grateful

2015: Our Highlights

We've had a busy year. Here are some of our highlights.

What We Accomplished in 2015

- began our family!
- established solid relationships within the EM team
- completed the first year of coursework
- installed a new wireless system in EM team house
- set up EM social media strategy
- built friendships with several non-Christians
- built and fostered relationships with EM interns
- assisted with website upgrades for EM community
- met general tech support needs for EM community
- plugged in at Christ Church
- adapted to being a new mom
- conquered colic, but only just barely
- adapted to life w/o dairy

What We Plan to Finish in 2015

- Strategic Planning for East Mountian 2016
- One last capstone paper
- Family time in Texas
- Watch Star Wars Episode 7 ... multiple times
- Indulge in lots of Tex-Mex (Torchy's, Gringo's, and Lupe, we're coming for you!)

What We Hope to Accomplish in 2016

- Complete Masters in Biblical Languages and Linguistics
- Strategic planning for East Mountian Global
- Teaching Bible courses for EM
- Summit 2016 planning & recruiting

By His Grace & For His Glory!

Will You Join Us?!

We would love for you to be a part of what we are doing. Here are a few ways you can join us:
1) Thank God for what He has done this year, both in us and through us.
2) Pray for what God has in store for us next year, for direction, wisdom, guidance, and support
3) Prayerfully consider giving for any of the needs listed here.

Answered Prayers

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Beloved Friends,

We miss you all! We want to share with you some of the amazing and specific ways God has answered our prayers since we arrived in South Africa just two short months ago. We cannot thank you enough for interceeding for us! 

We were concerned about our visas, so together we prayed. The application was extremely tedious; the information we received from the embassy was not helpful. Despite numerous complications & set-backs, our visas arrived a full 2 days before our plane took off!

Houston to Dubai; Dubai to Cape Town.

Houston to Dubai; Dubai to Cape Town.

Together, we prayed for safe travels. We had relatively relaxing flights and were even able to sleep some. At the Houston airport, God provided an incredibly kind airline employee who intentionally didn't charge us the full amount she could have for our bags. She also convinced her manager to let Loren travel, though she was far along in pregnancy. Then, we were shocked to find every one of our 14 bags waiting for us when we landed!

Our Luggage in the Cape Town airport

Our Luggage in the Cape Town airport

Together, we prayed for community and a strategic ministry to serve - one of our earliest prayer requests, many of you have been praying with us for this for over a year. God has answered that prayer in East Mountian. It is truly a community, and a team where our skills & passions are needed. They have loved us well and served us since the day we arrived. In addition to our EM ministry team, we have found a church, a small group, and already have a few budding friendships.

East Mountain Old Testament Course

East Mountain Old Testament Course

Together, we prayed that God would give us a place to live by the time the baby arrived. We expected the process of finding a place to live to be long & frustrating; there is a housing shortage here. But, by the end of our second day visiting apartments in Stellenbosch, we found a place that was affordable, spacious, and in a great location. They even sell Dr. Pepper next door! We were able to move in a week later, and it is already starting to feel like home. In fact, our landlord works in Jack's department at the university.

Lorenzo, Natasha, & Luthando.  East Mountain Interns for 2015 and some of our new friends

Lorenzo, Natasha, & Luthando.

East Mountain Interns for 2015 and some of our new friends

Together, we prayed for God's provision. Through the generous gifts of many of you and a favorable exchange rate, we are about 75% funded. Through the body of Christ, each of our needs has been met as they have arisen.  Thank you for being a part!

Together, we prayed for a good doctor.  The Lord provided a doctor to deliver our baby that we feel we can trust, and Loren has already received excellent medical care from her. In addition, God has provided a supportive and knowledgeable doula who will come to our apartment when labor begins, remain with us through the entire birth, advocate for us in the hospital, translate for us if needed, and help us understand any differences in the health care system. As Loren's due date nears, we feel calm and confident.

Visiting the Penguins at Boulder Beach

Visiting the Penguins at Boulder Beach

Thank you for your prayers! It has been astounding to watch God answer prayer after prayer!! What a sweet season. We place our hope and our trust and our faith in God our Father. We want to point people to Jesus in everything we do.

As we continue to pray, we invite you to pray specifically for a few big things ...

Lord willing, Baby Messarra will be joining us any day! We are both excited and nervous.

The baby is measuring small in every way, and this concerns the doctor. Would you join us in praying for our baby girl?

Please pray for:

- a healthy baby and a healthy momma

- wisdom and discernment on the many decisions to be made during labor and following delivery

- for our parents, who wish they could be here with us to welcome their granddaughter

- for God to be glorified in the birth of our daughter

We are also encountering two difficulties here: the lack of internet and a car. We are finding life challenging without them, especially because it makes it hard to connect with people - both new friends here and all of you back home. Having these tools would also open many more doors for the kind of ministry projects we can do. Would you pray that despite slow systems here, God would show us favor and provide speedily for these needs?

Thank you for joining us on this journey and sustaining us with your love and prayers. God is doing powerful things here in South Africa!

We are grateful for you! We love you! We miss you!

Our 2014 in Review

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends! We hope you've had a wonderful, warm season with family and friends.

The countdown to South Africa has begun! We get on a plane in 20 days! We are so thankful for all of you that have reached out to us, prayed for us, supported us, and joined us in this journey. We are nervous, excited, and full of eager expectation!

Here is our annual update - we hope you enjoy it! It has the latest news on our fundraising progress, preparations for leaving, and our year in review.

2014 Christmas Letter & Annual Update

We sent this out with our Christmas cards this year. If you didn't receive one in the mail, and would like to get our update letters in the mail (about twice a year), send us an e-mail with your mailing address to: loren {at} redeemedmess {dot} com!

Love to you all, and Happy New Year!

 

Burdens and Band-Aids

When we lived overseas, I had lots of time to pray.

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Riding in the back of a tuk-tuk, my legs dangling and collecting the dust of India.

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Rocking a Kenyan baby to sleep, her breathing grow deeper and slower.

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Sitting through yet another church service in a language I couldn’t understand.

Then I came back to America .... and at first, praying was easy. It was a habit, a muscle that had grown strong. When you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from (or you’re still sick from the last meal) ... when you’re given 5 minutes’ notice that it’s you preaching the Sunday Sermon ... ... when a bunch of angry African men are about to beat up your husband ... .... your praying muscles grow strong, and hearing the voice of God becomes startlingly clear.

These days, the voice of the Lord seems faint. It’s crowded out by my to do list, our schedule (that mysteriously fills up by itself), and the burdens of others.

I love that my days are filled with intense ministry, building relationships with the poor and those trying to rebuild their lives. I am thankful ... and yet, driving home through the ghettos of Houston, what I’m left with are their burdens; the complex burdens of economic struggle and no education; the struggle when there’s never enough food to go around. They search for relief, and I’m hard-pressed to help them find it.

Then there are my co-workers: independent, intelligent friends who don’t know Jesus. They are beautiful, fascinating people - and most of them, desperately lost. I hear it echoing in their fears, and I hear their searching, too ...

her father is dying slowly

his wife was just diagnosed with a mental illness

she wonders if her long-term boyfriend will ever marry her

he can’t take another day in this dead-end job

In all the hurt and struggle - when I don’t know what to say - these burdens stack up.

When I finally came before the Lord, I felt the burdens scatter before him like so many marbles.

My mind raced, and I implored him -- how do I help them, and what answer should I give? After a time, peace finally came.

I remembered a recent conversation with a Bhutanese refugee family. Their home has been ravaged by ethnic conflict since 1948. They have never been to school. They’ve fled two countries, been chased with fiery sticks for their faith in Jesus, and now that they are finally safe in America, most of their extensive farming skills are irrelevant. They consistently remind me that they have no education, no skills.

I ask them worriedly what they propose to do -- in their fifties, they are trying to learn a new language and culture and work their assembly-line jobs, all with the goal of being able to pay rent.

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When they speak, I’m struck by their wisdom: “We will work hard. And we will trust the Lord, who is good. Has he not already solved our biggest problem?”

My “uneducated” refugee friends know the truth --

Without Jesus, the best we can do is apply band-aids. And band-aids don't help the hemorrhaging pain from our own sin, from the fallenness we live in.

How do I forget this so easily? How is it possible that in between Easters, I become dull to the miracle of resurrection - that in his love, Jesus solved the biggest problem. With love and a lot of blood, he gave us a very powerful solution to our human struggle.

When my refugee friends are mired in fear and confusion, when my co-workers share those burdens that keep them up at night ... I have a choice in my response. Because I know the real answer they seek. But too often, I settle for the band-aids of sympathy and logical solutions. I keep silent about my faith, the axis on which my life turns.

And so I pray for more courage.

Courage, to gently and boldly tell my co-workers that those band-aids won’t heal the wound - it’s only Christ that will.

I pray for courage to not try so hard. In the midst of ministry, I pray for courage to not consider myself important than I am. Many refugees I serve have figured it out anyway - “The Lord will care for us,” they say.

Hallelujah.

Worlds Collide at Christmastide

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Yesterday I watched as worlds collided.

A wealthy group of Americans delivered Christmas gifts to an African family who just arrived to our land of plenty.

Adopt-a-Family is a program facilitated through my refugee resettlement workplace. Refugee families who are experiencing their first Christmas in the U.S. are “adopted” by sponsors, who purchase items from a wish list assembled with the help of their case manager. Typical refugee wish lists include everything from microwaves and socks to bicycles and barbie dolls.

One of the most exclusive schools in Houston adopted many families this year; each classroom purchased an impressive collection  and it lifted my heart to see their hallway filled with gifts for needy families.

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I accompanied a few fifth grade students and their parents as we excitedly loaded two SUVs full of packages and drove to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston to deliver our bounty.

I tried to explain what a refugee is while a very stressed-out mom threatened to pull over the Mercedes if the children didn’t stop fighting over who was eating more European chocolate in the back seat. Just as I felt how keenly their childhood was from my own, we began to compare knee scars and discuss Katy Perry (we agreed her older songs are way better).

When we arrived, we were greeted in true African fashion: with hugs all around, mango juice thrust into our hands, and lots of “God Bless You!”s and “Karibu Sana!” (you are very welcome here). This American girl felt very confused as a pang of homesickness for East Africa washed over me.

I was so proud of my Congolese friends, who have been through so much. They’ve endured threats on their lives because they were born into the wrong tribe. They’ve fled from machetes under the cover of night. And here they were, spreading joy to the privileged and proclaiming the kingdom of God. “By the hand of the God who is good, we escaped!” they exclaimed joyfully to the agnostic anesthesiologist and the stressed-out, stay-at-home mom.

Wide-eyed, the children listened as the proud African mother listed her eight living children, and two dead long ago. “God has surely blessed you,” I replied.

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We sat in her bare living room and Zaheri's* face lit up as she told her fellow mamas how thankful she is to be here in America, “where no one will stop you from working to feed your children.” Her four-year-old son bounced excitedly as he tore open brightly-colored gift after gift, his brown eyes growing larger by the minute.

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We spoke of our families, and we realized that while our stories may be different, we have common threads among us all: love for our children, hope for the future, the joy of family gathered at Christmas.

And as I sat, facilitating the conversation with my very poor KiSwahili, my heart filled and the Holy Spirit whispered: “I am Lord of them All.”

And I was thankful. Thankful as I remembered that God is even now at work, drawing each of us to himself.

None of us are left alone - not those frightened in the dark forests of the Congo. Not those in the wealthy desert of upscale American neighborhoods. Not even me, when my to do list buries my intentions to celebrate each day of Advent thoughtfully.

The Lord of them All send his Son .... his perfect, fully human son, born of the most humble circumstances.

When he drew his first cry somewhere in Bethlehem, it all changed for us. And when he drew his last breath on a humble cross, he saved us all.

He changed it for us all, and he made our particular darkness light -- For the African mother. For the stay-at-home mom. For the fifth grader with the skinned knee. For me. For you. And for all you love.

It is, indeed, a Merry Christmas.

*Zaheri was excited to have her photograph taken, but her name has been changed, and some faces have been blurred to protect these women and children.

Preparing for Jesus: Ideas for Celebrating Christmas & Advent

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Dearest Friends,

Peace on Earth! Advent is here! Sunday, December 1st, the global Church recognizes the first day of the season of Advent, a time to remember Christ’s arrival to earth and look forward to his second coming. Advent lasts for the four weeks leading up to Christmas day. It fills me with awe to think that all over the world, Christians from many different traditions recognize the miracle of Christ’s first and second coming, all at the same time.

The majority of my church experiences have not included advent - I do not come from a liturgical tradition. However, in the last several years I have found that celebrating Advent in my home has made the Christmas season more reverent, meaningful, and joyful.

I’d like to share with you some of the more practical and meaningful ways we’ve woven Advent traditions into our home, in the hopes that it might help you as it has helped me as we resist the hectic tide of commercialism during the Christmas season.

First, a bit of background on Advent:

“Advent, meaning “the coming,” is a time when we wait expectantly. Christians began to celebrate it as a season during the fourth and fifth centuries. Like Mary, we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, what God has already done. And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As an expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise ... prayer; and birth involves pain ... tears, joy, release, community ... Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.” (Taken from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

The heart of Advent is to take a few minutes each day or each week in December to slow the pace of our lives and recognize what God has done, and what he will do, with the miracle of Christ at the center.

In this effort, tools like short scripture reading plans, songs, or advent calendars can help engage our minds, hearts, and bodies.

You could something each day from Dec 1- Dec 25, or on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas day, with something special on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It’s your home, so my hope is to inspire you with ideas so that you are able to put together something that works for your family.

Here are some of my favorite tools:

One of my very favorite daily Scripture reading plans can be found in the short book The Voice of the Psalms, published by Ecclesia Bible Society. In the beginning of the book, it has an Advent reading plan with daily readings from the Psalms that focus on Christ’s coming, with Messianic quotes from other parts of Scripture. It only takes 5-8 minutes a day, and scripture selections are fantastic. (Confession: I don’t always get to it every day ... sometimes Jack and I have to play “catch up” and read three or four days at a time ... but it is always worth it!) Together, the readings present a sweeping picture God’s story of redemption in Christ. It is available from Amazon or at Family Christian Bookstores (call before you go, they might be out of stock!).

One of my favorite bands, Page CXVI, will release an album of Advent and Christmas hymns on Tuesday, December 3rd. You can hear a preview of it here. For me, it’s a challenge to find Christmas music that is both meaningful and enjoyable to listen to. This album accomplishes both (as a Kickstarter backer, I’ve had the privilege of getting it a week early, and it’s been on repeat ever since!). It will be available for download on www.pagecxvi.com (and likely on iTunes as well).

If you prefer a short devotional reading, this free, downloadable resource from Connection Church in Astoria, New York has devotionals for five days each week. It was written by my dear friend Larry Mayberry, who is a pastor at the church. It contains meaningful reflections and stories, sweet hymns, and scripture quotes all put together in a self-contained format. It only takes 8-10 minutes each day, and might be more enjoyable if the idea of a scripture reading plan feels too intimidating for your home.

To engage the kids:

As a child, one of my favorite Christmas traditions our family’s Advent calendar. Each night before bed, our excitement would build until it was finally time to unearth that day’s mystery as a little bear searched for the Christmas miracle (and finally found ‘Christmas’ with the family gathered in the living room). If you are looking for a high-quality advent calendar you can use year after year, I recently purchased (and love!) this wooden Nativity Advent Calendar. The small, hand-painted figures of the nativity fit behind small doors, and each day you can add to the scene until it is complete. It is well-made, sturdy, and beautifully painted. The back is magnetic so the figures stick quite well. It would also be quite easy to write short, daily scriptures on small pieces of paper and put them behind the doors as well to be read when you add the figures to the scene.

For something more affordable, you can find a variety of Advent calendars that have chocolate or short Scripture verses behind each day’s “door” for $5-$12. Some of my favorites are made by the Vermont Christmas Company on Amazon, though you can also find them at the dollar store sometimes or at Christian bookstores.

The Jesus Storybook Bible (which is lovely any time of year - I enjoy it even as a adult) can be used to tell the story of Christ’s coming when the stories are read in a particular sequence. You can find a free, printable reading plan and a description of how one mom uses the Jesus Storybook Bible during Advent with her children here.

However you celebrate Christmas and Advent, I pray you will make deliberate space and time to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s coming as we wait together in expectation for what God has promised he will do. Merry Christmas, friends!

With love,

Loren

*Note: I was not compensated in any way to share these items ... I just thought they were all great enough to tell my friends about!

Giving Jesus the Silent Treatment

Have you ever asked a question you couldn’t answer? Have you ever excitedly jumped into a new project, only to realize a tragically short time later that this *particular* project would soon haunt your dreams?

Well, friends, here’s a confession: I do this ALL.THE.TIME. And now you’ve been caught in the cross-hairs of this particular shortcoming of mine.

You see, I did both recently on this humble little blog when I

(a) posed the ridiculous question - “How do you love Jesus well in America?”

… around the same time that I decided to

(b) build a brand-new blog from scratch. (Apparently making the internet is hard. Who knew?)

The result is that I got overwhelmed and simply stopped blogging. I’m sorry about that. Some of you may have noticed that it has been an embarrassingly long time since I last wrote. And that last time, i left you with a cliffhanger. I’m not sure how to make amends except to say that if you come to my house, I will make you a cup of tea with a side of heartfelt apology. And I promise, I’m now out of “pretend it doesn’t exist” mode and into “get to business” mode. I have not forgotten I promised you a Part II, and it is forthcoming. In the mean time, however, I have some musings regarding Lent and Easter that I’d like to share.

The Lord has been moving me (okay, pulling me kicking and screaming) into a place of deeper honesty - with myself, and with my community. I’m just not sure we do each other any favors when we pretend like we have it all together. Sometimes, I don’t even make the conscious choice to pretend … it’s just sort of my default mode. (Incidentally, I think it’s often the default mode of our churches, too.)

So on Good Friday, I found myself sitting in a dim sanctuary, staring at a blank slip of paper, having just been challenged to write out “a confession.” There was just one small problem … I had been giving Jesus the silent treatment for weeks. It wasn’t intentional, but I ended up living for a while mostly independent of that small voice inside - the one that gives me joy and life and strength. In all this, there’s the good and the bad.

The Good: My relationship with Jesus every year resembles more of an actual … relationship. We talk. I talk a LOT, because I’m self-centered, but sometimes I also let HIM talk and I just … listen. Every time I do this, I’m reminded that I really like listening to Jesus. More and more, my “Christianity” isn’t about adhering to a set of beliefs or identifying with a religious label or even being part of specific church, but instead, my “Christianity” is having real interaction with God. And this is good, I know. And something to celebrate.

The Bad: When I act like an angsty, immature teenager (which is embarrassingly often), it gets reflected in my relationship with Jesus. Hence, the silent treatment.

Lately, I’ve been running. I’ve felt so restless and so every day I’ve run four or more miles at a time, scratching that itch to get out, to move, to do something.Until Jesus bought me a to a halt … literally. What I didn’t realize? That physical restlessness was a pretty accurate picture of internal state as well. Then I tore some ligaments in my ankle and ended up in a cast - with strict doctor’s orders: NO RUNNING . For six weeks. Just long enough to wreck my carefully constructed running routine and miss Houston’s best weather.

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It’s almost as if I could hear Jesus saying, “My child, it’s time for us to talk.”

Then, there was that fight with my husband. The one where I looked in his angry eyes and saw reflected back at me … my own imperfection. My selfish flaws that had ignited his anger. A fight that stopped me in my tracks and brought attention to my ugly, glaring sin. That’s the thing about marriage - there’s no place to hide.

I could almost hear Jesus saying, “My child, it’s time for us to talk.”

And finally, there was that PERFECT road trip with my soul-friends. The ones that make me feel most like ME when we’re together. The ones that touch a deep part of me and reassure me with their very presence that yes, things are going to be alright. We danced ourselves crazy at a dear friend’s wedding, celebrated love with tears in our eyes, and laughed until my stomach muscles tightened in protest. I realized it was the most alive I had felt in weeks.

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And I could hear Jesus saying, “My child, it’s time for us to talk.”

And ever so gently, he told me … “I came to bring you LIFE TO THE FULL … in Africa, in Asia, AND in America. You are more than your work, more than the sum of your hours, because you serve a bigger kingdom.” As he spoke, I felt very small. And very sad, because I realized I had missed his voice - the entire Lenten season.

This year, I gave up sweets for lent. Because they are my kryptonite, and sometimes my love for them is rivaled only by my love for my family, God, and cheese. I was disappointed that I still craved sweets - daily. Only a few days in, I was doing it more out of pride than penitence. (Probably because Jesus and I weren’t talking.) I did it because I said I would - and my stubborn pride would let me be *that girl* that “failed” at Lent.

So after endless days of stupid, prideful self-denial, I sat in a dim sanctuary and with burning cheeks, I read: “[She] honors me with her lips, but her heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) How painfully true. Missing The Point - this could be the summary of my Lenten season this year. I had been following the letter of the law, but shut out the Spirit. I had stuck my fingers in my ears and gone my own way. I laughed out loud in that sanctuary as the thought occurred to me - “How old am I?! Shouldn’t I know better by now?” And so, I finally started talking to Jesus again. It went a something like this:

“Thank you, Jesus, that you don’t give me the silent treatment - even when I deserve it. You won’t play my silly games. You just wait for me, and draw me near. Thank you that you require no self-punishment before I return to you. I AM that prodigal daughter … and for some reason, I keep leaving. And every time every time every.time. You run You run out to meet me. And you kiss me, and embrace me, and adorn me with your finest of jewels, and invite me the feast. And while you hold me, Father, my shame is a tidal wave threatening to drag me out to shore But you hold onto me still and you whisper words of love in my ear. You invite me to communion … still. After it all. You ask me to partake of your body and blood. Again, and again. And again. The perfume of my idols still on my clothes, and you whisper still - “this is my body, broken for you.” And I just … ache. For how good you are. For how easily I forget. I ache for my leaving, and I ache for your love that always brings me back.”

For reasons I still can’t fully understand, God betroths us to him

in righteousness

in justice

in iron-clad, covenantal, kind, unbreakable love in mercy in faithfulness (Hosea 2:19)

And more than that, he brings us to his banqueting table, to the feast - while our sin is still on our hands and written on our hearts, he washes it all away. The sin, and the shame, and the past … as he washes our feet.

And this is love.

Wherever you’ve been, and wherever you wander - Jesus waits to welcome you back home. It’s the reason we call that Friday Good. It’s the reason he set us free on Easter Sunday, and why he sets us free every day … Jesus is still there, still waiting. Ready to welcome us back home.

Why I Give Thanks on Election Day

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I never knew … I never knew what a blessing it is to be American until I lived overseas.

Living in America, the political nagging and fighting is constant. It’s exhausting … and if I listen too long, I begin to forget there's anything else.

Brief news clips of horrors abroad remind me about those that suffer around the world, and are forgotten quickly.

It’s one thing to hear about horrific realities that could be ours. It’s quite another thing to meet them face to face, when raw results of chaos become a name, a friend, a hand you hold …

  • to hear a Rwandan quietly tell of his family being butchered by his next-door neighbors - because his family’s skin was too light.
  • to hear my new friend tell me simply that she has never known her father - he never returned after "they" dragged him from his bed one night to fight in the Vietnam War (a war he vehemently opposed, for a government he did not support).

In America, we debate “women’s issues.” But a woman's issue I will never face is the fear of being raped by a policeman … unlike a small girl I met in Zambia, her sweaty hand swallowed by mine. My mind scrambled to think of Bible verses that might comfort her as tears made tracks down her swollen cheeks. What do you say?

In America, I have the right to a fair trial. Unlike the young East African mother who approached me after class one day, begging for prayer. She had been wrongly accused of stealing some fruit, and was afraid to walk home for fear of being jumped by the neighborhood “justice system.” She explained that the authorities would look the other way. “An accusation is treated as the truth, here …”  she trailed off.

I have the right to practice (and share) my religion … and my neighbors have the right to theirs. Unlike so many of my faithful brothers and sisters in India, who accept that to be Christian is to be persecuted, to live in fear, to walk around with bloodied lips and bruised cheeks.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

I have the right to participate in the political process. In messiness of election, I can take part … or not take part. I remember awed faces in Africa and in Southeast Asia, their amazement at the brazen freedom we have to declare our stance, even if it is against the government. I remember the longing in their voices as they dreamed that one day, they could vote knowing their vote would count, in a monitored system.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Our constitution is a beautiful piece of literature - and sometimes, it’s those living OUTSIDE the US that realize it most keenly. The truth is, we don’t know what we have.

America is still beautiful, home of the free … but it’s still just a dream for most. I’ve lived in impoverished countries, under corrupt governments this year … and even my brief time was enough to make me understand why so many are desperate to get to America.

In our times, it’s easy to live in the U.S. and be jaded by it all. I used to look around at our materialism, at our messy election system, at our incredible inability to get along … and just feel distaste for it all. And I think that's pretty natural, but I want to provide a different view, in light of what I experienced overseas.

My ingrained sense of what should be collided with the realities others face - when became MY reality;

  • feeling the sting of injustice as we had to pay off a man to avoid jail in Cambodia (for committing no crime)
  • being gawked at and groped by men, while policemen looked on in apathy
  • being taken advantage of time and again for my skin color
  • knowing there was no higher law, that we were completely at the mercy of the base morality of the majority

… I couldn't believe it. Inside, I would scream at the difficulty of it all and long for home … long for the safety, the justice, the rights I took for granted in the U.S. I realized that it was easy for me to feel fed up with America, while I daily reaped her benefits and never realized all she offered me, this land of my birth.

As we ponder these blessings, I don’t want us to become puffed up and proud -- there are reasons enough to be embarrased by the U.S., too. On Election Day, no one needs the reminder that America is not perfect.

But, may I persuade you to thoughtfully consider all the protections, freedoms, and rights you have as Americans? May I ask you to hear the words of my Vietnamese friend, and may it bring you hope:  “Your people, they have the power to mould your OWN reality - and your stability remains, even in all your disagreement. It's amazing."

When you’re on US soil, in the thick of election season and you think,  “would they just shut up already!” … when tensions run high between neighbors, colleagues, friends because of varying political issues -- it’s easy to forget.

Please, may I remind you?

Our country is a gift -- being American is a gift … and no matter who wins, we are children of privilege, simply because America is ours.

Awake, My Soul

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Many of our friends have asked us the inevitable, "How are you doing ... being back home?"Most days, I'm unsure of how to answer. Honestly, it changes moment to moment. It's surreal, and wonderful, and painful to be back home. Allow me to explain ...

Last night, I nearly cried. Of happiness.

I slept on a bed - a REAL bed, off the floor, soft as a cloud after months of sleeping on the floor. I was wrapped up in a feather comforter, with cotton sheets cool against my skin. The temperature was kept at a constant 74*.

Most of all, I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about venomous spiders crawling on my neck at night, didn’t have to worry about strange people that might be staring at me when I woke.

And yet.

Despite all this, there was a pang in my heart as I thought of my two precious friends in Vietnam. I pictured their faces as I thought over all our conversations. I wondered how they are doing - Has he filled that hole inside his heart -- or is he still plagued by self-doubt? Does she still think she doesn’t want Jesus, the God of  "The American War of Aggression"?

I thought about Cambodia, where hope grows slowly and is often drowned in a sea of liquor. I thought of this little one -- and I wondered if her sweet grandma had enough food for her to eat today.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Before we left, 

I made a map with pins in each place we would visit. It’s now a map of my heart, charting little pieces scattered across the earth.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Even during the months I prayed would end quickly, the places I could never see myself living, the moments I wondered if I was making a difference -

I didn’t realize my heart was slowly growing roots downward, into the soil that I walked over.

It hurts to be divided - to know that now, no matter where I live, someone will be missing. But more than hurt,

 I feel the weight of what a blessing, an undeserved gift this year was.

What a privilege -- to carry Jesus all over the world, and to find him in the most unexpected places. What a joy - to stand on the Himalayas and pray the people would lift their eyes to the mountains, and find their help in the Lord. (Psalm 121)What delight I found in Uganda -  to look into baby Elijah's face every day, and in it to see the face of God. To encourage his mom, a destitute woman that has given up everything to serve the church.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

And now, to return home -- to the comforts of home, the joy of family, the sweet friendships we missed so deeply. Yesterday, I drove through Houston. I came to an elevated highway overlooking downtown - one of my favorite spots. One of my favorite worship songs played over the speakers, and I sang over Houston --

Like water covers the sea, Let the earth be filled with your glory, Till the prayers you prayed become reality and the earth looks just like heaven

We won’t be satisfied, until the Earth looks just like Heaven

Wake up, you Sons and Daughters, we were made for so much more! (Earth Like Heaven, Jonathan David & Melissa Helser)

I sang over the city, becuase we were made for more.

I prayed over the broken-ness I know is hiding behind our walls in Houston. I prayed for the father that feels like a failure, for the single moms desperate to raise their children right. I prayed for our secret porn addictions, our pride, our love of money, our endless cycle of working ourselves to death to buy things that don’t make us happy.

I prayed all of us that know Jesus, but still have a hard time gulping from the fire hose of grace without feeling guilty about it.

This year, I woke up. And I can't turn around, I can't go back. God is taking me on a journey of waking me up to more. (I actually suspect he’s been trying to shake me awake for years.)I have a hunger -- to see the Earth look just like Heaven. This year, I got a foretaste of Heaven, watching his Kingdom come. I’ve been ravenous ever since.

Beloved friends, take a taste with me; 

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Wherever you find yourself, I pray God would give you hunger pains to see the Earth like Heaven.

If you ask him “how?” -- if you keep asking --  and in the stillness wait for his answer … I know he will show you the more you were made for.

Thank You Will Never Be Enough

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With a sigh of relief, I flopped onto my bed. After a year of ever-changing locations and an endless parade of beds (I lost count around 58…), we are home.Back in the land of the free, and the home of the brave - America, you look good (especially when you are winning gold medals!).

16 Countries. 11 Months. And it’s hard to believe that it’s over.

We are jet-lagged, with our days and nights mixed up, unable to sleep … so we feel about the way parents with a newborn (or a student during finals) feels. We are fuzzy-headed, trying to figure out how we fit in a place that feels so familiar when we are so changed.

We want to share EVERYTHING God showed us this year … if only we could find the words.

So, we ask for your patience with us, and especially your prayers. We promise to share more stories with you; for now, I long for rest.

However, we cannot let another moment pass without saying it. The thing I’ve been thinking all year.The thing I don’t know how to say.

Two words that can’t possibly capture all I feel … when I say … Thank You.

This letter is for you, my friends.

This is the post in which we raise a proverbial glass to celebrate you.

When I think of you, I am grateful - grateful that you make space in your busy day to join us, to think of us.

We know that the Lord never sends us out on our own - he designed his body to work together. Because of you, dear friends and family, we took this amazing journey around the world - seeking the Lord’s presence and his work. And we carried you in our hearts, because …

You were the ones who supported this crazy idea we had - to leave everything we knew to follow Christ. You were the ones that invited us to speak at your churches, who listened as we shared our hearts.

You prayed with us and followed our journey. You were the hands and feet of Jesus to us - providing for our financial needs so that we can say with confidence, in Christ’s body,“we lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

Quite simply, You have shown us Jesus.

Did you know you changed lives this year? Will you hear their Thank You?

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Hear Saanvi*(Nepal) say Thank You. Rescued from trafficking and prostitution, a new Christian, we found her in a rehabilitation home. With tears in my eyes, I told her she is beautiful. “No one ever told me God finds me beautiful,” she whispered. “Am I really his daughter?” Her smile when I said YES was like the sun emerging after a long storm.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Hear Chan Yi Bin (Malaysia) say Thank You. I tutored Chan Yi Bin every day in math. Despite his learning disabilities, he makes new progress every day. And the lessons he taught me far surpassed anything I could give him.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Hear Nabil* (India) say Thank You. When we arrived at his hut, he could not stand up straight and could not walk without the aid of home-made crutches. By the time we left a few hours later, he was literally jumping for joy and had thrown the crutches aside. God worked a literal MIRACLE in front of our eyes. When we stepped out in faith, when we asked God for the words to say to this stubborn, prideful man, he gave us verses and thoughts to share. Walls came down in his heart, leading to his acceptance of Jesus, AND his physical healing.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Hear Larisa (Moldova) say Thank You. Mother. Pastor’s Wife. Discipler. In a lonely and cold land, she serves her family and her church … day after day. The locals can be as harsh as the Russian winters in her post-Communist hometown. Yet God is slowly, surely honoring their efforts. God knew EXACTLY when they needed a team full of life to remind them of the hope we have in Christ.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Hear the children (India) say Thank You. We held daily Bible Story hour on the front steps of our “home” in India. They would gather from all across the village and listen, wide-eyed, to stories of a God very different than the Hindu ones they serve. Seeds were sown in dozens of little hearts. (God, would you bring them to fruition!) *some names changed to protect the vulnerable

There are SO many more faces I could show you, stories I could tell. My memory is flooded...

The truth is, these friends of mine … are your friends.Because YOU helped us get there … so we could touch lives, on behalf of the King we all serve. This year, we were stewards -- we thought long and worked hard to manage the resources given to us. We were ambassadors -- representing a much bigger kingdom and the most wonderful King.

The most joyful part? Our journey is not over. We will to keep blogging, and will continue to share stories from our incredible year.

We’re praying about our next steps, and know it will involve more overseas missionary work. Stay in touch, and we’ll keep you updated.

Until then -- hear the words from Jesus echo in your ears, because he says to you, our lifeblood: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Your thoughts, your prayers, your encouragement, your support -- “it does not return void” (Isaiah 55:11).

The Gift of Presence

The coffee shop where we spent a lot of time building relationships and playing Uno this month

The coffee shop where we spent a lot of time building relationships and playing Uno this month

Here on the Worlp Rape (Nepali Engrish for World Race), we go a lot of places for not a lot of reasons. "Ministry" often looks like going to a church service (or a gathering or a graduation or even a wedding) and sitting there, or worse, just standing there. You're not asked to preach or sing or pray or testify. You just sit.

Meanwhile the people stare at you intermittently between singing or praying in their mother tongues which we of course do not understand.

30 min goes by.Sitting.An hour passes.Still just sitting.An hour and a half passes.

(This is how I go through 2 full battery cycles a day on my iPod touch...)

I don't think this is what Abraham had in mind when he was told God would use him to bless all people groups. It's certainly not what I thought I was signing up to do 12 months ago at Training Camp. Regardless, I am here, and I know God wants me here.

But, why?

There are so many other (read better) things I could be doing.

You have 7 brilliant, passionate, equipped, University-educated 20-somethings at your disposal. And you just want us to SIT HERE?!?

We can teach classes on health, Bible, English, business, finance, hygiene. We can preach and sing. We can host medical clinics. And that's just the list of degrees and certifications on our team!

[photo missing] Krystle checking blood pressure during the medical clinic this month

"No, thank you. You canjust sit here." (to be understood as: Sit down, shut up, don't do anything disruptive, and smile.)

WHY???

Well, the short answer is I don't know. The long answer goes something like this...

Sometimes, God can use us without us doing anything. Sometimes, we don't need to preach or evangelize.  Sometimes he just wants us to BE there.

Sometimes he just wants us to BE.

Not do. BE.

At times we feel like sports stars or movie stars; people just love being around us.

Sometimes we can be an encouragement to others by just being there, hanging out, playing Angry Birds. During a medical clinic for the elderly, I sat in a chair surrounded by a flock of kids watching me play Angry birds. Sometimes they ooh-ed and awed. Sometimes they provided commentary on the action. Sometimes they laughed at my failures. They loved it.

Somehow, that's ministry.

I can't tell you how many times it has happened, but it feels like we've done more of that than what we would normally consider ministry in these past 10 months.

Sometimes you just being there is all God wants you to do.

Our American culture tells us that we are what we do. Therefore we must perform and accomplish and work and do. But God didn't create us for the purpose of doing that stuff.

He created us to worship Him and enjoy life serving Him and His Kingdom.

Worship is a matter of the whole person, your heart, your mind, your body, the deepest parts of who you are. And, worship is about all of life, not just singing songs or going to church.

You cannot worship when you are not aware of God's presence.

God is in the business of giving the gift of presence, His presence. Our Scriptures are full of theophanies. The Bible itself is a book of divine disclosure; that's what makes it holy. In the Old Testament, He appears to Abraham and Moses. In the New Testament, He reveals Himself to the disciples and Paul. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, He gives all His followers the Holy Spirit.

And because we are Spirit-filled people, God can use us as gifts of presence.

Yes, we are called to be more than just gifts of presence. All followers of Jesus have been commissioned as heralders of the good news in both word and deed. If St. Francis of Assisi really did say something along the lines of "preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words" (which is questionable), then he was wrong. TheGospel is not good news if it is not news that is both proclaimed and proved. But, sometimes, God just wants us to show up and wait.

If I were more spiritual I would now tell you a story about how I did this and share some profound insight with you.

I'm not.

I'm still learning, so maybe we can do this together. Maybe we can play fewer levels of Angry Birds and ask God to speak in those situations. Maybe we open up a dialogue with God in our own mother tongue while the others do the same.

Mad photo props to the fabulous Brianna Danese.

Labor Pains

We have just stepped off the plane into Thailand. From the dusty slums of Africa to the bustling streets of Bangkok, we find ourselves in a completely different world. Asia beckons, a stranger. A land more foreign than anything I’ve yet faced this year. I am intimidated.

I've been travelling overseas since high school, and rarely felt inept or out of place. Nicaragua has been home for me since 2006 - even from my first visit, Latin culture was reminiscent of Texas and Mexico, so finding myself comfortble there was no surprise.

Eastern Europe presented new cultures ... but our langugages share Latin roots, the people are white, and similarities still linger from shared Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

And Africa - it welcomed me with open arms in 2005. My heart was broken, but it also opened wide like a hibiscus in the African sun of wide African smiles, African arms, African love. It, too, has been home ever since.

But Asia ? It looms - a giant question mark in my mind. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I suppose this is fertile soil for God to sow seeds.

A part of me thinks I am too old to fall in love again - with a people group, a new area of the globe … but then, life is funny.

Just when you think life is full, marriage opens an entirely new chapter of love and sacrifice, tears and toil and laughter - pulsing vitality beyond the joy I thought possible.

As my friends one by one cross the threshold to motherhood, I watch their hearts expand again - and again - always more room in the heart for a new baby. Someday, I’ll know that joy.

But today, I groan with labor pains of another kind. He is birthing in me a fierce, proud, protective love his nations and people.

There is Nicaragua: first-born of my missionary passions, the one that is most familiar to me. Don’t get me started talking about how beautiful Nica is, because I’m likely to whip out pictures and never stop chatting about her festive spirit, her lovely Latin character, and how she’s an unexpected class favorite.

And Africa: second-born, meeting this one broke my heart. I bent low on a dirt floor in Zambia as my heart was shattered by her passion and her great need. Fiercely prideful, driven by a rhythm all her own, and alive to the work of a risen savior, she captured my heart - when I am away from her too long, I am anxious and my heart aches to see her once again.

And so I'm left, pecies of my heart strewn across continents. I'm left to wait, waiting to meet this unknown, third reflection of God on earth. The time is coming soon. What will Asia look like?

Will I have what it takes to go through this process again - to gaze in awe upon another manifestation of my God in the flesh - and give of myself?

Do I have anything to offer?

And - the most painful question of all - is there enough room in my heart … for all three - for Nicaragua, for Africa, and for Asia?

I think about my momma friends with multiple children - and I’m amazed at how the Lord grows our hearts. Even as a woman’s womb stretches to make room, so does her heart. A father’s hands reach out for his newborn child, and the Lord plants love in his very core.

Oh Jesus, would you stretch my heart as I hold out my hands ... for whatever you decide to place in them?

{For our loved family and friends who are delivering babies while we are away - we are thinking of you. It's hard to miss the really special moments. When we get home, we can't wait to meet and hold baby Camp, Josiah, Noah, Hattie, Elijah, and baby Legare. We know they'll be just as amazing as their parents. We love you!}