Easter Celebration~ Prayer Resurrection~God’s Kingdom Perfection

**My apologies for the extreme delay in this update…I’ve been very busy…busy cleaning up potty accidents, and putting out sibling rivalry fires, and cleaning more dishes and doing more laundry than one can keep track of. I wish I had something “more significant” as an excuse, but every load of laundry is a Kingdom investment when done unto our King.

Easter, three weeks after the move-in.

Easter, the climax of God’s redemption.

And for us, a display of prayer resurrection.

For months, while we were consumed with renovations and the struggle to simply GET there, “all” we could do was pray.

To do the “work on our knees”.

We laid out the promises of God….promises-turned- prayers for God to work at our little tabernacle that we had been working on for so long.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face shine upon us, 

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” 

Psalm 67:1-2

Lord, may the nations be blessed through this home.  May your salvation and your ways be put on display in this place.

 “…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:7 

Lord, may all nations be able to gather here to pray and meet you. 

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 

Lord, would your Spirit go before us, to prepare the way for YOU to work through us. Make highways into the lives and hearts of people to meet you.

 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. ” John 17:20-21

Lord, cause the Believers in this place come together as one.  May we work towards the same aim of bring your shalom, your peace, to this place. 

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

Lord, may true disciples be raised up and formed in Grove Park.  May you lead us to those that are ready to be discipled and who will want to follow you and will raise up others to do the same.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1

Lord, would you go before us and put a hunger in people’s hearts for You and Your Word which satisfies so richly. 

And then, as Easter approached, and I unpacked a few more boxes….

 “Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take
their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God”.  Luke 13:29

Lord, we didn’t plan ahead, but please bring to our table anyone who needs a place to celebrate your Resurrection with us.

And 48 hours before Easter, I didn’t know who all would come, but I planned to lay out a feast in faith that God would bring whoever needed a “family”.

And they started to come.

An international student from Rwanda.

Our Rwandan friend

Our Rwandan friend

Kenyan Christians just reeling from the news of the slaughter in their homeland.

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Our former neighbor and now close friend, whose family is from India.

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

Friends that we had made from our life in suburbia of Atlanta, who once had been homeless but had now stabilized,

A woman from Cameroon, (who had randomly known our Haitian neighbor) and started coming to our sending church with us (and became a member!), who we had lost contact with but joined us last minute anyways.

Compton, who didn't have anyone to spend Easter with

Compton, who didn’t have anyone to spend Easter with

Then our Muslim neighbor, and our seventh-day Adventist neighbor, and a guy from our church, and our own rowdy crew and on it went….

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

all gathered at that kitchen island that a sweet friend had built for us

to feast on food, and fellowship, and the joyful declaration,

HE IS RISEN!

And that was just the beginning….

After our feast we migrated over to another “intentional neighbor”‘s house. A sweet friend and fellow Believer who has lived in the community for four years now.  We did a Scripture egg hunt and then a candy egg hunt on the big lawn in the middle of our community.  On my way over, I stopped by a house where I had invited the kids to the egg hunt just a few days prior.  As they prepared to come, another neighbor asked…

“You doin’ and Easter egg hunt for the kids? There’s a bunch of kids up that way that would wanna come..” And then the word started traveling up the street.  A bunch of kids and even a teenage girl hopped in the car, with others promising to meet us “over there”.

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When it was all said and done, there were nearly thirty kids gathered on the back deck, a handful of teens and a smattering of parents, all listening intently to the story of Christ’s death on the cross, his burial and his resurrection. Songs, a testimony, and a chance to invite this Risen Savior into one’s life and heart ensued. Neighbors had gathered to celebrate the beautiful Resurrection.

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After the massive candy egg hunt, kids played football, neighbors gathered on the front porch, Danny engaged the teen guys who had come down, and we enjoyed the beautiful day that God had given us.

Together.

So many people gathered together for Celebration over our Savior’s victory.

And my heart throbbed with joy for the prayer resurrection of all those seeds of prayer buried deep into the heart of a Father who hears his children’s cry to see Kingdom perfection.

And then, if that weren’t enough… God was about to show me just how extensively He had been answering all those prayers prayed.

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on the lawn of “pioneers” who moved into the community four years ago and are creating beauty through home and lawn and the presence of Jesus in their lives

~~~~~~~~

I pulled up to the tiny house that is “home” to more people than I can keep track of. I drop a handful of kids off, and then meander over to Tamiya’s dad’s truck, where he sits talking to all the neighborhood men, the ones who congregate at “the spot” to chat and sip away at their Budweisers all day. I introduced myself to him and apologized for keeping her so long.

“That’s OK. I’m just hang in’ out anyways. Hey, do you guys know of any kind of programs that mentor girls?”

You, mean, discipleship?!?

I think in my heart.

“Yah, my girl, she’s a good girl, but her mom and I split, and she don’t go to a good school, and she’s getting caught up with the wrong crowd. I know my girl is smart. She used to read all the time, but she really need some sort of mentor in her life to help give her direction, cuz she keeps mess’in up in school.”

And we had a long talk about parenting, and the Gospel, and the power of prayer, all amidst the other guys interjecting,

“You said your husband’s a pastor?”

“When you gonna start prayer meetin’ s or something’? I’ll come, I need to get back with God again.”

“I wanna be part of stuff too.”

“Can my kids go to church with you?”

And then we all prayed right by that beat up red pick up truck. We prayed for our neighborhood, for Tamyia, for the struggle of parenthood, and we thanked Jesus that, because of His death and resurrection, we could have His presence right there with us.

And we had “church” right there on the side of the street.

And it reminded me of the way Jesus use to do it. Along the road. As he came and went. Meeting people where they were. His Kingdom Perfection, amidst an imperfect world. His Resurrection, all making it possible.  And the Celebration that happens when we get to witness and participate in it all.

  

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Dormant Prayers and New Growth that Emerges

It was like they had all laid dormant.

But then finally growth begins to emerge where simple seeds of prayer had lain buried in the soil of the will of God.

You see, I had met Tahra, a Muslim Bangladeshi woman about my age,  last December, while I was trying to coordinate hosting international students in people’s homes for Christmas. Her English teacher had told me she was really struggling with the recent death of her mother, and caring for her 4 year old paralyzed son, and the four year wait for her husband to be able to join her from Bangladesh.

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Bangladeshi women are always beautifully clad. The women that are able to immigrate to America are so thankful to be here, rather than there, generally. In Tahra’s case, her son would not still be alive if she had not had access to American healthcare.

So I called her up and asked if I could come visit her and bring her some food.

I remember pulling up to the small house, the one that housed not only her but several other Bangladeshi families, with all my kiddos in-tow, and saying “Lord, I’m nervous, but I’m showing up. You’re going to have to take care of the rest.”

We ended up having a great conversation, as I know well the overwhelming loss she was experiencing, and I prayed with her and promised to come visit her again soon.

Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.

I eeked out enough strength to make a couple more visits, even getting to read Scripture to her and pray it over her son, who lay there hooked up to breathing treatments.

But those visits were few and far between.

Most days I was just barely surviving, without even the strength and energy to feed my own family, much less reach out to Tahra and stay connected in her life.

The guilt pressed in, but the prayers bled out as I laid there on the couch, or bed, or floor and thought about her, and all I wanted to do for her.

Prayers from afar was all I had to offer her.

And in those long months of growing a child, those prayers seemed to lay dormant.

And I asked the Lord, “How is she ever going to know the love and power of Christ, if the people with the Presence of Christ never show up in her life?!?”

And those prayers mingled with guilt and frustration continued to be planted until…

until life started to sprout out of those dormant prayers…

In the slower-paced summer months, I started to regain some strength so I tried to reach out again.

One afternoon’s text: “Hi Tahra! How are you doing? I’m sorry I’ve been so out of contact with you!”

Her response sent my heart soaring….

What church do you go to?

was all she said.

“What?!?!“My mind started racing… “Why on earth is she asking THAT? What have you been up to, Lord?!?”

I quickly found out that she had actually gotten a driving ticket and needed to do 20 hours of community service and needed to find a church to do them at.

I most certainly did have a church where she could do them.

It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but I would take it!

The next two weeks, the Lord filled a tired, pregnant mamma with supernatural energy to make phone calls, give rides, and help Tahra her get all her community service hours done by the two week deadline.

It was her two week crash course on being a Christ follower.

Through a school supply outreach, she learned why we Christians serve the underprivileged…not because we are earning points with God but because He served us in the Person of Jesus Christ who went to the underprivileged and showed them who God really was, and then died for them so that they could know Him for themselves.

Through helping out with the kids program, she learned that we teach our kids very similar morals to those that her Muslim faith holds dear, but for a different reason….because those morals exhibit the holiness of God, and if His Holy Spirit lives in us, then those will be the morals that come out of our lives as followers of Him .

Through the helping at the food pantry for the neediest of our community…we spoke of our neediness being the best thing for us.  We can only truly know God if we bring him our neediness, not our best efforts.  Jesus died for sinners in need of salvation, not sinners in need of better rules to follow.

Through working with other Christians at a church dinner, she learned of the kindness of the people who claim Jesus as their Lord.

Through helping with a church service, and she sat and listened to Randy Pope explain how we can listen to God and why we can listen to God-because Jesus lives to intercede between us and a Holy God.

And she witnessed us taking communion in that church service, and as I ushered my kids up to go receive it, I whispered to her that I would explain it all later.

And I did.

But not just to her.

That night as I ate their post-sunset Ramadan meal with them, I got to share the reason Christians partake of communion, the Lord’s supper. with her extended family in that Bangladeshi bungalow. (it was all women…the husbands and fathers were at work)

Starting with the very beginning, in Genesis we talked of the need for death of animals to cover Adam and Even’s nakedness in their sin, then went on to the story of Abraham and the death of the lamb instead of his son, Isaac (not Ishmael, as the Koran says), to Moses and the passover as God delivered them from death and slavery. We talked of the night before Jesus’ death, as he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, and his declaration that all those hundreds of years that the Jews celebrated that feast, it was really all leading up to, pointing to HIM.  The Passover Lamb.  And we Christians continue to eat of that feast, to remind us, that none is worthy. That we need a sacrifice for us to replace the life-debt we owe for our rebellion.  That Christ was that sacrifice, but because He was God and man at the same time, he rose again from death, therefore conquering it once and for all, for those who trust in His Name.

We spoke of the difference between the Koran and the Bible, and the commands that Mohammed gave verses the salvation that Jesus freely offers.

I sang those women the Scripture song I made up for my children.

“Romans 3:21-24”

But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law has been made known, to which the law and prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe-there is no difference… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 

And after our three hour discussion, I left that home, rejoicing in the power of prayer to a Living God.

Those prayers had lain dormant for a time.

But, God was waiting.

Waiting for a driving violation.

Waiting for a judge to assigned 20 hours of community service at a local church.

Waiting for some renewed strength for me, so I could show up again in Tahra’s life.

Waiting for the season that He ordained, for the message of his salvation and love to be planted in not just Tahra’s life, but her family’s life as well.

So, while those prayers seemed to lay dormant,

God was working all along.

Waiting for spring, when new life would emerge.

Prayer, too, has its seasons.

My Libyan Christmas Wish….

**Editor’s note: Posting this a bit late, but needed to get my Libyan friends’ clearance before posting.

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Ronnie Smith was called Libya’s friend. He loved the people.

And so do I.

My children actually have Libyan grandparents, you know. I have Libyan brothers and sisters and mother and pop and dear dear friends.

Not by blood or descent, but by the Mighty Hand of God bringing some of the dearest people I know, into our lives, into our family.

It all started with Adnan, the quiet solemn man struggling to learn English so he could go on to earn his Chemistry Masters at a university in Florida. We needed a sublet for our home, he needed an English speaking family.

I was nervous. quite nervous. But as that quiet man entered into our home and family, he and eventually his people would win my heart. I watched him delight in our children and have the patience of a saint as they delighted in him. He shared his food, and his time, and his thoughts with us. We shared our knowledge of navigating health insurance, car insurance, visa applications with him. He walked through the death of his father, and the shocking grief of it all, plus an engagement, and the struggles to survive in the English world. We shared a messy chaotic home, as fatigued and sick Mamma struggled through pregnancy with #5, then we shared the joy of bringing a new babe home from the hospital, we shared our home with his other international friends. And it bound us all together.

Then it was time for Adnan to go back to Libya to marry his bride, Amna, and from afar we shared in the joy of them preparing to have their own little one.

Meanwhile, we began praying that God would bring us the right “next” housemate for us. Nadar, came to visit our home to see if it was suitable to rent. It was an act of God that blinded his eye to what he was really getting in to. (IVERSON CHAOS!-I’m pretty sure that a naked 3 year old Katy-Grace streaked the top of the stairs while he was there because he stopped by right during a boisterous bath time.) After he left I told Danny, “There is no way he’s going to want to live here.” But yet the very next day, we got a text message.

“I would like to take the room. I will be ready to move in in August”

I had no idea how those words would change our lives and change our hearts forever.

Nader, who was excellent at English moved in, and got right to work. Work on the house and work on our hearts. We hadn’t quite gotten his room ready and Danny was in the middle of installing a new air conditioning unit. Nader, the engineer helped him.

Nader, our Libyan housemate

Nader, our Libyan housemate

What proceeded in the following months was a sweet and beautiful friendship as we shared meals, shared our nightly family devotions with him, shared differing beliefs about God and salvation, politics, home and family life, and culture. We shared laughs and struggles and late night discussion. We shared cars and rides and friends. We discussed Libyan ways and American ways and Islam and Christianity. We gained a window into a whole country and culture we had never travelled to. Our children had gained an older brother. Danny and I, a dear friend.

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And then we got to know his bright and spunky sister, Maryam, studying in the States. And then his brother, Geith who came to visit for New Years, and then Geith’s fiancé Maymuna. And eventually his precious and caring new wife. And then when his graduation and wedding were approaching his entire family would be coming to the States to celebrate. And could they stay with us? . And God worked out the timing perfectly for our friend from Korea would be moving out just in time for them to move in. And we gradually became outnumbered by Libyans in that Iverson household.

And it was a family reunion, and it was as if we were reunited with a family we never realized we had.

His father, sweet and gentle Offman, would cry, “Malachi! Malako! Malaka!” throughout the house and would scoop him up and hug him tight, Malachi gained a grandpa.

And his mother, passionate, fun-loving and hard working Wafa, and I would work away in the kitchen, somehow unbound by the language barrier, but bound by similar mothers’ hearts.

I helped (a little) and I learned a lot about Libyan cooking.  Wafa is a most gracious, joyful, and kind woman.

I helped (a little) and I learned a lot about Libyan cooking. Wafa is a most gracious, joyful, and kind woman.

And his sister painted nails and made drawings and was a big sister to my girls. And his brothers played and wrestled with my boys.

And I fell in love with an entire family, and I fell in love with a people (for their friends and family gathered from far and wide during that time. And we sat up late at night and talked of what life was like oppressed by Gaddafi‘s dictatorship. And they somehow laughed over the ridiculous and dangerous things they had to endure. And I learned of a family who had a courage unspeakable who stood up peacefully in a revolution against this cruel tyrant knowing full well that their fight for freedom, may cost them their lives. And I looked at old photos of beach vacations, and Boy Scout events, and kids being silly.

And they reminded me so much of my own family growing up and I realized that we were two similar families. One in free America, one in oppressed Libya and walking through the joys and trials of family life. And we were two devoutly “religious” families, one worshipping Christ Jesus in a culture of Christians (at least in my sheltered little life, not in America as a whole), and one worshipping Allah in a culture of Muslims, both striving to grow in commitment and devotion.

And then the weddings and the graduation occurred and they absolutely owned us as family throughout the whole ordeal. And my girls delighted in Nader’s brother’s (Geith) wedding in Orlando, and the chance to see a beautiful bride and the fun of dancing to Arab music and dining upon couscous and curry and all kinds of fun new foods. And we camped out at the UCF graduation and cheered Nader with pride over his accomplishments, like he was our own brother.

And then Danny and I travelled to Dallas to take part of a joyous wedding celebration so different from American style, but so incredibly fun. I’ve never had more fun dancing, than I did with my new found family.

[No pictures shown out of respect for bride and female’s privacy]

I remember, being dropped off by them, Nader’s new sister in law, Maymuna, fully clothed in hijab (head scarf) and conservative outfit got out of the car to walk me to the hotel entrance.

“Bye! Thanks so much for the ride. I had so much fun dancing with you all tonight!” I call as I wave them goodbye.

A man and woman puffed at cigarettes on the bench nearby and heard our goodbye partings…”Wait a second” he said, “you danced with them?”

“Yes! We had so much fun together!”

and I skipped inside, leaving him to puzzle over the fact that the conservative looking Muslims women he sees with headresses, just dropped me off from a dance party.

(in Libyan weddings, the men and women have separated celebrations so all the women unveil themselves and have a BLAST on the dance floor…I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a wedding)

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Anyways, these people and their ways, they won my heart.

So when I read of Ronnie Smith being called a “lover of the Libyan people”,

I knew exactly why.

And I knew why he had been willing to move to a dangerous place to invest in the youth of a people who have actually been strengthed through their years of oppression. They may not be unified quite yet, but they have been formed into people of vigor and strength and a people who delight in the little joys of life, for at times, that is all they had. Libya, although war-torn, is a place of incredible possibility, untapped beauty. Ronnie showed up in the midst of the mess because of HOPE. Hope for a brighter future for those Libyan youth, and hope in the One Who is the Light of World.

And now, as we reel from the death of this Christian brother, I think of all the people my friends knew that also died from corrupt regimes, and unleashed manipulation by violence in that country. People whisked away from the land of the living by evil, not so much evil-in-the-form-of-a-cruel-dictator, but evil, open rebellion of God, within the human heart, manifested in violence and cruel slaughter.

And how do we fight back? With more guns, and more attacks and trying to gain control by who can generate the most fear by their random acts of brutality.

This is not what the Man, or more-than-man, who changed the course of history did. He fought evil with good. He fought corruption with love. He fought the people who desired to take his life, with a willing sacrifice….of Himself

For He knew that He was bigger than all the evil schemes of sinful man. He was bigger, but he became lesser. He was Almighty, but he was humbled. He deserved to judge, but He became the judged one.

It is knowing, and worshipping and being filled by this type of Spirit, that we combat the evil of this world. This was Ronnie’s battle plan.

And this is what Ronnie’s widowed wife has chosen to do. Although, she doesn’t actually have much of a choice, because when we’ve given ourselves to not just a man, or a cause, or an idea, but given ourselves to a God who comes and fills His people, we can’t help but act out with His Spirit,

WATCH HER INCREDIBLE INTERVIEW ON CNN

and thats same love, and mercy and “battle strategy of peace” that propelled the God-man, Jesus, or Isa, will fill our hearts too.

For God did not just create us. He did not just give us laws to follow. He did not just set up standards that we must attain in order to enter his paradise. He entered in to our inability to keep those standards and laws. He came down as a human. As a Babe, which we celebrate this Christmas day. He came to do the impossible, the inconceivablee. He came to keep the law, that we fall hopelessly short to keep, that He might fully please the One Almighty God. He came to obey the Father, and obediently go to receive the Judgement Day’s verdict – that we fall short, and don’t (and can’t) pray enough, give enough, memorize enough, do enough. The verdict that was declared by his gruesome death penalty on a cross. Isa, or Yesu, has endured what every human being who should have loved, obeyed, followed Gold perfectly should receive. Judgement. That the real murderers, theives, selfish, and proud might go free.

But when we go free, we don’t continue to freely do evil.

There is something so humbling by seeing Perfection Himself outpour a love and grace you do not deserve. A humbling, and Truth that makes us free.

We are free, free to love God back for the incredible love He has poured out.

We are free, free to love people with a love we cannot generate on our own.

Free to move to a dangerous place, to love a youth, and pour your heart out teaching Chemistry, because Love Himself propels you.

Free to forgive and desire forgiveness for the men who pulled up in a Black SUV to your jogging husband, only to gun him down, splattering your baby’s father’s blood on the streets of a place you didn’t really have to be, in the first place

That is a freedom and a forgiveness that is unnatural.

For it is Supernatural.

And a proof that there is One God, who has sent Isa, whose very name means “Annointed One” or “Messiah”. This Isa, was also called Prince of Peace in the books of Prophecy following the Torah, and confirmed in the Injeel. He came to BE Peace, and to bring peace, so that “Salaam-Alaikum” can be true in the lives of Muslims worldwide.

It is the Story of Ronnie Smith, and his forgiving widow.

It is the story of Christmas.

And my prayer, this Christmas, is that it would be yours as well.

We must win them.

We had just finished going through Barnabas Aid’s prayer guide for the persecute church.  Nearly every single prayer plea was for Christians suffering in the hands of Muslim persecutors. That’s when Dave called to tell me he found an international student that needed a room to rent, and would it work out for us to rent ours to him?

“Yes! We’d love to meet him and see what we can work out.  Where is he from?”

“He’s a Muslim young man from Libya.” I hear on the other end of the line.

And I’m embarrassed to confess the very first thought that flashed through my mind.

“He’s going to bomb our house.”

It’s true.  It’s the very first thing that came to my mind, and in light of last weeks events, and the many worldwide ones, and 9/11, it probably runs through yours as well.

Fear of radical Islamist and their slow, strategic infiltration of countries throughout the world, including our own, haunts me. Fear for my children, and fear for their children haunts me.

But not for long. Because, just as I had to remind myself of the truth when my first thought was that this Libyan man who ended up becoming like a family member was going to bomb our house,  I also have to remind myself of which Kingdom I belong to. And where my Hope and Security rests.

For persecutions, nail-embedded bombs, and crashing towers are a temporal thing, and I serve a King whose Kingdom lasts far longer, and has far greater power than the encroaching power I see entering into this temporal “Land of the Free”.

And I serve a King who did not run and hide from those that would crucify him, but who entered into their midst that He might win the few whose hearts would open to a love and forgiveness and truth found in Him.

And I serve a King who even today has not turned His back on the 1.6 billion Muslims who have been told lies about who Jesus is, and who live, and work, and play, and raise children in a darkness yet to be infiltrated by the Light of the World.

And I serve a King who told us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.

Because He Himself did so.

He even loved me.

And because I was once an enemy of the Living God, declaring jihad on anything or anyone who got it the way of fulfilling the god of myself, and he didn’t ignore me.  He didn’t move away from me.  He did not hate me.  He died for me.

So our family moved into a place of personal death of fear, death of stereotypes, and death of pride.

And we extended our hearts, and our home, to a man from the religion that licenses the killing of my brothers and sisters in northern Africa, and the Middle East and throughout the world.

And OUR world opened up. We got to know quiet, thoughtful Adnan whose smiles were brought forth most frequently when seeing our children play. Which led to meeting his friends, and celebrating their graduations, birthdays, and births of new babies. Which led to the joy of getting to know “James and John” through a Christmas hosting program. Which led to adopting our next very Muslim, Libyan tenant-turned-family member, Nader.  Which led to his entire family, including his parents come to stay with us over the course of the next few weeks. Which has led to a whole new view on Muslims.  The Muslims who DON’T make the news because they are busy working, and taking care of their children, and having parties for their friends, and living a quiet, humble life, just like we are. How do I know?  Nader’s mother, Wafa, brought me a stack of old pictures from Nader’s childhood (brought from Libya to be put in a slideshow at Nader’s upcoming wedding).  And they could have been a stack of my own family’s pictures…Vacations to the beach, toddlers running around in diapers, siblings playing dress ups, trips taken to other countries, Boy Scout events (yes, they have Boy Scouts in Libya), birthday cakes, and smiling faces pausing in the middle of life’s joys to be captured on camera. And they stop to say their prayers, and they memorize the Qaran, and celebrate their religious holidays, JUST LIKE US.

Except.

Except, they do it without the Light of the World reigning in their world.  They do it, having a truncated view of the real Jesus, Isa or Yesu, and therefore live in ignorance of Who He Truly is, and the wonder and joy of knowing Him. They do so always trying to obtain a righteousness, good enough for Allah, when a Righteousness has already be paid in blood, and given freely to them to receive as a gift, not as an earning,

IF

SOMEONE

WOULD

JUST

TELL

THEM.

AND SHOW THEM. AND PRAY THEM INTO THE KINGDOM OF THE KING OF LOVE.

What better way to reach a people who have been so unreachable for the past several decades.  We are hindered from going THERE.  But they are coming HERE.  And we cannot ignore them, or hide from them, or fear them or fight them…… we must win them.

Win them with love. Win them with hospitality. Win them with generosity. Win them with forgiveness.  Win them with prayer. Win them with the TRUTH.  For Truth Himself, won us, and now lives in us, and He is strong enough to overcome every hint of fear, stereotyping, and pride in our hearts, if we just offer up to Him ourselves.

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Meeting Him on the Water

The waves are crashing all around, while the secure boat feels safe against their surge. But then you spot, in the distance, an Image that beckons you. The figure that you have grown to love and adore asks you to meet Him out where there is nothing firm to stand upon, or so you think. “Is meeting Him worth the risk?” You sigh, and begin to get out of the boat. The risk will be taken, if the thrill of seeing Him up close is the sweet reward.

You can’t truly see Him show up, unless you get out.

And get out, we did, this Christmas.

And SHOW up, HE did.

Scheduled for this Christmas season, were Christmas clubs each Friday afternoon, a week long visit from Eric and Sara-Beth and their four children, during which, Danny’s other sister, Martha and her one year old would be staying with us (in case you need help doing the math- thats five adults and a 7,6,5, 4, two 3, two 2, 1 and 8 month year olds in our home! Joyful chaos is what we like to call it.) All in addition to extra Christmas outreaches at OKPCA, where Danny is a part time pastor, plus all the Christmas shopping, cooking, and baking needing to be done. As soon as those guests left, we were scheduled to host international students again.

The coordinator of the ministry we have been involved with for the past three years here in Orlando called me up to work on placing some students in our home. I had told him previously that we would be willing to take whoever was the hardest to place.  He had a Korean family of four who would be hard to place because the unit was so big.  I told him “yes” with slight disappointment in my heart.  Why? Not because it was a unit of four, although that would indeed make for a full house. But rather because the mom and three girls had marked “Christian” as their religion on their application for the program.  I was very glad they were Christians, but my heart beats for people that don’t yet know Christ as their Savior.  Last year’s thrill of sharing the Gospel with people who had never heard the Word of God or the Savior which it proclaims was still fresh in my heart.  “I guess we won’t get that joy this year….” I think as I agreed to take the family.  Despite the surface disappointment, I knew that if I just said “yes” and got out of the boat of my expectations, I would meet my Savior out on that water. And there is nothing sweeter than stepping out, and seeing Him show up and show OFF His beautiful handiwork.

The first little detail He took care of was their arrival.  The Nolls had JUST left and so many sheets and towels needed washing, floors needed mopping (you should have seen all the dirt those 30 feet tracked through our house), and bathrooms needed cleaning.  I was on a push to get things done WHILE keeping five children occupied, watching the time tick away quickly while the To-Do list did NOT tick so quickly.  Then I got word that their flight would be arriving late, and had 4 more hours to work before they arrived!  Thank you, Lord, for showing up, and taking care of this tiny need-to be ready for their arrival!

Then I got to meet my the family and it turns out it was a mom, Juyeon, her two daughters (9 and 11 years old), and her niece (16 years old) who had flown to visit them during her winter break.  As we talked about the upcoming schedule of events (including activities at our Korean Church), Juyeon asked, “My niece is Buddhist.  She has never been to a church before.  Is it still OK for her to come to church if she is Buddhist?”.  Is. it. OK…..My heart began to soar! “You mean she doesn’t know anything about Jesus?”  “No, not really.” was the reply. Jesus knew the desire of my heart, and He met me there.  I WOULD still get to be sharing with someone who had not yet even heard of the good news of Jesus!  Katherine (the niece) drank in everything while we were at church, and asked lots of questions.  She received a Jesus Storybook Bible from us for Christmas, as a follow up to what she had heard us read to the kids at family devotions during the evenings.

Then Juyeon (whose English was incredible) and I had wonderful conversations AS SHE HELPED ME CLEAN THE KITCHEN (more on that in a minute) she said she was so impressed that Danny led us in family worship each night, and she thought it was so good for her girl’s to see the father taking that role. She confided in me that her husband was not a believer, and how she longs for her life to be a witness to him.  We talked like kindred spirits over the struggle to live LOVE all the time and that we so often fail, and lose our patience.  We spoke of letting Christ live in us to the degree that HE is the one who lives, handles the conflict, and is the witness through our hands and feet and mouth and ears.  We even had prayer time together for her witness to her husband and for her girls to grow to know and love the Lord.  Throughout the week, she had so many questions for me…about why we have so many people live stay with us/come over, why we have so many children, why we work at a Korean church, etc.  I think she was amazed at our lives, which seem so “normal” to us. It was a joy to share that it wasn’t ME, anything good or challenging she saw in our lives, was due to the Power and Grace of Jesus living in us.

About the cleaning thing…Juyeon was just like the wonderful Korean women at my church…Always busy working on something, washing dishes, and tidying up.  She asked “Is it OK to do this?  It just feels natural to me.”  I’m not one to argue over that due to my own pride…I’ll take all the help I can get!  I couldn’t believe it. She made my week and a half with them even easier than when it’s me by myself with my kids – just another way of Jesus showing up and carrying what would have been a huge burden.  Beforehand, I had no idea how I would keep up with everything…my own children and the messes they make plus extra people at meals and more hospitality on Christmas day…but I had known that when saying “yes”, God would take care of those details somehow-and He did in Juyeon’s helpful spirit)

THEN, my least favorite part about hosting the students at Christmas is being down in the kitchen by 6:45 am to fix them breakfast, get them fed, and then get them out the door by 7:30 so they can go on their Disney excursions.  But the night they arrived, Juyeon said to me, “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought noodles for our breakfasts because my girls are picky eaters.  Is it OK if I just fix them their breakfast each morning?”  What?!?  Jesus showing up again and taking care of the details…

The first half of Christmas Eve, they attended a conference in which the Gospel was shared- it was Katherine’s first time having the full Gospel shared with her. They arrived back home, we had dinner and started getting ready for our Christmas Eve “Service”  (Korean style, is to do a talent show, where each small group does an act or a song, and then we close with a candlelight singing time).  Danny was going to be rapping for it and the kids were in a couple of acts, and shot-in-the-dark, I asked our Muslim housemate,Nader, if he wanted to come.  We have asked him numerous other times to go to church with us, and he never does, so I didn’t have much expectation of him doing so.  BUT faithful Juyeon, says, “Yes! Yes! You need to come with us, we will all go together and it will be so much fun.”  Low and behold he decides to come with us 20 minutes before we leave!  THEN half the acts and songs are in Korean, so Juyeon is faithful translating things for Nader.  A little kids Christmas play of the story of Jesus’ birth with the Scripture of each scene up on the screen in Korean AND English-Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, Jesus being born, the angels appearing to the shepherds, and the wise men coming to worship Jesus-led to alot of question and answer on Nader’s part.  In the past he has said “Muslims believe in Jesus too-that he was a great prophet” but he knew so little about Jesus’ background and his birth so we were a bit noisy explaining everything during the play, but so thankful for the opportunity. Only Jesus could have coordinated a woman from Korea getting a Muslim guy from Libya to go to a Korean Christmas Eve Service in America, to be a place where this American family could explain more about Jesus’ coming. Jesus shows off in extravagant ways out there on the water!

Then Christmas morning was SUCH a joyful time together.  Our guests and Nader experienced “Christmas” complete with “Joy to the World”, a reading of Luke 2, and massive amounts of presents** being opened for the very first time.  **(Did I mention that right after I agreed to host the four Korean students, someone anonymously sent us a $200 gift card to Target (THANK YOU to whoever it was, if you are reading this), which in turn paid for the stocking stuffers for the ELEVEN stockings I had to shop for and fill. )  Everyone had a such a wonderful time opening things, and I just loved seeing Nader’s and the Korean student’s reactions when I have gifts for them to open and they weren’t expecting it.  (Must be how God feels as I received gift after gift of seeing Him work and coordinate events this Christmas season)

After presents and Christmas brunch, our house looked like a tornado had hit it, and we were having two guys from Egypt and a guy from Iran(who now will be moving in with us in February) for Christmas dinner.  Again Juyeon came to the rescue and recruited her girls to set the table, and she herself cleaned up the house, while I was busy in the kitchen cooking.  (Thank you, Jesus, for taking care of the details again!) Then we had a wonderful dinner and a two and a half hour discussion afterwards about God, the Bible, the Koran, the Gospel, Islam, and salvation.  Around our table sat Coptic Christians from Egypt, a former Muslim now agnostic from Iran, a devout Muslim from Libya, three Christians from Korea, a Buddhist from Korea, and then our Christian American family.  You’d better believe we had a LIVELY discussion….but amazingly, even though things got somewhat intense at times, we all ended better friends and blessed to have been challenged by one another’s beliefs (Juyeon’s daughters kept my kids busy playing upstairs with new Christmas toys).  Again we saw Jesus show up around our dinner table, and throughout our conversations, throughout every little detail.  It is a joy to step out, and let Him take care of the logistics.  I just love meeting a LIVING SAVIOR outside the boat.

Our time with the students came to a close with Katherine telling me that she had learned SO much over the week and a half, and Juyeon and I promising to get together up north (she lives in Albany) before she moves back to Korea in a year.  I ended my time with them in awe of God’s goodness, and more inspired to take bold steps of faith, for having seen Him take care of everything, down to who would keep my kids occupied so I could engage hearts from the nation’s around my dinner table.

There is no greater joy than simply showing up, saying yes, getting out of the safety of the boat of my own limitations, and walking on water with a supernatural power that could only come from the One who had created it in the first place.  I’m sold.  I am convinced.  There is no other way to live life but outside the boat…walking towards the Image of the Holy One and meeting Him in the impossible places.

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Zeb’s Life and the Nations Among Us

Just a glimpse of that red, flooded me with memories, with sorrow, with a renewed resolve.

Picking my way across our very disorganized garage, the red caught my eye, and a surge of emotion welled up in my throat.  It was just a red scarf, stuffed in a box…the red scarf that I had asked Danny to get rid of two years ago because I was in decluttering mode in the midst of moving.  I’m so glad he didn’t.

That day, in the midst of tending to constant tasks and requests, I needed to see that physical reminder, even if it is “just one more thing” in our home. That red scarf carries the colors of Hungary and it carries the colors of an intense encounter which has shaped us. It carries memories from two years ago, which I had nearly forgotten…

I was so incredibly exhausted. Seven months pregnant, during an incredibly hard pregnancy with Benjamin.  Living amongst boxes, as we scrambled to finish packing for our move to Orlando… in the midst of the chaos of passing our beloved ministry on to other hands to carry on…sorting through the emotional mess of saying goodbyes… trying to cram in precious time with members of our flock before we left…not to mention caring for a 1,2 and 4 year old… and Danny gets off the phone saying “I’ll see what I can do”.

The kids loved those “packing days” and all the boxes everywhere. July 2010.

“What now?” I think.  “What urgent need has surfaced now?  I just can’t handle one more thing!” Danny explains that there was a group of students from Hungary who were traveling the east coast, and the Christian homestay arrangements that they had, had fallen through.  Could we put the guys from the group up for two nights?  “Where?!” I think, as I survey our box-cluttered tiny apartment.  “They could stay at the church…” Danny trails off.  We tear into the box with the air mattresses and leave our three sleeping little ones with Kortlyn, my friend who lives above us.  I drag my aching pregnant body over to the church a block away to go get things ready for the students. It’s 11pm and all I want to do is go to sleep.

God mercifully puts new situations into our lives to bless us and teach us, even if we start out kicking and screaming as we enter them.  He is the Father that knows better than his near-sighted children. My near sightedness would have kept me from being blessed and challenged by the encounter to come.

As we  welcomed the students, I found myself so thankful that I GOT to be the one providing them a place to stay for a few nights.  What a privilege to talk with these students from Hungary, learn about their lives, and be graced with their thankful smiles and cheerful hearts even though all we had to offer were a few air mattresses in a large, old church.  As we got things set up for them, we explained some of the history of the church and why we were there…that we believe Jesus changes everything, including rough communities like the one they found themselves in.   The oldest student, Zeb (thats what he told us to call him, because we’d butcher his name so badly)  stood out from the rest-his English was amazing,  he was really outgoing and extremely helpful as we got everything situated for them.

The next day some of our staff members and summer interns took them around NYC so they could see the sights, and Danny spent some time with them that evening (I was too tired to go over and hang out with them).   The next day we prepared to send them off to their next stop in Philly. Our gracious guests bombarded us with Hungarian paraphernalia-gifts to show their gratitude for an air mattress and a dusty church building. I was touched by their generosity, but my decluttering mind was also thinking…now there’s a bunch more stuff to pack and find a place for! Zeb had given us a scarf…we were about to move to a place with no winters. Great.

Two days later, news hit that a Duck Tour boat  had been run over by a barge in Philadelphia, and two international exchange students were missing. Horrified, I quickly looked online to discover our group of students was on that boat… and a 20 year old was missing.  Could it be Zeb?!?

“Zeb”

We prayed and waited…Only to find out a that Zeb, who we had hung out with and joked with just two days prior, had gone to meet his Maker that day. He would stand before a holy God that day. Had he hoped in the righteousness of Jesus?  Had he even had the chance to hear that Jesus had lived out a righteousness FOR him, had dealt with the judgement that he deserved by dying on the cross, and had risen again, that Zeb also might know a resurrected life?  I  trembled for Zeb. I reflected on our brief time with him.

We had shared bits and pieces about Jesus and our staff had had a conversation about God’s work in their lives. But was that enough?  Had he been invited into faith in Christ? Was he aware of his need for an Advocate before a Holy God? Did he know that the wages of his sin was death…but that the gift of God is eternal life? (Romans 6:23)  Did he know to claim the name of Jesus, for it is by faith we are saved, not by works? (Ephesians 2:8-9) Maybe God had brought him all the way to the U.S. so he could hear the Gospel for the first time. Had we been faithful to make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5)?

I am left with many questions. I am stopped dead in my tracks, as I re-evaluate where my time is spent and how I use opportunites placed in front of me.  Tragically, it often takes a persons life and death to awaken, to shake out of slumber and apathy a self-absorbed heart.

That glimpse of red, reawakened all those wrestlings the other day. Waves of sadness and grief.  Feelings of remorse and resolve, that Zeb’s brief life, and my brief encounter with him would not be in vain. I hate that it takes Zeb’s death to spur me on towards making the most of every opportunity with international students-to utilize the fact that we can still (and maybe not for long!) share the Gospel freely in this country.  These students are here for a reason. It is no accident. We pray for the nations. God has brought them to us.

This encounter, this tragedy was a doorway into what God was preparing us for here in Orlando. He prepared a home with extra rooms in it.  He prepared a short 10 minute commute to a university with nearly 1,000 international students. We waited for God to lead, and when we got a flyer just 10 days before Christmas about hosting international students for a week long stay, we already knew that God had prepared us to do this very thing. Those two Chinese students and Korean student led to a Libyan housemate, which led to relationships with all his friends, which led to two Saudi Arabian Christmas guests the following year, which led to a new Libyan student now moved in.  I’m amazed at the opportunities and the beautiful works that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10) My prayer is that many students from around the world would encounter the Living Jesus, and receive new life, because Zeb’s life forever changed mine.

Short video about students reaching international students on their college campus.

Christmas Riches, Almost Missed…

This year we had every excuse in the book not to do it.

We had tons of family coming into town for the holidays.

We already would have a full house.

I’m pregnant (and tired!) with baby #5.

We have four little rascals running around.

We already have one international student living with us.

Money’s tight, more mouths to feed might be an issue.

I even blogged to promote the ministry.

Surely, it just wouldn’t work this year. “I’ll just recruit others to do it.” I thought.

But as we took our gaze OFF of our own little world’s circumstances, and looked at the call of our Savior to invite the stranger in (Matt. 25:35), we knew we were called to, once again, walk that line of faith. To put ourselves in a a place to be a watchman on the walls.

OK, Lord, if we’re going to do this, you have got to give me the energy.

I called up the area coordinator and told him we were willing to host up to two students (our other housemate, a seminary student would be out of town for the holidays and said we could us his room).  “Oh, good, he immediately said, I’ve got two Saudi Arabian young men who I’ve been trying to find a place for!”

Gulp.

OK, Lord. Here we go.

But oh, what joy, what riches, the Lord was trying to bless us with through this call to obedience!

So on Dec. 20th, Danny drove to the airport and picked up “James”*.  He came back and joined our family chaos of having a gingerbread making contest amongst Danny’s siblings and their kids.

That evening while eating dinner, we tried to explain to “James” that we would be going to a prayer meeting that night because Danny is a pastor of a church.

“Church? Pastor? I don’t know what those are.  We do not have those in my country.” he said.

We had a great discussion trying to explain to him what a pastor is, what a church is, and what we believe as Christians. The only thing he said he knew about Christians is that they “have to get wet.” (baptism)

Prayer meeting went well, and he seemed so intrigued by all we did and studied. A whole new world was opening up to him.

Then, that night, quiet “John”* arrived, and as I observed his trendy clothes and his cornrowed hair, I felt like we were hosting a Newark youth again.

Thursday and Friday they were off doing touristy things with the whole group, but in the evenings we enjoyed talking with them and playing board games with them and Danny’s siblings. Saturday they attended the “Christmas conference” portion of their trip and came home, each with a Bible in hand, excited to practice their English by reading it.  “Oh, Lord, make it come alive to them.” my heart throbbed.

I felt guilty feeding them quickly and ushering them out the door again to another “Church thing”, attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service at Sara and Eric’s church, but they seemed up for anything.  We tried to explain to them that many different churches believe the same thing, but worship in different ways, and the one that they would be attending this night would be a more formal church. It was encouraging to watch them try to sing along in the hymnbook our classic Christmas carols, triumphing the coming of Christ.

Since, actual Christmas day, we would be at our Korean church all day, we decided to surprise the kids after the Christmas Eve service with all the presents and stockings set out.  I dashed home with my sister-in-law and Danny went with the kids and “James” and “John” to McDonald’s for $1 ice cream cones.  I quickly got everything set up and awaited their arrival.

Our kids (AND James and John) were surprised and ecstatic when they walked in with everything set up. We took our traditional stair photo, sang “Joy to the World”, and started the stocking openings.  James and John were so surprised when I showed them where their stockings were. And then as we each took turns opening presents, they were thrilled when they had different things to opened. (One of which was a Jesus Film, in Arabic). Christmas is so often enjoyed by parents as they watch the wonder and excitement of the children, and this year we had two extra “kids” who were equally filled with surprise, excitement, and wonder.  It was simply so much fun. (It was also so fun to see bright smiles spread across John’s quiet, reserved face, as he opened his own presents and watched our kids be thrilled over theirs)

James kept saying, “This is my BEST Christmas.  This is my first Christmas and it will always be my best Christmas in my memory.”

I couldn’t help but pray, that his Christmases will get even better, not because of gifts to open, and children squealing in excitement, but because he has opened the best Gift of all, his Savior and Sustainer of his life.

A little past midnight, after the kids had finally settled down and everyone was in bed, Danny went down to check on the guys and say goodnight. John was curled up on his bed watching something on his computer. It was the Jesus film we had given him.

Lord, work through it, Danny prayed.

The next morning was an early morning of ushering children and James and John out the door again for more church services. I almost felt bad for them…they didn’t know what they were getting into when they stayed with us. But they seemed eager to observe and listen to their new friend, Danny, preach of the prophecies of Christ and their fulfillment in Christmas.  Then we had Sunday School, and John was missing. I found him wandering around the property, my heart sank. “We have probably offended him…doing so much “Christian” stuff.” I thought. I asked him if he would like to join us or if he was too tired. (we had so many late nights that week!) He said “No, I want to come, I didn’t know where you were.” “Oh,” I sighed with relief.

Boy, was I glad he came.  Danny told us to look up Matthew 6 and we just read two verses and then watched Tim Keller’s “Gospel in Life” video about work.  John’s eyes did not leave the page after we read those verses. I kept glancing at him as he read and read. The VERY FIRST time he had ever read the Bible for himself.

The guys went home with relatives, because we had to stick around for more responsibilities (have I mentioned that Korean’s are hard-core and take their Sabbath day very seriously…all day events…we, flimsy Americans with our “express services” have a thing or two to learn from them, anyways…”

When we got home around 5pm we found that James had taken a much needed nap, but John had finished watching the rest of the Jesus film.

He had a ton of questions at Christmas dinner. He had many questions that he couldn’t quite articulate so we used James(whose English was better) and our trusty Google Translate to be able to address his questions. One of the first ones was, “That book that we read at church today. Can I get one of them? I would like to read it more.”

“That book” just happened to be the Holy Inspired Word of God. “That book” happened to have words of truth, and hope and salvation, that in all of John’s 19 years of life, he had never even known existed.

And here’s the cool part.  Earlier that week I was researching sharing Christ with Muslims and stumbled upon a ministry website that would send an Arabic Bible for free. I asked if I could get it before Christmas, and they said there was probably no chance it would arrive in time.  Christmas Eve it arrived.  When Danny and I opened it (and some Arabic literature/tracts), we asked Jesus who needed it the most, but we just set it aside to pray about it more.

Here was our answer.

After Danny fetched the Bible we talked for about an hour answering questions like “Who killed Jesus?” “Why did they kill him?” “Did he really come back to life?” “Can God live in my spirit too?”. James, wasn’t asking as many questions, but was still eager to be involved in the conversation, so I asked him what different things said on the tracts (they were in Arabic and I couldn’t read them).  Here he was explaining God’s word to me.  I commended him on how well he translated it, and he said “Maybe I could be a pastor too one day!”  Oh, Lord, may he!!!

The whole experience, and the curiosity and hunger to learn was all so thrilling and exciting to be a part of, I couldn’t imagine if we had tried to “protect” our family time by not hosting these two great guys. What riches we would have been missed out on. What amazing privileges would have been passed up. What new friendships would never have formed.

Our kids cried on Wednesday morning when the guys left, and they still talk about missing James and John.

And we daily cry out to God, that his Spirit of truth, will guide them into all truth. (John 16:13)

For, simply being very feebly-available, has led to deep friendship and love for our Saudi Arabian guests, and we long for them to know not only the surface riches of Christmas, but the real riches of Christmas in Christ,

that

Christmas riches, almost missed by us,

would become

Christmas riches,

embraced by them.

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Pictures of our guests have been removed for their privacy and protection.

*real names not used because of their Muslim faith which prohibits them from celebrating Christmas, investigating Christianity, and owning and reading a Bible. We don’t want to put our new friends at risk in any way.

New friends from 3 different continents

Libyans from Africa. Saudi Arabians from the Middle East. Italians from Europe. Taiwanese from Asia.  The world was gathered in our home. And I am so thankful to be a part of it. I met Jesus in it.

As a follow-up to my recent conviction about being moved by the Spirit, I put aside my typical weekly agenda to get ready for a Christmas party for our housemate’s international friends. Amazingly, I didn’t do too much yelling at my children beforehand (they even helped with set-up and we shared a wonderful prayer time for it together in the afternoon!- thanks to the Spirit’s work) and we had a wonderful time with everyone.  We utilized three key universal languages-food, music, and children.  After our meal together, it was pretty amazing to have Muslims gathered around singing songs about Christ, the Savior,’s birth. The Gospel conversations we were able to engage in with each person were even better.  Instead of an “untouchable topic” like it is with many Americans, all the international students were eager to discuss differing views, sharing theirs and asking questions about others. We pray that the doors of hearts have begun to creak open through it all.
I was equally amazed at how eager each person was to interact and play with our kids. Some of them said they are always at the university and don’t see very many children. DJ got to have plastic sword fights with Valentina from Italy, and play iphone video games with “Derick” from Taiwan.  Trinity played musical instruments with her new best friend, Winnie, from Taiwan.  Katy-Grace played “come and get me!!” with Anece from Saudi Arabia. Benjamin befriended Monique , an 8 month old from Libya, whose parents are studying here.

We, including our children, are far richer for having hosted this party. We are challenged and grown as we hear first-hand how one’s religion affects their goals, their lives, and their culture. My children are now talking about flying to the different countries to visit their friends (I showed them on a map where each one lived–how’s that for a built-in homeschool lesson?? Geography 101 based on friends from around the world)

One part of the evening saddened me….When asked if they had made any American friends or been to an American’s home, each person said “no”. These new friends of ours have been here anywhere from 7 mo. to 2 1/2 years. Their most frequent interactions with Americans is with their English teacher in class. I asked Ibraham from Saudi Arabia if they preferred just spending time with other internationals or if they wished they could have relationships with Americans.  He said “No, we wish we could know Americans.  We are here to learn the language and the culture, but the American students are busy with their studies and their lives and we don’t know how to become friends with them.” The nations are 10 minutes away and we are too busy to reach out to them, befriend them, and share the Light of the Gospel with them.

Through these new friends, I have been so convicted…

To truly be a follower of Christ, he said we must obey his words.

This includes “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) The “going” to “all nations” has become so easy for us. We don’t even have to buy a plane ticket.

They are right here.

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Christmas for the 10/40 Window…Right in our Living Room

Last month a student from Libya moved into our “porch room”, which provides extra rent money AND an incredible opportunity to share the love and light of the Gospel with someone who would not otherwise hear of Him in his Muslim country. It has been a joy to get to share our culture, our language, and our God with Adnan over the past month and a half.  In a season of life when we can’t be “radical goers” to share the Gospel with the nations, we can be “radical welcomers” to those that are right here in our towns, longing for relationships with Americans so they can learn the culture and the language.

One of the most opportune times for sharing not only the words of the Gospel but also the visuals of the Gospel was through the decorating of our Christmas tree last weekend. Amid the tree continually tipping over (Danny and Adnan worked hard to figure out how to keep it up) Danny got to explain that we put an evergreen tree in our home to remind us of God’s never changing love and care for His people. He told of the lights we place on it, because Jesus is the Light of the World.  Adnan asked questions about  the angels posted around our home- so we shared how they announced the birth of Jesus, sent to save the world from their sins.  In the little nativity scenes we shared about how God chose a humble way to bring Jesus into the world, and that lowly shepherds were sent to worship him AS WELL AS high, wise kings that travelled far to welcome the new King.

I didn’t realize how effective a family tradition could be for sharing the Gospel with someone, and I was so thankful for these habits that become “normal” for us and our children, but are the gateway for sharing the Truth with those of another country, culture, and religion. We pray that this “Advent Activity” creates a true advent in Adnan’s heart to be able to receive the humble King who was sent to save His people.

Please pray with us for him and for all of his friends (mostly Arabs from the 10/40 window) who will be coming to a Christmas party we are hosting this Friday.  May it truly be an Advent experience in their lives.

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Along with this post, I have to add a little advertising plug:

IF YOU LIVE IN THE ORLANDO AREA, and would like the incredible opportunity of being a “radical welcomer” and bringing the Gospel to people from countries where the the Good News is not known, International Friendship Ministries (IFM) is hosting a week-long Christmas conference for international students from all over the country.  They are in desperate need of host families. The students arrive Wed. Dec.21 in the evening, and then are involved in activities coordinated by IFM throughout the week, spend Christmas Eve (afternoon) and Christmas with their host families and then do two more days of sightseeing with their group before leaving on Wednesday morning.  We hosted three girls last year-two from China and one from Korea.  The opportunities to share the Gospel through ALL different means were INCREDIBLE.  It was a free mission trip in the comfort of our own home.  Yes, you may have to sacrifice it “just being your family” but WHAT A UNIQUE CHANCE to bring the Gospel to the nations!!! Last year, God opened so many doors for conversation, the girls LOVED our kids, and even helped us wrap presents until the wee hours of Christmas day (what?!?, I hadn’t taken care of that yet?!?).

PLEASE consider hosting a student or two (all three of our girls were in one room…two shared a double bed and one was on an air mattress….they didn’t care-they were just happy to be with an American host family)

If you want to take advantage of this incredible opportunity please contact Dave Hedburg (the IFM coordinator) at dave@ifmusa.org  or myself, through the blog. I can forward all the information, schedule, and list of students still awaiting host families (there are a TON from China!)  37 STUDENTS STILL NEED PLACES TO STAY!!!

"Our girls" and Benjamin on his first Christmas