Never Underestimate….

*This post was written in response to several friends of mine who now live on various continents to live, love, and be a light to the people around them, a people separated from them by cultural, language, and religious barriers*

Russian words blurred in a drone of babble around me, I stood among the crowd, my feet planted on the dirty bus floor to prepare for the jolting stops.  Pedestrians walking sidewalks whirred past.  How could I ever reach this city? In six weeks. Without speaking Russian.  Without knowing a soul here.

I was spending one of my college summers with a group of students, who had traveled half way around the world to teach English to other college students. This country’s doors had been long closed to the Word of God, to the incredible message of a Maker God, who steps into His creation, to save a people from their own destruction, in order to make them His own children.  But when the Soviet fell, it swung the door wide open, to a people who had long been told there was no God.

Could we POSSIBLY be a light to this country? Could the Good News flow through some awkward Americans to touch the hearts and souls of individuals who have never known the incredible love of Savior, Jesus, Friend? There were SO many people.  SO many language barriers (and despite my Russian lessons, even simple phrases were butchered by me). SO many cultural barriers. SO little time.

The obstacles we faced were parallel to the magnificent mountains which were the backdrop of the city’s streets and high rises. But it is in such situations that the power of God SHINES.  He was about to show me his inconceivable creativity in writing thousands of redemption stories that are the ripple affect of His Great Redemption Story.

And, NO, those mountains were not photoshopped in…

When feeling overwhelmed by the thought of making an impact on a person, or family, much less a city, country or culture, there are some key things one must never underestimate…

1. The power of prayer and fasting.  Jesus tells us over and over again to just ASK. And, for me, fasting keeps me asking more frequently because I’m constantly reminded.  If we are consistently asking, we will also be expecting, and if we are expecting, we will make the most of every opportunity that God orchestrates.

“Ask and it will be given to you…For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds…” Matt.7:7

“Truly, truly (this means he means business) I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:12-14

There were concerts of prayer and days of fasting and praying that our team did as we prepared to spend the summer in this country. I remember weakly, hungrily keeping up with college classes, and reminding myself, “individual’s knowing Christ are more important than me having energy or a full belly!  Give them spiritual food, while I deny myself physical food!”

2.  The importance of SHOWING UP.

My incredible Grandfather-in-law, Bill Iverson has told me this, but most importantly shown me this a thousand times over. God worked as our team showed up…showed up in the country, showed up at the university, showed up at appointments with students, which were really intimidating, and I could have thought of a million reasons  NOT to do it…just yet. (we often justify our lack of showing up by saying we’ll do it later, at a more convenient time.)

We can show up confidently, because He promises to be with us always in the going.

 Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20

3. The Power and Movement of the Holy Spirit

He’s always moving, working, preparing people to hear and respond to the Gospel.  We simply need to listen to Him and follow Him. He will coordinate what we could never engineer in our own undertakings.  HE is the one who  does the work.  We simply share the message…but wait, even THAT is from Him because He shows us what to say.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;  John 16:7-9

And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.  Mark 13:11

…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. I Thess. 1:5

4. The Poignancy of Scripture

If you are like me, I memorize scripture and then in conversation I fumble over the Words as I try to quote it. But with anything else, the more we do it, the more naturally it comes. AND the more we can get people reading it, listening to it for themselves, then the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word can work hand in hand to convict hearts.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  I Timothy 3:16

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

5.  LOVE and Hospitality

These two will earn a platform anywhere you go-whether in a former Soviet Union, nominally Muslim country in Asia, the inner city ghetto of Newark, NJ or the suburbs of Orlando (although its a lot harder to get people to come over).   It is a universal language and, its genuineness is easily discernible.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  LOVE NEVER FAILS.  I Corinthians 13:4-7a

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.  Hebrews 13:8

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:10

Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13

6.  Trusting in God’s promises.
If they are His they will respond, no matter our awkward bumblings, our mistakes with cultural taboos, our incompetence.  It may take time, years even, but He promises they will listen if they are His. 
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16
 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too WILL LISTEN to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  John 10:16
Now back the redemption story.  Here we are in this foreign country, in a dirty but strangely beautiful (to me) city, surrounded by people whose heart language I don’t understand, much less communicate in. We show up at a university where we have a five week English class to teach.  I meet two girl, Tanya and Nina, and ask if they would like to meet up for the next afternoon after class.  That day I very nervously left my very safe English-speaking, American friends to spend the afternoon in a strange city with complete strangers who only spoke broken English.  You better believe I was scared.  But what began to unfold was a beautiful friendship and thrilling adventure.  Ironically, one of the first questions they asked me was, “Are you a ‘woman’?”  Oh, great, I think, we’re off to a bad start…but I soon realized that to this country that watches American films, and sees the sexual promiscuity of our country, they assume that every young woman is freely having sex and thus is a “woman”.  Well, there you go.  It took 2 split seconds to get into spiritual conversations, as I shared that, because of God’s Word and His standard and ways, I wasn’t a “woman” in the sense they were talking about, but a princess of the King, instead.   That question also laid the groundwork for a you-can-talk-about-anything kind of friendship. Immediately.
Did Kimberly coordinate this?  OF COURSE NOT, God did in a creative and amusing way.
We spent time together frequently over the course of the next month and a half.  We explored the city, they came to English clubs and Bible studies in my flat, they had me over and cooked authentic food for me, and we became fast friends and had many deep conversations.  The last English club, we did a skit showing the story of God creating the world, mankind turning away to do His own thing, God sending His own Son, to serve, heal, and then die for his estranged people. It ended with the power of Jesus coming to life again and reuniting God with His people.  Mid skit, Nina is uncontrollably weeping. “Holy Spirit, you are working!!” I think.  Afterwards I pulled her and Tanya aside to ask what they were thinking and if they believed in this message and wanted to confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Neither did.  Disappointed but still trusting in God’s perfect timing, I prayed for them there.   And the next day we left, not knowing what God would do with all the seeds planted in those relationships.  Would they ever bear fruit? I might never know. The last thing I did, though, was take the last of my stipend, give it to a Believer there and ask them to use it to pay for Nina to go to a Christian retreat that would be happening in a few weeks.
I left Nina and Tanya, and I left them in God’s hands.
After my return to America, I emailed with Nina who had agreed to go on the retreat.  The day they returned  I found an email in my inbox, one which instigated cartwheels and loud rejoicing throughout my house (good thing, no one else was home).
Dear Kimberly,
I write you to say I am your sister now.  I asked God into my life.  I am part of your family now. Thank you for coming.  I miss you and love you.
Love,
Nina
That was over nine years ago.  Nina and I have corresponded through our both finishing college and growing in our walks with the Lord, me falling in love with and marrying Danny, her JOINING STAFF of the Christian organization we worked with there, my father and I supporting her financially in the endeavor, me having children and working/struggling in Newark, her learning to teach and disciple, her meeting Talant (also on staff) and falling in love, us getting called to seminary, and then she and Talant being called to seminary.  So here we are, still friends, (she’s probably reading this right now) both married, and following our husbands in their call to serve the Lord, and both benefiting from and struggling through seminary, and on two different continents, separated by oceans, land and many miles-but so united in our common love for and service to our Lord and Savior.
How could I possibly have an impact on those countless Russian-speaking, nominally Muslim or atheist individuals?  I can’t.  But God can, as I bend to HIM and HIS promptings.  As I become “the pencil in His hand, with which he writes*” redemption stories that bring about more redemption stories  (*quoted from Mother Theresa).  Its disciples making disciples and its the most gloriously daunting and exciting endeavor a human soul could embark on.
So never underestimate the GREAT Redemption Writer.
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From the Mouth of….Katy-Grace

Katy’s grace #1

One night a few weeks ago, we were having family devotions and read the story of Jarius’ daughter being raised back to life.

Danny then asked, “Have any of you seen someone come back alive?”

Daniel Josiah and Trinity solemnly shake their head “no”

Katy-Grace says “Yes! I diiiiiid!”

We asked her “Who did you see get raised back to life?”

She very matter-of-factly replies “The bad guys in the war came back to life.”

A very puzzled mother, says “Who?!?”

“The bad guys that got killed came back to life when the war was all over.”

Mind racing, I remember back to last spring when we went to a Civil War reenactment.  She saw the men get “killed” and at the very end all the “dead” men stood back up and we all clapped for them.

Miracle of Miracles….in the eyes of a 3 year old.

Katy’s grace #2

One morning, we were busily at work on our chores.  I had given Katy-Grace a spray bottle that had had a little bit of Melaleuca cleaner (natural) left in it, I had filled the rest up with water, because I know she goes crazy squirting the floor and spot cleaning for me.  Well about ten minutes later, I’m busy scrubbing something and Benjamin comes up to me crying, rubbing his eyes, and desperately trying to tell me what had happened in a two year old language I have yet to interpret. Entering the kitchen, I saw this

It didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened.

“Katy-Grace, what happened?  Did you squirt Benjamin’s eyes with the cleaner?!?”

“Yeeeaaahh”

Mamma-bear-inner-anger rising at the thought of what could have happened to the eyes of my little toddler, had there been more concentration of the cleaner in that bottle….

“Katy-Grace! Don’t you know that that is so DANGEROUS!!  That could REALLY hurt Benjamin’s eyes! You could make Benjamin BLIND doing that!!”

“Well!… Well!…Well!…Then Jesus could do this… (wipes both hands over her eyes, just like she’d seen an animated Jesus do to a blind beggar in our Bible DVD) …and Jesus would make him SEE again!”

Well, that just pulled the rug right out from under my anger….that’s either flippant faith or child-like faith, but it made me laugh.

Unfortunately for her, making mommy laugh doesn’t get you out of discipline for spraying your brother’s eyes with floor cleaner.

Katy’s grace #3

I was busily at work chopping vegetables for dinner, when Katy-Grace comes running down the stairs saying “You need Jesus!”

“YOU need Jesus!”

“Mommy, you need Jesus!”

“You’re right, honey.”

“You got mad at me for not buckling my car seat today, and you needed Jesus!”

For the record…or my own self-justification, the event had happened earlier in the day, and I got angry because I asked her about 8 times to do it-she’s perfectly capable of buckling it when she first gets into the car, I’ve seen her do it plenty of times, when motivated by rewards-and I had gotten really frustrated at her lack of obedience and lack of focus on what I told her to do.

Evidently, she had an epiphany while playing in her room as to the remedy for Mommy getting angry.

“You’re right, Katy-Grace.  My only hope is Jesus dying for me and  then having Jesus live in me now.  Will you forgive me for getting angry at you?”

(Can you tell that my apologies for losing it with the kids, comes with the confession that I need Jesus and His forgiveness?  Even though I fail so much, at least the repentance and confessions are sticking with her…)

My little blue-eyed boy

“Is he always like this?”

It’s the question I get from other moms, nursery workers, people in the grocery store who observe him.  The child is just mind-boggling content, sweet natured, and joyful.  SO quick to flash a huge grin, quick to mesmerize onlookers with those crystal blue eyes, and quick to forgive the many older siblings who tend to be a little overly zealous in their love and affection.

Its hard to believe that at one point I was set on preventing….him. The pregnancy with Benjamin had been so hard. My mothering patience level had reached…no, exceeded, its limit. There was just NO way I could do that again. Or so I thought.  I am so thankful for the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The LORD’s plans are always far more glorious than ours.  And our Heavenly Father will lead us into His perfect will for us, as we bend our will to His.  It doesn’t mean it won’t be scary, or trying, but the fruit of our labors will far exceed the sacrifice put into them.  We live for a God who produces an exponential return. This little child’s existence has taught me I Corinthians 4:17 in a very a practical, tangible, a taste-of-what-is-to-come kind of way.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

This little child’s life on this earth has only been six months long (out of womb) and the amount of joy, pleasure, laughter, smiles, peace and unity he has brought to our family of seven (much less, relatives and friends!) in those short six months was worth every hour of fatigue, every moment of desperation in raising small children with pregnancy hormones raging, and every ache and pain I endured for 9 months.

So, sweet boy, I literally wake up each morning praising our Creator, for the gift of YOU.  If He can bless me this much with just six months of your life, I can’t wait to see what He does with the rest of it!

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No Blog Post

Cyberspace’s most inconsistent blogger signing in here. Last night, I really did intend to record all the amusing things that Katy-Grace has said in the past several weeks.  The kids were in bed at a decent hour (remarkable!) and I had just moved downstairs to get better internet connection.  I wasn’t half-way through the first sentence, when Nader (our Libyan housemate) came home, sat down at the table and said,

“I didn’t go to sleep until 5 am this morning”

“Oh, no! Why?”

“I was thinking about those questions you asked me at dinner last night.”

The previous night we were all eating in our typically rambunctious manner (its a wonder, he’s willing to join us at our crowded, loud, be-careful-Benjamin’s-dinner-might-land-on-you dinner table each night) and I just felt led to ask him.

“Why are you Muslim?”

It was this question that kept him up all night, thinking, researching, and investigating for himself why he believes what he does.

He started pulling up different things he had seen on the internet.

I knew there would be no blog post written that night.

We had a lot to discuss, questions to be answered. Nader is honestly seeking things out, not to prove that “he’s right, and we’re wrong” but honestly wanting to understand and investigate a faith that has never gone questioned in his life.   We had such a good discussion, no heated arguments, no getting emotional about it, but honest questions and discussions. I came away with research to do on my part, always on a journey to know the Truth. I also came away with a deep respect for him and his desire to know the Truth.  And we shall see where this journey to know the Truth shall lead us. I have an inkling as to where it might lead. His call is irresistible.

And in the meantime, I’ll try to get to that blog post.