Monday, September 01, 2003

VOLUME 11 - 2003

RUN!

Every God-direction is road tested.
Everyone who run towards Him makes it.
Psalm 18:30 The Message
When the young Forrest Gump was being taunted and teased for his difference, inability and slowness – he tried awkwardly to run away from his tormentors. Time had allowed his legs to grow stronger. And as he was encouraged by his “best good friend – Jenny” he ran faster – the braces that restrained him fell off. He was RUNNING! Like Forrest, I’ve found over time and with the encouragement of faithful friends like you, just how far and how fast I can go. In this special Summer Edition – I hope to show you how our “race” is going. To tell you, through words and pictures, what I’ve seen on the road: the Harvest is ripe, our ministry financial needs are great – but God is greater still! Africa, Russia, Bolivia, and the Joni and Friends Camp for families affected by disabilities – four “races” run – two (Russia & China) to go!
Do you see what this means – all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running – and never quit! Heb 12:1 The Message

Running the Race with Endurance

Countries crossed
Far below
Rivers running
Melting snow.
Another place
A distant land
I commit my times
Into Your hands.

To see above
The normal fray
Of world and flesh
And business day.

To see from
A near heaven’s throne,
Those lost
And who are all alone.

The vision must
Approach the ground
The Holy, stop
and walk around -
Amongst the crowds
And stuff of life.
Ambassadors we are
Of light
Of love, of truth
The narrow way

“Follow me”
All who obey. Luke 18:22

AFRICA


Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child
3,000 gift boxes delivered to orphanages & schools
To the Edge of a New Nowhere
When I’m far from anywhere, down to my last gasp, I call out “guide me…”
Ps 61:2 The Message
In Texas, rural areas are referred to as “the sticks”. Growing up, when describing where our country cousins lived, suppressing laughter, we used our best southern accent, “oh, they’re from the sticks”. Until I traveled to Africa – I had never seen “the real sticks”! Places so remote, that on the journey there – your mind wonders if at the end of the road a pot of boiling liquid above burning logs awaits you - dinner is served!

I began my third journey in Ghana with a Sunday meeting at two remote villages several hours from the capital city of Accra. There were no signposts and no indication of where we were going, only the ever-onward leading of the village pastor (James Tetteh). The road turned into a narrow dirt-covered path and all semblances of civilization soon disappeared. When we made the final turn into a cane field the tall stalks enveloped the truck. There was nowhere to go but forward, no turning back, no way to turn around. Just as suddenly as we were lost in the brush – the foliage ended and spread out before us was a village. The houses are built from the red earth they rise up from – one continuum “from dust you were formed”. The children ran freely, mostly naked to make the 110º heat bearable. Most were without shoes, but all wore broad smiles. So far removed from my life 20,000 miles away, surrounded by books, and collections of oddities from around the globe, it was hard to take it all in. How does this picture fit in with that life?

On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with You wherever,” he said. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best of inns, you know” Luke 9:57-58 – The Message

Decision

“I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back, no turning back.”

Pastor James of the Rural Outreach Network drives this treacherous two-hour journey each week, tirelessly teaching the Word. Four young men he has discipled have surrendered to the ministry and are preaching to the surrounding villages reaching approximately 1600 people with the Good News. All from the vision of one man who desperately wanted to see his village saved.

“Go home and tell everything God did in you.” So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done. Luke 8:39


Samaritan’s Purse Distribution Western Region

Three thousand Operation Christmas Child boxes were collected and transported by Pastor Oheny to the western coastal region. We were there to place them in the waiting hands of eager children. The distribution will “kick off” newly formed “Good News Bible Clubs” in the local public schools, as well as a discipleship program to follow up our evangelism outreach. The sight of countless hundreds of shining uniformed faces, sweating in the rising heat amazes. Over and over in my mind I think one day the “last” person will be reached – it could easily be in a place such as this. The “times of the Gentiles” will be reached and the Lord will come with a shout “Enough!”

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. Romans 11:25

Orphanage Distribution – Frafrahou

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress James 1:27

Saturday market traffic in Accra is a zoo of people, produce and goods for sale. Squalor would be a complement, and as I pass by in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle – in the dirt lies a mother with her breast exposed while her infant daughter sits beside her and suckles at will. Although our destination that morning was not far, we crawled along at a snail’s pace. When we arrived at the Foster Christian Home, the children, scattered across the grounds, quickly ran to the truck to touch and see the strange visitors who had come to call.

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Heb 13:1-2

The matron of the home took us into her office and introduced us to another visitor from Kumasi. This quiet gentleman smiled when I explained the reason behind my colorful clothes and exotic feathered hat. He asked to share a few words with us about the children:
“Their safety is our safety. Unless the nation learns how to care for its children and those left in bad circumstance their trouble as children becomes greater troubles to them as adults – and this becomes our trouble as society fights off the social ills it should have taken care of long before. I used to stand on the outside and now I have stepped inside. It is easy to look on and hope that someone else takes care of these problems. It takes effort and courage to step inside and say, “how can I help you?”

Stepping inside their world and outside in the heat to begin the program, we prayed for wisdom and opportunity. Pastor Oheny remarked, “See there are only 50 children this will be simple.” But no sooner were the words spoken than a bus arrived and out came 50 more children, then a van arrived – another 40, then another bus full of 50 more – an overflow of 2 deep surrounded us. The Lord multiplied our opportunity. They looked on in amazement and eagerly raised their hands in acceptance of the free gift of salvation! At the close after the gift boxes were handed out – they stood and sang to us, “We appreciate your love to us, we appreciate your kindness to us, we thank God for your faithfulness.”

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

RUSSIA

East West Ministries
Ekaterinburg - Orphanage Outreach
Kirov - Orphanage & Hospital Ministry
A Cold North Wind

With close to a million air miles, experience tells me there is seldom any use running to catch a flight. Flying with the efficient and punctual German airline Lufthansa has taught me something else, they are determined to stay on schedule. So when one of our team members had a delayed arrival into Frankfurt from Chicago – I offered to stay behind, wait for her plane and fly the next day to Ekaterinburg. The airlines aware of our dilemma, tried to be as helpful as possible – but offered little optimism. After all, her gate was at one end – our departure gate in a different terminal at the other end of the airport! She was glad to see me waiting and her optimism remained unabated despite my own (and the gate agent’s) lack of enthusiasm on the chance we could actually make the other flight with our team. I shook my head and reminded her 1) we were in Deutschland where efficiency reigns 2) the gate we were to leave from was on the other side of the airport and 3) accounting for the fact that the departure time included a 5 minute bus ride on the tarmac out to the plane there was NO WAY we could make it!

"You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then He got up and rebuked the winds Matthew 8:26

She started running anyway. “We can make it” she said, “where’s your faith?” Smugly, I replied, “THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FAITH” - but with timetables, Germans, and my tired realistic, albeit pessimistic attitude. Out of breath, we arrived at the gate to see two of our team members standing with an airline employee. They laughed. “A north wind has blown in and delayed the flight time, we’re going to make it.” My friend turned to me and smiled.

Even the winds and the waves obey Him! Matthew 8:27

Workers of the World Unite

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make My joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Phil 2:1-2

As our bus made its way across the defrosting winter snow to the first orphanage on our itinerary, I was struck by the “sameness” of the structures in Communist architecture. The same gray bricks, the same dull coloring to blend into a landscape for “workers united”. No one any better than the next, everything reduced in conformity. The city of Ekaterinburg, looks just like Kirov that looks just like Voronezh that looks just like Salekhard. And when we arrived at the orphanage the remarkable resemblance of these children to others I have seen across Russia was striking. Like seeing twins of impossible and improbable situations.

Our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:7

While each one of the eleven trips into Russia have a certain familiarity, individually they carry the freshness of His mercy, new each day. We have shared in the sufferings of these children, entered into their world. We have carried their story back to many on the other side of the ocean, living a life far different from their own. And we have the guarantee that we share in their comfort. The comfort of the unseen Hand that tucks them in at night, and the unheard Voice that assures them of the promise - it will all be okay.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:17-18

The work in the Harvest goes on until He returns; coming alongside those in need, telling His story to them and sharing their story with you.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed 2 Timothy 2:15

War and Rumors of War

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Matthew 24:6

Before ever leaving the United States, the team members involved in the orphanage outreach, knew that war with Iraq was a possibility while we were in Russia. Each one of us made a decision to go where God called during those few weeks in March, not knowing what that would mean for America, or Americans traveling overseas. On the day before Barbara Deatherage and I were scheduled to travel on to Kirov – the President addressed the nation and informed a concerned and waiting public that bombs were dropped in Baghdad, the war with Iraq had begun. Understand, that unlike the US, television sets are not that common in Russia. The hotel where we stayed had only one in the lobby. The news was broadcast in Russian early in the morning. Our interpreters arrived bearing the news and burdened with questions. Would we leave and go home? What was our response as Christians? We answered with prayer and diplomacy aware that many of our young friends were not believers. We also explained, God is in control – we are His servants and we have work to do until He comes. We left for the orphanage and the children awaiting our arrival.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… I Jn 4:18

With the outbreak of war, Barbara’s husband was concerned for the safety of “two American women” traveling alone by train across Russia. He called her with his concerns. As she spoke to him by phone, we prayed, the group prayed, and we asked the King – “What would You have us do?”

"Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you…” Acts 18:9

Once again, I heard the still small voice of my King ask me *“Missionary why are you here?” Thoughts came flooding into my heart while the tears streamed down my face. “Are you willing to never see your children again, to lay down your life for Me?” “Yes, yes, yes,” my heart replied. I am willing and prepared even to go on alone if need be. Fear of what “might” happen should never interrupt the plans that He has set before us; our times are in His hands. With praises for His protection, we both boarded the train to Kirov to fulfill the work He had for us there!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Prv 3:5-6

*Read “The Peace Child” by Don Richardson or request Volume 8 of the Forecast Newsletter

Breath of Life

He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Acts 17:25

Sixteen thousand miles is a long way to go. I’ve been thankful on more than one occasion for the ease of travel in the 20th century. I don’t have to worry like my 1st century counterparts about shipwrecks and uncomfortable caravan rides. Deciding to travel on to Kirov from Ekaterinburg was a logical choice. After all, we (Barbara and I) would be able to minister to the children we visited the previous October, as well as spending time with members of the Kirov Bible Church. We had a plan and God has His.

As it turned out – it wasn’t one we could begin to imagine. We arrived in Kirov and learned the pastor’s wife had been hospitalized in Sovetsk (2 hours away). The children from one of the orphanages we wanted to visit were on holiday. We prayed and listened, watched and waited, eager to see what He was up to. We enjoyed our time visiting the Sovetsk hospital and were given the opportunity to perform for the children there (the first time outsiders have come and entertained). We used every opportunity we were given, but… did we miss something, was there something more?

After 5 days in Kirov, we both developed serious upper respiratory infections. We were sick, tired, used and utilized, but more than ready to catch the train and go home! One hour before leaving for the train station, the associate pastor came and said “we need $500 for the hospital, now.” Barbara and I were surprised, curious and wondering how we could get the cash in one hour, AND what was it for anyway? “Lord, if this should happen – only YOU can make it happen.” we prayed and left it in His hands. After all, it would take a miracle to get the money in an hour. ATM machines are NOT on every street corner – and none dispense US dollars. I had my debit card but there is a limit on how much can be withdrawn in one day. We arrived at the bank minutes AFTER they closed – but they were willing to let us come in and try and withdraw the funds. After 30 minutes of computerized dial ups, and phone calls to Moscow to complete the transaction – they handed us the cash.

In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:10
We didn’t learn until a week after our return home, what the money and the immediacy were for. The machine supplying oxygen exploded leaving the hospital with only two emergency tanks. The hospital went to the city for funds to repair it – but they were told to wait. Only a little boy could not wait. Once the two tanks were empty he would die. Although our plans didn’t work out, and we couldn’t see His plan, we had no doubt we were where we were supposed to be. No fear, and no war stood in our way or HIS!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Psalm 150:6

BOLIVIA

Friends of the Disabled Latin America
Wheelchair Distribution

It's NOT "About Schmidt"

Sell your possessions and give to the poor... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-3

In his Oscar nominated performance, Jack Nicholson portrays Warren Schmidt, a man whose life is in crisis. Trying desperately to establish meaning – he sponsors a poor child he sees on a late night television appeal for funds. Perhaps he can make a difference to somebody, somewhere. He receives a package of information and is encouraged to write to his child. Depressed, he writes only about his problems. His correspondences are all “About Schmidt”; how bad his life is going and how worthless he feels. In other parts of the world, children need a good meal, encouragement in their education, love, and above all Christ.

The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. Mark 14:7

All the Schmidt’s in America can’t change the world – only Jesus can! Our first ministry activity in Bolivia was at a Compassion International facility. A place where children are sponsored and receive a hot meal, help with schoolwork, and hear the Good News daily. We saw over 200 children that day. Many smiles, much laughter but also a few tears. I took one little girl on my lap and held her trying to impart some comfort and special recognition “you are dearly loved. You have not been forgotten.”

Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Acts 10:4

You may not sponsor a child in a foreign land, but I hope you don’t question too often whether your life has value and if you are doing anything to make a difference in someone else’s life. You do make a difference! You did that day. You didn’t send an inappropriate letter all about you – you sent a person, who was glad to be your representative and to show the children – it’s all about HIM!

The Little Apple Tree Revisited

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this. Psalm 37:4-5

I can’t count how many times I have told the story of the “Little Apple Tree”. Though I can tell you, I have told the story in every country I’ve visited over the last seven years. Enlisting audience participation, with hats and gloves equipped with hanging stars, uproarious laughter always follows. It’s my favorite story to tell because it gives an important lesson I need reminding of:

The little apple tree did not want to be an apple tree. It was the only one of its kind in the forest of big oaks trees. Every day the little apple tree looked up and saw the branches of the oak trees reaching high into the heavens. At night when the sky was darkest the little apple tree would look to the big oak trees and see their branches filled with stars. How envious of their beauty, size and strength was the little apple tree. So the little apple tree prayed, “Dear Lord, can I please be like the big oak trees? Big, strong, tall and important with stars in my branches?” The Lord said, “Be patient.” The seasons changed through spring (blossoms) and summer (apples) but the little tree was still looking at the stars. The story ends when the apple tree shakes in fear of the Lord and an apple falls from the tree and breaks open. (horizontally when cut, the apple seeds inside form a five pointed star). The Lord said, “What do you see?” In amazement, the little apple tree said, “I see stars! I have stars in my branches!” “You see little apple tree, what your heart desired I had hidden inside you all along. I made you exactly who I wanted you to be.” From that day on the little apple tree grew proudly amidst the forest of big oak trees hiding its stars of the heart!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; …All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. Ps 139:13-16

The story is appropriate for children of all ages, in all cultures, who long and pray for a different life than the one they know. And I confess, that I have looked around at the things that I don’t have, at the lives of others and wonder “why” I couldn’t be like… the big oak trees around me? With the retelling of the story, countless times, in numerous countries, I still smile with the audience – knowing He knows what my heart desires, and I am growing in to the fullness of His likeness in me.

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:29

HEAVEN

One week in July located in Texas at the Joni & Friends Family Retreat

And Friends

Instead, I have called you friends John 15:15

Perhaps you’ve tired of me telling you year after year how amazing the Joni & Friends Family Retreat is. It’s the closest thing to heaven here on earth there is. I’m still as enchanted with it today as I was the first time I went five years ago. Something special happens the week of Family Retreat. From the time the first child arrives and is greeted enthusiastically with hoots, hollers and a menagerie of clowns - until the last goodbye. The Spirit of the God who is love descends. Laughter is loud, joy is deep, tears are shed and shared, and the burden seems lighter and the yoke easier for the time we spend in the company of friends and the watchful care of His angels.

For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands Psalm 91:11-12

Many express the feeling as something akin to a family reunion. A time to catch up with what God has done the past year, and a time to meet new family members! To make them feel welcome, accepted, treasured and dearly loved by the King of all Creation. One family commented on the welcome to their able-bodied son, “If we have to leave today, we have still had the best day of our lives!” It doesn’t get much better than that. To show and shower love is also to stand - under the shower of His love.

"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it. Isaiah 45:8

Children that have come for years, show newcomers the “ropes” (the horse back rides, the hayless hay ride, the petting zoo). That’s what 6-timer Jennifer Simpson did for her new friend Lauren McMillan. Fearful of riding the horse, Jennifer went first (both girls are quadriplegics on ventilators). When the specially trained “cowboys” were lifting Lauren up on the horse, Jennifer said “It’s okay, it’s fun”. And though tears came first, by the time Lauren rounded the corner back toward her parents, she was wearing a smile no MasterCard could buy!

The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Cor 1:4

LOL (little ole lady)

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Acts 1:8

I met Mary Jane Ponten, two years ago on a wheelchair distribution in Ghana and served alongside her once again in Cuba last year. At 72 years old, her presence on any team cuts out a great deal of potential complaining. And given the fact that she was born with cerebral palsy, has made her an inspiration to countless thousands around the world! When she invited me to go to Bolivia – I jumped at the chance. Our days together were great Harvest times. With her skills and ministry focus on training Pastors and churches to see people with disability as a viable part of the Body of Christ, and my ministry of sharing joy with underprivileged children and orphans – we were quite a force in a foreign land. Together we visited public and private schools, the Compassion International center, as well as the government sponsored Center for Cerebral Palsy (CP) and the Center for Rheumatoid Arthritis. We saw over 1500 children – with well over 300 responses to the Gospel among them.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6

At the Center for CP children she met with parents to encourage them, and to say, “God is bigger than the illness and inability you see in your children.” One mother approached her at the end of the meeting to say that she had prayed for a child. She was so happy when she found out she was pregnant she dedicated the life of her child to the Lord. She was heartsick when her son was born with CP, how could the Lord use such a broken body? Through tears and with a broad smile she thanked Mary Jane and said” tonight I saw how big our God is! He CAN use my son, just as He has used you all over the world.”

We shared joy, and each night we drowned ourselves in laughter spurred on by exhaustion and finishing a good day’s Kingdom work. I heard her testimony again and again, told with a fresh spirit each time. The last time she spoke, she told the group of women gathered her life story; how at twelve she felt the call to be a missionary. Of course she was discouraged - after all she was handicapped. Her crippling disease had stolen that hope and desire – according to the world. Then tears streamed down her face as she recounted how many countries she has been in – as a missionary. Exclaiming, “I was told I couldn’t be a missionary because I was disabled, but now I am a missionary BECAUSE I am disabled!” There was a standing ovation for her that day – on earth – as I know there was in heaven!

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10-11

Looking Forward

But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. 2 Peter 3:13-14

Dear friends, if we truly have any hope at all it is in what lies ahead for us. I’m often asked the same question “how can you see all the sickness, hardship and sadness you see and not lose heart in the goodness of God” I answer with the same resounding conviction I have held on to for seven years of ministry, “This life is NOT all there is! There is a life to come, the life that we were created for - ETERNITY.”

Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16

On a personal note, one of the most important things I feel God has entrusted to me - is to see His love and to see Him in every situation…
even in the outstretched hand of a poverty-stricken African mother holding her infant
even on the faces of thousands of Russian orphans with no future
even when terrorist acts and war threaten the world
even in a small hospital that has no money to fix life-giving equipment
even in Bolivian where wheelchairs are unaffordable
even in broken bodies of children with disabilities
Oswald Chambers writes in his commentary on Job “A man up against things as they are feels that he has lost God, while in reality he has come face to face with Him…. The Bible reveals that God has taken the responsibility for these things, and that Jesus Christ has bridged the gap which sin made between God and man…”

Let us continue to give Him praise. He is worthy. His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. And yet, He asks us to join where He is at work in the world. To meet Him face to face. The Harvest is ripe, the workers are few and in need. Remember His love. Acknowledge He is Almighty.