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March 31, 2015

Getting to Know Raleigh and Opal

Raleigh and Opal and their two children, Robbie (2) and Anna* (7 months) will be moving to North Africa later this year. Right now, on top of jobs and raising kids, they are working at fundraising and training and looking ahead to a year full of good-byes, changes, adjustments, and language learning. Without a doubt, they could use our prayers! We asked Raleigh and Opal to help us get to know them as they prepare to go. Thanks for encouraging them and lifting them up! *Names changed for security

Hi Raleigh and Opal! First of all, where are you from originally and where are you now living and working?

Opal: I grew up at Turkey Run Mennonite Church near Logan, OH. As a junior in college I transferred to Eastern Mennonite University, met Raleigh through his sister, and eventually married him! We’ve lived in Harrisonburg most of our married lives, excluding a year we spent in the Middle East.

Recently, our family went through some changes, and I now work while Raleigh stays with the children. We are really enjoying this transition. I work as an instructor at EMU in their Intensive English Program and love interacting with students from around the world. Before the recent change, I spent three years in graduate school and in the life-giving work of raising our two children.

Raleigh: I grew up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My dad was a pastor at Dayton Mennonite Church, where I spent my formative years. I’m thankful for the many friends—both peers and mentors—who nurtured me at Dayton and continue to bless me with their friendship and encouragement.

The last three years I’ve been the executive director of a grassroots Christian organization in Harrisonburg called Our Community Place, which seeks to love the people on the fringes of society. It was an incredible time of growth and learning as my staff and I sought innovative ways to bring the gospel to life, build trusting relationships in community, and effect healthy transformation in individuals’ lives. Presently, I am very much enjoying my new role as stay-at-home dad for my two lovely little children! My oldest calls me “Baba,” which is Arabic for “Daddy.”

Please introduce us to your sending church.

Opal: Raleigh and I have been involved in Early Church since before we were married. Early Church is an eclectic group of believers from many backgrounds that meets in a community center in a poorer neighborhood. The church grew from a few people who were passionate about the Bible and Jesus’ love for the poor to include middle class professionals, university students, homeless and addicted folks, and young families. We still meet in the community center because we feel a passion to live among those who are poor and hurting. We enjoy alternative and intentional expressions of what it means to follow Christ in a raw, hurting world.

Could you share your call to missions and what drew you to North Africa specifically?

Raleigh: I first felt drawn to missions when I was a young adult. After serving on a several-week team in Jamaica, a mentor who had been a missionary there for many years challenged me to consider serving with the Mennonite Church in Jamaica for longer. I decided to pursue a one-year assignment part-way through college and it was an incredible year—I’d never felt so alive in the midst of ministry, service, and cultural challenges. I knew that this was going to shape my life trajectory! Later, it was the class Perspectives on the World Christian Movement which drew me toward the Muslim world.

Opal: Almost as long as I can remember, I have felt drawn to participate in the outward commission of Jesus, particularly to those areas where witness is nonexistent or hardly visible. As Raleigh and I melded our visions, we discovered that we were on the same trajectory. Raleigh has been a real visionary as we continue to ask God for direction as to where we should settle. We have both felt drawn to the Muslim world for many years. When we received an invitation from our family (RMM workers Josiah and Sarah) living in North Africa to join their work, we watched God provide for us as we were gently led in growing vision and excitement.

What will your first year in country look like?

Opal: In our first year in North Africa, we hope to live in a city that is a gateway to the people group with whom we are most interested in interacting. We will begin to learn three languages used in the country, and be a presence of Jesus’ light as we get to know the ancient cultures and vibrant people of the area.

Raleigh: When I think of our first year, one scene I often picture is of befriending “the man with the store on the street corner” (who I have not yet met), and getting to know our neighborhood through his eyes. I want to sit with him in the late evening as customers come and go—to hear the language spoken, to try to speak, to learn the intricacies of culture, and to enjoy the people on my street. Our first year will include learning public transportation, being introduced to the politics of visa renewals, and much more.

What are some of your fears and what are you excited about?

Opal: People ask if I’m excited about the move. I think of this move with excitement and sobriety. I feel that my whole life has led up to moves like this one. I am excited about my children growing up in another culture. I’m excited to participate in a different culture. I’m excited to see what God’s Kingdom looks like in cultures so different than a Western one. I’m excited to participate in the artistic beauty of North Africa. I’m excited for the adventure of it all!

But just because I feel that I’ve been headed in this direction for a long time, doesn’t mean I’m not very sober now. I’m fearful about what this move will mean for our children. What will it be like to raise a child with Down Syndrome in North Africa? What will it be like to raise girls in a Muslim context? What about education and their belonging and their safety? Will I seek the Kingdom first in such a way that all these things fall into place? How can I adequately hold what/who matters and trust God at the same time? Will we forever struggle with language? Will we never understand fully why we are doing what we are doing, especially in the long, lonely months and years?

Raleigh: Excitement and fear are often holding hands. The fear that we will not make a difference—that no one will come to know Christ through our witness; the excitement of knowing that the Spirit can transform lives in powerful ways and can use us for his purposes! The fear of our children being alienated in school because they are different; the excitement of hearing our children speaking other languages and making friends in our community. The fear of being lonely without our larger biological and church families nearby; the excitement of building a new Jesus-community in a place that desperately needs him.

Has God given you any promises or are there songs or verses that mean a lot for you right now as you think about this big change?

Opal: The greatest promises I’ve experienced from God are promises of provision. We’ve seen God provide peaceful transitions, unexpected funds, exciting new work, a cozy home, and beautiful family time along with a wonderful support team. We’ve also seen God’s favor in our times interacting with our family in North Africa. I need these little moments and gifts to see God’s love, knowing this love is for all of us.

Raleigh: Our home group is currently studying the book of Acts. This has been a blessing to me as our family prepares to step into the wild adventure of overseas missions, because these are stories of courage and weakness, language and culture learning, failures and successes, truth spoken in the most outrageous places, miracles happening in the name of Jesus! What greater encouragement can there be than in drawing from the example of our Lord and his followers as they risked their lives to offer God’s grace to the world?

How can we pray for your family right now?

Opal: I often thank God for those who are praying for us. I’m grateful for those who pray for our children, for all the transitions they will experience in the next years. I’m grateful for those who pray for Robbie as he grows and learns and blesses the world. I’m grateful for those who pray for him to have all he needs. I’m grateful for those who pray for our marriage. I’m grateful for those who pray for us to learn language and make friends as a family. I’m grateful for those who pray that Jesus would always dwell in and around us, shedding his light to the world. I’m grateful for those who pray for the little details, like packing, getting rid of beloved things, saying goodbyes, flights, new environments, time to know each other and God.

Raleigh: If I may extend the invitation a bit further, I would ask you, friends, to be praying right now for those we will meet in North Africa as well. We know God is going before us, and we ask that the Spirit would soften hearts to hear the good news of Jesus. Pray that those Muslims who desire to draw near to God would find us and “ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have.” And pray that we, in that moment, will be ready to answer “with gentleness and respect,” pointing to Jesus (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).


If you’d like to partner with Raleigh and Opal and their family, join their team of supporters today at donate.rmmweb.org, or email your contact information to info@rmmoffice.org to receive news and prayer updates and on their journey.


March 26, 2015

Back to My Small Town Roots: A New Opportunity in Thailand

Many of you already know Dan* quite well! He’s been with RMM for 41 years as a worker in Nicaragua, Ecuador/Costa Rica, South Asia, and now Thailand. He is a visionary and a pioneer and God has given him many opportunities to serve, disciple, mentor, and begin work in new areas. Although you may already know him, he has recently moved to a new area of Thailand, and we wanted to give him the chance to talk about his new work and new area.

Dan, can you explain in general the work of the Thailand team in Bangkok and how you decided to make this move to a new area (Kanchanaburi)?

The team in Thailand works in pioneer church planting among the many people of Thailand and the surrounding countries. Most Thais are Buddhists. Our team looks for people whose hearts have been opened to the gospel message by God, and through them we establish fellowships of believers who will reach their own people for Christ. Our main task is to disciple those who come to faith and whom God is calling to be leaders. So far the team is limited to Bangkok and, through Southeast Asian people who have come to faith here, the team visits and encourages believers in a neighboring country. Kanchanaburi is on the Thailand Myanmar border and offers the opportunity to reach both Thais and different people groups in Myanmar.

What is Kanchanaburi like? How is it different from Bangkok?

Kanchanaburi Province has both plains and mountains and a lot of agriculture. It is also a place many tourists visit. The only city is Kanchanaburi Town, two hours west of Bangkok. The rest of the province is rural with small towns. So, it offers quiet and beauty and is very different from the hustle and bustle of the huge city of Bangkok. The people of the province are less rushed. After living in cities for the last 20+ years, it is good to get back to my rural, small town roots.

What is your day to day work like there?

I have taught English at the local high school in Thong Pha Phum, a town five hours northwest of Bangkok. I offer to teach high school students free of cost so they can improve their conversational English skills. Although I don’t have many students, those who do come are very eager to learn. I also have a class for high school teachers one day a week. Beginning the last part of January, I teach conversational English to college students at Mahidol University Kanchanaburi at their campus in Sai Yok, two hours away from Thong Pha Phum. This work allows me to make relationships with local people in a natural way and will hopefully lead to people open to the gospel message. Because half of the people in Thong Pha Phum have their origin in Myanmar, the work could eventually lead us to that country.

What is your vision for this region?

Kanchanaburi is largely rural/small town with an emphasis on agriculture. Many of those people coming to Thailand as mission workers from Nicaragua are also from rural areas and would fit naturally in the towns and communities of Kanchanaburi. If a team of Nicaraguans could be built, they would find natural ways of relating to the people in the province with the goal of starting fellowships and training leaders. There would also be a place for North Americans if they would answer the call to come.

What parts of your life and work right now do you find the most challenging?

Although I am getting to know some people in Thong Pha Phum and at Mahidol University, I don’t yet have any close friends. So I sometimes feel lonely and a bit overwhelmed by the challenge of starting again in a new place. There are also many obstacles to the fulfillment of the vision to see churches being formed among the Buddhists of the province, so it is easy to get discouraged. The biggest challenge seems to be how to mobilize missions’ candidates from Nicaragua and the US and how they could get visas to stay in the province. And since it would take a long time to establish a lasting work here, there is also the challenge of finding people to commit their lives long term (10+ years). I myself am getting along in years, so any lasting work would depend on others committing to the work long term.

What is the typical way you get around?

I travel by local bus–from Bangkok to Thong Pha Phum, to the university and back and anywhere else I need to go in the province. I walk around town to the market and to school. If we would begin work outside Thong Pha Phum, I might need to get a motorcycle.

What are some of your favorite things to do for fun?

I enjoy talking with people and going to local restaurants. Thong Pha Phum is a quiet town with “nothing to do” really except meet with people. I have gone to local restaurants with the high school teachers and some friends and also with students and teachers at the university in Sai Yok. I hope to go camping and visit some of the local national parks, mountains, hot springs, waterfalls, caves and other.

What is something that Thai culture has taught you and that you want to internalize?

Moving to a place where I knew no one previously left me at a loss how to do even the basic things. Thai people are often very helpful to an unknown person who comes to live among them. In Thong Pha Phum, many people have offered to help me in many ways, from giving information about where I can rent a room to where I can find things I need to buy. Most people do not know English, but when they find out I know basic Thai, they are very helpful. Plus, the town feels very safe and friendly.

What is the most recent prayer that God has answered in your life?

God is rebuilding our team in Thailand. With the arrival of Nixson and Rhonda* and Jonatan* in late January and the anticipated return of Tom and Candice and their family in July, our team is once again increasing in numbers. It is an answer to prayer.

How can we pray for you?

That God will lead me to people open to the Gospel in Kanchanaburi Province, that he will confirm where the place is that I should live and work, and that he will form a team of dedicated workers for the province.

Thank you for your prayers of encouragement and leading for Dan!

*Last names omitted for security


March 23, 2015

Book Recommendation: Contagious Disciple Making

In Contagious Disciple Making, David and Paul Watson (father and son, working for CityTeam), write about some very practical steps that all of us can take toward seeing more people become disciples of Jesus. This is a book about very big ideas—seeing rapid multiplication of believers as thousands or millions turn to Christ and then reproduce themselves. The stories are exciting and the Watsons’ make a compelling case for why every believer should want to be a part of a contagious movement. Additionally, they give ideas about the small things that we can do in our everyday lives to set the stage for a larger move of God. It’s a book about large-scale transformation, but the focus is on the very small, practical steps that lead to that kind of change.

The heart of the book is a particular method (the Discovery Bible Study), and the authors make a strong case for keeping our disciple making strategies simple and scripture based. At the same time, they recognize the creativity of God in using many different ways of communicating with us. I especially appreciated the focus on prayer and the helpful tools that they suggest for increasing personal and corporate prayer for our communities.

Read this book if you want to make disciples but aren’t sure where to start. Let us know what you try and what works well for you and doesn’t. Let’s keep learning about discipleship together.

– Tom, Asia regional director


March 20, 2015

Is Jesus Really Worth It?

By Kevin Mayer, SEND Ministries director

In January, I had the opportunity to go to Ethiopia to attend the Annual Equipping Event with Global Disciples. This is a time where leaders of other discipleship programs similar to REACH spend a week praying, worshiping, encouraging and connecting with each other. I highly treasure these times where we can talk about the challenges and issues we face as leaders and to glean from the wisdom and experiences of others. I can quickly think of many highlights of our time together, such as witnessing the daring and determined faith of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, their desperate hearts and utter dedication to the gospel, and their deep love for Jesus. Particularly moving for me, was hearing about the amount of persecution that many of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters have experienced over the past century. However, in spite of this intense persecution, the church has grown exponentially.

Taking a brief look at the history of the church in Ethiopia over the past few decades, we see that in the 1940’s and 50’s, there were many Mennonite missionaries who came to Ethiopia focusing on service, medical clinics, and church planting. By 1982, the Mennonite church had grown to around 5,000 people and was experiencing revival in many of the churches. Unfortunately, this was also around the same time that the Communists took over the government, expelled the missionaries, confiscated all properties, and forbade public worship. The church went underground.

When the church re-surfaced, after the present government pushed out the Communists in 1992, it had grown to 50,000. In the 23 years since, the church now numbers almost 500,000 and they are fervently praying in faith that their numbers double to one million within three years.

We had the privilege to hear many stories of how God is working and drawing the people of Ethiopia to him. One leader described how a few years ago he began to sense that God was asking him to begin having Bible studies with different Muslim men right in the local mosque of his town. One day, as he was in his Bible study circle, an extremely militant group of Al-Qaeda members came into the mosque to do their prayers. When they realized that there was a group studying the scriptures, several extremists pulled him aside and told him that although they could not kill him inside the mosque, they would be waiting outside to do so when he left after the Bible study was finished. After much time had passed that afternoon and after he was informed that the group had given up and had gone back up into the mountains, was he was able to leave and go back home.

“Why are you doing this? We have told you five times we will kill you when you leave, yet you continue to have Bible studies... Why is this so important to you?”A few weeks later, the same thing happened once again. In fact, this happened five times. However, on the fifth time, several young members hung back after the group left the mosque and when given the opportunity, they came to him and asked, “Why are you doing this? We have told you five times we will kill you when you leave, yet you continue to have Bible studies here in the mosque. Why is this so important to you?” When he began to explain his desire for them to truly understand the good news of Jesus and walked them through the scriptures, these two young men dropped to their knees and became followers of Jesus right there in the mosque. They are now on the run and in hiding because their former Al-Qaeda friends are trying to hunt them down and kill them because of their commitment to follow Jesus.

So the question is, was it worth it? Is Jesus worthy of all that devotion and praise? Should they be willing to give up everything and suffer for the cause of Christ? Their lives have changed immensely because of the simple, yet life-changing decision to become a disciple of Jesus.

What about us? If things in our nation changed so much in the next months that we would lose everything to be a Christ follower—our land, our jobs, our possessions, our families, our dreams, even our lives—would it be worth it? There are many places where our brothers and sisters in Christ have been tortured, burned, tongues cut out, lands, homes, even children taken away, all because of their commitment to follow Christ. Are we willing to abandon everything—our needs, our desires, our families, our comforts, our careers, our possessions, our lives—everything to follow Jesus? Is he worthy?


March 18, 2015

Sure, Come on Over!

From the Canada REACH team blog

Greetings from the north where the weather is warming up and bringing with it lots of sunshine and smiles! It’s amazing how moods pick up when people can feel spring right around the corner! Also I love feeling like I am adapting quite well because at home 30 degrees feels pretty chilly and here it means it’s T-shirt time!

Along with this weather comes bright spirits and spontaneity. This past Sunday we were at the gathering, and normally all of the university students are hosted by someone for lunch, but no one had planned anything, so we had lots of hungry friends looking for a place to eat. On any other day I have no idea how we would even attempt to feed an extra fifteen people, but this week was not a normal one. My family had just been here to visit and blessed us greatly with an abundance of food from home and all of the extra groceries they had left over from their stay. So, we welcomed everyone to the apartment and took on all of the craziness and that came with it. It was so loud and chaotic with about twenty different conversations happening at once and people filling every corner of our little apartment. We enjoyed the most random variety of foods that you can imagine. Really it was crazy. We started off with chips and hummus as an appetizer and cut up some fruit that we had lingering around. Then for the main course we warmed up soup and mashed potatoes and made chocolate chip waffles and had some Amish peanut butter with ham and cheese. No, it wasn’t the healthiest lunch, but it was delicious and everyone was full by the end!

“It is times like these where I can look at life here and see how God has been working and helping us build friendships... I’m connected to so many people through my Father and we are all his children.”It is times like these where I can look at life here and see how God has been working and helping us build friendships. Having my immediate family here made me think about the idea of family and how it is so much bigger than my mom and dad and siblings. I’m connected to so many people through my Father and we are all his children. I will always remember days like this, and I know leaving my Canada family will be hard. I’ve grown to love all of these new friends and my life is looking a lot different because of them.

Thank you for thinking of us up here in the north and blessing to you all!

-Lexi


March 16, 2015

Jesus in a Terroristic World

How should followers of Jesus respond to the very real threat of Islamist terrorism? Said and Cherif Kouachi massacre journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Boko Haram continues to massacre whole villages in Nigeria. The Islamic State drives out Christians from Mosul Iraq and brutally kills hostages.

What is real Islam and how should we as followers of Christ respond to such brutality? How should we relate to our Muslim neighbors in this kind of an atmosphere? The EMM Christian/Muslim relations team has written a very concise statement that we recommend to you, our readers. If we can live out all of the seven practical steps outlined below, we will witness again and again the transformative power of God’s redemptive love in our broken world. “May His kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

– Jay Martin, Mediterranean Regional Director

Confessing the Peace of Jesus in a Terroristic World

A statement and appeal from the EMM Christian/Muslim Relations
(Reposted with permission)

As a team we teach about Christian/Muslim relations in North America and around the world. When the response time comes we can always expect questions about Islamist terrorism. It is obvious that there is global concern about terroristic movements such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram. We are writing this at a time when Christian communities with a 2,000 year history in the Middle East are being uprooted and scattered in response to Islamist threats against their lives. In acts of reciprocal terror both Israel and Gaza have been pummeled by a month of rocket attacks. U.S. drone attacks regularly kill leaders of movements opposed by the U.S. government. The disturbing question we face in our commitments to peacemaking is: “What has gone wrong?”

When we listen to our Muslim neighbors, we hear two different voices. One is the voice of Muslims who are committed to the conviction that God’s mercy is paramount as they strive peacefully to bring every area of life into submission to his will as “the most merciful and compassionate” God. The other voice is that of Muslims committed to doing whatever they can to impose God’s justice and judgment, as understood in Islam, on the rest of the world until all have been submitted to his will. We hear both voices.

The prophet of Islam mirrored both these voices. During 12 years in Mecca with no political power and often with life under threat, he proclaimed an understanding of Islam that suggests that forgiveness and tolerance are the better way. Then came the momentous event of his pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijrah. In Medina he became not only prophet, but also statesman and military commander. He defeated his enemies in battle and in time returned to Mecca leading his army in victory. He forgave defeated enemies who demonstrated remorse, but allowed other of his detractors to be handled as traitors.

Both these faces are present in the Qur’an as well as the Muslim traditions. Some Muslims are especially formed by the “sword” verses of their scriptures; others are formed by the “suffering for righteousness” verses. These different interpretations are not strange to Christians who also meet a God of vengeance and a God of forgiveness in the Bible. However, the reign of God in the biblical Messianic vision is the restoration of peace centered in redemptive love.

Six hundred years before the prophet of Islam, followers of Jesus in Galilee forcefully attempted to make Him their king. He rejected that invitation and instead took the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where He was crucified. Those wounded welcoming arms of that Man on the cross are the arms of the One who is “God with us." Open arms are for forgiving; they are for embrace and reconciliation. This is the reason churches across the Middle East are recognized as communities of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Three hundred years after Jesus, a third journey happened that has immensely distorted the gospel witness. Constantine, in defense of his imperial ambitions, had the cross painted on the shields of his soldiers. He won the war under the sign of the cross. Seven hundred years later Christian Crusaders devastated the Middle East under the sign of the cross. Many Muslims perceive the wars of the last decade as a continuation of those Crusades. Witness Serbian militia planting crosses in the ashes of burned out Kosovo villages during the Serb-Kosovo war fifteen years ago.

These three journeys powerfully inform our modern situation: Muhammad to power in Medina; Jesus to the cross in Jerusalem; Constantine to empire in Rome. These are journeys in different directions; which journey do we choose?

Just over a year ago one of our team met with the associate to the Grand Mufti of Egypt. Our team member told about the Anabaptists of the 16th century who would not participate in Europe’s wars against Muslims because Jesus calls His disciples to love the enemy. He explained that he is a member in a community that joins with peace-loving Christians and all people of peace in seeking to build bridges, not walls. He shared that although we recognize our inadequacy, nevertheless, we seek to be people of Christ’s peace.

The Imam responded by saying that he had a message for all American Christians. First, work for justice and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. He observed that the church in America carries special responsibilities for encouraging justice with peace in Israel/Palestine.

Second, follow Jesus. He observed that as American Christians follow Jesus they become a life-transforming community. He commented that historically Egyptian Christians have been examples of communities of transformation. We appreciate this counsel from the Associate Imam of Egypt in these troubled times.

We invite you to join us in taking these practical, transformative steps:

  1. Pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as in heaven – pray for shalom!
  2. Commit to working for justice.
  3. Develop friendships with Muslims.
  4. Share generously with church agencies working in the current refugee crisis.
  5. Show hospitality to the displaced persons who come your way from regions in turmoil.
  6. Express appreciation for the ways so many Muslims show compassion and serve the broader community.
  7. Always commend Christ in your words and actions!
Our world needs communities of witness and healing who confess that the God of the universe is fully revealed in that Man on a cross who forgives and reconciles His enemies and who in His resurrection brings about a new creation.

- Jonathan Bornman, Sheryl Martin, Andres Prins, Grace and David Shenk,


March 13, 2015

Fruits of the Spirit in My Honda Civic

By Courtney Shenk, SEND Ministries Assistant Director

What should a staff person in a mission organization want to share with the reading world? A plea for more workers? Sometimes. A story of souls getting saved? On occasion. But what does this missions worker want to share about? Commuting.

Initially, the topic of commuting came up in my mind because I was tired of thinking about “spiritual” things so much. As you can imagine, spiritual matters come up frequently in a short-term missions department, but I’m the kind of person that needs down-to-earth practicality sometimes. I need something tangible that I can apply to everyday life, and what could be more practical than commuting every day to work? The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that my commute to work has had a very profound effect on my spirituality.

Well, shoot. It appears as though life is inescapably spiritual.

Now, there is certainly a sense in which a person could over-spiritualize any subject, and I don’t want to do that. But so far, my tendency has been to under-spiritualize my time in the car, and mentally separate my commute from my relationship with God instead of incorporating them. The fruits of the Spirit don’t seem to make their way into my little Honda Civic each day.

It’s almost as if driving is some sort of in-between world. I’m not at my job where I know I need to love people, be selfless, and serve, for example. I’m also not at home, school, or church where there are other people that I need to love and other ways in which I need to serve or be selfless. When I’m in the car I’m surrounded by a bunch of nameless, faceless people in vehicles, and if you happen to see the face of someone it usually isn’t for a good reason. Essentially, I’m in traffic purgatory.

You see, it’s not that I don’t have the fruits of the Spirit–they are in a nice basket waiting for me to collect them at my next destination. There’s a basket of fruit at work, at home, and at church, but there’s just not a to-go basket yet. But where do the fruits of the Spirit and driving even intersect?

Let’s start with the fruit of love as an example. Loving my enemies doesn’t seem like a pertinent command when there are cars that go zooming past me only to cut in at the front of the huge line of people waiting to exit. They deserve every angry glare or gesture they get!

And yet, there are real people in that car that are every bit as loved by God as I am.

What about the fruit of joy? Encountering a traffic jam can be an immediate joy killer for me. I just want to get to wherever I’m going, and I’m not happy that this traffic jam is setting me back. Not to mention, there is nothing good on the radio, and the roads are bad. There is a lot to complain about at 7 a.m. on I-70. And yet, the Bible commands us to rejoice in the Lord always; let his praises be continually on our lips.

The fruit of peace is an interesting one to think about. Not only can traffic disrupt my inner peace, but it can also affect the peace between my husband and me. I’m tired of being in the car, and probably stressed as well, so then I get short and agitated with him over nothing. Then we both get disgruntled, and it turns what could have been a pleasant ride with my husband into a prickly mess.

And yet, the Bible says that the peacemakers are blessed, and shall be called children of God; it says that we should strive to live peaceably with everyone; it says we should seek peace, and pursue it.

I won’t even go into the fruits of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I think you’ve got the idea by now. So, what am I to do about this fruit deficiency?

A place I try to start with is prayer. I know, so original. Original or not though, when I remember to pray it has truly helped me handle my regular commute with grace and patience. Sometimes I just pray silently, but when I’m by myself I like to pray aloud as though Jesus is in the car with me. Doing this often helps me take my eyes off myself and my problems, and brings to mind the things in life I can be thankful for.

You may not have a long commute, and your car rides may be overflowing with peacefulness and joy, but maybe you have your own “car” that needs more of the Holy Spirit. Maybe there is another area of your life that could use a bit more of the fruit flavor.

Will you bring the fruit to your car?


March 11, 2015

Stories from the Trail

By Levi,* REACH North Africa team leader

Greetings in the name of the Father!

It has been some time since I’ve updated you. Over the past three weeks we went out into the mountains trekking from village to village; and therefore, I have been “out of the office” so to speak for the last few weeks. If there is one thing I can say that is consistent about the trail, it’s that no day will ever go according to plan.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself here! Let’s back up to the beginning. Why do we do this? We go trekking into the mountains to share the love of Christ with those in the villages. When I came to North Africa last year in REACH, our whole purpose was to go out and walk into the mountains and share the Good News. This year we’re focusing on going trekking and working with agricultural projects, but our reason for doing both is the same.

Trails I Once Did Know

(Walking in the Spirit)

Stepping off the bus I go,

Back to trails I once did know.

Down the valleys dark and deep,

Then up the mountains cold and steep,

Where the air is brisk and thin

Pushed along by flowing wind.

In empty plains laden with rocks

That bruise your feet and rip your socks

Where shepherds raise and graze their flocks

And seldom a foreigner ever walks.

These are the places we must go,

Sowing seeds that all may know!

Following stars throughout the night,

Dimly reflecting the heavens light.

Walk when dawn comes over land,

Over river, over sand.

Keep going! Just keep going!

Seek the Spirit ever knowing

Down to valleys dark he’ll lead,

Down to places where light is in need.

Out to the houses on the hills

With fires to warm your chills.

Where we’ll stay, never knowing!

Keep going! Just keep going!

Stepping of the bus I go,

Back to trails I once did know.

There is a passage that we keep in mind, coming from the words of the great Shepherd himself. “As you go, preach this message: The kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give… Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let you peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you…” (Mt. 10). We go into the mountains to share the Good News, but we also go out to push back the darkness and proclaim the light.

One story from our trek is so encouraging and I am so excited to tell you about it! It happened on day 13 of the trek. By this point we had switched partners and I was now trekking with Asher. We were heading out into the mountains to see a friend I had spent time with last year. It wasn’t a bad hike, we only had to do somewhere around 9-10 kilometers that day. We walked seven of those kilometers along the road, and then turned off down one of the donkey trails that led up to one of the villages.

Unfortunately the local authority also saw us turn off, and he came up to us and asked us where we were going. He questioned us for a while, but eventually sent us on our way. I had no idea if my friend would be there or not and I had no way of reaching him, so we were simply going in hopes of him being there. Unfortunately he was not. However, from atop the hill I could see his father who was herding their cows.

When his father spotted me he drove his cows down the mountain then took off running. He ran all the way down the hill to me, crashing into me and giving me a huge hug! He kissed my cheeks and pulled me in for a long hug and wouldn’t let me go. I felt like a long lost son who had finally returned home! It was quite the welcome! My friend didn’t have much. He had no electricity, so we sat and talked by the fire’s light. After going through the basic greetings and talking about our families he asked me, “do you still have your Injeel?” (Injeel, pronounced in-geel, is the Arabic word for the Bible. Technically it only refers to the gospels, but most locals here refer to the entire Bible as the Injeel.) I very excitedly said yes and went and pulled it from my pack and handed it to him. Though it was in English he leafed through it and studied it carefully with much reverence. He brought in his youngest son, around the age of 14, and told him “this is the book of Jesus.” After looking through it for a while he carefully put it back on the table and asked me, “Would you like a candle so you can study again?” I was quite surprised actually. Out of all the things he remembered about me he remembered that last year when I was there, Danny and I had pulled out our Bibles to have our time of devotions and he had brought us a candle so we could see. He had asked us many questions and was very curious, and somehow that was a very vivid memory for him. I suppose we never know how the Father is going to speak to people!

Father, help me to be in tune with your Spirit. Continue to work in this country! May your name be sung from the mountain tops and declared on the shorelines. Thank you for allowing me to join you in your kingdom work today, Father. And thank you also for your patience with me. I love you, Amen.


March 05, 2015

Goodbye Hurts in Every Language

A little over a month ago, late one evening, I landed at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua. By the time I arrived at the guest house where my traveling companions and I were staying for the night, it was approaching midnight. I was tired, but I knew I wanted to drag myself out of bed the next morning at 4:30 because something special was about to happen. A few hours later, still bleary eyed, we headed back to the airport to say goodbye.

If you haven’t heard the testimony of Jonatan Artola (check it out here), it’s well worth your time. Jonatan is a young man from the Nicaraguan campo. “Outback” might be the best word to give you a picture of the kind of environment Jonatan has come from. Imagine a village of small huts with dirt floors and no running water. Free range chickens, now a luxury here in our country, mingle with pigs, dogs, and people in this quiet spot largely untainted by the frenzy of modern life.

We went to the airport to help say goodbye as Jonatan took the first flight of his life, from the campo of Nicaragua to Bangkok, Thailand—one of Southeast Asia’s largest urban centers. Jonatan plans to be one of Bangkok’s 17 million people for at least the next three to five years. We admired his courage, realizing that some of us knew far better than he did the breathtaking contrast of worlds that he was about to experience.

As courageous as Jonatan was, I admired his mother even more. What mother wants to say goodbye to her 20-year old son who is traveling to a place that’s farther away than her imagination can even take her, and whom she can’t expect to see for at least three years? Many mothers would insist that it must not happen and would work to ensure that it didn’t. “I knew I was on holy ground. Here was Abraham offering Isaac. Here was a mother giving up her son... Here was gut-wrenching obedience.”

Sonia stood at the edge of the small group of us, dabbing at her tears, carrying the grief that only a mother could understand. Most of what Jonatan and his mother spoke to each other in those last moments together was whispered in the midst of a hug that didn’t want to end.

I knew I was on holy ground. Here was Abraham offering Isaac. Here was a mother giving up her son. Here was a parent taking a step of faith so large that it seemed utterly impossible. Here was gut-wrenching obedience.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

Being a disciple of Jesus will sometimes mean saying goodbye. And goodbye hurts in every language.


March 04, 2015

Skating, Painting, Trekking (and other REACH adventures)

In early December, five teams of REACHers took off for their outreaches in the Himalayas, Canada, North Africa, South Asia and Spain. After three months of discipleship training in Columbus, they were excited to be sent out and used by God for his purposes. Following are adapted excerpts from their team blogs which give a glimpse into the early months of outreach. Pray for these learners and explorers as they continue on their adventure for God!


TEAM HIMALAYAS

Day three of a trek:

We’d trekked for about three hours and decided to stop for the evening at a small hotel. As soon as we stopped outside the gate, I felt a strong darkness. I didn't want to stay there, but everyone else said let's do it, so I agreed. That night we got an opportunity to share about Jesus and sang songs in the local language for our hosts. As the night went on, I felt very discouraged. Later, I shared with the team and as soon as we started praying against my discouragement, we felt a spiritual attack. We prayed against fear, discouragement, and threats of persecution against the family if they chose to follow Jesus. It was exhausting, but I loved “standing in the gap” for these friends.

Prayer requests:
1. Opportunities to build relationships and better understanding of culture and language
2. For the villages we visit; most people are Hindu and afraid of what their gods will do if they even hear about the Father
3. For our team, that we can be open with each other about struggles

For me, outreach has been a roller coaster ride. From spiritual attacks, to revisiting past wounds, it’s been difficult. I often ask the Father why he didn’t fix these things before REACH. Still, even through ups and downs, I can say that he is faithful. I know that this experience will make me stronger if I focus on him and not my problems. He is teaching me not to resist his guidance but to take his hand as he leads me.

–Jeshua


TEAM CANADA

Greetings from the North, where we are adjusting to temperatures in the teens and roads covered in snow more often than not! In Canada, if you don’t ice skate, you are viewed as a foreigner. Taking note of this, our team decided that it would be to our benefit if we all invested in a pair of skates. Let me tell you it is not all that easy to master the art of skating, but we are trying! This week, we had our first ever team skate. I think I can say that we all had fun, even if some of us looked a little ridiculous and had a few falls here and there. I will be excited to tell you all about the progress we will be making in the next couple of weeks, but for now here is a picture of all of us successfully standing up on the ice long enough to take a picture!

Before we got there, one thing I wanted to focus on, was building friendships with people here that would last for the rest of my life. I understand that this involves me stepping out of my comfort zone and initiating conversations even if I feel uncomfortable. It’s funny, we prepare ourselves, but God’s plans can be completely different. The relationships that I was really concerned about starting seem to happen naturally, even when I just show up somewhere. Thank God for how we are all learning to make friendships here and continue praying for right attitudes and words as we share with our new friends.

–Lexi


TEAM NORTH AFRICA

It’s a cold, rainy, breezy day here in the city. It’s only about 40 degrees. However, it’s been overcast and snow has turned to rain over the past several days. The rain is always icy cold and never fun to walk in. I’ve just returned from language class and am now wrapped up in three blankets while wearing my jacket to attempt to warm up in a house that has no heating system.

Ways you can be thinking of us:
1. Ask that the father would soften hearts
2. That people open their doors to us
3. Opportunities to share the light
4. That the Spirit would lead
5. For health and safety for our team


I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was meeting a friend up in the mountains to help with some agricultural endeavors. I had to be there by 8:00 a.m., so I was up by 5:00 to catch a bus. A cold front caused fog to form, making everything damp and obscuring visibility. As I walked through the cold, eerie morning to the bus station, I heard the call to prayer (there are five calls to prayer each day). As the voice of the Imam paused, I heard the call echoing off the buildings around me, reverberating through the streets. In the background I could hear the faint sound of a mosque in the next neighborhood echoing the call.

I don’t know why it all hit me so hard. I’ve been here long enough that I hardly pay attention to the call (you get used to things you hear five times a day). I felt like I had glimpsed the darkness that entraps this place. Deception stretches out over the city, country, and people groups; it’s like the call, snaking its way through the streets, entering every home. Please pray that the Father’s light would shine here.

On a lighter note, we are going on a 21 day trek through the mountains soon. Our goal is to go and obey Jesus’ command from Matthew 10: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts, take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff….”

We’ll take one change of clothes and our backpacks. We are splitting into two groups of two (a friend from last year is our fourth man). We’ll take each day as the Father guides and go wherever he leads. We’ll walk until we’re invited in, and sleep wherever we end up. We’re relying on the hospitality of locals and the leading of the Spirit to provide.

-Levi


TEAM SOUTH ASIA

Team South Asia has spent the past two months traveling and preaching throughout several provinces. While their traveling can get tiring, this team has had the privilege of encouraging local believers who are regularly persecuted. In January, the team took a three week break from their travels to work at an orphanage. They spent time leading devotions, teaching English, and showing God’s love to the children. While plans for this outreach haven’t quite gone as anticipated, we are awed by the ways that God is working in and through this team! Keep them in your prayers, as traveling and preaching can be exhausting. Ask that God would sustain them, that they would continue to love each other well, and that God would use them to be light in a dark region.


TEAM SPAIN

We have been working with a fellowship here in Rincon and it has been such a joy getting to know the people in the church. Our aim has been to encourage and help them when and where we can. Our team is getting lots of practice in painting. We helped the pastor and Antonio paint the building where the church is meeting. The painting day was a typical workday here in Spain, where relationships are of the utmost importance. We were all laughing, working, eating, praying, and of course laughing some more. I felt encouraged as we finished the day, and my hope is that as a group we also encouraged the pastor and Antonio. The numbers of the fellowship have grown even in the past six months and all the rooms in the building are in use each Sunday. Even since the beginning of our time here, we have seen the numbers grow, which is a huge encouragement. I ask that you remember this fellowship in your prayers; there are many people to be reached in this area and I believe that this group is seeking the direction of the Father. As their fellowship grows, they will have to consider the possibility of seeking a new meeting place, which is not a terrible problem to have, but can come with many headaches. We are all looking forward to our remaining time here in Rincon (before we move to another area to help with a camp). As the weeks fill up, we continue to see ways that we can be used as encouragers to the local believers.

We are continuing with language studies, and I have noticed that all of us are improving in vocabulary and grammar. I have continued to be surprised at how tiring it can be to spend a day trying to communicate in another language. After a Sunday, when we listen in Spanish and then try to converse in Spanish, we are exhausted. It is stretching and humbling, but necessary. Thank you for your thoughts. Continue to lift our team up for unity and guidance.

-Lynette

It's amazing how everyone within the church is so supportive of each other compared to the outside world. Spain can have the feeling of a very dark spiritual climate, but as soon as we are surrounded by friends with one common thread the room comes alive with joy. I'm very glad that we are not alone here!

-Joel

*Names changed or last names omitted for security reasons



For ongoing updates from the REACH teams, check out their team blogs here.

We are still accepting applications for REACH 2015. Click here to learn more.


March 03, 2015

Dairy Farming in North Africa

By David,* recently returned RMM intern to North Africa

This year has brought some exciting new opportunities! I was raised on a dairy farm (I loved it!), and this year I’ve gotten some opportunities to use those skills in projects here in North Africa. Through friends, I met some people who are starting a small dairy cooperative. They asked me to come and look at things and give any ideas I had. We were able to start a few simple but practical projects in their barn. One was a simple water trough system in the barn that made water easily accessible for the cows. It was a simple and fun project that will improve milk output and cut down on work. Water is constantly available now, and there’s no need to take all the cows to the river a couple of times a day. I am excited to go back soon and see how it is working! Other small projects include natural, easy treatments for mastitis problems, and also some ideas for mats to put under the cows. It has been exciting and rewarding for me, and I am thankful for the opportunities there! I am also asking the Lord for guidance as to whether this is a potential platform for future time here.

I also recently got the opportunity to spend three weeks trekking in the mountains. One of my goals with coming back was to revisit people we had met through trekking with REACH teams in the past three years. I was very happy to have the company of (current REACHER’s) Asher* for ten days and Ike* for nine. We went with the hope of connecting roads, trails, and dots in a way that would allow us to spend the majority of our time with old friends, but also making new friends along the way! As usual, nothing went exactly as planned, but everything worked out—another usual thing with trekking!

One of my favorite encounters was completely unexpected at the outset of the trek. Two years ago, a man we met had carried packs for a friend and me on his donkey, as we walked along the trail. We had only a small interaction with him then, but that didn't seem to be the case when he saw us walking through town. We had come searching for another old friend—the thought of meeting this man hadn’t even crossed our minds. The town was quiet until suddenly my name was being yelled from up on the mountain. The man summoned us with an exuberant wave and insisted that we stay with him for the day! We had a wonderful time, and were very thankful for that interaction. That day reminded me of Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” Returning to the same places time after time has brought depth in relationship with our friends. With that comes more willingness to listen to what we have to say about Jesus and why we love him. Please continue to ask for chances to speak of him and for truth to come to our friends.

Spending time with friends here in the city has been another priority and joy. I am continually amazed at how much the game of soccer opens doors. Whether playing with friends or watching it at a café while drinking tea, soccer is a great way to connect. When watching soccer with friends at the café, we celebrate the times when the right team wins, yell a lot, cheer for nice goals, and shake our heads and grumble when the wrong team wins. These times have brought some real depth to relationships and chances to have deep conversation, and also just a lot of fun!

The rest of my time here has been spent studying language. I’ve been studying the language that is spoken in the mountains. It’s very different from the language spoken in the city, which I had been focused on other years. Once again I am finding that language study can be both very difficult and very rewarding. Having been in the mountains, I have seen how much people appreciate even the effort to speak their mother tongue. Every day is a chance to learn more culture and more language. I want to continue to see such things with Kingdom value!

Please continue to lift up this place in prayer. Being here again has reminded me of a couple things. First, this is a great place, full of truly kind, hospitable, and loving people. They have given me life in a way, when I think of life on the trail. They have given me food when I was hungry, directions when I was lost, places to stay when it was cold, a helping hand if I ever needed it, and a new purpose and joy in living for the kingdom. And yet there is a veil over their eyes, a lack of truth; there is darkness, deception, lies, fear and a huge need for our savior and king Jesus. The Lord is working here. Please continue to lift this place up and ask the Lord to continue his great work here, so that all may know him. Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughts and prayers! HE is good.

*Names changed for security