hard questions

Bill Mounce with East Mountain

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Two weekends ago, East Mountain had the privilege of hosting Bill Mounce, a world-renowned New Testament scholar, author, and Bible translator. Bill was a part of the ESV and NIV 2011 Bible translations. Bill spends most of his time these days running BiblicalTraining.org, a website dedicated to training and equipping Christians at all levels. East Mountain utilizes Biblical Training’s resources in our pastoral training programs. Biblical Training supplies the content, and East Mountain provides the facilitators, the community, and the support network. Read below to hear about our weekend with Bill.

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Bill with Micah and me at the East Mountain braai


On Friday, Bill visited with a cohort of Stellenbosch theology students. The students had the opportunity to dialogue with Bill about their research and his ministry experiences. One PhD student asked Bill about the importance of Biblical Languages for preaching. Bill's response, after decades of pastoral ministry: "I don't know how you stand up there and say 'Thus says the LORD' without being absolutely sure what the text means. And I don't know how you know that without the languages."

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Theology students listening to Bill talk about the importance of Biblical Languages.

On Saturday, Bill lectured on Titus 2:11-16. We asked him to speak about the importance of theological studies for practical ministry. He chose to talk about the relationship of justification and sanctification, saying that so much of one’s ministry is dependent upon how one sees the relationship between justification and sanctification. Bill uses the imagery of Matthew’s gospel (7:12-13) in relation to these terms. Justification is the gate entered; sanctification is the path followed.

Here’s Titus 2:11-16 in the NIV and ESV

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After the morning lecture, we shared a relaxing lunch. One of the cornerstones of our ministry here at East Mountain is that we are intentional about spending time together and getting to know one another. We view sharing meals as an important activity which facilitates deep conversations and true community.

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In the afternoon, we continued discussing the converging worlds of theological reflection and practical ministry with a panel discussion on how the church can and should address the country’s biggest needs. In addition to Bill, our panel consisted of Bryan and Gabe. Bryan is an influential church leader in Cape Town. Gabe is the lead visionary for East Mountain, overseeing strategic involvement and local partnerships.

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Bill, Bryan, and Gabe

The rich discussion impressed on me the importance of the work we are doing. There is a deep need for greater Biblical literacy, more theological training, and, especially, discipleship of church leaders. Paul sent out Titus and Timothy as apostolic delegates with his full authority to address the situations in Crete and Ephesus, to restore order to the churches, and set up healthy, Biblical processes for dealing with current and future issues. In the same way, God, through His Spirit and His church, is calling pastors to lead their congregations in a way that motivates believers to preach the gospel, to love their neighbors, and to work towards reconciliation and peace (2 Cor 5).

In post-apartheid South Africa, there is no shortage of need for what Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation. As I learned in our discussion, even reconciliation is a loaded term in South Africa. The chasms of inequality  and mistrust run so deep, only gospel-preaching paired with gospel-living can begin to bring healing.

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Would you join us praying for the Church to rise up in addressing the needs of South Africa?

Would you pray for God to be glorified through the advance of His Kingdom here and now?

Thank you for being a part of what God is doing in South Africa through East Mountain.

Recent News (Meet Our Baby!)

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Nervously, I made my way through the dark alleyway between two bustling streets in Cape Town. I passed a booth advertising “Pasport Piktures” on a crooked cardboard sign. Numerous beggars milled around, holding out their hands as I passed.

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I found the line I wanted, clutching my diaper bag and the heavy carseat, where my tiny baby was sleeping.

The line for the government’s Home Affairs office wound out the door, down the dirty staircase, and into the alleyway. All I wanted was a birth certificate for my baby. I had not expected this - coming face to face with poverty. As I waited, I noticed a woman and her children huddled in a corner. Her toddler slept fitfully on the thin cotton blanket she had spread under him. She fed her small baby cereal with a cracked wooden spoon. I peeked at my own sleeping baby, her full tummy gently rising and falling, the cotton bow I had so carefully placed on her forehead slipping down over her eyes. As I turned away from the woman, tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but think of the agony she must face, trying to care for her children in this place. I felt the pain of it all in a way I wouldn’t have just weeks earlier, before I had my baby.

They say that becoming a parent changes everything - and truer words were never spoken.

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As I waited, I grappled with the same questions that plague me daily here — How can we, living in South Africa, best care for others? How do we help without continuing a cycle of dependency?

How do we provide hope in dark alleys like this one?

The only answer that satisfies is this:  the gospel. “…say to them, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9) If I’m honest, sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. Sometimes I want the gospel, the kingdom, to be more than it is.

I think it’s only because I don’t understand the fullness of it. We toss around these phrases - “the gospel,” “the kingdom” - as if is such a light thing. As if it isn’t for the hopeless … and hope for those of us who face despair only on Mondays. As if it isn’t light coming into dark alleys, and warmth, and a full belly for all. Strength for today, hope for tomorrow.

What plagues me is that to bring the good news, to advance the Kingdom of God, requires courage.

Done correctly, and fully, it turns lives and hierarchies upside-down. Hope for life eternal AND food to fill bellies today.

And yet, I often forfeit opportunities in front of me - because proclaiming the gospel is scary. Bringing the Kingdom of God is scary - it requires doing uncomfortable things and it requires sacrifice.

In silent agony, I debated if I should give the woman the small bills tucked inside my jeans pocket. I debated it so intensely, before I knew it, it was my turn to go inside. Cheeks burning, I walked past her. As I did, I felt another opportunity slip by and felt deep shame at my indecision, my fear.

Jack and I have been wrestling with what it looks like for us, in this place, to bring live the gospel, to bring the Kingdom. And the Lord has been answering, in his own slow, unexpected way - giving us abundant opportunities to participate in training leaders in local churches. Putting the homeless right in front of us and letting us struggle through how to respond to them. Showing us the multiplying effects of teaching correct theology.

We find ourselves awed and humbled by our opportunities here, and how he has used each of you to make this possible. Thank you for being the hands that sent us.

As the Body of Christ, we are making a difference for the kingdom in South Africa. May we share with you how?

In Our Family

On March 24, our daughter, Micah Mae, was born. We praise God for a healthy, natural delivery here in Stellenbosch. Loren’s labor was intense but taught us to pray and worship in a new way. Thank you for your prayers!

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To our surprise, just having Micah here has been a testimony to others. Almost everyone we meet can immediately tell we are Americans by our accents. They are intensely curious why we came here, away from our family and home, at such a crucial time in the life of our growing family. With questions like that, opportunities to share the gospel are plenty.

For ten weeks now, we have been in that alternate reality that inevitably accompanies bringing home a newborn. Micah has colic, which means that she is healthy but cries uncontrollably for hours and does not yet sleep well. Her pediatrician has assured us that with time, she will calm down. In the mean time, we are taking one day at a time and finding many reasons to pray for strength and patience.

In Our Ministry with East Mountain

We continue to become more involved with the ministry and community life of East Mountain. We love being part of their team!

  • Jack is handling technology for EM’s ministry activities. The knowledge he gained during his former jobs in tech support now meets a vital need here. We work with pastors from many different towns throughout the country. After the pastors visit the EM retreat center to participate in training courses, we don’t want to send them back to their communities empty-handed. We are working to provide them with tablets loaded full of Bible study materials so that when they return home, they have what they need to produce quality sermons and continue their study of the Bible.
  • Loren is mentoring a small group of young women (some American, some South African) who are participating in EM’s six week internship program. She is also developing curriculum for the children's ministry here, doing some writing for the website, and building relationships with new friends.
  • Jack is currently writing curriculum for the New & Old Testament pastoral training classes.

In Jack’s Studies

Jack’s postgraduate studies are going well, though he is finding time to study harder to come by with a baby in the house! He is finishing up his current courses in Hebrew Narrative Translation and General Linguistics. Soon he will be moving on to study Hebrew poetry and Textual Criticism (the scholarly practice of comparing ancient manuscripts). He has recently selected his topic for extended research is very excited about it! He will be investigating Hebrew words often translated “Now” and “Therefore” - words important for  understanding the logic of a passage.

The Theology Library on campus, one of Jack’s favorite study spots.

The Theology Library on campus, one of Jack’s favorite study spots.

Funding News

  • We are still in need of $500 of monthly support, and we are trusting God to provide for the remainder of our needs. To support our work, click here.
  • It has become clear that in order to continue our work with East Mountain, we will need a car. Many of our ministry responsibilities take place outside Stellenbosch, in the local townships or at the team retreat center. Would you consider giving to help us continue our ministry by purchasing a car? Our budget for this is $12,000.

Prayer Requests

  • Please pray with us that the Lord gives us energy as we continue to serve and study despite getting little no sleep.
  • Please pray that the Lord provides for the remainder of our financial needs.
  • Please pray that God gives us wisdom in how to soothe our fussy baby and best care for her. Pray that we are given patience & perspective, and that she soon is able to calm down.
  • Please pray that Jack is able to find the time and energy to devote to his studies, and that we both learn to balance our many opportunities here.

We thank God for each of you! Your support & encouragement means so much to us.

These days we are hard-pressed to find the time (or both hands free) to compose blog posts. If you are on Facebook or Instagram, please look us up so we can stay in touch more frequently!

Asking God for Answers

This weekend I went to hang out with some nuns. It was awesome.

The Villa de Matel convent in Houston has a lovely spiritual retreat center. I enjoy escaping there; it’s good for my soul to spend extended time in silence and solitude, waiting for the Lord to speak.

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This time, it took longer than normal for my mind to shut up. I became frustrated. At one point I thumbed open my Bible, looking for any random verse, demanding answers from God -- surely, if I could get the answers I sought, then I could enter super-spiritual communion with the Lord.

My Bible fell open to Luke 24:13 - Jesus’ burial and resurrection. After Jesus’ death, the disciples were hurt and confused. What they really wanted were answers. Where were they supposed to go from here?

Jesus appears to a follower named Cleopas and his friend as they are walking along the road (they don’t know it’s him). Cleopas remarks “We had hoped that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel....”

The disciples’ longing for concrete answers reminds me of myself. It’s what I was doing, vehemently slicing my Bible open, jabbing my finger at a random verse and demanding an answer for the big questions that plagued my mind. I think I’m often like this.

Perhaps I want answers even more than his presence - I want to neatly organize the multiple confusions in my head. I want to pack memories away, check off a box, and move on.

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What stuck out to me most is that when the resurrected Jesus appears before this big group of his best friends after having died and coming back to life, of all the things he could say, he chooses: “Peace to you!” (verse 36) “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts swell up in your hearts? See my hands and my feet - it’s me! Touch me, and see.”

Then: “We got any food? I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”

I can just picture it. Jesus is sprawled across a chair, casual, like, “What’s up. Yeah, surprise, I know! Just kidding, I’m totally alive!” - as if it’s no big deal.

He promises that it’s really him. And he expects that to be enough; he expects his presence to quiet the questions in their minds.

It isn’t until later, after they’ve spent good time together, that he explains things to them. Before he leaves, he promises them the Holy Spirit, so they’ll never be alone again (verse 49).

They wanted answers. They wanted to clean up the mess he had left in his wake.

And I get it. I feel for the disciples. Because often, in the wake of God’s work or just in the middle of LIFE happening, there’s a mess left behind. There are more questions than answers.

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I find myself standing in the rubble of an old life, in clothes that don’t fit anymore, sensing new life struggling to break forth, but I’m scared to put my foot down in the wrong place … and I just so badly want answers to my questions.

I can picture myself standing in front of Jesus, stamping my foot like an entitled child. Sometimes giving him the silent treatment. Sometimes in an all-out temper tantrum, torrent of tears and wondering why he won’t pick me up and make it better.

And Jesus just stands there. He says “Peace to you.” “Touch me - I’m really here.”

And he laughs affectionately at me, exasperated. And he says “Peace to you! Let’s just hang out here for a while.”

Just as he did to the disciples so many years ago.

We want answers. Jesus promises peace. The Holy Spirit. His presence. And he assures us, that’s enough.


John 15: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit .. will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”

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Cleaning Toilets & the Still, Small Voice (Mission Impossible, Part II)

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“How did I find myself here?” I thought as I scrubbed the old man’s feces off the floor.

“This is not my job!!” came the next rebellious thought.

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I laughed under my breath as I remembered a hurried prayer from last week: “Jesus, teach me humility. Show me what it means to love like you did.”

The thing about serving Jesus … he always asks for more, not less.

It reminds me of when my little cousin learned how to walk. The poor kid had no chance. My mom was on one side of the room, arms outstretched. “Just one little step!” she cried. “You can do it, baby!”

He was not having it. He glanced suspiciously at the circle of faces hovering above. We were all grinning hugely, clapping for him, urging him to trust his wobbly, chubby legs.

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His furrowed brow communicated that this did NOT seem fun to him - but oh, he so badly wanted to please these people that loved him so.

Shaky step by shaky step, he launched himself forward. Every step he took, we asked for another - until he was all the way across the room. Cheers abounded. He got a cookie.

He couldn’t have known it then - that those first wobbly steps were only the beginning. He couldn’t have known that what seemed like a risky, terrible idea to him was actually quite safe and natural.

Today this kid zooms around the yard. I gasp for air trying to keep up with him. But, I still remember those shaky steps in the beginning.

Sometimes I think Jesus must feel this way - the amused and patient Father, watching us take our first wobbly steps as we follow him. He must know that he has bigger plans; the further we go, the more he will ask.

It would be unnatural, nonsense for an active and fully grown child to revert back to crawling, to wobbly baby steps. And yet, how often in my own faith journey do I petulantly want just that?

I’ll know God has called me to love deeper, to be more sacrificial. In a moment of holy zeal sitting in a cool, air conditioned church, I’ll even ask God to make me more humble.

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But the moment it arrives - when humility looks like scrubbing someone else’s toilet? When loving like Jesus looks like not casting the first stone, or forgiving seventy times seven?

I whine and wish I didn’t know better. I’ll try to manipulate the situation so I’m exempt - from talking to that awkward person. Or having to go out of my way to visit a family that's barely holding on. Or giving my shopping money to a missionary that really needs it. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last yelled request for a cup of water (while I’m already in the kitchen).

I’m the most spoiled of God’s children. Worse yet, if I’m not very careful, I can become comfortable.

How do you love Jesus well in America?

For me, I can’t let myself get too comfortable.

Life overseas is so fraught with challenge that I am aware multiple times every day that I need Christ. I cry out to him frantically, consult him constantly … and my desperation feeds a healthy and intimate connection with him.

Even a simple trip to the grocery store in a foreign country is exhausting. Imagine yourself in such a situation:

How do you get there? Are you using a public transit system? If so, it probably doesn’t have English writing anywhere - and you can’t ask directions if you don’t have an interpreter with you.

When you get there, how do you tell how much something *actually* costs? If those tomatoes are 8,000 Tanzanian Shillings … quick, do some math in your head! Is that a good deal, or are you about to blow the week’s budget on some fruit (because they might be giving you ‘white people’ prices). And wait, you’re probably hauling water for your team - the city water is not safe. That means you need at least a few gallons. You don’t have a car. Make sure you don’t buy too much to carry home! (Did you check how much water the team had before you left?) If not, you may run out before tonight.

As you leave, there’s a tiny child, belly distended. She doesn’t speak - she just holds out her hand pleadingly.

You’re not sure you have enough money with you to get home on the bus and to give her something. You know it’s foolish to carry too much cash on you, but still you kick yourself for not bringing more. Should you give her some of your tomatoes? If you do, will there be enough for the team to eat tonight? And - is she being sold by a pimp? Will giving her something only serve to promote a system of injustice, leaving the little one with nothing? Your heart aches and your first instinct is to take her back with you- but you don’t know this culture or this land and if that’s okay. Where is her mom?! …. Oh, Jesus, have mercy.

Life in a foreign land - you know you need Jesus. Every day. I found myself desperate for him.

“After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still, small voice.”

That still, small voice became louder every day until it was quite clear.

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In the U.S.? I don’t need Jesus at the grocery store, thank you very much. I know exactly how to get there in my own car. I can buy what I want with the money I earned from the job I work. And, I’m probably gabbing on my cell phone while looking up traffic on Google Maps AND thinking about what color I should re-paint the kitchen … all while at the store.

But - where is the still, small voice? I’m comfortable. I don’t know I need him.

Soon, I’m living as though Jesus is one of those relatives I only see on major holidays.

And so I have learned that I have to put myself in situations - to ask for opportunities, and then pursue them - where I will be uncomfortable.

It’s in the discomfort, in the awkward, in the desperate that my heart yells for Jesus.

And I find him. That still, small voice  that grows louder when I practice listening.

I'm learning that an adventurous life of faith is NOT about a geographical location, or even about what fills your days. It’s an orientation of the soul.

At the moment, making myself uncomfortable looks like working with refugees and teaching them about American life.

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And so it is that I found myself showing an elderly Burmese couple how to clean their toilet - because they’ve never had indoor plumbing before. No one ever taught them basic hygiene.

Jesus invites me lower, to deeper levels of humility. On shaky legs of faith I looked up at my Father.

“Jesus, really? I barely know these people.”

“And child, as God of the universe, I washed dirty feet. Whatever you do for them, you do for me. You can do it. Just one more step.”


What do you think? Does being comfortable mean it’s harder to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice? How do you make space in your life to hear the voice of the Father? 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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.

Mission Impossible, Part 1

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I’m a missionary. My mission field is located in a small, dilapidated office building in Houston, Texas, USA.In October I re-entered the American workforce, when the Lord graciously provided a job that allows me to provide for my family and also work with refugees.

In my opinion, America is as challenging a mission field as Vietnam was, where being who I am - a Christian - is illegal. It’s as challenging as the desperate slums of Uganda. As challenging as the hostile Hindu village in India, where I called home last year during the Christmas season.

The Lord has LITERALLY brought the nations to Houston ... Every day I walk into my multicultural office and I feel as though the Lord has handed me the nations on a platter.  I share a cube wall with Iraqi Muslims. A few paces away sit a few self-proclaimed atheists, Hindus from Nepal, a few buddhists from Burma.

My job is to teach life skills and to serve over 15 different refugee populations. In an endless stream, they come from Ethiopia, Burma, Egypt, Cuba, Nepal, Iraq - just to name a few.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

They’ve arrived in this land of plenty by proving that to stay in their country would be to place themselves in immediate danger of serious bodily harm. That’s the story their visa tells with its stamp: “REFUGEE.”

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

And I see their eyes, haunted and yet hopeful. I look into their faces, adoring me for the small help I can give.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

And some days I feel like Atlas, that mythical figure who carried the world.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

After giving up everything - saying goodbye to siblings and friends, parents and sometimes even spouses or children - after undergoing rigorous testing by the UN, external agencies, and the US government - when they receive the YES they’ve been waiting for … they make that long flight from East to West. I’ve done it before - the confusing mix of days and nights, airports, sleepless hours, security checks, transfers.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

They step onto the flat, humid land of Houston with only a suitcase and the hope of a better life.

... And then my office steps in. We provide a small, semi-furnished apartment with the rent pre-paid for a few months. We provide a week’s worth of food and access to services like health care and food stamps.

In a strange land of strange tongue, they are promptly told they have exactly 3 months to learn English, find a job, begin paying taxes, and navigate a brand-new country. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to cover it.

These people who grew up in deserts, jungles, and tented camps now attempt to navigate the Houston bus system that covers over 15 major highways and interchanges.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org
From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Single mothers that can’t write their name in their own language are told that to feed their children, they have 90 days to learn English. Doctoral professors in Engineering are told that despite their education and experience, they must start by taking the GRE - that in America, everyone starts over. Many for better. Some for worse.

And sometimes I think God made this heart of mine too sensitive. Because I ache for their situations. I’m keenly aware of the challenges, because a year ago I got lost trying to take the bus across Kathmandu. I couldn’t read or speak Nepali and so for about three hours I wandered the city, desperately trying to remember my “address” … wishing someone spoke my language.

I remember the shame when I was told my modest (to me) clothing was causing the catcalls as I walked down a muddy Rwandan road - my knee caps were showing - and how inappropriate that is in Rwanda! I might as well be naked, I was told.

I remember my tongue twisting, trying to master the tones of Vietnamese merely so I could thank the woman who made my breakfast each day. I never did say “Thank You” successfully - not once in 35 days of repeated attempts.

I remember wondering HOW the skills I had from home - my college degree, my ability to type 100 words a minute, my knowledge of drilling wells -- how would any of this contribute to the rural society of Tanzania, where prized abilities included being able to to skin and cook a chicken with ease, to preach in Swahili, to drive a Dala-Dala (a 15-passenger van used as a taxi) down the left side of rutted roads.

I was completely unemployable, nearly useless, and mostly unable to build solid relationships without help.

And so when they come to my humble desk, and I’m told: “Teach them to be successful, responsible American citizens” … I know, I know how impossible that seems. And yet I also know what love and patience could do for them.

This is my mission field. The fields are ripe for the harvest.

And yet I’m mostly miserable, constantly at war within myself because I can’t seem to find the courage in this “tolerant,” politically correct, anti-Christian society to declare (or even whisper): “Jesus. The most important thing this place can offer you … is the freedom to know Jesus.”

And on Tuesday nights I gather with a small group, and we read his word and we speak of how difficult it is to tell of the Lord’s goodness … In a corporate office. In a public school. In groups of stay-at-home-moms, quick to judge but slow to be real. In the messy families we call our own.

And I pray to be given courage but mostly I feel like Peter ... in his early days, well-meaning but all-too-quick to deny that I know anything about THAT MAN  - the one that divides, the one surrounded by misperceptions … the one I’m so secretly and so desperately in love with.

Were I to write a gospel, it might read: “I tell you the truth: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for an American Christian to honestly and lovingly spread the Kingdom in his homeland.”

and with the disciples my mind wonders: “Who then [in America] can be saved?”

and this Sweet Savior Jesus, he looks to the core of me and says: “With man this is impossible, but with God all.things.are.possible.”

So ... where do we go from here?

Stay tuned for Part II …

Zipper Snags & Judging Others

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This morning as I showered, I let the words of Graham Cooke wash over me -- truth beautifully spoken -- “The Lord loves you. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more. There is also nothing you can do to make Him love you less. He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you …

He won’t love you any better when you become better. Because that’s they way that He is … that’s His nature. He loves all the way, all the time. His love is unchanging.”

Like the warm water running down my back, these words of truth washed over me, invigorating me, steading me for a new day … until they hit a *SNAG* in my brain.

Like a zipper caught halfway down, my enjoyment of God’s love yanked to to a stop.The words of a dear friend came back to me: “I’m just not sure I can trust Graham Cooke …. because, you know, he’s divorced.”My thoughts snarled … and I started thinking.How often in sermons have I heard, “We can take comfort from the fact that none of the great prophets of old were perfect. They were human, just like us. And yet, God used them to say great things.”We know Abraham intentionally deceived others -- on more than one occasion. Yet he’s even mentioned in the Bible’s “hall of fame": “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)

The sticky fact is: we carry a double standard. When a “hero” of the Bible messes up, we breathe a sigh of relief and they seem more approachable to us. Yet today, when a pastor, worship leader, teacher, or missionary fails -- and especially fails in public -- We shrink away. We wonder, is it still okay to keep that book he wrote (the one that we enjoyed at one time)?

Is it still okay to listen to that worship album if I find out one of the musicians was …. you know …

These are good questions -- the Bible says “[those] who teach will be judged more severely than others.” (James 3:1)

We do need to carefully evaluate who we let speak with authority over out lives.

And yet. I think it’s easy to go too far. I think sometimes we -- the American church -- go to far.

He writes that one controversial book, and so all his work is quickly discredited. Anyone that shares his sermons must issue a disclaimer … “Now, I know he wrote that really awful book, but really some of his stuff is great … “

She is caught in an affair, and the numbers at her Bible study dwindle.

The fact is, we have far less grace for our leaders of today than we show to those that are gone, despite the Biblical admonition to give good leaders “double honor.” (1 Tim 5:17)

How silly would it be to throw out all of David’s psalms because of his illicit relations with Bathsheba …. or his murder of her husband …. or his cover-up of the murder … (take your pick). Instead, we celebrate the fact that GOD spoke incredibly through him, in spite of his shortcomings.

But today -- today we push leaders into a frenzy of trying to attain public near-perfection.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

Watching political leaders sweating to attain the perfect image, hoping to be given the majority approval, I am painfully reminded of how we do that within the church, every Sunday.

Pastors may talk about struggles from the pulpit, but often they are “acceptable” struggles -- the ones that won’t tarnish their reputations, but will be indulgently passed over with a chuckle. We don’t often hear pastors share their struggles with pornography, yet a recent survey shows that 51% of pastors say cyber-porn is a possible temptation, and 37% say it is a current struggle. (Christianity Today, Leadership Survey, 12/2001).Something is wrong.This obsession with perfection, pushed by the media, is infecting our churches.The result is that it becomes harder and harder to be an honest people, broken vessels that openly share our sins -- and most magnificent -- HOW GOD IS HEALING THEM.Our status quo, the one that we (perhaps didn’t choose, yet) find ourselves in is so focused on evaluating an individual as a whole

so quick to draw lines in the sand,

to position ourselves on the right side of the line --

that we’ve forgotten ... the Holy Spirit was was given as a guide. That Spirit, given to exercise our muscles in discerning someone’s message -- not someone as a person.

As a newly-launched missionary, I find myself tangled in the middle.

My journal contains a stack of half-written blogs I longed to post here, discarded because they might be too controversial or too honest.

This tiny voice in my head wonders --

“What if they knew that I cried nearly EVERY day in Tanzania, hating my team … refusing to see the banquet table the Lord prepared before me -- a beautiful community I would not sit with?”

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

“What if they found out that retching in a primitive outhouse in India, I begged God to let me go home?”

The saddest part is, the most beautiful stories come out our brokenness, God actively and currently molding redemption in our lives.

THAT team I never thought I could work with? They became deeply loved family by the end of the Race -- after countless hours of painful discussions, working out our differences.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

And oh, there are more stories -- stories of my own brokenness, my own stupidity, that somehow God transformed into beauty …

They are beautiful stories, these recent threads woven in God’s tapestry called redemption … beautiful stories that often go untold, because we will not tolerate how truly messy our sin is.

Because, as Derek Webb reflected, it’s easier to ask for a new law; a new rule for our rulebook, so we don’t have to think … instead of listening to the Spirit.

I’m boldly declaring that THERE IS A BETTER WAY.

God gave us the Spirit -- to “find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10) So that we could be free, “not under the law, but under the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18)

Paul encourages us to “not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:17)

It takes practice. It takes sitting in silence with the Lord, honing our ears to hear his Spirit’s quiet voice -- until that voice becomes so familiar, it’s like a shout in our mind. (Ephesians 1:13)

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

If we all became more acquainted with the Spirit, more practiced at loving all and evaluating words, not people -- we could trust the Spirit of God in others to lead them, to lead us,

and we could live freely, for “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5)

I read Galatians 5. I hear Graham Cooke’s voice speak unequivocal truth -- that same man that is divorced, yet still blessed by the Spirit to speak truth …

And that snag in my mind? It smoothes out, because the Spirit inside me can tell me what is true.

And I hear freedom bells ring.

I highly recommend Derek Webb’s A New Law and Jonathan & Melissa Helser’s Inheritance ... two places you can hear fully human men speak truth that will rock your world.

Asian Surprise

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REPORTING LIVE FROM VIETNAM ...

It has been a while since I’ve provided you with actual details of our lives trekking around the globe, so I thought I would give you some newsy fill-ins on the past few months in Southeast Asia.

When we left for the World Race, Asia didn't cross our minds much; we were more focused on Africa.

We didn't know that we would end up in Vietnam - all we knew was that our tenth month of the race would be a "surprise" country somewhere in Asia. Our team jokingly began to call month ten "the Asian surprise."

When we found out last month that we were headed here, we were excited, but we never could have guessed how Vietnam, and Asia in general, would soon have a place in our hearts. I wrote about my fear of the unknown continent in this post, and I've been amazed at how quickly Lord has opened our minds and hearts to a new continent.

We are currently living in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) -- and we LOVE IT. We host English conversation classes at a local coffee shop run by Christian owners. All kinds of people show up to practice their English, and we’ve made some sweet friends here.

  • I am so thankful for the gentle Vietnamese culture -- they are so kind, interested in knowing foreigners, and hospitable. I am daily challenged by how considerate they are, especially considering the dark history between our countries.
  • It is my hope to soon be able to share with my new friends how with them how much Jesus loves them - when the time is right. I’m being reminded that discipleship is a lovely journey - meandering for some,  sudden and dramatic for others. I’m so thankful that the Lord romances us each in our own way, and that this year I've gotten involved in every part of the process.
  • We make daily discoveries here in Asia, some spiritually deep - and some not so much. For instance, it turns out my small stature is totally normal on the Eastern side of the globe. Ha! I am delighted to find clothes that ACTUALLY fit me and people at my eye level. American Standard, I reject you as inferior.
  • We are also excited to see how far our dollar stretches here. It is a welcome relief from the inflated prices of home! We daily enjoy FRESH fruit smoothies for 75 cents and spring rolls (made on the spot) for 33 cents.

Next week we head to the coast, where we’ll be working in a deaf community and reaching out to the tourists who come to the beaches to lose themselves in a life of drinking and pleasure … stay tuned for updates, and please pray with us that our time there will give us meaningful opportunities to serve and share.

Thailand: Tackling Trafficking

  • While Thailand has come and gone, we still think about our time there with fondness. The ministries we served there were some of our favorite so far.
  • I want to thank everyone who journeyed through the red-light district of Chiang Mai with me - your support and encouragement is invaluable.
    • A significant role I had in Thailand was to interceed for and encourage two of my teammates, who developed a deep friendship with a local bar manager. We watched the Lord work, transifxed as the hardened owner of one of the wildest bars on Loi Kroh road was transformed by his love. You can read my friend Carly's personal account of the whole thing here - it's worth your time:

Cambodia: My Desert

  • Last month, we lived in a very remote village in Cambodia. The Lord really tested us there - living accommodations were challenging & our bodies had difficulty adjusting to tenting in the 100+ degree heat, avoiding all the insects, and living off of primarily dirty water. There were moments I was tempted to feel like an Israelite, wandering in the desert and not sure what I was doing.
  • Our ministry involved teaching the adorable local children English. I often felt uncomfortable becuase I did not feel I was not connecting the with kids like I wanted to. Worse yet, I did not feel motivated to show them the love I knew they needed.
  • In so many ways, I felt exhausted and dried up, much like the wilted flowers growing outside my tent, fighting for life and struggling to add color to the monochrome landscape.
    • In my frustrated moments, the Lord was refining and teaching me -- showing me that HE is the one who puts work in my hands. So often, there is the temptation to evaluate if my days are productive in my own eyes. God reminded me that he makes the plans -- he only calls me to be faithful and to trust him with what he gives me. We studied Abraham for our team Bible study recently, and I was reminded that Abraham was praised in Hebrews 11 … because he was faithful. Because he was obedient to the Lord.
    • Even when he had no idea where the promised land actually was, he set out and took one day at a time, trusting that God would show him in due time what he was supposed to be doing.
    • Abraham’s obedience put him in a position to receive God’s blessing.
    • At the end of the month, God allowed me to see a glimmer of how he worked through me. A team member shared that after we left, some of the girls in our class were deeply upset and expressed how much we meant to them and how much they would miss us.

In my doubtful moments, I forgot ... I forgot that God is faithful. I forgot that the Lord is constantly drawing each person to himself. I forgot the weightiness of being a child of God. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we literally carry Jesus wherever we go. It's impossible for things in the spiritual realm to remain unaffected when his children are present. It’s impossible for God to NOT use our presence as part of his plan.

In my doubt, the Lord opened my eyes to the beauty in Genesis 16. It's the poignant story of the slave girl Hagar, who found herself pregnant, kicked out of her house, and wandering alone in the desert.

Verse 7 says that "God found her." The Lord heard her distress, sent an angel to comfort her, and gave her the promise that she would be mother of a nation. The slave girl was not forgotten by God of the universe.

Her response reaches the deep places in my heart -- "“You are the God who sees me, ” for she said, “I have now seen the One who cares for me.” (Genesis 16:13)

God whispered to my soul -- "I see you" "I have not forgotten you." "Be faithful, and you will see greater things than these."

May I encourage you with the words the Lord gave Hagar so many years ago, gave to me, and gives to you --

Wherever you find yourself, He invites you to simply be faithful ... and in that, to "share in your master's happiness."

Is there anything better?

Girls for Sale: Reflections from the Red-Light District

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On a muggy night in Chiang Mai, I walked "home" to the YWAM base. My backpack was heavy and I could have caught a ride, but I felt the need to just wander. So I meandered through the Thai streets, enjoying my worship playlist and how the city comes alive at night. To get home, I had to pass through the heart of the bar district. I slowed, walking up and down the strip. I tried to pray for those I passed - I really wanted to - but the words wouldn't come.

For the girls that can't be older than 16, their faces a mask of heavy makeup, always tugging on miniskirts hugging their straight bodies ...

For the women that used to be little boys ... before the lies whispered "You should have been a girl. Take these hormones and you can look like one. Show off your body and see your true value. Make a little bit of money."

For the mothers, with crying babies and sullen teenagers at home, far too old and too long in this business, but in desperate need of money ... just some money to put food in their childrens' mouths ...

And for the men that come to buy them, eyes glazed, searching for respect or manhood, "a good time" ... or maybe just someone to listen to their stories.

For these I tried to pray, but words wouldn't come.

The pack on my shoulders weighed me down. Pulsing lights barely lit the dark, uneven street beneath me. The hypnotic beat of dirty rap invaded my headphones, polluting my music, driving my despair for these children of God - these Jesus died for. They don't even know his name.

And it all became too heavy - my backpack, the hopelessness, the heavy sin that drenches Loi Kroh road. The deception that clouds everything.

And so I returned to what I knew - I worshipped. I worshipped the God of us, the God who came down to dwell in our darkest places, among twisted & starving humanity. I turned up the volume until all I heard ...

Wonderful savior How may I bless your heart? Knees to the earth I bow down, to everything you are Be blessed, be loved, be lifted high Be treasured here  Be glorified

And I walked. And my heart praised my king, lover of their souls.

I found myself in the parking lot of the strip club, and partway through Phil Wickham's Beautiful --

I see Your power in the moonlit night Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright We are amazed in the light of the stars It’s all proclaiming who You are You’re beautiful

I looked up ... no stars were visible beyond the neon lights - but I knew they were there, even though I couldn't see past the distractions. Just as I know Jesus cares for these women, even when they can't see him.

From jackandlorenmessarra.theworldrace.org

The Lord reminded me what a beautiful savior we have - a lover like no other.

I see you there hanging on a tree You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me

He died for all the sin, all the heavy. He took our dirty and made it pure. He took our load and made it light.

And there, in the parking lot of the strip club - in Thailand, "land of smiles" - tears flowed in a stream down my face. Becuase this sin-soaked soil, he called it Good - tov - when he breathed his God-breath on it.

And his precious blood, it washes everything clean; our old sin, new sin, even the ugly sin we don't know we'll find on ourselves tomorrow.

When we arrive at eternity’s shore Where death is just a memory and tears are no more We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring Your bride will come together and we’ll sing You’re beautiful

I desperately, desperately want these women standing next to me on eternity's shore. And you know what?

I think Jesus wants these women at the wedding feast also. He's coming to tell them: "Your tears are no more." Becuase as I write this, there are over 100 World Racers all over Thailand, carrying the Holy Spirit into dark places. YWAM Thialand has hundreds of missionaries, both Thai and foreign, spreading the news of a wonderful savior.

The truth of his word illuminated my mind, and I was finally able to pray...

"They don't know how beautiful you are yet .. but Lord, show them your face. Soon."

A Woman's Worth

Lately, life has shifted gears and moved into fast-forward. We arrived in Thailand about a week ago, and I've already started bar-hopping ... my ministry this month.

I'm serving on a fantastic team of all women this month, while Jack gets some bonding time with the men on our squad - he's doing manual labor and mentoring kids at an orphanage that rescues vulnerable children from the cycle of human trafficking.

We are about an hour away from each other, will only see each other a few days this month, and expect our time apart to challenge and stretch us as we focus on separate ministries and allow our lives to look different for the month.

My ministry this month is very unique, and very new to me. It's also something I'd like to invite you to join in a special way. My passion for this ministry is best expressed by Carly Crookston; an amazing woman, a gifted writer, and one of my new team members. She wrote the peice below that describes what we're doing this month. I'm thrilled to serve alongside her as we reach out to broken women this month ...

broken women in the red-light district...


How much?

How much is she worth?

How much money would you be willing to pay to hang out with your waitress for the night?  Five dollars?  Ten dollars?  More?  Less?

What if she was your best friend?  What if she was your little sister?  What if she was your daughter?  What if she was your wife?

How much then?

Take a walk with me.  We're in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  It's nearly midnight, but you wouldn't know it by the looks of it -- the lights flicker and glow enticingly, the music blares, the streets pulse with all of the people on them.  We walk into a bar, slide into a booth and a young woman comes to take our order.  To call her a young woman might be a little bit generous -- she can't be much older than eighteen.  She's pretty, the way that all of the women here are pretty with their fine bone structure and round cheeks and sweet smiles.  Can you see her?  Who does she look like?

To me, she looks like my best friend Andrea. She looks like my sisters-in-law, Kimberly and Abigail. Could this have been one of them?  What if they hadn't been priviledged enough to be born in America, into homes that sheltered them from the harsh reality of forced prostitution?

If you read this blog, chances are that you know me.  You've probably talked with me or spent time with me at some point… After reading these posts for the past seven months, you surely know what I've been experiencing and learning lately.  So what if it was me?  What if I was the girl “waiting tables” at these bars and I was tired?  What if I was tired of my life, but I had no other options?  Would you help me? 

If you read this blog, chances are that I know you.  And after being blessed by your generosity and support thus far, I know that you would help me.  To many of you, I am your friend, your sister, your daughter -- or at least, I could be.  You wouldn't pass by me when I was desperate.  I know that you wouldn't.

So let's not pass by these women when they are desperate.  Let's not pass by the young girls stuck in these bars.  Let's not walk past them, most of whom are not here by their own design.  Close your eyes and see your little girl, your best friend, your only sister, exploited and alone.  What are you going to do about it?

My team and I are partnering with Lighthouse in Action ministries this month.  We're walking those streets, sitting in those bars, talking with those girls and our goal is to be Jesus.  We're not walking in with Bibles, preaching a message of condemnation or anger.  We're walking in to be girlfriends.  We're trying to get to know these girls, to build relationships.  The program director made it very clear: we're not a SWAT team running in to grab the women.  We're farmers -- we're planting seeds, watering them, and maybe even harvesting a couple if the season is right.

How do we do that specifically?  Our ministry this month centers around two of my favorite things -- praying and dating.  Every day and every night, some part of our team will be in the prayer room, interceding for this country and the women that we meet.  Then we spend two days and two nights a week in bars, getting to know the girls and inviting them out on dates.  We want to take them to lunch, to the movies, to get our nails done -- the regular things girlfriends do with one another.  Ministry this month is deeply relational.  Success is not counted in how many women we personally pull out of the bar scene; it's about the depth and quality of friendships made.

But I need your help.  My team needs your help.  We have to pay to buy ourselves [non-alcoholic] drinks in every bar we go -- even the ones we go in just to pray.  We have to pay to buy the women drinks and the price doubles.  I'm hoping to get to the point where I can offer to pay a girl's bar fee, pay to take her out of there for the night.  Then on any of the dates we have, we're paying for the women.  But all of this requires cash, something that runs pretty short after seven months around the world.  My team and I are trying to raise some money so that we can treat these women.  We want to make some real, quality friendships -- friendships where we aren't trying to get anything out of them, but just showing them the love of Jesus through our lives.

If you would be willing to partner with us on this, you can email me for more information on how to give. Any money that we have left over after the end of the month will be given to this ministry; a prominent bar is closing at the end of April and the director has a vision for a rehabilitation program, where the women can come to learn about Jesus, but also to learn practical job skills.  The four-month program costs about $1,000 dollars per woman, so any money that we do not use “dating” the girls will go directly towards that project.

So there we are, sitting in the booth.  The pretty girl's name is Nam and she's ready to take our order.  What will you have?  Coca-cola?  A cocktail?  Maybe the girl herself?

How much?

 

He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

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!}