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January 28, 2014

Video Postcards from the Middle East

A group of RMM staff, board members, and other interested individuals are currently spending time in RMM's location in the Middle East. They are visitng with our workers and local believers, becoming familiar with the region through travel and input, and spending concentrated time discussing issues in bi-annual regional director meetings.

Please keep them in your prayers and check back here for regular video updates from the trip.

Postcard One

Mediterranean Regional Director Jay Martin* asks the question, “God, how do you want us to work in this country in the next decade?”

Postcard Two

“Two ways that foreign workers can impact the kingdom here” – Thoughts from Jonas Yoder, RMM board member

Postcard Three

RMM board member Nathan Zehr shares about the isolation of the believers in this country.

Postcard Four

Tom*, Asia regional director, shares about some of the needs and risks of sending workers to new areas in the country.

Postcard Five

Jonas Yoder, RMM board member, discusses how RMM has been salt and light in this nation for many years.

Postcard Six

RMM President Joe* reflects on the need to send more workers into this difficult location.

Postcard Seven

Brian Hershberger, pastor, Shiloh Mennonite Church, talks about a vibrant worship experience with local believers.

*Last name omitted for security reasons.

January 22, 2014

An Invitation to Pray

Today there is a group of people (RMM staff, board members, and other interested individuals) flying to the Middle East to spend time with our workers, become familiar with the region through travel and input, and spend concentrated time discussing issues in bi-annual regional director meetings.

Following are prayer requests from Jay Martin, Mediterranean regional director:

  1. We want to bless and encourage both local and foreign laborers in the harvest by listening to them and praying for them especially the first five days of traveling in the south and east.
  2. Pray that logistical details will work out as we travel: flights, connections, meeting with people, divine encounters.
  3. Health for the travelers and also the families and businesses left behind.
  4. Join us in prayer for an anointed time of studying the word and seeking the face of God for an unprecedented awakening in this nation.
  5. For protection from the enemies of the cross.
  6. For us to hear the voice of God as we reflect together on what he has done (during the past three decades), is doing, and wants to do in these tumultuous times in this part of the world. May his reign of peace and righteousness be established.

January 13, 2014

CMC Comes to Boston

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An exciting development at RMM is the relationship we have been building recently with Tim and Alice Colegrove. Tim and Alice have been living and ministering in Boston, Massachusetts. Both have recently completed graduate degrees—Tim at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Alice at Boston University—and have been loving and serving homeless young adults who populate the streets near Harvard University. God has been calling the Colegroves in some specific ways in the last year, and RMM is privileged to be part of their journey.

One piece of that calling is about belonging. As Tim and Alice searched for a theological home, they discovered the Anabaptist family. They particularly resonated with the Jesus-centered evangelical Anabaptism that they found in CMC’s understanding of Scripture. So they initiated contact and began to build relationships among us.

A second piece of their calling is about disciple making and church planting. The Colegroves are passionate about seeing a vibrant church take root in New England’s challenging soil. They believe Jesus has plans for his kingdom to come in their Jamaica Plains neighborhood, and they believe that the Anabaptist fortes of authentic and sacrificial community, radical obedience to Jesus, and commitment to a life of peace will address needs they see all around them.

At a time when RMM has moved away from agency-initiated church planting toward more of a catalyzing role to see local churches planting churches, an RMM church plant in Boston may seem to be moving us in a direction counter to that. But we are proceeding with enthusiasm, for the following reasons:

  • Tim and Alice need CMC. They can’t do what God is calling them to do without a larger community who will pray for them and send them some bright young leaders to assist them. We’re also working to help build connections between the Colegroves and the CMC churches that are closest to Boston.
  • CMC needs the Colegroves. Their knowledge and experience in ministry make them a valuable resource to us in an increasingly urban and post-Christian America. We have been a rural people mostly, and can benefit from greater exposure to the challenges and needs of our cities. I’m grateful that God has brought our paths together.

So together, we’re inviting Boston to worship Jesus. I invite you to pray for this new venture. And I pray that some of you will move to Boston and contribute your sweat and tears to see God’s kingdom come there.

-Joe,* RMM president

Mission Statement:
Tim and Alice Colegrove are long-time residents of Boston, Massachusetts, where they serve with RMM as stateside church planters. Their vision is to plant a diverse evangelical Anabaptist church in the city of Boston. In a city where 40% of the population does not identify as Christian, they hope to assemble a worshipping community committed to following Jesus’ way of simplicity, hospitality, prayer, and peace.

Who are the Colegroves?
Tim has spent the last six years engaged in community development, street outreach, and peacemaking work. In addition to his work as a church planter, he is employed part-time as IT staff for a local university. Tim holds his Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Alice has her Doctorate in Public Health from Boston University and brings a wealth of experience in community planning and program development. Over the past fifteen years she has had the privilege of speaking at a variety of forums including: The International Conference on AIDS, the National Public Health Association, the Harvard Veritas forum, and the Christian Community Development Association.

Tim and Alice are the parents of two boys, River (3) and Eli (1). River is a wild little man who loves to wrestle and play music. Eli just learned how to walk! For fun as a family, they love to go picnic at the free symphonies at the Park and can often be found in a local cafe or used bookstore.

Tim and Alice are currently seeking persons within the CMC who might be interested in relocating to Boston and working alongside them to make this dream a reality. If their vision resonates with you, please contact them at

*Names omitted for security

January 09, 2014

Camino de Santiago

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The Camino de Santiago (or the Way of St. James) is a major Christian pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the apostle James are believed to be buried. On October 18 2013, RMM worker Pablo* and two of his Spanish friends, Jorge and Timoteo set out on the pilgrimage…

The whole idea began last May while walking with my friend Jorge. We’d had some good talks about faith and such things. He wants faith, but finds it difficult to get there, maybe because of his disillusionment with Catholic tradition and practice, in which he was brought up. Maybe also because of his intellectual capacities, which make him ask hard questions and demand clear answers. Somehow the idea emerged, since walking was becoming more fun and we were getting fitter, to do the Camino—not only for fitness, but also as a spiritual pilgrimage. October was targeted as the month to do it, and I told Bruce (the director of the academy where I teach), before school was out in the spring, of my intentions to take a week off in October. That goal motivated me to do daily walking routine of five miles or so each day all through the summer in the USA and after getting back to Granada. Shoes were purchased in the States, backpack and other necessary gear were purchased in September, so there was no going back! Also in September, Timoteo committed to going along and started preparing as well.

We left on Friday, October 18 at 10:00 for Burgos, our starting point. We’d chosen Burgos partly because the terrain was flatter which was better for Jorge because of his poor vision. We also chose it because from Burgos to León was just about a week’s walk, and because I’d wanted Jorge to meet Dennis and Connie Byler, Anabaptist workers there. Dennis, who is a seminary professor and has written books, is more on Jorge’ intellectual level, and I felt he could be of help in answering some of Jorge’s questions.

On Saturday morning we had a nice breakfast with Dennis and Connie, and talked a good bit about faith. Dennis talked about the similarity in Greek of the words ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ and how faith was built by acts of faithfulness. This seemed to make a lot of sense to Jorge and he talked about that several times during the week. Timoteo also mentioned an issue he’d had with one of his grandchildren and Connie promised to pray for him.

DAY ONE. Sunday morning at 8:00 we were hustled out of the hostel by the host, not the most gracious of people. Our walk took us along the river to the edge of the city where we stopped for breakfast, then out of town into our adventure. The part of the Autonomous Community (in Spain, usually several provinces grouped together) Castilla and León where we were to walk that week could be described as a smaller version of the ‘Great Plains,’ largely devoted to agriculture typical of those regions: wheat and other grains. There were wide open spaces, some flat and some rolling terrain, with only a few hills to negotiate. The Camino sometimes goes by itself through the countryside, sometimes follows country roads, and at times goes alongside major highways. The first half of the week it was more country roads. The first day led through the little towns of Tardajos and Rabé de las Calzadas, then Hornillos del Camino, where we stopped for the night, after some 20 kilometers. The hostel was privately owned. Most towns have one municipal hostel, several others privately owned, plus a small hotel or two depending on the size of the town. The municipal hostels are a bit more rustic, and because the cost was roughly the same and the reviews better, we opted for private hostels. Food is readily available in the towns; a ‘pilgrim menu’ usually cost 10€ or so. If we got to our destination early in the afternoon, we would eat a bigger lunch, then something light for dinner. We were hungry, so the hostess made us French fries with fried eggs and sausage (Jorge’ favorite).

DAY TWO. The pilgrimage took us through some fantastic views of the plains, through the town of Hontanas, past the ruins of an old monastery, then on to Castrojeriz for the night. The towns so far were made up largely of stone dwellings that are quite old, some dating back to Roman days. Castrojeriz is a picturesque village at the foot of a small mountain.

DAY THREE. We donned our rain gear, as it was raining when we left. It only rained for an hour or so. There was also a hill to climb, the longest one of the week, with some incredible views. Upon getting to the top, there was another table-like plain, something typical of the terrain we’d encountered over the past two days. At Puente Fitero we crossed the Pisuerga River into Palencia province, where the scenery immediately took on a different look. It was more like the agricultural areas of central Indiana or Illinois. By the time we arrived at Itero de la Vega it was time for a big ham sandwich, which held us over until arriving, again through the rain, at our overnight stop, Frómista. This was probably our favorite hostel, with nice accommodations and pilgrim-friendly attention. Here we visited a pharmacy to treat Jorge’s foot. A tendon was tightening up on him, requiring a short rest every hour or so to ease the pain. The solution seemed to help some, but not too much. Timoteo also had had some aches and pains in the first couple of days, but they eased up some as the week wore on. Thankfully, I escaped that kind of thing. The most concern beforehand was about feet—we’d heard that blisters often cause serious problems, so we’d all gotten good shoes and socks to combat it, and it worked. One interesting thing in Frómista was the trees that were trained to grow together, providing a canopy in summer to shade the walking areas. What a neat picture of the body of Christ, working together to bless the world we live in.

DAY FOUR. The path out of Frómista followed the highway just about all day, so we decided to take an alternate parallel route with less traffic, through Población de Campos and through the countryside and wide open fields. All these little towns have churches, most of them very old, whose bell tower is the first thing you can see as you approach the town. These towns sometimes remind me of little towns in rural Illinois, but there it’s the grain elevators, not the church steeples, that dominate the skyline. In Villarmentero de Campos we stopped for a rest and met the “candyman,” who stopped to give us some candies. This was his self-appointed job out on the main track of the Camino, to encourage pilgrims on their way. We decided to go back out to the main drag ourselves, as it was getting a bit muddy over by the river, stopped for coffee, then continued on our way down the road to Vellalcázar de Sirga, where we stopped for a short break before the last stretch into Carrión de los Condes. Here we settled into a hostel run by some nuns—a nice enough place with beds, not bunks, but kind of open sleeping quarters. A number of people from Spain and other countries shared the room. There was not a lot of mixing, as everybody was kind of focused on their own thing. Each person does the Camino for their own reasons, and I found that you don’t just go up and ask most people what they’re doing it for, unless they give you an open door to do it. We had a good lunch at a restaurant next door, then did some sightseeing in the town. This was one of the bigger towns we stayed in, and there were a number of churches, museums, etc. One church holds a mass for pilgrims every evening, which we decided not to go to. We had visited the church and a sign made it clear that evangelicals like me were not welcome to participate in communion. People who attended it later said it was nice—the priest blessed all the pilgrims. I guess that’s nice. During the night the dorm became a concert chamber for a symphony of snoring! I got up once to go to the bathroom, and when I came back Timoteo was snoring, so I tried a trick from way back at RBI days with Ralph Harshbarger, who used to snore heavily. I grabbed Timoteo’s foot and he sat straight up in bed, thinking it was time to get up! Earlier I’d tossed my hat over on him to quiet him down.

DAY FIVE. Began with a long, 17 km stretch to Calzadilla de la Cueza. The first part of it was through what looked like rural central IN, the last part ran along a highway, and it rained most of the day. Fortunately, I’d bought rain pants in Carrión, so that helped, though rain did seep through at places. But my feet stayed dry—thank the Lord for my New Balance shoes! We ate lunch in Calzadilla. The main attraction was the 15 Guardia Civil policemen who came in to eat. Jorge said (kiddingly) that half the police of Palencia were there and I suggested this might be a good time to rob a bank! We continued on, stopping for a bit to get out of the rain in Lédigos, then continued on to Terradillos deTemplarios, where we intended to stay for the night, only to find out the hostel was full. So we called ahead to the next town, Moratinos, to reserve space, and set out another 4 kms (they said it was going to be 2), and arrived tired and maybe a bit out of sorts. The hostel was run by an Italian, and I didn’t think it was too bad a place, but Jorge and T thought otherwise, especially after the host wanted to charge .80 for a banana the next morning. The dorm was cramped and a German lady told us at 9:00 that if we wanted to talk, we could go to the dining room. This was where I took two showers, the second one with my clothes on! Because it was tight quarters, I was putting on my clothes in the shower and inadvertently turned the shower back on. It rained lightly during the night, but fortunately the clothes dried (almost) inside during the night where they had turned on a heater.

DAY SIX. Was another long day, again with rain gear. We went through San Nicolás del Real Camino, then stopped for a good breakfast in Sahagún, a small city with a train station. From here it was long, straight stretch through Bercianos del Real Camino and on to El Burgo Ranero, our destination. We arrived late in the afternoon again, and hearing that the municipal hostel was full, decided to overnight in a neighboring cheap hotel. We had individual rooms and a decent meal in the hotel restaurant. It was good to be alone that night, especially after two long days of walking, a lot of it in the rain.

DAY SEVEN. We decided to start earlier—too early, I thought. The motivation was to get to the next hostel early so as not to be inconvenienced again. I thought this was unduly taking matters into our own hands in determining our fate. I was out of sorts, as well, due to messing up on the arithmetic of paying and not giving Timoteo 10€ in change that was due him. Starting out in the dark didn’t add to my joy, and the first hour of walking was spent dealing with my own feelings, and letting God tell me some things I didn’t particularly like, but necessary to hear. I was reminded of the importance of repentance. Maybe the Catholics aren’t so far off when they do this confession routine in every Mass. Maybe the routine has taken away the reality and importance of the act. Repentance should be for real. God’s correction doesn’t come without a healing touch, though, and by mid-morning my funk had melted away. We had a coffee break at Reliegos, then Thomas and his ‘train’ arrived in Mansilla de las Mulas by soon after 1:00. We were the first ones there! As it turned out, there would have been no need to rush, as the hostel was not even half full by evening. There was plenty of time to relax, eat, rest, then look around town a bit. Both Jorge and I had been keeping a running account of our trip via WhatsApp to friends. His group, consisting of friends from Granada and as far away as Colombia, kept up a constant dialogue, it seemed. Also, his wife Cielo was in Poland during the week, and he talked with her a couple times a day. My WhatsApp group didn’t comment so much, which was fine, but they all remarked at the end how helpful and fun it was to keep up with us during the week. I had fun that afternoon face-timing with grandson Noah about his soccer game, while walking through the streets of the town. They won! Also that night was the big Clásico match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, which we didn’t get to see, but heard the results when people watching the game in bars that we passed hollered when a goal was scored. We had an extra hour of sleep that night, as Spain went off daylight saving time, a week earlier than the US.

DAY EIGHT. This last day was relatively short, though it seemed longer than the 18 km it was supposed to be. It was a foggy morning, which had its own enchantment. We stopped in Puente de Villarente to eat some of our snacks, then continued on to Arcahuela. We were commenting on how the Camino had been so well marked and easy to follow when we suddenly realized we were not on the main Camino anymore. Now what? Well, a man suddenly appeared and told us how we could get back on, and led us there himself. A good picture of how we sometimes get off track, but Jesus helps us get back on. Not only that, but provides additional blessings. A French lady had followed us, and she and Timoteo struck up a conversation in French. Turns out she lives near to where Timoteo and María had lived in Toulouse for 17 years soon after they were married. We also met a Venezuelan couple after getting back on track. Getting into Leon seemed like it took a long time, but we did arrive around 2:00, got settled in, went out for lunch, then looked around a bit. The cathedral in León is grandiose, and they say the original stained glass windows inside are spectacular, but we were not able to get in, as it closes to the public on Sunday afternoons. So we had coffee, saw where the bus station was, went back and turned in for the night.

On the trip back, Jorge and I talked at length about some faith issues. He’s getting closer, I feel, and he himself said it’s getting time to make a decision. There are some pieces of the puzzle that still need to fall into place, but that will come in time. I’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and feel that would be helpful to Jorge, so I hope to be able to give that to him in the near future. Judi met us at the bus station and Alain, Timoteo’s son, took us all home. Good to get back, but also good to have gone.

I really didn’t know what to expect before going on the pilgrimage. I didn’t know how much I was doing it for Jorge and Timoteo, and how much I was doing it for me. I really felt kind of numb about it beforehand. But as the week wore on, it became more real, more meaningful to me. I looked forward each day to getting up and out on the Camino. The wide open outdoors gave exuberance to life, and my friends and I grew closer in close company. We sometimes acted like schoolboys, singing and horsing around—I guess that’s what guys do when they get together without their wives! It was good to do that with people of another culture and upbringing. It sometimes seems to be an unnecessary weight to carry, that of living the kind of life so that people would see Jesus in me. I hope that can happen, but if I try to make it happen, it often doesn’t work so well. I’m human, you know, and in many ways quite like many of the people I associate with who don’t claim to follow Jesus. Sometimes they’re even better than me! So what do I do? After getting over the idea that I must somehow be better than they, just try to follow Jesus, live with him, enjoy life, love others, be myself, and be honest. And when I get off the path, as we did the last day, look to Jesus to help get us back on.

An interesting footnote: The first day I’d played for Jorge a little recording that Kristin, our daughter, had sent on WhatsApp; a simple word of encouragement. It made him cry. He said his grown children in England never talked to him. So he was very happy when his son texted him on the last day to congratulate him on finishing the Camino. Today, a week later, he says that actually, his son had sent an e-mail the day we left, mentioning that he’d heard about the trip and was asking for some details about it. Jorge never saw the e-mail until a couple of days ago, and he’s now heard from his son, who is planning to come for a three-day visit on Dec. 20. I showed him the verse from Is. 65:24, “…before they call I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” We’ve asked only recently for people to pray for reconciliation between him and his children, and here it looks like God was up to something before we even asked. How cool is that!

Ever since volunteering at a pilgrim hostel in July of 2012, I’d wanted to walk the Camino. However, back in April or May of 2013, due to health issues, I thought hiking days were over. God helped us find the cause of the problem, treat it, and that, coupled with exercise, improved my health dramatically. I’m extremely grateful for health and strength, and hope this is not the end of the story. We’re talking about finishing the Camino, maybe in April of next year. Who knows what will happen between now and then? HE certainly does, and we commend this all to him. It’s also motivation to keep in shape! We’d like for our wives to join us for the last 100 kms, so we’ll see where that goes, as well.

*Last name omitted due to security reasons.

Cross-Cultural Christmas

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An update with some thoughts on celebrating Christmas cross-culturally, from John and Cecelia * who are RMM workers living and teaching in the Middle East.

Dear Friends,

There are so many things we could say to you during the time when Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth. Probably few would argue for the exact date of Dec. 25 (or Jan. 6, for others), but we do lay stake to the right to celebrate and winter seems as good a time as any. We have a unique perspective, after spending 13 years away from our home culture and the cultural Christmas traditions. Do we miss those things? Yes, often very much. Do we feel relief from not being surrounded by those same things for a whole month or longer? Yes, often very much. Mostly, we've come to love and value (and deeply miss) our family and church family during this time. We are also acutely aware that Christians often get Christmas wrong. We get immersed in the decorations and giving and eating and celebrating (all good things!) to the point that we miss the point. Following is a worthwhile excerpt from the blog of Dr. Christena Cleveland, social psychologist and author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart:

Our Christmas celebrations often turn us culturally-inward. We focus on our biological/cultural families, our traditions, and exchanging gifts with those inside our social circles. These things are great! But if we truly want to commemorate the Incarnation, we must turn culturally-outward. We must follow our great High Mentor – and leave our cultural enclaves in order to inhabit each other’s stories this Christmas. Christmas is cross-cultural because the Incarnation is cross-cultural.

Christmas is about giving sacrificial gifts of our cultural preferences, our power, and our resources.

Christmas is about exiting our cultural comfort zones and connecting with people whose stories and problems are nothing like our own.

Christmas is about participating in a Christmas celebration outside of my cultural comfort zone.

Christmas is about spending time with people on their terms, in their homes, within their congregations and on their turf.

Christmas is about making (and keeping!) a New Year’s resolution to learn how my church, school or business is participating in unjust power structures.

Christmas is about engaging in cross-cultural relationships so that we can follow Jesus’ example of understanding each other’s perspectives, trials, temptations, fears and joys.

Christmas is cross-cultural.**

This is beauty in skin. This is truth and life that we can delve into and truly celebrate. Our Christmas will consist of only a small Christmas Eve party we are hosting for a few friends. We will listen to music and light some candles and eat some goodies and hopefully talk about what Christmas means. We live in a land where Christmas is not celebrated except in a handful of churches. An Orthodox friend has invited Cecelia to attend their Christmas service, and hopefully that will happen. Can we still have joy without the trappings? Can we still celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth? No question about it. Good news should be good news for everyone not just the insider. Joy to the WORLD!! Let's proclaim it!

Our lives seem to be in a routine of too much work and trying to catch up on Sunday, our day off. We squeeze in time with friends and sharing our lives. We've recruited a young lady to work in Cecilia's language school, so hopefully that will mean some relief. This fall, one of the believers from our old neighborhood in Central Asia came to a city nearby to find work to support her family. We haven't been able to see her yet, but we've been able to send her a few care packages and a Bible and to support her in a lonely setting.

We're really looking forward to having some family members join us here this spring. And we have a new little granddaughter (coming in February) to look forward to meeting! We appreciate all your prayers and expressions of love!! There are many things to be grateful for. May the incarnation of Jesus move you to incarnate in your surroundings this year!

*Names changed for security reasons

**Reposted from http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/12/christmas-is-cross-cultural/ with permission from the author

January 08, 2014

New Workers for the Harvest

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“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)

RMM would like to mobilize, train, and send more workers into the world this year. Would you be willing to ask God if he is calling you?

Here are a few specific ways to pray:

  • For young adults who will move to Thailand for their college education; university campuses there present many opportunities for discipling relationships
  • For a young adult to go to Thailand as an assistant, child mentor, and child care provider for two missionary families
  • Several young adults from Nicaragua and Costa Rica are interested in moving to Thailand; pray that their churches would equip and send them
  • Two single women from Ecuador are raising support from their local churches to be sent to North Africa; pray that they will be able to raise the funds needed to go in 2014
  • There are many opportunities for teachers to get employment in the region where RMM is working in the Middle East; pray that a new generation of singles and young married adults will walk through these open doors to live, work and make disciples in this country
  • There are opportunities for physical therapists to serve in rural areas where therapy is unavailable in a North African nation; disciple-makers who have specialized training in therapy are making a tangible difference in the lives of rural families, but much more could be done in bringing spiritual and physical wholeness to many who have yet to hear
  • The Spanish government is offering grants to college seniors and graduates to come to Spain to be teacher assistants in Spanish public schools. This is a unique opportunity to live and work as ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven to those who live in the post-Christian kingdom of Spain
  • Praise God for the new workers he has called who are currently in the process of being sent

Precious in His Sight

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From Karen* on the REACH South Africa team. Karen and her team are working in an orphanage in Johannesburg.

I found out over the weekend that two of the babies in my unit are going back to their parents at the beginning of the year. This is so hard for me to understand… How can parents abandon their children and then change their minds? I’m sure if I heard more of the story, maybe I would understand, but I get upset with a parent who could do that. I was pretty angry about it for the first couple hours, but then I just started praying that God would protect the children and I trust that He does. So, I am praying that these two babies will be able to connect with their families and grow to be people of faith as they go where God wants them to be. I have had an amazing amount of peace about it. There are a number of children who are getting adopted after the beginning of the year, so that is exciting and also hard to know that children I am learning to love so much are going to leave. But, they are also going to their “forever families” and I pray that they have been matched well and that bonds can form quickly in these new environments. I often wonder how a child came to be here, or question how a parent could abandon these beautiful babies. But, the reality is, that isn’t for me to know or question. I can’t do anything about a parent abandoning their child, and even hearing their story isn’t going to change what I can do about it. One thing I can do… I can lift these children up to our Father, and I can trust that He has their lives in His control. I know that He loves each one of these precious babies whom we have been privileged to spend time with during this period of our lives. They are indeed precious in His sight.

*Last name omitted for security reasons.

Read more from the South Africa REACH team on their blog.

January 02, 2014

For Missions, for Brotherhood, and for Marilyn

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An Interview by Candice, RMM staff writer

In July of 2013, three brothers decided to tackle Ride for Missions as a united front. RMM President Joe,* along with his two brothers, Nathan* and Don,* as well as 63 other riders, rode a total of 350 miles from Waynesboro, Virginia through the Appalachian Mountains to Belleville, Pennsylvania. Don lost his wife, Marilyn, to cancer only three months prior to the trip, so he rode in her honor and with the support of his brothers. We asked them to share some of their journey with us.

Q: Why did you decide to do RFM this year and why did you decide to do it together?

NS: I bike regularly in Shanghai and have wanted to do a longer ride. I heard of RFM and decided the ride from Virginia to Pennsylvania could work for me. I checked with Joe and he said he was also interested in doing the ride, so we decided to both sign up.

DS: Joe and Nate decided to do the Ride and began leaning on me to do it with them. At the time, Marilyn's health was not good, so I didn't figure there was any chance I could do it. But things changed at the end of April with her graduation to Glory, and I decided to do the Ride in her honor. I think she was proud of me!

JS: For most of the history of the Ride For Missions, I’ve been a jealous observer. I’ve often been present at the ride kick-off, and have always been there at the grand finale when that beautiful processional of riders in matching T-shirts comes coasting to a stop. I’ve listened to their stories and seen the camaraderie that has developed over the miles. Each time I wanted to be one of them, but it always seemed like I didn’t have time since the days leading up to Annual Conference are usually some of the busiest days in my schedule. This year, the ride came at the end of a three-month sabbatical, so I knew I would have the time not only to ride but to make sure I was prepared to ride.

Q: What is your cycling background and experience?

NS: I bike about twelve miles a day for exercise, usually three to five times a week, with longer rides on Monday (my Sabbath) and with guys from church on weekends. I'm also part of a group of Taipei Gospel Bikers, a group who met and cycled in Taipei, and who get together every two years to bike somewhere in the world.

DS: I rode when I was a kid in Kentucky. I even made a "motorbike" with a gasoline washing machine motor mounted on the back of a bike! But I hadn't done any riding since my teen years. So for me, it felt like a rather daunting challenge to get in shape.

JS: As a teenager, I had ridden my bicycle to Conference twice. The first time, a group of about 10 of us rode from Plain City, Ohio to Hartville, Ohio. The second time, four of us rode to Kidron. Both of those rides were around 120-150 miles. In the 30+ years since, I’ve ridden very sporadically and never more than about 10 miles at a time.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the trip for you?

NS: Riding in the rain the first two days was no fun, but because it was more a drizzle than a rain, and because it was warm, it wasn't so bad. The hills were tough. I calculated we climbed about 19,000 feet, the equivalent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, over the five days. Of course we got to go down about the same amount, but I'm not so accustomed to hills since most of my riding is in Shanghai which is completely flat.

DS: Day one was most challenging without a doubt, when I allowed myself to be talked into doing the President's Challenge up Reddish Knob (at the summit of Shenandoah Mountain; 4,397 feet) by my good friend, Bob Miller! What a grueling climb! And the ride down was almost worse, just trying to keep my bike from getting away from me. And then the last ten miles into Harrisonburg, we got caught in a torrential "goose drowner!" I don't think I would have been any wetter if I was in a swimming pool!

Q: How was the route—what were the hardest and easiest parts?

NS: The route was beautiful. Our dad is from the Shenandoah Valley, so we were riding through some familiar and very beautiful terrain. The country roads were spectacular, and we also visited a couple of national parks that I hadn't biked through before. The hardest part was probably the last, long day when we rode about 80 miles with a lot of hills. And by that time I was getting tired and my behind was somewhat worse for the wear. The easiest parts were the long downhill rides, but of course we always had to earn them first.

DS: The easiest parts were the downhill stretches! After day one, the hills didn't seem too bad! The back roads of Virginia were especially beautiful. The countryside was so green and lush.

JS: Where I trained in central Ohio it’s very flat, so I was concerned about the long ride in the mountains. Some of the long climbs were definitely a challenge, but as they say, “what goes up must come down.” There’s nothing quite like a long, smooth descent at 40 mph!

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened?

NS: The funniest, but almost worst thing that happened, was on the first day Don and I were flying down a country road between Waynesboro and Harrisonburg, and a deer jumped out in front of Don. He missed the deer by only a few yards.

JS: Many of us rode with our feet clipped to the pedals. That means that when you stop, you have to quickly unclip so you can put your feet down. If you don’t unclip fast enough, you simply fall over, kind of like a tree falls. When I started riding, a veteran rider told me it’s not a question of if you’ll fall but of when.

Gary Helmuth was famous for riding like Jehu all day long, and was clearly one of the strongest riders in the group—the kind who made the rest of us sick because he’d go ride some additional miles every day just because he wasn’t tired yet. One day I was riding with him and Jason Maust through the Antietam Battlefield. When we stopped to look at a memorial, Gary unclipped only one foot. As he was standing there astride his bike, somehow his weight shifted to the other side, and he slowly but helplessly fell over. It’s funny to watch that happen, but I know my time is coming sometime so I didn’t laugh too hard!

Q: What is a favorite memory of your two brothers from growing up?

NS: My favorite memory of Don was, and is, his sense of humor. He always managed to see the lighter side of things, and kept our family of preacher's kids from taking ourselves too seriously. Joe and I are at opposite ends of the family (12 years apart), so we didn't overlap so much, but my favorite family memories are of games around the living room table, sledding down the hill in the winter (first Kentucky then Ohio), and family camping trips with a tent almost big enough to hold us all. We had a homemade game called Happy Family based on the letters of the alphabet that was one of our favorites. Pulling taffy in the winter with Don and Joe was always fun and I remember lifting Joe off the floor when I pulled taffy with him.

DS: Nate is two years younger than I; Joe thirteen years younger. Memories are different! Nate was an "idea" guy, and as a teen got into photography with a darkroom in a root cellar of sorts in the back yard of the rented house we moved into when we first came to Rosedale. I tagged along and had lots of fun taking pictures and doing some of my own developing of prints with his equipment. Still have some of those floating around, but they're blackmail material! A special memory of Joe was when the younger family members came with my parents to visit Marilyn and me in northwestern Ontario at Stirland Lake. Joe was fishing off the dock and pulled in a whopping 40-inch Northern Pike. I learned later that it was an answer to prayer for him!

JS: Nate was one of the instigators of the ride to Conference in Hartville when I was a teenager, so that’s a great memory with him. And I’ll never forget pulling in a 40-inch Northern Pike as a 12-year old while visiting Don and Marilyn at Stirland Lake in Ontario.

Q: What new thing did you learn about your brothers from this experience?

NS: They are both tougher bikers than I! Joe is no shirker. He couldn't make the first day because of a wedding, so rode 60 miles on his own in Ohio. It was beautiful biking with Don who did the ride for his late wife, Marilyn. I was honored to share this part of his "grief work."

DS: I learned that Nate was in better shape for the Ride than I expected! Even though riding a heavier hybrid because of neck surgery, he did an amazing job of keeping a good pace.

JS: I hope I still have the energy they do when I get to their age. They both did the ride like champions.

Q: What was the best day of the trip for you?

NS: I think the last day, though very tiring, was a great day because we climbed our way into Big Valley, with some of the most spectacular views of the ride. The weather was perfect, and of course we were coming to the end of a long and tiring ride.

DS: The last one! Riding into the Locust Grove Church parking lot and having both daughters with their families there to meet me was so special! But the days were all good in their own unique ways.

Q: How did you experience God during RFM?

NS: I experienced God in the beauty of the rides, the prayers with fellow bikers, the camaraderie of my brothers and the other riders, the testimonies of RMM workers in the evening, and the pleasure of conquering mountains and valleys.

DS: I could talk about that for several pages! Only to say that Jesus was there in profound and tangible ways for me, urging me on, cheering me on, riding with me, delighting in me, healing my heart, giving me hope and comfort. On one long hill, I asked, "Jesus, help me with this!" Almost immediately, I experienced a fresh burst of energy! I also experienced a hug from the Father in riding Dan Gingerich's great set of wheels. He was unable to ride because of back and neck surgery, but wanted his bike to do the Ride!

JS: Some of the views along the way were absolutely stunning. I also saw him in the lives of the riders and the SAG crew who gave up time and comfort for the ultimate purpose of “inviting the nations to worship Jesus.”

Q: Any other memories from the trip that you’d like to share?

NS: The trip was very well organized, and the support team took very good care of us all along the way. The breaks were always welcome, the refreshments and lunches were delicious, and the accommodations along the way comfortable and well-chosen. Wayne Yoder is a prince.

DS: Traditionally, on Sunday morning at Conference, the riders wear their matching Ride T-shirts and help with the Missions Day Offering as ushers. Since my focus for the Ride was to honor Marilyn, I asked the Ride coordinator, Wayne Yoder, if I could wear the yellow jersey that I had worn for the Ride, on the back of which was printed the words "For Marilyn." Wayne not only graciously consented, but also assigned me to the center isle in the sanctuary! Sunday morning, I choked back the tears, and sensed Marilyn's delight from where she watched from the balcony of heaven!

JS: I’ll always remember when we brothers and Bob Miller and Dave Slabaugh were riding together and we came up on a Dairy Queen. Don asked if we’d stop with him and let him buy us ice cream in memory of Marilyn. When they traveled together, he’d often stop at Dairy Queen to treat Marilyn. The Blizzard tasted amazing after a long day of riding, but the best part was the privilege of helping my brother honor the love of his life.

Nate lives in Shanghai, China and is the senior pastor of Abundant Grace Church. Don is the president of Hearts Alive! and lives in Mechanicsburg, Ohio. Joe is the president of Rosedale Mennonite Missions and is from Columbus, Ohio.

Next summer, from July 26-30, 2014, we invite you to join the ninth annual Ride for Missions, departing from Ashtabula, Ohio and ending in Castorland, New York (roughly 384 miles). Come enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship with other cyclists as you meet a challenge together in support of missions. Anyone can be part of the ride, regardless of physical condition or interest in cycling (those who don’t take part themselves can still support riders and spread the word about the event). Check out the RMM website for more details

*Names omitted for security