my heart for the people of Africa and I know he has called me to serve over there. Every day I think about the people there, and want more than anything in the world to go back. Next year I am returning to Kenya, for a whole school year to work specifically with the children of Kenya that are living on the streets.

God is using her surrendered life! Her obedience to our Savior is changing lives in Kenya. I am so thankful for her testimony, which has really, only begun!

Next time, an update on the seamless way the Lord has hemmed her into her new home.

I pray that I as an adult, am not too far along in life to listen or respond to the voice of my Savior! When He calls, I need to respond, instantly. Just like Becky did. She did not know why or how to relate her story. She only knew she was supposed to. She did, and God drew many to Him.

He will do the same with my life, if I disregard my myriad reasons and road blocks. The more surrendered I remain, the more quickly He can draw others to Him!


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A gift we received from Becky, entitled, "Kenya." Plus an actual sunset from the border of Uganda and Kenya (from my trip there).

Over the coming days, I hope to write about and (whenever possible) use the words of, those who have gone to the field or have been impacted by BJ's surrendered life. There are sooo many stories to share. It's only fair to share them with you, since many of you have followed this blog from the beginning.

We have been overwhelmed over the past two years, with how many people we have heard from. Quite literally, we hear from believers around the world. Somehow, the Lord has placed our book in the hands of people whom He then inspires. Many of them have written to us. Some we maintain correspondence with.

Each story is compelling in its own way. I pray you are blessed by them. They are just too moving to not share.

The above photo is of a painting completed by a young woman currently serving in Kenya! I began hearing from her after she finished reading "I Would Die for You." She had already served in Kenya for a short time, when she was 15. She was led of the Lord to return upon graduation from high school. She is currently serving for around a year. We were blessed to be able to help support her with funds from "BJ's Hope" (the scholarship fund endowed by MercyMe's song "I Would Die for You," and other private donations).

Here is part one of her story, in her words:

My name is Rebecca (Becky). I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I have a mom, a dad, an older sister, and two younger brothers. Recollecting my childhood memories, I can say that my family was far from perfect, despite my mother's attempt to impress others in public. My dad worked as a traveling salesman. So while he was gone most of the time, my working mother was left home with four children to care for. Before I go into detail, I must make it clear (because I know that you are legally bound to report abuse) that my present situation at home now is different, and my brothers and I are not being emotionally or physically harmed at all, in anyway.

Although my relationship with my mother is great now, things were not always that way. My mother verbally and physically abused me. Although I am not proud of what I have been through, I recognize what happened to me and know that I am stronger because of it.

When I was young, I lived most of my childhood in the fear, never understanding why my mother would be so angry at me, or what her anger would lead her to do. Most commonly, she would verbally abuse me. “Worthless,” “stupid,” and “an accident,” were the names I usually responded to when she was upset.

When she was very upset and became physical with her anger, I chose to be unresponsive because it was my only way of coping with the situation. Constantly I felt trapped, I had no one to talk to about the situation, and after a while I was deceived into thinking that I deserved what happened to me. I am unable to describe the situation in great detail because it is too painful to discuss. Please, just trust me when I say my childhood was less than perfect.

I went to a Christian school. On the whole, I disliked the school because I did not belong. The average class size at this school was 6 kids. I was very fortunate to receive a superior education but I suffered socially for the majority of my adolescence. I had no friends at school, and I felt the pains of loneliness in my heart.

In my seventh grade year my male teacher told me that I could never accomplish my dream of becoming a doctor because I was a woman. It hurt so much to go to school and feel like I would never amount to anything no matter how hard I tried. [After this, I had] to go home and go through my family’s struggles and have no control over [that] situation.

I am ashamed to say that I thought about suicide a lot, as a child. [I was] too naive to have any idea how to do it. I had nothing worth living for. I did not matter at school. I felt I was not loved at home, and the existence of God was a joke in my life.

My mother was a proclaimed Christian and made my family go to church every Sunday.
She would raise the same hands she would hit me with to God and try to impress
everyone. Using my simple reasoning as a child, I knew that I never wanted to be like my mother. My mother was a Christian, so naturally I did not want to have anything to do with God.

Going into my eighth grade year, my life finally started to look a little better. My parents decided to send me to public school [where] I had [the] hope of real friends. I was very apprehensive as my class size shifted from 2 to 200. I was in complete culture shock. I found out very quickly that I did not know how to socially interact with my new classmates. I was never really taught how.

Eventually kids got curious as to who I was. [When] I told them that I was from a private school where I read literary classics and was taught Latin, I automatically had the label “smart girl” branded onto my forehead. Although most kids would hate the "smart girl,” label, I absolutely loved it because I was finally something. I had something I could live up to, something that people would know me by, other than worthless. Things were looking up for me, I actually had friends.

As things improved for me at public school, home life became better. My dad got a new job where he was able to be home more and help my mother.

As freshman year approached, my mom told me that I had to start going to my
church's youth group. I was not overly excited about the idea but I went because I was willing to do anything to try and make my mother love me.

At my youth group people were very impressed because I knew the Bible very well. Quoting Scripture I had to memorize while I was at [Christian school], people recognized that I had impressive biblical knowledge for a 14 year old. Similar to public school, the people at my youth group labeled me, “smart, perfect girl,” and I did not mind because I could finally be something other than worthless.

I thought I had everything figured out as I entered high school. People at school
and my church had an expectation of me to be a smart perfect girl. I could finally
fulfill what people wanted me to be. I did everything that a smart perfect girl would do, I aced all of the challenging classes I took, I was involved in numerous clubs. I volunteered on a regular basis.

When I was offered the opportunity to go to Kenya, Africa with my youth group, I decided to go. [I was] merely thinking it would be another thing to add to my lengthy list of accomplishments that would impress college admissions offices.

While we were in Kenya our team set up a water purification system, converted a
car to run on cooking oil, established a church, established a computer college that would help educate people, and most importantly held open air crusades. The crusades that we did took place in crowded market places in the slums of Nairobi. Hundreds of
people gathered to watch us. Sharing a testimony of what God has done in your life at
one of these crusades was a requirement to be a part of this team.

Public speaking has always been a fear of mine, so naturally I was not ready to jump up and speak. Luckily, my teammate Christina went before me. Christina had recently become a Christian and had incredible faith, but little knowledge about the Bible and its teachings. Because she was so inexperienced, I did not expect anything great to come out of her speaking; however, I was completely blown away by what she said.

When she talked people were moved. I specifically remember her praying for this old man, and when she did he fell to his knees and wept. What Christina did that night made me re- think everything about how I had been living my life. It made me question if I really knew God. I knew about his word, but I realized that I truly did not know him. That very night I prayed from my heart for the first time ever.

The next day our team was getting ready to do another open air crusade, and it
was my turn to speak. I was more nervous than I have ever been in my life, but I knew that I was going to be alright, because I had everything I was going to say all planned out. My testimony was very lengthy and impressive, using many large vocabulary words in hopes of impressing people and living up to the perfect smart girl expectations.

Right before I stepped on the rickety wooden stage, my youth pastor prayed for me. As he prayed, I truly believe I heard the voice of God for the first time in my life. It was not a voice booming from the heavens that I heard, it was more of a gentle whisper that said, “Tell the Beach Story.” It was the strangest thing that I had ever experienced in my life, and I had no idea what to do as I stepped up on the stage and grasped the microphone in my hand.

Her story will continue... be sure to come back by to hear "The Beach Story."

(Becky gave her blessing to share her testimony. Some of her story has been edited, and names changed, to protect her family. She continues to serve in Kenya, and covets our prayer support! She is just 18.)