reflections

A Week in the (Capetonian) Life

On our Facebook Page, we've been sharing what a typical week looks like in ministry here in South Africa.

In case you missed it, here is a re-cap of a week in the life...

MONDAYS are study days.

Jack works in "the office," aka, the Biblical Languages department at Stellenbosch University. There he works on writing his Masters thesis and discusses current research in translation, linguistics, and Hebrew. The topic of his Masters thesis is a functional description of the Hebrew word "now". He hopes that the final product will be useful for Bible translators and commentary writers.

Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible

He has made solid friendships with both Christians and atheists, and often finds himself at thecrossroads where academia and ministry meet. Most of the university culture here is very secular and I would definitely call it a “party school.” There are lots of students searching for answers, so there are many opportunities to love well and be ready for meaningful conversation.

He facilitates a group of Christian scholars who meet to discuss how best to be a Christian witness in secular academic settings. The group spends time sharing research, praying for one another, and encouraging one another.

During Micah's naps I write for East Mountain and make (slow but steady) progress leading our website development team.

TUESDAYS are meeting days.

Tuesday mornings we salute the American way of life by frantically rushing around, throwing pacifiers and lunch into the diaper bag, juggling breakfast and coffee, and realizing we are out of breath as we pull out of the driveway.

Staff meetings are held at the East Mountain community house. We discuss current ministry initiatives, get support from leadership on any tricky discipleship challenges, and look ahead to what leadership training workshops are coming up.

EM staff meeting
EM staff meeting

It’s a great time of connecting with staff, who are spread out all over the area as we serve our partner pastors.

After staff meetings, we break into our ministry-specific teams (we call them “tribes”) and work on our current projects.

Right now, my team is focused on leading EM’s summer internship, which is happening now!

We have 6 young people from South Africa, the U.S., the U.K., and Namibia.  During their six weeks with us, we will focus on teaching them practical leadership skills and theological lessons from the book of Ephesians, while giving them opportunities to go deeper in their walk with the Lord and be individually mentored by a member of our community.

Summit Interns 2016
Summit Interns 2016

Jack’s teams is heavily involved in supporting our partner church in Mitchell’s Plain, a low-income area that battles gang activity, drugs, and a lack of economic opportunity.

Micah comes along with us, (sometimes) napping in her car seat as we meet, exploring the back yard, and getting lots of cuddles from our community.

On Tuesday evenings, our small group from church meets. We are so thankful for them. They have loved us well through moving here (and not knowing anyone!), welcoming Micah into the family, surviving colic, busy ministry schedules, and more.

WEDNESDAYS are working days.

Jack goes into “the office” again, where he works on a grammar project for the Ancient Languages department. He converts written lectures into an online learning format, with the goal that students who are behind in their grasp of grammar can catch up as they begin studying Hebrew, Greek, or Latin.

I host a group of young women at our apartment. I facilitate us through an intense community-building and spiritual formation process called “Battle for Hearts.” It has been a challenging but rewarding process, and every week, I’m reminded of the ways I need to grow as a leader.

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THURSDAYS are mentorship days.

Jack meets with his men’s Battle for Hearts group and does ministry work for East Mountain, including planning special events, addressing technology needs of the ministry, and meeting with others on staff.

Battle for Men's Hearts group
Battle for Men's Hearts group

I meet with Nancy (name changed to protect her privacy), a mixed-race woman that I mentor. We are going through a really great foundational study together. biblicaltraining.org has provided us with so many free, high-quality tools to use as we teach and mentor others. I’m so thankful for it!

Nancy has a sharp mind and deep desire to grow in her knowledge of the Bible. Her insightful questions keep me on my toes! Meeting with her is one of my favorite parts of the week.

FRIDAYS are community-building days.

After Jack spends a half-day in the office, we go out to the EM community house for the weekly “braai,” a quintessentially South-African gathering that centers around grilling LOTS of meat and relaxing with friends.

We deepen relationships with EM’s ministry partners, board members, staff, former interns, and all kinds of other friends, new and old. It’s at the braais that many of our strategic connections are formed with local pastors.

(c) Peartree Photography
(c) Peartree Photography

SATURDAYS are catch-up and adventure days.

When we are good and get our work for the week done, we adventure around Cape Town or hang out. Often, however, we spend some of the day catching up with ministry work, prepping for the coming week’s meetings, and Jack works on his studies.

SUNDAYS are sabbath and family days.

We have learned the importance of rest and protecting family time! Being in full-time ministry means it’s easy to become over-committed, and before you know it, you are working every day of the week. That’s especially true here in South Africa, where there are more people with more needs than we could ever meet!

We worship in the mornings at Christ Church Stellenbosch. We are thankful to be slowly forming many genuine friendships with South Africans through our church.

My favorite Sunday afternoons are those we take a nap or go hiking, followed by a Face Time call to our families.

Jonkershoek Hike
Jonkershoek Hike

And that is a typical week here in South Africa!

East Mountain Global

Partnership :: Community :: Leadership Development.  These three themes are at the heart of everything that East Mountain does. Our community in Stellenbosch has over twenty members, hard at work every day to move these themes from aspiration to reality.

In April 2016, we invited leaders from all over the world to visit us in Cape Town and hear how the Lord is at work here, with the invitation for them to pray through what an East Mountain community might look like in their locations.

We had CEOs from America, missionaries from India and East Africa, pillars of the church in East Asia, culturally-savvy leaders from Europe, and a strategic visionary from Latin America join us around the table for dialogue and connection.

For me, the sweetest moment came as we sang Amazing Grace together, gathered around the fire as the wind howled outside. “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17).

I found myself thanking God that no matter where we roam in the world, no matter what language we speak or what part of the globe we call home, we are never outside the loving and sovereign reach of God, who desires good things for us. And certainly it was a good thing to dream together, to dine together, to listen to the Spirit, and to be open to what God is doing in our midst.

Please pray for the members of the EM community here in Stellenbosch as we press on, relentlessly pursuing Partnership, Community, and Leadership Development for the South African church. Please pray for our friends all over the world, as they go back to the work of ministry, that they would feel renewed energy and encouragement. Pray that they would hear God’s voice and discern what is next. Pray that we would all have open hands and attentive hearts.

Thank you for being part of the Lord’s work, in Cape Town and around the world. May you be encouraged that no matter where you and your loved ones roam - physically or spiritually - you are never outside his loving reach.

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2015: Our Year In Pictures

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On January 21, 2015, we hopped on a plane, skipped across an ocean, and jumped into a new life of faith, obedience, and adventure in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa.

Here's what our year looked like.

All of our 14 bags arrived safely; it was an unexpected blessing and great relief.

Jack handing out tablets to East Mountain Interns and Bible Certificate Course students.

As part of our educational strategy, East Mountain uses tablets preloaded with Bible resources, teaching material and coursework. A Houston friend sent us with 5 tablets, the exact number needed for the last minute registrants. God provides in unforeseen ways when we are obedient!

East Mountain's 2015 South African Resident Interns(Left to right: Lorenzo, Natasha, Lutando)

Dialogue Education Training: Learning How to Teach By Asking Questions

East Mountain Ministry Partners 

Micah Mae

God gave us our first child, Micah Mae, on March 24! His protection and His goodness were evident throughout the entire process. 

Studying in the early days

East Mountain Fellowship

The East Mountain community and our church small group provided much-needed support and encouragement in the first couple of weeks.

Jack's parents came for a visit in April. Loren's mom came down in June.

Jack using his tech skills (i.e. Google & YouTube) in upgrading the EM Team House internet.

SUMMIT

Summit is East Mountain's  summer internship which runs mid-May through June. Summit is a combo of leadership training, mentorship, Bible teaching, and practical ministry.

The 2015 Summit Crew.

Alex and Maggie are some dear friends. Their daughter, Emma Kate, was also born in Stellenbosch, about 6 weeks after Micah.

Some rest time after Summit at the beach. 

Studying in the department with Christian and Alex

Studying at home... sort of

The local coffee shop where I do most of my studying. By God's grace, I passed my first year of coursework cum laude.

Some of the best pics of our recent family photo shoot. (Thanks Kelsey and Autumn!)

We are so thankful for the memories these pictures represent. Each one represents tangible evidence of God's grace and his faithfulness in our lives.

Thank you for joining us in this journey!

Much Love,

Jack, Loren & Micah Mae

Read our 2015 Annual Update Letter

Read our 2015 Highlights

Support our Ministry

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.

Culture Shock in South Africa

Sometimes late at night, I lay awake and stare at the ceiling. I ponder the deep questions of life and I think about …

tacos. Yep, tacos. (Specifically, a Torchy’s chicken taco, extra mango, with chipotle sour cream sauce.)

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As a native Texan living far from home, I (Loren) am beginning to think  “a land flowing with milk and honey” could be contextually translated as “a land flowing with salsa and [good] coffee, a land of large parking spaces and Targets and tacos to go.” (I’m sure my husband, the Bible scholar, would agree in spirit but disagree in principle.)

We, dear friends, are right in the middle of culture shock.

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The good news: It’s just a phase, and we know it will pass.

The bad news: We are missing home more than ever.

Would you pray for us?

Here is what Jack has to say about it:

What I thought ministry would like: teaching, preaching, lecturing.

What it usually looks like:

  • Tech-ing: fixing computers, setting up wifi, teaching computer skills, solving phone problems
  • Friend-ing: building relationships with baristas and grocers in our neighborhood
  • Supporting: Sharing my Bible knowledge to support the work of East Mountain as we disciple young people and encourage those preaching in the slums

Instead of giving lots of sermons, I've been blessed by  hearing lots of great sermons.

Instead of being a Hebrew Jedi master, I'm learning to write more precisely and study hard.

Instead of leading out front, I'm supporting the work, strategizing from the back, plugging in holes.

God is teaching me that sometimes ministry looks like  showing up and loving people. Sometimes the most important people to love are the ones you see everyday.

Our presence —  the time we take to cultivate friendships with those who don’t know Jesus — it is powerful in a way that shakes spiritual kingdoms.

But it often doesn’t feel important like giving a sermon does.

I (Loren) am learning the power of being present for the mundane yet sacred moments of motherhood, as I change yet another diaper.

I’m learning how this tiny human opens doors and builds relationships with the local people in unexpected ways.

As we are reminded of these truths, we find ourselves humbled and encouraged. All we must do to be part of God's kingdom work is to be present and available for his Spirit to use us.

Wherever you are today, we pray you find the courage to be present and attentive to God's Spirit ... and possibly stop for a taco on the way home.

We miss you and love you, friends.

Prayer requests:

  • Praise God with us! Micah’s colic has passed and her sweet, spunky personality is emerging. We discovered she is allergic to dairy, and if Loren stays on a strict dairy-free diet, Micah sleeps longer and is much calmer. Please pray that Loren would have patience and perseverance as she learns to cook and eat in a new way.
  • For the friendships that we are building with non-believers here; that God would give us the opportunity and the courage to speak about him.
  • For Jack’s studies: that he would continue to be encouraged as he studies the word of God, and for more opportunities to share his knowledge and bless others.
  • For our support. We still lack 25% amount in monthly support, and $6000 for the cost of our car. You can give online here.
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Discipleship in the Mud Pit

Rain slashes against the windows. It’s winter in Stellenbosch - another cold and grizzly day. The mountains are hidden in a heavy fog. I have never experienced a June quite like this one. Inside, a fire crackles in the large fireplace. I can feel the apprehension in the room; it is palpable among the group of young women gathered in a circle.

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I go first and I share my story - the story of how the Lord found me and rescued me from myself.

It’s never easy, but I have shared my testimony enough to know that there is power in it. There is power in each of our stories - power in the unique way God reveals himself to each of us, power in His redemption.

As each young woman shares her story, fingers tremble and hearts race. Tears fall; sheepish smiles follow. These women barely know each other, and yet they will be living and learning together for the next six weeks.

It is East Mountain’s Summit internship program. Eleven young people in their late teens and early twenties, some South African and some American, have come to East Mountain’s retreat center in Stellenbosch to see what the Lord has to teach them.

As I listen to these women and pray for them, I start to feel alive. A part of me, dormant for these last months as I’ve struggled through postpartum days and long nights, begins to stir. I remember that I am more than simply a pair of hands to feed and clothe and rock. As I gaze down into the blue eyes of my baby, I hear the young woman across from me stumble over the words - that she was unwanted, that she can’t remember her mother, that she was made to feel unloved.

My heart aches and I wish there were a way for her to go back. I wish someone had been there to cup her chin and tilt her small face upwards and to tell her that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes; her life is no accident. As it is, she now hears this truth for the first time at age nineteen. The Lord has healing for her in this place, and he’s only just begun his redemption of her life.

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I feel bold and confident. I can speak truth into these women’s lives. I can listen and ask thoughtful questions. I can help them process what the Lord is doing within them.

Fast forward two weeks, and I pull up to the retreat center on another rainy day. I hunch over the steering wheel, sobs racking my body. In the back, baby Micah wails - on and on, as she has all morning. It’s just too much and I feel I have nothing to give. I laugh at myself - at how I thought I could be a mentor to a young woman. These days, my life feels like wading through a mud pit - mucking through endless care-taking and sneaky postpartum hormones and trying to learn how to be a mother.

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And yet, here I am. Waiting to pick up the young woman I am supposed to be “discipling.” She dances out to the car and suddenly realizes that my mood is grim. She knows my baby has colic. She’s heard me articulate that these days are hard, that I haven’t found my rhythm as a mom yet. I have been honest, and yet raw tears are something else altogether.

But, the Lord knows what I need in that moment and I find it in Erika’s gentle hug, in her assurance that things will be okay. And I am reminded that discipleship is not about confidence and having the right answers - many times, discipleship is raw life, laid bare for another to see.

Discipleship is not only the stories the Lord has already redeemed in our lives, but those he is actively transforming, day to day.

And so I open myself up, and we have a lovely brunch together, and I find myself excited by all the Lord is doing in her heart. She cuddles my baby and offers sympathy and reflects back to me what I look like - something I’ve sorely needed.

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Just as this young woman learns best in community, so do I.

On the good days and on the hard days, we find ourselves increasingly thankful for East Mountain - for how this group of missionary families and South Africans have joined hands and formed real community - and invited us in. They have been our surrogate family, and encouraged us to exercise our gifts, and given us a forum to see God at work. As God continues to mould Jack and me into who he's called us to be, I’m thankful that East Mountain is a part of it.

As you muck through your day-to-day, may the Lord bless you with community. May he give you the courage to seek it out and the determination not to settle for anything less. May you find that whatever your station in life, there are those you are equipped to encourage and those ready to encourage you.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”

—Acts 2:42-47

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!

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!

 

Big News!

Friends, we have some BIG NEWS...

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... we are expecting a baby!

While the timing is a little surprising, we are confident of a few things:

  1. God has called us to South Africa.
  2. God has blessed us with life in his perfect timing.
  3. We can trust God to allow both of these exciting realities to exist together.

We will continue with our plan of moving in January and will welcome our first child in South Africa in late March. We are thankful that South Africa has excellent health care!

Progress Report: Preparing for the big move!

These days we find ourselves very busy working full-time and preparing the logistical details for the move.

After receiving feedback from missionaries on the ground, and adding the costs for the baby, we have had to increase our budget to a total of $105,000 for two years. Our monthly living needs are $2,500. You can take a look at our detailed budget here.

We are incredibly grateful for your generous giving! So far, God has provided 15% of our total needs, and 25% of our monthly living needs have been pledged. We ask for your continued support and prayer, so that we can leave in January with 100% of our needs met. Will you pray about joining us? You can do so by clicking here.

We are excited about participating in God’s Kingdom advancing in South Africa! Together, we will see amazing things happen in the name of Jesus.

Love, Jack and Loren

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.

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!

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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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.

Perspective...

Life in Mwanza, Tanzania, goes at a slower pace than what we have been accustomed thus far. We have lots of time to think, to read, to rest, and to just be. This has lead to much contemplation about life, both here and back home.

Little things we miss the most:
-Cold-brewed iced coffee from Catalina Coffee and Revival Market
-Mai's Vietnamese pho tai
-Fast internet
-Dublin Dr. Pepper
-Pho Yen egg rolls
-College football
-A comfy bed in a cozy room
-Nordstrom's bread pudding

Big things we enjoy the most:
-Only 2 hours of scheduled activities a day
-Hanging out around the beautiful Lake Victoria on our rest days
-Preaching all the time (download latest sermon audio here and notes here, pictures below)
-Living in community with people being wrecked by the gospel and its implications
-Leading a talented team of people who are more gifted and more passionate than I am
-Serving pastors who have more faith and bigger dreams than we do
-Being God's conduit of blessing and His instrument of healing: spiritual, social, emotional, and physical healing.
-Watching God advance His Kingdom, right before our eyes.

There are things we miss, and it is difficult being thousands of miles away from our family and friends. But it is so worth it. We know we are right where we are supposed to be. The days pass quickly, and we are in month five of our 11-month journey. We are coming up soon on the deadline to be fully funded. We still have about $4000 to go. It would mean so much to us if you would join us in prayer for this. We are asking God to be fully funded by February 1st. If you would like to give, you can do so by clicking the "Support Us" link on the right. We are grateful for your partnership.