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.

Daniel Josiah turns 3!!

On November 21st Daniel Josiah turned three years old. We celebrated as a family by going to Jeepers, an arcade/play place for kids.  Daniel Josiah likes it because he gets to ride the “motorcycles” and a little train that runs around the track.  On November 23rd we had a party for him with all of his little friends.  It was a PUMPKIN party (i know, i know, not the coolest, but next year when he really cares he can have a Spiderman party).  Let me tell you, Daniel Josiah has been talking about his “pawty” since Trinity celebrated her birthday in August. This was a much anticipated event.

Friday, before the party Daniel Josiah helped Mommy bake the cake and bake the pumpkin cookies that we would decorate.  While we were baking, I let Trinity have a scoop of the pumpkin we were using and Daniel Josiah exclaimed “Heeyyy! Tri – ty eat my punkin pawty!!”   Well, fortunately for the guests, and particularly for Daniel Josiah Trinity did NOT eat the entire party, but just a very small ingredient of a part of the party. Hence, we have pictures to share.

After each guest arrived, Daniel Josiah asked “More fwiends comin punkin party?” (as if the present ones weren’t good enough) Apparently,  the guests weren’t TOO offended at this greeting…

“Honey, I think you have enough candy on your cookie”, I said as Daniel Josiah enthusiastically delves into the first activity (decorating pumpkin cookies…a tradition my mother had started during fall times in my childhood years)

I busy myself with making sure that everything is going well,

and I turn my back for one minute and DJ has put TRIPLE

layers of candy on his cookie.  The other kids put a few

raisins and M&Ms on theirs.  All my efforts to keep DJ from

being a sugar addict, out the window…sigh… (fortunately he

forgot about the cookie and never really ate it)

Some of the neighborhood girls came to help with the

games, and the kids had fun going to the different “stations” to get treats. The great thing about when kids are just 3, they don’t QUITE get the presents thing, so instead of having people bring presents for DJ I had them bring small gifts for the shoeboxes we were going to fill for Samaritan’s Purse. I’m sure I will not be able to get away with this in years to come but I thought it was brilliant while I can.

 

All in all the party was super fun, and it was a joy to put on for my sweet little boy.

 

Trinity’s friend , Judah, is graciously pointing out that she is

having difficulty with the concept of SHARING at the

moment. Trinity doesn’t seem to care though…

A Glorious Day

“Saviour, He can move the mountains,
My God is Mighty to save,
He is Mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave”

As I sang these words on Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the sense that our God is indeed MIGHTY TO SAVE.  Before me, stood 18 people.  Two becoming members of our church, and sixteen who had been through 2 months of classes, and were now making public declarations of faith through the sacrament of baptism.  Whole households were getting baptized as parents embarked on the mighty calling of establishing covenant families.  These are families that have come from the wreckage of poverty, abuse, injustice, and oppression.  They each came with smiling faces, decked out in their best Sunday attire, despite deeply troubling financial crisis, home struggles, and emotional, physical, and spiritual baggage that you could write a book about. Their struggles will not decease because they got baptized, but they were publicly declaring the Rock on which they stand in the midst of those crisis. The Rock which bore the greatest crisis of all-the weight  and punishment of all of our sin.

As exciting as it was that the Lord had and is saving these individuals, I stood in greater amazement at God’s MIGHTY power to save ME.  I did not come from such outwardly hard, or disturbing circumstances, but oh, the hardness of my heart.  The hardness of a self-righteous hypocrite that would, more often than not, like to point a judging finger rather than extend a compassionate hand. Just as Jesus said in Luke 18:24 says” Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” I grew up “rich” in every way….my refrigerator was never empty the last week of the month until the welfare check came, I didn’t grow up with cockroaches infesting my run-down bedroom, I had parents that spoke the truth of God’s Word and their own love for me, instead of being abandoned by one or more of my parents, or being beaten and abused by an alcoholic father, or being verbal abused by a stressed out single mom. I got the riches of the Gospel preached to me at home, at school, at church, at camp, everywhere instead of first encountering the living God when I was thirty, after having made MANY mistakes and gotten used and abused because of them.  I have been RICH in every way. But some of those very riches have led to a self-righteousness and a comfort in what I was equipped with , not a continual crying out to God for His hand alone to save and aid. It truly is hard for the rich to humbly enter the kingdom.  But, just like Jesus said, it has been with the loss of my life, my privacy, my riches, my agenda, that i have truly gained LIFE.  If it had not been for the struggles of the individuals standing in front of me on Sunday, and the need that they came to me with- a need that, as a Christian, I am called to fill by the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit, then Oh, how “rich” i would still be in my own eyes.  It has taken being confronted with the great needs of these dear struggling people, and the brokenness of not being able to graciously attend to them in my own strength  or the “wealth” of my own self-righteousness, that has revealed to me my own lack of wherewithall to “get it together”.  I am the struggling person, confronting the High King of Kings, with a debt I cannot pay, a lifetime of baggage, the influence of the world upon me, the hardness of heart that only ONE can break through.

He is Mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave”

He truly has conquered the grave, including MY grave, the whitewashed tomb grave.

Analicia, who was in my very first Sunday School Class and who I've had the privilege of seeing grow into her own faith in the Lord

…he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures but his hands also heal…. Job 5:8

Isaiah 58:8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58 is a passage we frequently visit, for our own encouragement, and for the encouragement of the various teams we have come through Newark.

But if you had asked me three weeks ago about this passage, I would have told you “ in my head I know its true because God said it, but my heart says “yah, right” “.  I would have also told you that the “spending” part that precedes this promised healing and light is almost not worth it….but that was because I was still in the “wounding and injuring” phase of the Job 5:8 description.  After a month of feeling so wounded and raw, I am finally be bandaged up by our Savior. These are some of the “bandages” that the Lord has provided…

**On Saturday, my older brother Ken, came into town (which is SUCH a treat!) and took my sister and myself into NYC for my birthday celebration.  I was telling Ken all about our trials and tribulations and the people across from me finally interjected -”wow, thats amazing what you guys are doing! we’re Christians, too, and that really inspires me to really get out there and actually DO something”

**Danny has showered me with gifts and sweet messages and has done so many things in the past two weeks to show me that I am his first priority (besides the Lord) and that what matters to me, matters to him.  This has been a sweet and healing balm on my storm-raged heart and mind.

**The church consistory has set up some “rules” for us Iversons to protect us and keep us sane. At first I felt that some of it was unnecessary, but we wanted to submit (Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Pr. 19:20) and I feel incredibly loved and cared for by these “rules” and discipline to protect our family.

**It has been a WHOLE lot more CALM around here, as all the school kids and teens are back in school instead of at our house or knocking on the door for potty breaks and drinks of water.

**On Sunday, during children’s church, I was teaching the kids about Moses and how God called him to lead the Israelites.  He made up all kinds of excuses and didn’t want to do it, but God said “I will be with you”.  It hit me that I was preaching about myself…not wanting the role, but God promising to provide and go with those He calls to leadership.

**Sunday night, one of our friends organized a little birthday party for me at a restaurant, and had each person in attendance write a memory that had of me, and then what they liked about me.  Those cards touched me sooo deeply.  I would like to here interject a story…We were all piling in the car to go to the restaurant, when two teen guys from the ministry came buy and Danny was like “hey boys, you want to go?” and of course in my sinful and selfish mind, I am thinking “Thats another $30 that we’re going to have to pay for…” and Danny was like “it’ll be O.K”.  Having them there ended up making it really fun, AND they wrote some of the messages that have touched me the most deeply.  It was all a sweet gift from the Lord, as if to say “Your labor is not in vain. These guys ARE watching and are being touched by your example”.  (not that I set all that great of an example most of the time-but people recognize real love and genuine compassion when they see it).  Their letters made me think of our welcome in to heaven.  When we get there, any suffering and trials we have faced will seem as nothing in light of our Father’s love and approval through our Savior Jesus.

These are only a few of the ways that God has blessed me and refreshed me after a dark season of my heart.  What a merciful and gracious God we have-instead of punishing me for my pity party, the Lord has lovingly lifted me out of it.  What a patient Father we have!!

some of the guys who live or have lived with us

Vernard, One of the guys who blessed me so much at my party.

Family Dinners

Over a month ago we started hosting “Family Dinner” every Wednesday night at our church, where we would feed all of our after school program kids and their parents who came to pick them up, as well as anyone else who would like to join us. We have realized what an impact eating together can make on children.  We teach them manners (they have to be “excused” to get up from the table), we have the older kids act as “servers” for the younger kids at their table, we do Bible verses and a blessing, we have family devotions, and then do dessert.  Last week we had 75 people.  One of the verses we have taught the kids is Revelation 3:20-21 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  How thankful I am that the Lord has invited us to HIS dinner table-to eat of His goodness and grace, and enjoy sweet fellowship with Him. Where O, where would we be without HIM!

After dinner all the kids gather on stage and

Danny reads from the “Jesus Storybook Bible”

(compliments of SB and Eric Noll).  Here we are

all gathered to close in prayer.

Glimmers of hope

For the past few weeks I have filled in as program director for our after school program.  Betsy is back in town (she’s going to live here this summer-YAY!) and since her job hasn’t started yet, she babysits all afternoon for me, so that i can be with the kids in the program.  BOY is it hard work.  Danny and I talk about how we managed to get the “cream of the crop” in terms of having some of the hardest kids, from the roughest backgrounds.  (one fourth grader, after getting made fun of, stormed off to the kitchen to retrieve a knife-fortunately one of our leaders was following close behind her and we ended up having a long talk about it) Anyways, I feel that much of what we do isn’t even about the program but just loving these kids and PARENTING them.  They were never taught to respect people (people older them OR their peers) and they don’t really know what disciple is because some of their parents are so uninvolved in their lives (one of our teen workers reported that he sees several of our kids out at 1:00am and 2:00am just hanging out by themselves some nights). Having our afterschool program is like starting from square one in terms of teaching these kids how to respect people, how to listen, how to be kind  and how to deal with negative emotions. One day I was tired of getting walked over so I decided that yelling would be the answer.  I was super strict, (borderline mean) and I yelled alot.  When I came home and told Danny my new tactic, he gently reminded me that our goal is not to just get them to listen and to do what we want, our goal is their hearts. And slowly but surely, as we continually show up and invest in their lives, I believe their hard hearts are and will continue to change. God is so gracious to allow us to see little glimmers of heart changes, and here are a few:

 

-> one girl, “Kellie” used to be SOO bad in my Sunday School class. (her mom is one of the Crip leaders in the projects)  She would be absolutely unmanageable, go off on pouting sprees, pick fights with kids, and refuse to participate in the activities.  But since she started the program, her behavior in my Sunday School class has changed DRASTICALLY.  She participates, works hard on her assignments, and always volunteers to read. Last week, she was about to say something mean to one of the kids when she caught herself and stopped mid-sentence.  I got really excited that she has shown self control (so excited that at first, she thought she was in trouble), and had chosen not to say something hurtful.  This is HUGE for these kids because saying mean things to one another is as natural as breathing…I think half the time they don’t even realize how rude, mean spirited, and hurtful their comments are.  Then today during Sunday School she was having a “relapse” in some of her bad attitudes and disrespect, so I told her she had to leave my class.  She then joined in with another class’s craft and drew me a picture and wrote me a letter of apology for her behavior. This also is an enormous step…I don’t think that these kids even understood the concept of apology prior to coming to our church. 

 

–>Another girl, “Debbie”, who is a ringleader for most of the kids and a big bully a lot of the time, has been absorbing Scripture and all the stories and facts that we have been teaching.  This past week she disagreed with a way that I had disciplined another of our students and I got the typical attitude and “That ain’t fair!!! (If I got a nickle every time i heard that phrase, Danny and I could buy our own house!) I told her I was the leader, she doesn’t understand everything, and I wasn’t about to explain myself to her, and then just let it be.  Forty five minutes later, she came up to me and told me she was sorry for having an attitude.  

 

–> One of our teen leaders, at our weekly meeting, really “got” it as we did a Bible study and we questioned WHY we are doing what we do.  He immediately said “LOVE!!”.  He said there is no other explanation for why Danny and I would put up with what we do, other than love.  And he also declared that love was the only thing that would change these kids.  (Note- we don’t require our teen staff to be believers, but based on his responses, it seems that our “Jesus-time” and our devotionals are sinking in to his heart as well as the kids. 

 

–> One kid, “Damon”, who gives us the most trouble, broke down and wept last week and opened up about his grandmother dying.  Many of these kids grandmothers do more loving and nurturing than their own mothers do.  I was encouraged to see him finally opening up and getting to the “why” of his behavior. 

 

–> “Ken” got in trouble one day, and had to be in time out so I sat down with him to try to talk things out, but I then got distracted by two other kids who were fighting and disrespecting me. After I dealt with them, Ken  came up to me and said, “Miss Kimberly, I thought we were going to have a talk.”  My babysitter had to leave so I took him over to my house to have our “talk”.  This resulted in four other kids lining up at my back door so that they could have a “talk” with Miss Kimberly. This whole ordeal made me realize even more, that negative behavior is just a ploy to get some attention.  If they are bad, then they will get pulled aside and have to have a heart to heart with one of the leaders, with the leader giving them their undivided attention. Undivided attention, especially the calm kind, is a priceless rarity in their lives.  

THIS is the Gospel

Last Monday night I cried myself to sleep…waves of grief washed over me as I thought of the child that would never have the opportunity to experience the splendor of God’s earthly creation, grief for the mother who would never get to hold her little baby, sadness over sinfulness and selfishness, and sorrow for the weight of shame and guilt that this mother would now carry….

 

Monday night, the very day my mind had drifted into plans for a baby shower, I found out that my friend had gotten an abortion. My friend (we’ll call her Cleone) doesn’t believe in abortion. She swore she would never get one. She always used to tell me, I’ve been through so much and I’ve messed up so much, but at least I’ve never had an abortion. 

 

Cleone has several beautiful children whom she has poured her whole life into. Her family here in Newark is like a diamond in the rough. She believes in LIFE, and she loves babies. But last April, she found herself pregnant against her will, grieving over the death of her grandmother who raised her, angry at her fiance who tries to control her, and upset at God for putting her through all this…so she went and did what she had always sworn she would never do.  She killed her baby.  We wrestled through the grief she experienced but rejoiced in the repentant heart she had as she told God she would never do it again.  Then this April she found herself pregnant again just as far along as she had been when she had the abortion the year before.   She took this as God’s second chance for her.  Yet she still struggled with the possibility of getting another abortion.  She knew God’s will, and what is right, yet certain medical conditions (she has a spine condition and arthritis in her back, but has never gotten surgery for it for fear of getting cut open) made following God’s will extremely difficult.  With mourning sickness, on top of her spinal condition, on top of the multiple children she must raise, on top of the part time job she must hold, on top of the fact that she would not be allowed to take pain killer to help ease the intense pain, on top of the small two bedroom apartment her family was packed in, on top of the inconsistent relationship she had with the father of her kids, on top of the fact that if she carried this baby it would be her 5th C-section…. it was HARD to resist the temptation of abortion.  We had long talks on the phone, I watched her kids so she could get a break, we read God’s promises, we prayed for His strength.  We even went and got a sonogram done, and received counseling from a women’s resource center.  We SAW her 10 week old unborn baby squirming, kicking and punching around in her stomach.  Cleone, had never had a baby shower, and my plan was to give her her first. I fell in love with this baby, as I continually encouraged his or her mother to have the faith to carry it.  Yet it was so hard for her to stay focused on God’s will, when there was a way out to all the pain.  The abortion clinics are there, her friends all were encouraging to get an abortion, they had all had them and “didn’t feel guilty” (or so it seemed)

 

But last week, the pain in Cleone’s back and legs got so intense she was throwing up and started to feel numb.  She went to the ER and the ER doctor immediately gave her strong painkiller, despite her pregnancy, and then told her she was basically trying to commit suicide by trying to carry the baby.  She got home and the next day went to the clinic. 

 

As I spoke with her about everything, she was crying and asking if God was going to punish her kids because she killed this child, she was asking “why?”, why didn’t God take away the pain, why didn’t He answer her prayers, why couldn’t He just fast forward to 9 months and already give her the baby. I didn’t have the answers, I was broken with grief, and all I could do is pray for her on the phone…and as I prayed I felt God’s Spirit descend on me as I, by faith, claimed the shed blood of Jesus over Cleone and her sin. The truth of the Glorious Gospel washed over us, and I realized and prayed that SHE would realize that Jesus already took the punishment that she fears for her children. GOD sent HIS OWN CHILD to take it.  Because of that sacrifice she did not need to live in the fear, the guilt, the shame she was experiencing. THIS is the Gospel we preach, THIS is the love we proclaim.  The “righteousness” that she had clung to by saying she would never have an abortion, was displaced and now she could fully cling to Christ’s righteousness, because now she was so broken that Jesus truly was her only hope. Blessed are the POOR in Spirit. This whole ordeal has made her realize the absolutely poverty she is in without a Savior to redeem her and intercede for her.

 

Several days after our prayer time, she called me to give me an update.  She had been getting up and reading her Bible every day, she was repenting of ways she hadn’t loved her kids or her fiance, she was devouring books by Billy Graham and others and sharing with me what she was learning.  She said it felt so weird to have such peace about things, and feel so happy despite what she had done. She felt like the storm was over. And it is, the storm of the fury of God’s just wrath, had been directed towards his own Son.  She may now bask in the glorious sunshine and the peace that comes after the storm.  THIS is the Gospel.  God taking broken people, broken choices, broken situations, and pays the price to heal, redeem, and restore. PRAISE JESUS for he has been sent to 

                            bind up the broken hearted, 

                            to proclaim freedom to the captives

                            and release from darkness to the prisoners

 

                            to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

                                and the day of vengeance of our God,

                            to comfort those who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

                                to bestow on them 

                                           a crown of beauty 

                                                                  instead of ashes

                                                the oil of gladness 

                                                                        instead of mourning

                                                    a garment of praise

                                                                           instead of a spirit of despair…

                                                                                            (Isaiah 61:1-2)

My Middle School Girls

Here are a few pictures of some of my middle school girls.  It is so exciting to see them growing in their walks with the Lord.  I fee like they’re “getting it” as we study the Word each week.  I see the immense weight that peer pressure has on their lives, but i also see a fight and a desire to not succumb to it.

Let me give you an example:

Aquilah was simply walking across the street three weeks ago when some of the middle school girls were sitting on my back porch waiting for the rest of the girls to arrive. She walked right up and asked what we were doing so I invited her to join us and honestly, I didn’t really think that she would.  To my surprise, she said “yes” (i think that the aroma of freshly baking brownie in the air was a nice incentive as well).  She opened right up during the Bible study, and she’s shown up every week since.

Well this week we did a study on doing things “for the least of these” because when we do, we’re doing it for Jesus.  So we made bread and muffins for some people in the projects.  As we were leaving to go deliver them, she asked in horror “we’re ALL going to deliver them NOW”, then she grilled me as to exactly where in the projects were were going , and then she begged me to stay behind, but then she finally agreed to go with us but insisted on going a round-about way to our destination.  WHY?  because her friends (who are all part of a girl gang, Grapes) always hang out in a certain spot every afternoon, and if they saw her hanging out with church people then she’d really “get it” from them.

I was so proud of her for going with us despite the fact that we saw her friends and who indignantly asked her if the reason she was with us was for the food (we gave them muffins too).  She dealt with the situation with grace, and said “no, i go to Bible study every Thursday now”. Then, she even volunteered to pray for the old, sick woman who we went to visit.

We stopped by her mom’s apartment and when she introduced me to her mother she declared “she’s our bible study leader, i go to her house every thursday”.  Her mom was excited that she was getting involved in something positive.

God’s working in Aquilah’s heart, and its not because of anything we’ve done…He started a work in her and brought her to us when she was ready to grow.  Praise God that this is HIS work and not ours! He’s going to be working no matter what, to draw His lost children to Himself, and we just get the privilege of being partners in the venture.

***Note***  While we were walking back from our deliveries, Aquilah mentioned a girls night that we had hosted over 2 years ago.  A group of girls had come and made other younger girls cry because they were picking on them…Aquilah had been part of the bullying group.  The Lord is taking her out of her old “family” (girl gangs) and bringing her into His family (the family of GOD)

 


Bidder Sweets- Safe Haven’s First Annual Fundraiser-not exempt from sin’s effect

WE DID IT!! or rather GOD did it…we pulled off Safe Haven’s first formal fundraiser.  After ALOT of work and planning, and then 19 hours of decorating in order to transform the church into a beautiful atmosphere, we hosted our dessert reception and silent auction.  As I ran over to my house to quick get my kids to bed and change before 7:30, i was tempted to crawl into Daniel Josiah’s crib with him…just from sheer exhaustion….but the evening was just beginning. Everything went off beautifully, and we had a good turn out.  David Tyree, from the New York Giants, did a great job speaking, and watching our kids perform their dance was an absolute delight.  

 

But at the same time, i don’t ever remember being so exhausted and short of patience.  The kids that were suppose to only show up for the dance and then leave, were all over the place, and LOUD too.  An evening that i wanted to be so formal was getting invaded by the reality of the kind of behavior that we deal with on a regular basis.  At one point when a group of girls ran and locked themselves in the bathroom when they were about to get scolded by someone, I came up to the door and cried “so help me God if you don’t UNlock this bathroom RIGHT NOW you are going to be in SOO much trouble!!” After. I dealt with the situation I slipped back into the dining area where Danny was giving his speech….”And we are trying to reach and love each one of these absolutely precious kids….”  whelp, if anyone had just witnessed my less than gracious outburst they would have seriously doubted what Danny had just said: A) that we’re loving them and B) that they’re precious….  about 15 minutes later I had the last straw, because I could hear all of the kids yelling and screaming in the youth center which was directly under David Tyree who was speaking to the audience.  I promptly marched down and told them that they all had to leave immediately….then upon getting kicked out, three of the girls, ripped up and dumped out all the of the luminaries that lead up to the entrance….MIND YOU, these were the SAME girls that had so desperately wanted to help during the day and put the very luminaries in place for me. 

 

As the end of the evening was approaching, I was dreading the clean-up, which would be at least another 5 hours of work, but God sent me angels, in the form of random people who immediately started tearing down stuff, cleaning up the kitchen, putting items away…THANK YOU, Nelda, Sean and April, Eric, Cristiana, Adam, and Betsy…you were God-sends.

 

You might ask, where was Danny is his exhausted wife’s time of need?  Well, the reason Danny was not involved in the clean up, was because WHILE David Tyree so graciously came to speak for free, auctioned off his Giants paraphernalia, and then wrote a generous check to Safe Haven, his car was being broken into and his GPS was being stolen. So as David (who has a busted knee, mind you), his wife, his 6 and 3 year old sons, AND his 2 month old girl twins went out to their car, they were rewarded for all their efforts with a smashed in passenger window, and missing expensive items from the vehicle.   Fortunately, they viewed it with “kingdom eyes” and David declared “man, if thats all satan’s got, then we are BLESSED”

 

So our evening was good and bad, blessed and tainted by sin…blessed by the generosity of others, the group effort of putting on such a big event, the beauty of sharing a vision and calling, but tainted by the sin of my own anger and lack of patience, the craziness and disrespect of the kids, and the robbing of a man who came in order to bless and give to this community. 

Mayor Cory Booker at Trinity Reformed Church

Cory Booker and his whole entourage came to our church yesterday to have “open office hours’.  It was quite the ordeal.  A few hours before he was to arrive, tons of police brought dogs throughout our church to make sure there were no bombs in it, two major news channels stationed themselves in front of our house and the place was brimming with people dressed in business suits. 

 

Cory Booker is truly a phenomenal man.  For five hours straight he met with people individually to listen to their cares and concerns…whether it being frustrated that rumble strips had been placed on her street, or concern over recent shootings, or drunk men coming in to ask for a job, or old ladies asking for kisses, he graciously listened and truly problem solved with his team afterwards (except for the kissing request…) The good thing about being the pastor and pastor’s wife is, Danny and I got to be their for the debrief, hence the picture

 

We are truly blessed that such a God-fearing and dynamic leader has been placed in authority over our city.  I truly believe that God is working a work of restoration here and He’s using little ministries like Safe Haven, and powerful positions such as the Mayor’s and his team to bring about that change.  

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