Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Charlie Brown Christmas

Our family follows my husband's tradition of decorating our Christmas tree on Christmas eve. We usually purchase a live tree just a day or two before Christmas. In recent years, we've managed to find great buys on full, gorgeous, 10-11 foot trees that would normally be far out of our price range earlier in the season.

But this year we sold our home with its spacious and vaulted living room and moved into a small duplex while my husband's back in school full time. We knew we would have to go with a much smaller tree this holiday.

As timing would have it, our first-born son was married in a city ten hours away ten days ago, and the past week was hectic with end of semester demands on my time as a teacher, and we still had most of our Christmas shopping to do, and then we had a bitterly cold and snowy Saturday, and well . . . we forgot to shop for the tree until Christmas eve day. Our local nurseries were closed. By the time we found a dead tree at WalMart and another pitiful casualty at Lowes Hardware, we had decided to finish our other shopping and just pull out the old artificial standby from the garage later.

Of course, that would be the single-car-garage-turned-storage-unit that holds everything we didn't sell or give away during the down-sizing last August. Turns out the Christmas tree box is THE foundation upon which sits every other box, mattress, or piece of furniture in our garage. If we could somehow manage to pull it out--most likely a physical impossibility--the whole Jenga tower would come crashing down.

We discovered this at 6 pm. My husband and youngest son made a mad dash to the stores for another artificial tree. They were all closed except for a grocery store with a small floral department--and they were pulling the gates shut on even that. Bob grabbed a holiday decoration that most closely resembles a two-by-four with green fuzzies on it, but--for the uneducated--is really a four-foot-tall Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Our college-aged daughter laughed/cried when she got home from her job at the mall. Then she and our sulking thirteen-year-old Caleb strung it with a very short strand of lights. We apologized profusely to the kids--the tree playing such a key role in our Christmas eve tradition. Then we turned on the Christmas music, poured up the non-alcoholic eggnog, began to laugh together, decked the thing out with this year's ornaments and Caleb's keepsakes, loaded it with tinsel, and realized it didn't matter too much after all. Took us two minutes and thirty-eight seconds, total.

Family, love, laughter, and forgiveness triumphed. And, therefore, so did the spirit of this holiday season.

God bless you, loved ones!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Unlearning Curve

For those of you who don’t know it, Bob and I have moved. We’re living in a foreign country, learning a new language, immersing ourselves in an unfamiliar culture, dealing with culture-shock at times, starting from scratch as we build relationships with the strangers that surround us, trying to find our way among a people whose mores and unwritten rules are confusing and awkward for us at best.

Oh, we’re still in Amarillo. We’ve simply stepped out of traditional Christian culture and fulltime ministry, and into the realm of the unreached. At the very least, it’s been mindboggling. In fact, one of my friends who’s experiencing something similar calls it the “unlearning curve.”

In essence, God has stripped away what I thought I knew about ministry, my own heart, those outside of Christ, Christian culture and its place in the world, missions, and church. Just yesterday I told our small home fellowship that I feel like I have nothing to hold onto anymore except God.

I suspect that’s where He wants me.

And to be sure, one of the only things He hasn’t “undone” has been the truths I know about Him.

Yes, the weak, human side of me would love to tell my family and friends about the wild success the Lord has given us in reaching the lost for Christ. But the truth of the matter is that while we still feel confident we’ve been called to serve as missionaries in our own culture, we’re realizing that the Father has some serious work to do in our own hearts and minds first. Honestly, we had no idea what He was calling us to and the depth to which He would ask us to invest in His mission. We just knew there was a fire in our bones, and that we had to answer the call.

Don’t get me wrong--we’re not miserable or even unhappy. We’re certainly humbled. Impatient. Stretched. Oddly experiencing a level of peace in the midst of all this. Constantly asking the Lord, “Well, okay. If not this or that, then what? If not yet, when? If not them, who? If not here, where?” We probably just need to shut up and listen.

Please pray we’ll keep our hearts and minds open to what God wants to tear down and build up in us. Pray that we’ll not grow weary or discouraged before His work is finished. That we’ll pursue Him single-mindedly, not worrying about what people think of us or “where we should be by now.” That we’ll trust Him whether He moves us forward or back; whether we’re in the process of learning or unlearning.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Seeking the Heart of Jesus

I’ve been blessed to be in fellowship with some Christian brothers who’ve taught me a lot about reading Scripture to find Christ, rather than reading Scripture to find rules or church structure. While we can certainly discern how to live and organize our corporate gatherings by reading the Bible, we don’t find eternal life in those things. We find life in Christ alone. I’m learning to read Scripture to discover who Jesus is, who I’m to become, and what God wants to do in me. And somehow—as I’m shaped more and more into the image of Christ—a lot of those other questions are answered as well.

So this morning when I was reading Luke’s version about Jesus sending out the Twelve and afterward feeding the five thousand, I was struck by Jesus’ heart. He sent the Twelve out to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. When they came back, he took them and withdrew to Bethsaida. Word got out and they were overrun by the crowds. So Jesus welcomed the masses, likewise speaking to them about the kingdom of God and healing the sick. When the Twelve told him to send the people away to get something to eat, he told them to feed the people themselves. You know what happens next.

Here’s what hit me: To Jesus, healing the sick and feeding the hungry was an integral part of preaching the kingdom of God. No big surprise there, but I wondered if the apostles were more interested in preaching than in ministering. I wondered why there seemed to be a disconnect between their ability to cure diseases (and drive out demons) and their willingness to feed the people. Maybe they were tired. Maybe they never considered that they could—through Jesus—multiply food. I wondered if after preaching from village to village they were ready for a break and a bit resentful that they didn’t get one.

All those questions, but I really couldn’t find strong evidence in this passage to support my line of thinking.

And then it occurred to me that my questions had revealed the weakness of my own heart. That maybe sometimes I’m more interested in “preaching” than in ministering. That there’s a disconnect between what God has empowered me to do and what I’m willing to do. That sometimes I let my energy level dictate my ministry. Or that I can't even imagine what God wants to do through me. That sometimes I’m ready for a break and a bit resentful when I don’t get one.

I confessed all this to God, and now I’m confessing it to you. I want to have a heart that can’t separate the message from the ministry. A heart that always welcomes the people around me. A heart that isn't too timid to entertain the possibilities of God's redemptive power. I want to have the heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture

You might be interested in a radio interview with my new Shoutlife.com friend, author Mary DeMuth, on the subject of parenting in a postmodern culture. The interview and her recent book are largely based on her church planting experiences in southern France--a generally secular and atheistic culture. You can tune in online at Moody Midday Connection (http://www.mbn.org/GenMoody/default.asp?SectionID=BF789E22FCAE4F7EBEFACD2AC725BDA2). Click the link for Nov. 13, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture.

You can also order Mary's book at:

Some Days

Some days what we are doing feels so slow-going . . . even insignificant. —church planter Jared Looney of the Bronx Fellowship, from an email I received this morning

I needed to read that today. Needed to discern a little bit of the melancholy in Jared’s full email. Not because I want this friend and mentor of ours to ever be the least bit discouraged, but because I find myself a wee bit discouraged this week.

Of course my discouragement is not quite so noble as the feeling I might get because we're not seeing rapid progress in the network of home churches we’ve planted . . . because we haven’t planted a network of home churches, though God-willing we’ll do so in his timing.

I suppose what I’m feeling is rooted in loneliness. Right now, we’re between two worlds: not fully enjoying the familiar comforts of our Christian culture, and not yet established enough in the kinds of relationships that make the sacrifice seem worthwhile. In Jared’s words, we’re intent on being the kind of missionaries that move “into the high rise in Tokyo or into the village in Kenya, that [live] among the people and incarnate the Gospel there through relationships. But in this case . . . [we’re] simply moving out into relationship in a lost world right here among the broken and the blind in the U.S.A.”

I can live with that. In fact, we’ve chosen to obey God’s call to do this very thing. Some days I’m giddy with the possibilities of what God’s asked of us. And some days I’m lonely in this calling.

Some days, I need emails like Jared’s. Emails that remind me that no matter how I feel . . .

. . . We are following a missionary Lord and participating with Him in the work of redemption.

. . . Mission and incarnation is certainly not a place of comfort or safety, but the impact of a missionary people is immeasurable.

. . . Generations will be set free as we persist in serving the cause of Christ in our city.

Some days I need more prayers than other days.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Hey, loved ones . . . It's not exactly a website, but I'd love for you to visit my profile on Shoutlife. Shoutlife is a networking site that anyone can join, however, it caters to Christian authors, musicians, comedians, etc. I stumbled upon it through my agent, Terry Burns. You have to sign up if you want to view my photos or make comments, but if you do, be sure to leave a message in my guestbook. I'd love to hear from you there!

Loving Much

Lately I've been pondering the story in Luke of the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears. In my heart of hearts, I both admire and am shocked by her humility. Seriously, can you picture anyone doing such a thing today? I want to have that kind of attitude toward Jesus, but I'm more like the Pharisee than I want to admit.

You see, I was probably in my mid-thirties before I really believed I had all that much to be forgiven of. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I was pretty sure I must have been one of God’s favorites. After all, I was a compliant kid. I’d never lived a wild life. I was nice.

But then I started asking God to reveal my sin to me. Ouch.

To be honest, though, I can’t thank him enough for humbling me by doing so. When I finally began to realize the extent of my hopelessness without him, I began to truly belong to him. I mean, right there in that same passage in Luke, Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little, loves little. He who has been forgiven much, loves much.”

Of course the truth is that we are all hopelessly sinful without Christ. We just don’t always realize it. And until we realize it, we love little.

It’s that simple.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. —Eph. 4:22-24

In the context of our conversation yesterday, my husband asked me a question that really started me thinking. He asked, “Who is the most spiritual person you know?”

After some deliberation, I offered two names. Then he told me who he considered the most spiritual. To be honest, at first I was a bit taken back with his choice.

You see, my husband and I were using different criteria to answer the question. My response was based on two people who, by their language and demeanor, communicate a deep spirituality. Whether or not their lives truly measure up—and they really seem to—is another matter and one only our perfect and grace-giving God can judge. Despite the direction of our conversation, I really don’t want to try to discern that.

But my husband’s answer was based on who he knows that most exhibits transformation.

I was still thinking about that conversation as I got ready for work this morning. And as I put my plate in the dishwasher after the great dinner my husband made tonight. No, I didn’t continue to ponder who, indeed, is the most spiritual person I know. Those kinds of questions are really rather dangerous if dwelled on too long, leading to all sorts of judgments and comparisons and other foolishness.

What really stirred my thoughts and chastised my heart was the fact that I didn’t link transformation to spirituality. Maybe I would have gotten there eventually, but the point is that I didn’t get there immediately.

And me, with all my talk about transformation.

I love that my husband quite confidently and simply boiled spirituality down to a transformed life. There’s something to be argued about that. I mean, what’s the difference if I read all the right books or know how to pray good prayers or can teach publically or visit orphan feeding centers or manage to win people to Christ if I’m not putting off my old self and becoming like Jesus?

How much more spiritual can you be than to become like God in true righteousness and holiness?

Using that criteria alone, I pray that someday I’ll be able to answer my husband’s question: “Who’s the most spiritual person you know?” with one short, truthful answer and in absolute humility: “Me.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

WalMart Did Me In

I ran into WalMart last night on my way to meet with the SW Life Group that has adopted us and felt bowled over by the carnival atmosphere. My footstep slowed as the lights and music and color and food, food, food crowded 'round me. A vision of empty store shelves in a shop lit only by daylight from the window at a gas station with no fuel slammed my mind and stole my breath. I took a cart and headed down the aisle fighting back tears.

It's not that I felt guilty for our abundance; I felt compassion and powerlessness in light of the enormous poverty I've recently witnessed.

I had only a few things to purchase, but didn't think I'd make it. How strange would it be to see a middle-aged woman sobbing in the salad dressing aisle? I swiped at the tears threatening my cheeks, allowed my mind to linger only a moment on the faces in the hut where fifty-five of us crowded in to sing Shona praise, swallowed the lump in my throat, took care of business, and fled the store, forgetting one of the four things I intended to buy. I let a few tears escape on my way to the Bible study then wept at home later when I told Bob about it.

I know it'll be like that. When I'm in Zimbabwe I mostly function as the situation demands. Once home, I deal with the emotions of the experience. Often at all the wrong times and when I least expect it.

I see this morning that my one missing post written on Wednesday from Imire Game Park arrived at last. If it wasn't emailed directly to you, it's located between "Our hearts are full" and "We are SO in Africa." Ironically, it's titled "Better Late Than Never."

Pray for me today if you read this early: I've been awake since 2 am and finally gave up and got out of bed at 4:45. It's off to school in a little over an hour now, and I don't want to be a bear or a zombie for my students. It will likely take divine intervention.

Pray mostly for Zimbabwe and her people. I take great comfort in knowing that God is already at work intervening--I see it in the many Christians and other organizations stepping in to feed and clothe the people and treat the sick. I see it in the faith expressed by Zimbabwean men and women who have little more than faith to live on. I see it in the smile of an orphan who's treated with compassion by an old woman dishing up sadza.

Yes, WalMart did me in, but God binds me up. His compassion is far greater than mine and he comforts and intercedes in a way I am powerless to do. I rest in his faithfulness.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On The Way Home

I know it's Sunday and I'm home now, but I wanted to share with you the blog post I began in a little spiral notebook on the way home Friday. I was delighted that we flew from Zimbabwe during the daytime--so often on overseas flights one travels at night when you can't see anything. Loving geography as I do, I kept my nose plastered to the window during most of our ten-hour flight from Harare to London. I can't tell you how short those ten hours seemed!

I most anticipated flying over the Sahara Desert and it didn't disappoint. Every glance out my window revealed a different Sahara--a sort of topographical schizophrenia. There were great sand storms, dust rising for miles above the earth. I saw mountains, plateaus, massive black rocks, and curious white pockmarks. There were a multitude of designs in the sand, like a child's finger drawings: straight furrows like plowed fields, round bubble clouds, diamond-shaped ridges that reminded me of the pattern on my grandmother's worn couch, and lunar-style surfaces.

From my vantage point I could see ancient riverbeds as brown, cracked, and dry as the heels of a Zimbabwean bushwoman. Apricot mists of dust hanging low over barren valleys. A stray wisp of cloud. A road, needle thin and orange, notable only because of its inflexibility. Dunes the shape of continents and the size of small countries, vast carmel canyons and dramatic cliffs, deceptively smooth peach-colored expanses like frozen lakes in a Michigan winter. Brown fingers clawing toward the western horizon. Giant chicken scratches from a land beyond the beanstalk. Papaya-colored waves on a stormy sea of sand, the veins on an old woman's hands, broccoli floweretts of stone.

The seatbelt light came on with a ding as a blanket of taupe clouds muted the landscape below to a boring putty. Before long, the clouds thinned and the seatbelt light popped off. I'm quite certain I spied a plateau the shape of a stegasaurus--the jolly kind, round and friendly like an illustration from a toddler's book.

At last we popped out over a sheet metal gulf on our way to the Tunisian coastline. A large frighter below looked no bigger than the smallest Battleship gamepiece.

Within minutes we were back over land again, a patchwork of browns crisscrossed by etch-a-sketch roads. At long last, cities and villages became visible. We flew over dotted fields and terraced farms. Milk chocolate terrain gave way to a startling dark chocolate canyon. A green lake nestled among rugged hills, its tributaries wandering off to become lost in the valleys, its surface turning white as frosting in the changing sunlight as we passed by.

And then we were over the sandy beaches of the African coast, the Mediterranean waters close to shore a vivid blue-green. October is typically a stormy time in the Mediterranean, and though the clouds were thin, turbulence forced us to 40,000 feet.

Soon we reached the island of Sardinia, water filling in the gaps of its fringed coastline. It's a rugged land, dark as potting soil, smoothing out to a gentle northern coast.

We crossed the European border at Nice on the French Riviera, its beach barely discernable though I know it to be rocky from the afternoon I spent lounging there twenty-six years ago this month, I believe. I've not had a glimpse of France since my semester in Italy with Harding University.

Like a blanket tossed in a heap on the floor, the French Alps mounded below us. I spotted a rainbow among the thin clouds and a mountain peak pushing through the mist. A smaller airplane left its jet trail as it crossed our path far below.

Eventually, jagged treeless peaks rose high above green river valleys, their rocky crags packed with last winter's snow. Finally, low thick clouds hugged the earth like a mantle and only occassionally did a mountain top peek its head out.

The clouds refused to part so that I could see Grenoble, Lyon, Macon, Auxerre, Vaux-le-Vicomte, or even Paris and the English Channel as the onflight map indicated. I couldn't even view London until we dove through the cloud cover just before landing.

Five hours at Heathrow--including a three-hour flight delay--allowed us to reacclimate to Western culture as we enjoyed Starbucks drinks, piped-in contemporary music, a purchased USA Today newspaper, Dr. Pepper for Adrian and Brian, and pizza at an Italian restaurant near our gate.

We were gratefully, brilliantly, amazingly, definitely on our way home.


Brian and I arrived home safely yesterday afternoon; Jerry and Adrian caught an earlier flight out of Boston. The Leveretts are due in today. I've slept a lot, trying to be rested for work this week, and have shared many stories with my husband and son. Our little rental seems so luxurious; our simple Sunday lunch so rich and elaborate.

In Zimbabwe these days, one can hardly find bread or milk or sugar or salt or cokes or matches or fuel. Grocery shelves are largely empty. The electricity is off perhaps more than it's on. If you're lucky enough to have a borehole, then you only need to boil your water. If, as in Harare, you're forced to use untreated city water, then you must freeze, boil, and freeze the water again in hopes of killing all the microbes that pollute it. That's if the water's running at all. And you're fortunate if you don't live in the neighborhoods where raw sewage floods the streets.

I spoke with a young Zimbabwean man who dreams of coming to America where he can live a comfortable life. I admitted to him that he would likely be able to do so, but warned him of the spiritual poverty that plagues our culture. At least in Zimbabwe, people are drawing near to God, for He is their only hope. Here, we hope in many lesser things.

So, as much as I'm delighted to be home--where I can love on my family and use a real toilet that I fully expect will flush and open a refrigerator filled with anything I want and ride in a car that doesn't rattle my teeth--I'm returning with a sharpened focus on what's most important: Jesus, and the hope he gives. Jesus, and the relationship he offers. Jesus, and the love and compassion he models. Jesus, and the tranformation he works in us.

For without him, we're all in poverty.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Finishing up

It's nearly two weeks now since we left home and we're eager to return, but I won't say it'll be easy to leave Zimbabwe. I'm not sure it's possible to take you're whole heart home with you once you've been here. We must be at the airport by daybreak tomorrow--which is quite early here--to catch our 7:30 flight to London. Jerry, Adrian, Brian and I will continue on to Boston from there while the Leveretts stay overnight. The four of us will arrive late in Boston and must stay less than 12 hours before our flights to Dallas and home. Fortunately, we have hotel rooms booked. The Leveretts will fly to Chicago on Saturday, stay the night, and then home on Sunday.
Today we drove about an hour to Marewa and then another 20-30 minutes down a dirt road to Rapenga school where a church and several area schools met us. The children sang and recited Bible verses. The older women requested their pictures taken and the younger asked us to help them get to America. The area around Marewa actually seemed to be slightly better off than many areas where we've travelled, though that is by far a relative term. Southwest church in Amarillo has several new World Bible School students in this area, and a former WBS student is evangelizing there. His name is Peter Marumba, and he lives with the village head. He introduced us to his girlfriend whom he'd like to marry, but he doesn't have the bride price and hasn't yet persuaded us to donate it to him, though he has tried. We did purchase a bicycle for him with funds given to Brian by friends from Southwest; he was very excited to receive it today. We made it very clear that we only had an hour to spend in Marewa, but the introductions and messages and mingling ran long and then Peter took us to the home of a family who'd prepared rice and chicken for us. The mother and one of the adult daughters knelt on the floor and poured water over our hands into a basis to rinse them before dishing up our plates. We were very fortunate to have spoons to eat with. The family had a pen with turkeys and washbins full of chicks which are hard to come by these days. We are on Africa time, of course, so it was no surprise that our one hour in Marewa stretched to four. And that was with the itinerary Peter made for us quite unfinished!
Upon our return to Harare, Washington took us to the market where the guys and I purchased some souveniers. We spent nearly $25 million Zim--every $100,000 note we had on us. :) The exchange rate has changed since last week, so that is not even $50 worth, but we made some craftsmen very, very happy.
I'm sorry to say that we brought Brian to Zimbabwe and he took a turn for the worse--literally. But his driving improved once he got us out of the middle of the intersection and back on the correct side of the road. Actually, Brian and Jerry did a fantastic job of driving us down single lane roads, dirt roads, oxcart paths, and around (and occassionally through) large potholes. Paula says Jerry has earned his PhD here--he's now a certified pot-hole dodger.
Soon we're taking the Mhlangas to dinner and will meet Alvaro Dos Santos's brother, Chris, as well has his son, Phillip, there. We're looking forward to seeing Phillip whom the Leveretts and I have known for some time now. The Mhlanga's have no water today, but fortunately they've stored some up; nevertheless, I'm really rooting for a shower before heading to the airport in the morning. I rented a shower at Heathrow in London on the way, but our layover will be short tomorrow. Adrian received his dufflebag only yesterday, but he's looking forward to wearing clean clothes home. We're looking forward to him doing so, too!
It's doubtful I'll be able to write before Boston at least, so I will give you all my love and ask you to continue praying for us. Our souls are good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our hearts are full

Today, Wednesday, we drove up and down hills, past goats and cows along the roadside, around curves that gave gorgeous views of mountains and craggy valleys to Dorowa to visit the church there and Assan, our native missionary. Assan and his wife also run a feeding center in the front yard of the home he built himself. He even made the bricks, digging the dirt from an anthill and mixing it with water to bake in a homemade kiln. Last year when we were there he'd completed the walls, but had no roof and only thorn branches at the windows to protect the structure from intruders. Today it was finished--a diminuitive small three-room home for a family of seven now that he's raising his brother's children who lost their parents to AIDS. He'd plastered the inside walls and the outside were plastered and painted a light pink. The children sleep on a reed mat on the concrete floor and a live hen nests in a bowl on the floor in the corner.
I say the feeding center is in the front "yard," but it's nothing more than dirt. They feed many children there and have constructed a canopy of small tree trunks or limbs for support and scraps of tarps overhead. It provides a welcome bit of shade as there is not one tree. The vat of sadza--a large barrel or drum--was so deep, and the mixture so thick, that it had to be stirred by men using four-inch diameter, five-feet long tree branches stripped of their bark. The children ate only sadza and beans. We were served rice, chicken and goat meat, but I was much too hot to be hungry for more than a little rice. Assan and the men have dug a well by hand on the property. They've reached water at 29 meters, but need to go to 50 for better quality, so we left some money for them to buy dynamite to blast the rest. They will need concrete to line it so that it does not collapse, though that is a commodity hard to come by as it's being bartered for grain.
We drove back to Wedza and past Imire on our way to Marondera where we met Kennedy at his home. He was able to provide us with more diesel for the Land Rover--we were nearly through the second tank that's been added to the vehicle. Fuel is very difficult to obtain in Zimbabwe, but Kennedy owns busses and was able to assist. We had a great visit with Kennedy who helped us get soccer balls as gifts for Wedza area schools and the police who made a request we can't afford to refuse if we want their continued friendship. He also obtained five bicycles for us to provide for three local preachers and two others who are dear to our hearts. We also met and visited with Clyde, the preacher in Marondera who has gone through SEMP training in the USA, for those of you familiar with the material Brian, Doyle, Bob and I have edited and re-written and elaborated on (with permission, of course) to become the "Line of Departure" seminar. Kennedy bought us cokes, which is almost as difficult to come by as fuel, so we felt very refreshed and pampered before heading on to Harare.
Alice and Washington were on their way to their Wednesday small group meeting when they saw us driving into town, so they followed us home and made sure we knew where to find the dinner she'd left for us. We're relaxing now and so glad to be back in the comfort of the Mhlanga's gracious hospitality.
We are so weary, but our hearts are full. I wish everyone could visit this place, even those who have no interest in it whatsoever, for it only takes a moment to love these people, to appreciate the beauty of this land, and to feel your heart break for the great needs that define this place and time. I'm convinced that our hearts must learn to break so that God can show us the extent of his great love, mercy, compassion, and comfort.
We continue to miss you all and are looking forward to returning this coming weekend, Lord willing. Thank you for your prayers and for taking care of our families!

Better Late Than Never

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm just now able to write of Tuesday because the lodge computer was having difficulties last night. It's another beautiful day . . . it seems each one is more precious than the previous, but that's because we continue to meet many amazing people.
Yesterday Brian, Jerry, Adrian, and I arose early to go with Edmore on a ride through the park. We were off just after sunrise around 5:30. Along the way we saw in the wild our giraffe friends from Monday, zebra, eland, sable, warthog, reedbuck, rhino, and elephants. We stopped for tea and shortbread that Edmore had brought with us before heading off to find the cape buffalo and the infamous Zoe. Zoe is Shona for elephant, and indeed they named this elephant "elephant" because they are trying to convince her she is truly an elephant and not one of the cape buffalo she's been living with for 34 years. She is the leader of the cape buffalo herd and has an heroic past which I think I must share later since this office is busy this morning, and I am graciously being allowed to intrude.
After the ride, we met Godwin and others in Wedza for the trip to Zana school where Adrian and Brian spoke to the students and the church that meets there. We visited with one of the teachers, a man named Witness, whom we met last year and with whom we've contracted for a Shona translation of World Bible School. Paula and I had a spontaneous interlude with the women. We asked them to share their stories with us of how God has answered their prayers and encouraged them to pray together when they meet and to continue to share their stories of God's faithfulness with one another.
From Zana we went back to Mukondwa school, to the new feeding center there. We snapped photos of the sweet children getting one of their three meals a week that the center provides. As this work is established and well-managed, the feedings may increase.
We drove to Wedza high school where we spent but a few minutes. Some students sang for us--what beautiful, soulful voices! Brian told a modern-day story about a father and son. When he concluded by saying this is the story of Jesus, the students made the connection immediately--even before Brian could make the analogies--and they broke into spontaneous applause!
We also returned to the hut church at Maruta. Fifty-five of us crowded into the hut we'd visited the day before--a structure perhaps 20 feet in diameter. It was very warm, but the fellowship was sweet. They gave us gifts of handmade pottery and needlework. And I'm pretty certain I managed to gracefully remove the roaches that crawled onto me. :)
At last we met with the Wedza church that meets in the home of a preacher named Farai. Farai is supported by the 29th & Yale church in Tulsa where I attended as a teenager. We had sweet fellowship there as well and after Adrian's message, many came asking for us to pray that God would heal them.
We came home weary and worn, but were refreshed by showers and a good meal. Though we took snacks along for our lunch, we gave most of it away, save for perhaps a miniature box of raisins or a small granola bar each. At Imire we met a group of four that are here from South Africa and London, including the director of an organization called ZimKids that also feeds orphans in the name of Jesus. I've visited their website before.
Must close and join the others for breakfast. This morning we leave Imire and head to Dorowa, Rusape, Marandara, and back to Harare. Please keep praying for us. We are grateful to God for his many mercies--we have been safe and well-treated at all times. Love you all!

Monday, October 08, 2007

We are SO in Africa

I've decided the electricity in the rural areas is only on from about 10 pm to 2 am each day. Praise God for generators. Because the email doesn't always go through promptly, I'll try to be clear about what day it is. This time I'm writing on Monday night.
Today has been a very full and heart-lifting day. We began at the Mukondwa Secondary School where Adrian, and then Brian, spoke briefly to the students. I asked the deputy headmaster first of all if he would invite his students to write to mine, and then if we might mingle with the young people for a while before they headed back to their classes. As always, the children loved to have their pictures taken and would laugh and cheer when we shook their hands. Someone interpreted for me as I invited questions from the boys about schools in America. Naturally, their greatest curiosity revolved around sports. When I told them Brian was a very good soccer player and that they should ask him to play with them, they reported they had no soccer ball. As it turned out, Jerry and Adrian had brought one for their school, so it was a delight to see that given to them.
We crossed the road to the primary school where Alvaro Dos Santos has just initiated a new feeding center only two weeks ago. We met some fifty orphans being fed there three days a week and were privileged to speak with them for several minutes. The school--glass missing or in jagged pieces in the windows, no desks, mottled blackboards barely readable--sits amid the vivid purple jacaranda trees on a hill above a valley, hazy blue mountains rising in the distance.
Next we drove to meet with a church in Maruta. After driving down an oxcart path, we parked and hiked about half a kilometer down a footpath through tall, brown grasses, past cows munching on the dry vegetation, through a gate in a bramble fence to a small grouping of huts. We were invited into the round hut which traditionally serves as the kitchen. It was neat and tidy, save the roaches skuttling up and down the walls and across the dung floor. The same painted material formed benches around the perimeter of the interior as well as a set of shelves on one section of the wall. Chipped and dented, but brightly colored plates and bowls lined the cabinet of sorts, and cooking utensils hung on nails nearby. Gourds and a homemade whisk broom were tucked into the smoke-blackened thatch roof. An old tarp, a woven reed mat, and a fraying crocheted blanket covered the floor surrounding the fire pit which was cold and clean-swept. There had been a communication problem about the time of our meeting, so we were two hours early, though word quickly spread that we'd arrived. People began to join us and the family that had provided the meeting place. They sang in Shona and Jerry spoke briefly, but we had other business to tend to, so we made arrangements to return tomorrow afternoon.
Later this afternoon we returned to Imire for appetizers at a viewing station and then a braai, with is an Afrikaans word for barbeque. Edmore piled us into the back of a pickup fitted with viewing seats and drove us out to see the newest member of the family: a baby black rhino born Sep. 20th (also Adrian's birthday, it turns out). Imire has run a black rhino breeding project for several years. Baby Tatendai (which means, "we are grateful") and his mother, DJ, were penned. On the way we saw eland and giraffes. Then we headed to the viewing platform near a lake where we saw hippos last year. There were no hippos this evening as the sun went down in a blaze of glory, but we did see several nyala and kudu as well as warthogs. We returned the lodge for a visit with Kennedy who has come to see us. The manager barbequed for us, and I must say wildebeast fillets are quite tender and tasty.
It's nearly ten pm now. Jerry, Brian, Adrian, and I will leave with Edmore at 5:30 am for a game ride where we hope to see many more of the park's animals as well as its famous elephant, Zoe, before we head back to Godwin's at 8:30. Goodnight loved ones! We miss you even as our hearts are full of pain for these hurting ones, joy at God's goodness, and awe at the amazing handiwork of our beloved Creator.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Very Good Day

We reached the Imire game park at sundown yesterday. What a treat! We stay here while visiting the Wedza area because it is a safe place for us. There was no electricity when we arrived, but we were provided candles for our rooms. A generator lights the main lodge. We enjoyed dinner outside on a patio by candlelight with a fire in the pit. Edmore, one of our hosts, sat talking with Brian, Jerry, Adrian, and me at the fire pit long after the Leveretts retired for the evening. At last the generator was shut off, along with the outside lights, leaving us gasping at the star-filled sky. Edmore pointed out the Southern Cross constellation before we scooted off to our thatched-roof rondavels. I was delighted to find only one small spider in my bed this year, which I quickly had words with. Words, and an interlude with a WalMart fly-swatter I brought for that very purpose. :)
No electricity this morning either, but awoke to a fine day with wildebeasts just beyond the fence outside my window. We breakfasted by the pond before heading into Wedza to pick up Godwin, his wife Kuda, and several others meeting us there before going to meet the town authorities. Once that necessary task was complete, we drove on to Mukondwa school where we saw several old acquaintances. I was so glad to see Tendai, dear Pamela's husband, and to give him my condolences in person. Brian preached twice and some young women sang for us including a mother/daughter duet which was incredibly beautiful. We ate granola bars and crackers from home, leaving the church to enjoy their sadza together while we drove more than an hour into the bush to Chigondo. A baboon crossed the narrow dirt road ahead of us on our way.
We met that church last year, though this time they were meeting 2 km farther on under the trees outside a school. There were many, many AIDS orphans and widows in that place. The people asked us to provide food, school fees, and clothing for the children. That is a huge task that I'm unsure can be addressed. Adrian and I snapped several photos of the children, who laughed when they saw their faces on our cameras then waved their hands and asked us to do it again and again. The school headmaster had joined us, and so he took my school mailing address when I asked that his students write to mine. He said he would do so, so perhaps we may get a correspondence going. I was also happy to recognize a young man I'd photographed last year next to the nearly life-sized statue he'd carved of himself. He recognized me also, so we embraced as he told me he was still carving. We exchanged addresses.
The road to the school was so rough and rocky the last kilometer that Brian had to ferry Godwin's carload down in the Land Rover. Afterward, some of the men decided to walk back to Godwin's borrowed vehicle. I did likewise, and Isnot, who'd traveled with us from the game park, joined me along with another woman and three young girls walking our way. The girls were precious, and one of them held hands with me all the way back. When we arrived at the truck, I fished out a nutri-grain bar and split it between them to receive the sweetest bend of the knee and hugs in return.
Again, no electricity at Imire, though I'm typing on the office computer run by the generator. We just finished a good dinner that we were certainly hungry for. We're very tired, but looking forward to our rest and another day. We love and miss you all. Please keep praying for us. The requests for assistance and the greatness of the needs are overwhelming. We need wisdom, patience, and continued sensitivity, which is sometimes hard to maintain amid the numbing desperation. We remain healthy, though admittedly stiff from the bumpy, crowded ride today. Eleven of us in a six-seater today because we take on passengers as we can. It's after nine here, so I need to brave the very dark bathtub, where I hope to find hot water and no creepy crawlies. Love and hugs!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Seminar

Woke at 4:45 this morning for a trip to the airport, hoping to catch our luggage as it came off the 5:30 am flight. No electricity, so I cleaned up by flashlight, though I heard roosters crowing shortly after 5.
Praise God, we got 4 of our 5 missing bags, including the one with seminar materials. Poor Adrian is still out his clothes, but he's thrilled to have fresh contacts and solution! Maybe his suitcase will be in on Sunday . . .
Seminar went great today. The messages are fresh and true and challenging, so while they seem to be generally accepted, they are creating a lot of great dialogue. Tomorrow Paula and I will have special time set aside with the women, though I've used our mealtimes under the trees to pursue conversations on the subject.
Some of you know of Kennedy who walked away from his faith some years back. Today he rededicated himself to the Lord with a lengthy confession to his peers in ministry leadership. There was great rejoicing.
We continued to meet up with many past acquaintences and friends today and enjoyed building upon those relationships. Likewise, we're making new friends, among them Zoling and Peter and (another) Pamela. We're all a bit worn out at this point, however.
It's time to repack for the Wedza area, sorting our gifts and deciding how otherwise to travel lightly. We will leave for that rural region and the Imire Game Park after the seminar ends around 1 pm tomorrow, which--knowing what Africa time means--we'll be lucky to get out of Harare by 4 pm. :)
Last year I was given great license by the Imire management to post messages from their office computer after hours. Hope they're as accomodating this year, or I may not be able to write until Wednesday.
As we were driving back to the Mhlanga's home tonight, I rode alone with Jerry, Brian, and Adrian so I took the opportunity to ask for their reactions to Africa on this, their first visits. Like me, they are struck by how much the people are the same as us with their hearts and concerns and even many habits. The guys are overwhelmed by compassion and the oddly simultaneous admiration of these resourceful, strong, and gracious people. Africa impacts and changes her visitors. You cannot lay a foot in this land without some shift in your perspective on people, wealth, blessings, and suffering.
And I think that's a good thing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I Cried Good Tears Today

Today we scattered, Brian searching for fuel and running errands with Washington; Jerry, Lynn, and Adrian golfing with Chris DosSantos, Paula and I going to the World Bible School offices with Alice. There we met several who were arriving for the seminar. We three walked to a cafe to lunch with Si who will be coming on as Alice's assistant. I use the term "lunch" loosely: I had a scone and tea. The cafe had no jam for the scone which was actually only a biscuit dusted with flour. :)
A student minister at the Avondale church walked Paula and me to an outdoor market so we could buy chitenges--traditional hand painted fabric to wrap around our skirts and sit upon to protect them from the dust and dirt when we visit the rural areas beginning Saturday. We paid $5 million for the three pieces we bought. Washington says my husband will not let me come to Zimbabwe again if I'm going to spend money like that. Of course, that only amounted to about $15 US. The ladies selling them said if we purchased more than one, they'd make us a deal. In typical Paula fashion, she insisted we not barter, for whatever we paid would be helping those sweet women. I want to be Paula when I grow up.
The seminar began tonight with introductions all around--from those who came in from Dorowa, Mutare, Bulawayo (sp?), Murewa, and many other locations. Brian and Jerry spoke brief messages--only a taste of the sessions to come tomorrow and Saturday.
I cried as I sat there listening to Peter Madondo, whom I met last year, translating as passionately as Brian can speak. We praise God Peter was able to answer our request to translate, for he is sharp and quick and very accurate. I cried because the message of focusing only on Jesus is the message of hope for these people I have come to love with so much affection. I cried because Timothy and Dorcus and Campion were there. I cried because we were introduced to two very young men who were World Bible School students and are now pillars of their church and great evangelists.
Afterward we all shared a traditional meal, eating with our hands a plateful of sadza, greens, gravy, and a funny smelling piece of meat that was only explained to me as, "something inside the cow." Most of you will not be surprised to learn Brian skipped the greens.
Washington, Adrian, and I will venture to the airport around 5:30 tomorrow morning, hoping to find our luggage arriving on the morning flight from London. All of our seminar materials are in one of those suitcases. With God's blessing, we'll be at the church with them by the time the first session begins. And if not, then we'll trust that we don't need them first thing.
We love and miss you all. We continue to be in good health and spirits. Thank you for your prayers.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Here and Healthy

After two days and nights of travel we've made it safely to Zimbabwe, praise God! We left London last night, barrelling above France at 600 miles per hour. Then we cut across the tip of Sardinia, glanced off Tunisia, and plunged south through Lybia and the Sahara, straight down the middle of the continent.
Unfortunately, several pieces of our luggage are apparently stranded in London. Our only hope is that they arrive on the next flight into the country on Friday. I'm missing but one piece, and though I can certainly do without the few personal items it contains, I'm disappointed to think that the children's clothing I packed might not make it here. Poor Brian and Adrian who are missing all their luggage, including the handouts for the seminar this weekend. Please pray those bags arrive.
We rested today after our morning arrival though we're all ready for bed again. Met with the church in Harare tonight where Brian spoke and we got to see Assan and several others who've come from Dorowa. It is a great delight to be here again, to hug these precious people and rejoice in our common faith.
I find myself still fascinated by this place, by the women walking with tall baskets on their heads and babies tied to their backs. The purple jacaranda trees are in full bloom as are the myriad other brightly colored flowers and bushes. The white-frocked apostolics walk the roadside, their light clothing a blessing for them and us as we drive past on the dark, narrow streets.
Alice and I enjoyed a girl visit, riding to and from the church alone while the others piled into Alvaro's loaner--an ancient Land Rover--risking Brian's driving as he steered
British-style from the right side of the vehicle down the opposite side of the road. :) I admire Alice tremendously--her wit and intelligence, her compassion, and her godly gentleness.
Tomorrow we prepare for the seminar--doing what, I don't know. I'll just follow orders. Most likely preparing food and helping people settle in on borrowed mattresses. The seminar will be introduced in the evening and then we'll share a meal. The sessions will begin on Friday morning.
Everyone on the team is well and enjoying one another's company. Keep praying for us! We miss you.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Your Prayers

I got up early this morning; much too early for an 11:15 am flight, but I don't like to rush. We'll be flying from Amarillo to Dallas to Detroit to London to Harare, Zimbabwe. It'll take the better part of two days. The Leveretts left yesterday and will meet us in London after a day of rest from travel. Doctor's orders--Lynn had back surgery last spring.

Thank you for your many prayers. As I've asked many to do, please pray for the health and safety of the entire team: Paula & Lynn, Jerry, Adrian, Brian, and myself. Pray for our families. Pray for the Zimbabwean church leaders and their spouses who will travel to the capital city of Harare for the special seminar taught by Jerry and Brian, that transportation will flow smoothly for participants, and that the people's hearts will be receptive to the pure but challenging truths that will be shared. Pray for our wisdom, stamina, and Christ-likeness as we visit schools, churches, and feeding centers throughout rural areas, facing many heart-wrenching situations and trying to decide who most needs help in a country where everyone is desperate. Pray that the translators will understand and accurately communicate our words. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our actions, words, and time. Pray that our presence will bless and encourage every person we encounter, from the officials who will monitor our activities to the smallest child with nothing but hunger in her belly.

If you're interested, Wikipedia, as usual, has a good article on Zimbabwe with both history and up-to-date information about the country. You can find it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbabwe or just Google "Zimbabwe." The Wikipedia link will be close to the top of the list.

Blessings, family, friends, students and parents! I'll post at every opportunity.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I received a forwarded report from a Zimbabwean man just yesterday, corresponding on behalf of a preaching school. He writes, in part:

“We are grateful for the Lord’s grace that showers our lives as we are going through difficult times in this country. Our beautiful country is going through turbulent economic difficulties with people failing to get enough to eat. However, this does not discourage us to continue preaching and teaching the message of Jesus Christ . . .

“During the past three and half years, our school took a deliberate shift towards producing as much food as we can for our own consumption . . . we now have six head of cattle and we are already using the ox as draught power in our rented field . . . . During the last agricultural season, we managed to produce two tonnes of maize (corn). . . . During the first half of this year, we had 500 [laying hens] producing an average of 450 eggs every day. These were slaughtered in July after reaching the end of their laying period. Unfortunately, we have not been able to replace these layers because of the unavailability of chicks. . . . Our vegetable garden that was thriving during the first half of the year is now under moisture stress because of the unavailability of water. As we are writing this report, we have not had any running water in our [taps] during the first two weeks of September. Fortunately, most of our greens are under drip irrigation; therefore, the beds retain moisture for at least a week. We are now ferrying water from other sources to sustain this project.

“The economic situation in Zimbabwe is difficult to comprehend because fundamentals have been twisted. In July 2007, the government decided to control the rate of inflation by slashing the price of all goods resulting in producers failing to produce at the government given prices. This tinkering resulted in acute shortage of nearly all products and services. Literally most of our shops are empty even clothing stores. Queues are a common sight. [We have] managed to source nearly all our basic groceries from South Africa and Botswana . . . . These days one will be considered a connected person if found drinking a soft drink like coke or having bread for breakfast. Please pray for our country because only a divine intervention will save us from this economic quagmire.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but never, in my wildest imagination, would I consider a Coke or bread for breakfast a symbol of my success.

Our team of six—we’ve added one to our group just this week—is about to embark on a journey that pales in comparison to that which the gracious, dignified people of Zimbabwe are living each day. Sure, in this oppressed nation there are plenty of thieves, violent men, corrupt leaders, and people who stir up strife, but the men and women I know are resourceful, strong, hopeful, and generous even in their poverty.

And knowing them makes me feel very well-connected.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Zimbabwe '07 minus Nine

Well, in nine days I begin the journey back to Zimbabwe. What different emotions I'm experiencing this year! Last year I was traveling to a foreign country to meet strangers. This year, I'm on my way to a beloved land to visit precious friends.
To be sure, our small group will meet many new souls and make friends out of more strangers, but today joy has replaced uncertainty, affection has replaced apprehension.
I certainly know better how to pack! My suitcase will be filled with even less of my own belongings and more things to leave behind for a people who go without so many necessities and luxuries. I'll be taking donated art supplies for young Joseph who stole my heart last year with his artist's passion (see "All the Same" posted about Sep. 23, 2006). I'll take more practical shoes this year. And shoes for children. I found a pair of old eyeglasses in a drawer when we moved that I can give away. I'll stock up on allergy medication, toilet paper, and granola bars. I've already been to the benevolence center at the Southwest church to pick out long, polyester dresses to wear and then share. Dear Paula taught me that trick; keeps us from wasting space with our own clothing.
To be honest, part of me dreads this trip. I'm exhausted. I have too many other things to do. The journey is challenging and there are so many inconveniences. I don't want to go without my husband, but though we'd planned to go together this time and take our youngest son, our recently changed circumstances prevent this. I don't want to leave my students with a substitute for two weeks. The orphans, the starving, the sick, the oppressed all leave me emotionally weary.
But my heart is another matter. My heart is ready, my passion for the purpose of our journey is at its peak. I can't wait to hug Alice and Chipo and Kuda and Si. To meet Pamela's sister who has corresponded with me since Pamela's death (see "God Blesses Zimbabwe . . . ," Sep. 17, 2006; "Pamela Farayi Mutambirwa's story," June 4, 2007; "Grief & Glory," July 31, 2007). I can't wait to grasp the rough and dusty hands of those sweet children who've lost so much. To take their pictures with my digital camera and laugh with them when they see their faces on the screen. To visit the schools and churches. To discuss challenging truths with church leaders and their spouses. To sing with believers under the shade of a fig tree. To hear goats bleeting as they pass through the schoolyard. And, yes, even to eat sadza with my fingers from a plate that's probably never been properly washed.
On second thought, my journey back to Zimbabwe doesn't begin in nine days. It began the moment I came to love its gracious, beautiful people.
You can keep up with Paula, Lynn, Brian, Jerry, and myself by visiting this blog while we're away. I'll post as often as time and Internet access allow. You may also contact me to request that my blog be sent directly to you via email. At any time, you can email blogposts to friends from the blog site by clicking on the small envelope icon at the end of a post.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Squeeze Me, Lord

His purpose is not the development of a person—His purpose is to make a person exactly like Himself, and the Son of God is characterized by self-expenditure.—Oswald Chambers

So I’m reading these words from My Utmost for His Highest this morning, and I’m struck by the sentences I underlined a year ago. They impressed me then, and no less today.

In the past few years I’ve really been torn between the desire to fully express who I am and fully express who God is in me. I believe He gives us all things: our talents, our holy desires, our passions.

But Chambers is right: . . . it is not what we gain (my thoughts: success, outlets for our creativity, satisfaction in being fully ourselves) but what He pours through us that really counts.

So I’m going to keep pursuing the dreams I believe He's given me—staying “fully alive”—but I’m going to remember: God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us.

For His purpose. His glory. Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heart Improvement

Over the years Bob and I have been able to afford most of our home improvement projects only by doing the work ourselves. We’ve painted, wallpapered, and sheet-rocked. Laid sod, sub-flooring, and tile. Installed ceiling fans, toilets, and countertops. We’ve worked hard and come away with pride at our efforts. Which is all well and good when it comes to home improvement.

But heart improvement is another matter.

This week we settled our daughter into a freshman dorm room two states away. At one point during the ten-hour drive home, I had time to pray at the wheel while the guys slept. Instead of asking (again) why God didn’t space out the events stressing our lives in the span of three weeks—moving a daughter, selling our home, making our own move, going back to work fulltime, etc., etc.—I finally began to praise him for heaping all those things on us at once.

Don’t ask me why. I guess I just knew it was time to stop whining and start praising. You see, even though I’ve recognized these many events as blessings, I've had serious issues with the timing . . .

Not anymore.

As soon as I began thanking the Lord for the crazy, compacted nature of our schedule, my heart exploded with gratitude. Why?

Because his strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Circumstances have forced me to be utterly and desperately reliant on the Father. Or rather, they’ve forced me to admit my utter and desperate reliance on him. It is humbling and freeing and deliciously sweet.

Had things worked out differently this summer, I know for a fact I would have handled them on my own, thank you very much. And I would have been proud of myself for doing so.

But instead, there’s absolutely no way I can accomplish what must be done in a day. On top of that, there’s no reason I should be patient with my family, grow even closer to my husband, and have time to draw near to Jesus. Or confess all this in a blog. Somehow, though, it’s happening.

So there you have it. I’m stinkin’ excited that I can’t manage any of this on my own. That I’m as wobbly as a newborn colt. That I’ve had to abandon any pride I might have salvaged through this transition.

Because the only thing I need is God’s strength. I can definitely live with that.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


This journey we’re on is thrilling, scary, awesome, and challenging, and we are wholly convinced it is Spirit-led. Time and again this summer, the Spirit has spoken clearly past the confusion and insecurity and discouragement our hearts have experienced.

As you may know, we are in an intense period of significant transition: job, school, family, income, ministry, and housing changes. Despite our busyness and worries and distractions, the Father has allowed us to encourage and impact the planting of two simple fellowships in the past few weeks: a home church in Taos, NM and a fast-evolving Bible study group of unchurched and dechurched people in an Amarillo apartment community. We are not the planters in either case, but we praise God for allowing us to actively speak into both groups. Just this week, a young Christian woman invited us to plant a church in her apartment. We are approaching this prayerfully, along with her, and will move forward as God leads.

The Lord continues to refine and focus his call on our lives. He’s nurtured within us a specific vision for simple churches and has actively placed us in relationship with a number of passionate Christ-followers who are similarly called and presently pursuing this kind of ministry. They are patient tutors, enthusiastic encouragers, and wise leaders. We are humbled that God’s faithfulness would be so rich.

Our church planting friends are scattered far and wide, but, praise God, we meet monthly with two other couples in our area who share our hearts. One of them has arranged for our local group of “missional friends” to be closely mentored by a visiting church planter working specifically with house church networks and other multiplying movements in China. We look forward to the coaching he will provide and invite any interested Amarillo-area friends to join us.

I mentioned worries earlier, and I do so to my shame. Please pray that we will trust our Lord completely. He knows that our house still needs selling and exactly what bills need paying with our reduced income and how we’re going to manage all the stressful adjustments August alone will bring.

In everything, we just want to focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and on the Father, who is over all and through all and in all.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Grief and Glory

For those of you who read Pamela Mutambirwa's story I posted on June 4, please join me in prayer for her husband and daughters, for sweet and faithful Pamela passed on to glory yesterday. Below is Brother Godwin's email notifying us. I am in tears, even as I rejoice. --Caron
l am sad to inform you that Pamela Mutambirwa died today . . . she passed away this morning in Harare so they want the body to be carried from Harare to burry her in wedza this has really saddened many christians since she was a very strong saint however we are happy that she will be in the Lord's arms as she was faithful before God. Her husband Farayi does not work so it is going to be a big problem in buying the cooffin ,transportation for the body from Harare and also food to be eaten on the funeral. God willing l am going to help on food to be eaten at the funeral we are happy because Pamela and her husband are faithful in the Lord at the time of her death she was now worshpping with Mukondwa church of Christ she was also a commitee member for the ladies at Mukondwa the whole church will miss her a lot. As l writting l am praying that God will open the avenues for her body to be transpoted to wedza and also help in buying the coffin and the food at the funeral pray for the 2 kids who were left behind, otherwise our good work is going on well here May the good Lord bless you and pray for this hard time we have we are really morning our beloved sister to us at Mukondwa we are taking Pamella and Farayi as Priscilla and Aquilla in the bible they were lovers of God pray for thje husband and the kids we love you ln His name Godwin

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Did You Know?

I realize I've been pretty sporadic on the blog this summer, but it's only because God has been so busy in my life and heart that I've moved into a phase of intense listening. About the time I think I've learned something worth sharing, He says to me, "Be quiet. I'm not done teaching you yet."

Nevetheless, I do want to point you toward a fascinating video on YouTube that you might not have seen yet. I first encountered it at a teacher training earlier this summer, then came across it again today in an email sent by another simple church planter. Invest just 8 minutes to watch Did You Know? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U), and it may very well open your eyes to the task set before us.

Many of us are finally paying attention to how dramatically the world has changed in the past few years. How dramatically it's changing day-by-day. We're beginning to figure out that if the world is changing, then so must our presentation of the gospel.

Don't get me wrong: the gospel of Jesus is timeless and perfect, but it must be presented in a variety of ways to the diverse listeners out there. In fact, as we say in Line of Departure (see the link to the right), we're going to have to scramble if we're serious about building the kind of relationships that earn an audience for the Good News.

Diversity is exactly the reason I believe there's a place for traditional churches, megachurches, rural churches, urban churches, simple churches, etc. By simple, I mean those that meet in houses, neighborhood parks, coffeeshops, pubs, work places, or parking lots.

You see, the world thinks it has Christianity figured out. That it's outmoded. Outdated. Out of step with reality. Shame on us for giving them reason to think so. To be honest, too many Christians reinforce that misperception by the lackluster way they live their faith. The hateful way they live it. The untransformed way they live it. Or the bubble way they live it, isolating themselves in Christian enclaves with little outside influence or value. Can't deny I've been there.

Bob and I have been exploring our city with new eyes lately. Asking the Lord to help us really see where people are, who people are, how they're hurting, and how we can better connect them to the salvation of God in Christ Jesus. Pretty eye-opening to a couple of folks who, just a few months ago, were convinced this is an unusually "Christianized" community.

It's our own little version of Did You Know?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enough and Never Enough

Sometimes I find it easy to become discouraged with myself. I strive to live by faith, and then in a moment of faithlessness I take it all back and worry or live in fear or question what God’s up to or try to control the outcome of a situation. Some days I’m a faith-filled woman, a powerful witness to the refining work of God. Other days I’m a sniveling coward, angry with myself for wondering where in the world God disappeared to.

We’re all like that, aren’t we? We want to operate out of faith, but we just can’t seem to sustain it to the extent we think we’re supposed to. We become uncertain, confused, bewildered, impatient, frustrated.

But let me tell you, from my vantage point, that’s nothing to beat ourselves up about, and here’s why: most of us don’t consider that God is always offering us progressively more challenging faith tests. We’ll never “arrive.” But each test causes our faith to grow, each failure teaches us the intended lesson. And every effort on our part is valued by God.

Some people, in their attempts to encourage us toward faith, would have us believe we barely live by faith at all. That we’re constantly disappointing God. They imply that if we were really pillars of the faith community, we’d never doubt. Never question. Never have a moment of dullness in our lives. Never need a nap or cry or yell at our kids or take antidepressants.

I don’t believe it. Some of the most extraordinary examples of faith come from people who struggled the most to live by it.

Remember those “heroes of the faith” in Hebrews 11? Abraham, for example, gets a whopping six verses dedicated to his faith, but think of all the times he didn't live by it. Like when he lied about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid someone would kill him in order to have her. Or when he impregnated his slave girl instead of waiting for God to open Sarah’s barren womb.

Good grief, the Israelites are lauded as examples of faith when we know full well that most of those who passed through the Red Sea by faith never entered the Promised Land because of their unbelief.

Don’t even get me started on the apostles who left everything to follow Jesus then spent the next three years arguing with him about what his ministry should look like, who he should talk to at Samaritan wells, and how in the world could they possibly feed all those people with five loaves and two fish.

The point is that for every step of faith we take, there are six more ahead that would not be steps of faith if they didn’t require . . . well, more faith than we have now. Praise God that we will encounter faith challenges at every turn, for it is through them that we are being transformed into the image of Jesus. And faith isn’t faith unless it involves the potential for doubt.

My friend Jerome Daley sent out a great newsletter today that touches on what I’m saying (you can sign up for Jerome's newsletter at http://www.purposecoach.net/wb/pages/coaching-column.php). He wrote, “God's deep yearning is for us to live in utter reliance upon and unprecedented partnership with Him. Yet despite this mind-boggling invitation, we hesitate. Our craving for control pulls at us relentlessly. And into this quandary, the gift He extends is . . . uncertainty.”

Uncertainty is a gift?

Absolutely! It’s only our enemy when we allow it to rule our faith-walk. And even then, God can redeem it. C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, writes as the demon Screwtape: “He [God] wants them [believers] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

The faith we have today is likely not sufficient for tomorrow. But God is. And He is able to challenge and nurture our faith if only we do not grow weary or discouraged and give up on ourselves. Because He doesn’t.

To Him, our faith is enough, but never enough that He will stop providing opportunities to grow in it.

And that’s the beauty of this journey.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Going Back

Last night my sweet sister Paula and I spent four hours booking flights for 5 of us to travel to Zimbabwe next October on a budget.

We are passionate about teaching the Zimbabwean church leaders and their wives more about authentic, simple, and transforming discipleship, the anti movements and a legalistic expression of faith being the norm there. And so the Leveretts and I will return, along with our shepherd Jerry Morgan and our brother Brian Mashburn who speaks so articulately on the subject--his life being the most powerful sermon of all.

Please pray for the Lord's will in these plans, that the doors into Zimbabwe will remain open, for the hearts of the leaders and their spouses, that the true and life-giving message of Christ will seep into the cracks and crevices of this oppressed nation. I offer a more personal prayer request as well: that God will provide the money I need to make up for my lost wages in October. I will be docked for virtually every day of the trip, and as the sole breadwinner for the family at that time, we will be acutely dependent on his promises for care and provision.

I pray to always live acutely dependent upon them.

I am eager to tell you how the Lord has worked in the Dos Santoses lives recently, particularly with their visa needs. But that story--while mind-boggling and one only God could write--isn't finished yet. Keep praying for them and check back periodically for an update.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pamela Farayi Mutambirwa’s story

Nearly two weeks ago I felt inspired to type up the word-for-word story written down and handed to me by a precious sister in Christ while I was in Zimbabwe last fall. Pamela is married to her second husband—the first died from AIDS, as it turns out. She and her current husband have two little girls. I chronicled part of her story in my September 17, 2006 post.

God’s nature being what it is, just two or three days later I received a letter from Pamela, prompting more fervent prayers, thoughts, and action on her behalf. I’d like to share some of her writings with you here. May they inspire you, encourage you, and embolden you as they do me. I am sharing them largely as she wrote them, complete with grammar, punctuation, and spelling oddities.
Isaiah 43:1-3

December 5 2005 marked a very important day in our lives. Weeks before, I had been coughing my lungs out, I had lost weight (from 68 kgs to 40 kgs) my skin was looking terrible, I scratched and had a terrible rash, thrush, terrible temper, I was just on edge most [of] the time. I was experiencing a geographic process. I was peeling like a rock under intense heat and cold. No matter how much cream or what kind, it never worked for me. I was a living geography chapter under “CHEMICAL WEATHERING.” That day I cried “Lord help” and to my husband “I am falling apart piece by piece.” I needed help and it came with a drunken woman while I sat scratching myself, much like Job.

With a strange smile she greeted me. I replied.

[She said,] “You too are having problems with this rash, lets see your tongue, well, well, welcome to the club.”

I was taken back. “Welcome to the club?”

“If anyone asks you tell them you have heat rash but in actual fact, this is H.I.V. related—you are sick young woman, now go for tests and confirm and be given drugs—make sure you join a support group.”

I was terrified—these were deep waters I was in, what if my husband decided to leave after confirmation. I had to face the results. Without second thoughts I ran straight to where my husband was, in a little shop that we were renting (I am a caterer), I told him what had happened outside and without any hesitation, he simply said, “When?”

My answer was—“tommorrow very early.”

In the meantime business was not [on] our side. We couldn’t understand what was happening. We were seriously stuck. With all this on our plate, we prayed “God whatever the results are going to be, prepare us.”

You know, some people live a weird Christian life—weird because they do not believe in miracles, their definition of miracles is totally wacked. We received our miracle in a very beautiful way. Jesus said “Peace I give unto you, not as the world gives.” That was our miracle—PEACE and assurance that we had not been cursed. I told my husband that if the results were to come “positive” we should give it over to God so He can use the results positively for His Glory—which we did. We dedicated our results to God and He is faithful—we have started to talk to people, sharing God’s word as it has applied in our lives.

It was such a relief getting our results though they were positive, I felt a burden had been removed from me [Note: Pamela’s husband was also H.I.V. positive]. Much to the counsellor’s surprise we looked at each other with hope and relief, instead of being counselled, we seemed to now be counselling the counsellor—only God CAN we told her.

Back home, the landlord had come—disconnected our power, and left. The next day he [came] back and kicked us out at noon while everyone was watching, no income, no shelter, no food—just plenty of God, we were driven closer to the cross. Though he was defeated two thousand years ago, the devil brought hell in our faces by the second. It was too much for me to handle—I cried in front of our local pastor. “It’s far better to be H.I.V. positive than to be humiliated in public” I cried.

We finally got accommodation at a place that can only be described as “a place to put your head.” It was raining, room was too small, but why need a bigger one, when we had sold some of our belongings to start the business and buy food, and rent. We started again our confectionery work, we sold our wares to a local businessman who ended up cheating us—we stopped. We left the little room we were renting for a cheaper one, it was like moving from Sodom to Gomorah. This time we had not even [one] cent to start anything—people who we owed money started claiming their monies—up till now, we haven’t paid them. Like I said “only God can,” this time we lived as the children of Israel in the desert under the words of the new testament verse “Therefore do not worry about what you shall eat or drink . . . ”

We had our daily bread and manna, in the form of mushroom. It was so plentiful we had enough to sell and buy soap, meali-meal, pay rent. No matter whether other[s] went before us, our 5kg allowance always was there, same place, same time. We started again, doing confectionary—it was short lived, every sale had something it needed to buy, either soap, food, rent or refilling of ingredients. We smiled a little when we were offered to look after a deceased couple’s property, it’s a payless job but we thank God every day we have a place a bit more permanent. My body felt strange sleeping on a bed for the first time since 2003, my brain must have worked over time adjusting my system so as not to get dizzy and fall (laughing).

2006 March this year we got a job at $1500,00 salary rate [Note: Zim dollars. At that time, I’m guessing it had the value of about $3.75 US]—life has eased a little, we can buy food though most of the time it is the wrong food, for our health, we can take our drugs, but winter came it was our worst enemy, with 3 blankets and 3 thin jerseys [we] were at the mercy of the cold. Flu ruled, and coughing was as regular as breathing but we survived. Our job is not really able to give us security as we can spend one month without meat for sale, we fear we could fall back to the days of hunger. But God says in Isaiah 43:1-3, “I am with you always” . . . and in Psalm 91 lies a beautiful promise, so yes in the material sense we are faced with a tough time, but, hey, where is God, He doesn’t go on vacation, if He can feed ants, bugs, birds and water the trees etc., what about us, who were bought and redeemed by the precious blood of His Son—Jesus Christ. He will surely breathe a life saving idea to provide food and clothing. God is not going to come and drop a basket of goodies or a trunk full of clothes—He gives an idea, but only if you seek His face.

He will provide because He is Jehovah Jire.
He will heal because He is Jehova Rapha.
He will give peace/protection because He is Jehovah Nissi.
He will arise and fight for me because He is Jehova El Shaddai.

So as I close this first story all I can say is “For I know whom I have believed in, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Being H.I.V. positive is not a death sentence it’s an opportunity to share God’s power of grace to the lost.

Give yourself to Christ whatever your ailment is, could it be cancer, kidney failure, heart problems, paralysis. God is very good at using what we call “right offs.” You feel like a right off? God can do anything. Do not grumble “Oh why me.” Who did you want it on? God allows sickness to come to us because He just wants to be glorified. Give Him the ailment and see Him work with it after He used a donkey to speak. Everything is His—try Him. Keep the disease between you and your doctor/s and you are inviting the devil to use you, and he will ride you until you are worn out like a tireless rim, but God will bring peace. Try my Jehova “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

My name is Pamela Farayi (meaning rejoice). I am 35 years old, born in 1971 on August 8. I am married to Tendai Mahachi (Tendai means thanks). We have two daughters, both H.I.V. negative, the first is Dion Esther, the last is Chelsea Chiedza (Chiedza means Dawn/Light). I am a caterer, hairdresser, decorator, typist, tailor/designer.

It is my hope that you had pleasure reading this first article as much as I had pleasure writing it. Do not have a pity party for me, just simply hand this to the next person in distress. May the Lord God whose name is Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, Al Shadaai, Prince of Peace, the great I AM, the Rock, the Living Water, (the Greatest Cook) keep you and in a world so confused may He give you the greatest miracle He gave us, PEACE, to dwell in your lives. Remember, He is Jehovah Rapha, the cure no matter how you feel, and by His stripes we have been healed. When taking your medication, pray over it as you pray over food. Do not forget to quoting God’s promises.

“Arise and shine for your light has come.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What About Bob?

(Below is an edited version of a letter we will share with the Southwest church next Sunday. I hope it serves to answer questions my blog friends might also have. Thanks for checking in!)

So . . . What About Bob?

A lot of people have asked similar questions since the announcement was made that we would be moving out of paid ministry at Southwest. The confusion is understandable—our plans at that time of last month’s announcement were undefined—but the Lord’s been answering our prayers for clarity and direction. We’d like to share where we believe he’s leading us.

First, let us briefly explain again why Bob will be transitioning out of his staff position by the end of the summer after more than a decade in fulltime ministry, nearly seven of them here. Our hearts have always been for the harvest. As students of culture, we’ve observed a shift in how and where people seek answers to their spiritual questions. Because of this, we’ve developed some core values for the ministry to which we’ve been called. Three of them are as follows:
· We must be missional. We are compelled to discover fresh ways to communicate the gospel to those outside of our traditional church culture, much like a foreign missionary must learn how to communicate the good news in ways that make sense to those in his mission field. We must go where not-yet-Christians are.
· We must be incarnational. We must fully enter culture as Christ’s representatives. It’s critical that we are a legitimate part of culture, doing our best to remove all barriers to the gospel other than the gospel itself.
· We must become church-planters. We must plant churches among people groups who are not currently being reached. Specifically, we are passionate about reaching people who might never consider walking through the doors of a traditional church.

That said, we are excited to see how the Lord is orchestrating this transition for us. We’re prayerfully pursuing Bob's entrance into the nursing program at West Texas A & M University in order to become self-supporting. He is already enrolled in summer classes, and we expect it to take just over two years to earn this second bachelor’s degree which is very much in line with his lifelong interests and background. It will also give us greater flexibility to move wherever God leads in the future. Caron will be working fulltime in order to support us during this transition, and we are thankful that she’s already been hired to teach math at the middle school next year where she previously taught social studies. Our home is on the market, and we're downsizing as fast as we can.

In the meantime, we hope to begin planting churches wherever the fields are ripe. We envision starting simple, easily reproducible churches in homes, for instance. We trust that God will show us how and when and where—we will follow His lead.

We appreciate the love and support we’ve received from so many of you. Thank you in advance for your continued prayers and friendship. We are also immensely grateful to the elders, ministers, and staff at Southwest for their love and shepherding. It is an honor to be their friends. And mostly, we are thankful to the Lord for His transforming work in us and in His church.

With the Love and Affection of Christ, the Guillos

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Risky Business

Risks are not to be evaluated in terms of the probability of success, but in terms of the value of the goal. – Ralph Winter

At this moment I’m sitting in my favorite local coffee shop listening to music by artists I’m unfamiliar with, sipping on a Cape Town Red Tea, and surrounded by young people working on their laptops, studying, iPods plugged in, or hands moving in expressive American Sign Language. Meanwhile our exceptionally pristine home with its freshly washed windows, cleaned out closets, uncluttered shelves, and gleaming faucets is entertaining potential buyers.

But I’m not here because the house is being shown. It’s Wednesday night, and I intended on coming here anyway. Selling our home and going to places where people hang out are just two aspects of this phase of my journey. Organic (natural, simple, reproducible) church planter Neil Cole points out that most Christians are trying hard to figure out how to bring lost people to Jesus, but instead we should be bringing Jesus to lost people. I’m still learning what that looks like, but am pretty sure it means less time in a comfortable church environment and more time in culture.

But that’s only the intro to where I’m going with this particular post. This whole journey God’s leading me on feels dadgum risky. I mean, honestly, I’m about as traditional as a middle aged mom/school teacher/Okie born and raised in the Bible-belt can be. For crying out loud, I say “dadgum.” And “for crying out loud.”

To make matters worse, Bob’s giving up his ministry job to go back to school fulltime in order to re-enter the general workforce where people who don’t know Jesus are. We’re downsizing as fast as we can, but my human eyes still can’t see how our finances are going to work out.

And we know nothing but traditional church culture. Sundays at 9:30. Potlucks. Sermons. Roll the Gospel Chariot Along.

Frankly, this whole deal is absolutely crazy. We’re likely to fail. Miserably. Go down in a firey, bankrupt, spiritually-isolated crash.

But that’s only the human me talking. The part that walks by sight.

The part that walks by faith knows it doesn’t matter. The goal is worth it. God’s called us to reach people for the cause of Christ. For salvation. For the best way to live. Because he loves them. Because he knows we love them, too.

So while my mind sometimes thinks too much, my heart leaps at the thought of what God’s called us to do. All the learning, and failures, and lifestyle changes, and painful personal transformation ahead of us are nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and sharing in his mission to the world.

Honestly, I'm fairly sure everything we think he's going to do will look completely different than what we're thinking right now. People may very well say with a great deal of head-shaking, "Oh, those foolish Guillo's. They went off half-cocked, jumping into something they knew nothing about. And look at them now."

And that's okay, too. Because the goal is worth every bit of the risk.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How to Vote

Concerning the Dos Santos family, please go to www.cbsnews.com. Click on "Assignment America" on the left sidebar. Choose story #2, "Old-school Cobbler." You may vote only once, so please send these instructions to folks who will help. Votes must be registered by midnight (Eastern time) Saturday night, May 5.

Thanks, friends!

Please help the Dos Santos family with your vote

Loved Ones,

Alvaro Dos Santos is the man who began the orphan feeding centers in Zimbabwe that I visited last fall. As you may recall, I'm establishing an overseeing board to monitor the collection of funds here in the US and distribution in Zimbabwe, as well as writing to help raise awareness and support of the feeding network Alvaro funded from his own pocket for many years. I know Alvaro and his family personally. He is trying to obtain a US Green Card/Visa and will be featured briefly on the CBS evening news tonight, Friday May 4th. Please read below for more information and instructions on how to "vote" for his story to receive more national news.
Thanks! Caron

From Alvaro:
Please forward to all the people you know and ask them to please watch vote for us.--Alvaro and Debbie Dos Santos

The following was written by another friend of the Dos Santos family:
Alvaro Lima Dos Santos is currently trying to get a visa/Green Card so that he can stay in the United States. He was forced to leave his adopted home country of Zimbabwe by the current government there. Since he is a white person who owned property and a successful shoe making business he is no longer allowed to live in Zimbabwe. With help from members of a church in Amarillo Texas, Alvaro was able to come to the United States on a temporary work visa. Currently he and his family are living in Abilene Texas. He has been able to put his skills a custom shoemaker to good use making custom shoes for people who cannot find shoes to fit their uniquely shaped feet. He is one of a very few making medical grade custom shoes in Texas. Friday May 4th on the CBS evening news (5.30pm CSDT) there will be a short clip about Alvaro and his problems with obtaining a visa. It will be one of three human interest type clips. The audience will be given a chance to vote on which of the three clips they would like to know more about and have a national reporter interview. Please watch the evening news Friday May 4th 2007 and then vote for Alvaro.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What We Know

Each of us has a mission in life . . . we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do. –Henri Nouwen

If you’ve kept up with my blog at all, you most likely know that God has been stirring transformation in my heart and my husband’s heart for a long time. The process has been long and confusing and exhilarating and painful and life-giving.

The Lord has had to work hard, stripping us of our insecurities and the things we feel secure in, but shouldn’t. He’s brought failure when we were sure of success; success when we expected nothing but failure. He’s torn down our thoughts about what ministry looks like for us and built us back up with a greater sensitivity to his definition of what ministry looks like for us.

Largely, this has been a terrifying experience. We’ve questioned our sanity, our faith—and, in retrospect, what seems a bit maudlin even to us—our place in the whole scheme of things. But keep in mind, we often felt desperate. We weren’t sure of anything anymore, except, of course, God himself.

Late last year, when the questions were still swirling, but the answers were beginning to take shape, we came up with a document that began like this:

Things we know about us:

We must be missional. We must recognize that North America is a mission field because of its cultural and spiritual diversity and its distance from Christian foundations. We must learn to interpret and engage popular culture. We are compelled to discover fresh ways to communicate the gospel to those outside of our traditional church culture, much like a foreign missionary must learn how to communicate the good news in ways that make sense to those in his mission field. We must go where not-yet-Christians are rather than finding refuge within our church culture and comfort zones.

We must be incarnational. We must enter culture as Christ’s representatives. It’s critical that we are a legitimate part of culture, doing our best to remove all barriers to the gospel other than the gospel itself. Some of these barriers would be the language, habits, practices, and “culture” of Christendom. The message of Christ will present a barrier that cannot be removed.

We must pray. We must ask the Lord to show us where he is already working on the hearts of people. We must ask him to lead us to men and women “of peace.” We must pray that the Lord will send out harvesters into his harvest field (Luke 10:2b). We must ask him to reveal the work he is calling us to do.

We must be constantly transforming, submitting ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in us as he fashions us into the image of Christ. This work is founded upon our knowing Christ through the Scriptures, prayer, and personal experience.

We must become church-planters. We must evangelize through multiplication, not addition. Our culture requires saturation church planting in differing contexts and to differing groups. House or “simple” churches may be a cost-efficient and effective strategy, depending upon the local cultural climate.

I will spare you the rest of the four-page document because it gets thick with research and statistics and mumbo-jumbo terminology, eventually devolving (or evolving?) into more questions.

Suffice it to say, as I worded in a recent email some of you may have received, the most profound result of God’s work in us has been in the clarity of His call to church planting. Specifically, we are passionate about reaching people who might never consider walking through the doors of a traditional church.

With the blessing, shepherding, and encouragement of the ministry staff and elders of our congregation, we’re embarking on a journey that appears to be taking us out of fulltime paid ministry and into self-supporting church planting. We see that most likely taking place in the context of establishing house church networks, though we are open to the Lord's leading in this regard.

While we don't know exactly how this will play out, we know that we’ll be phasing out of Bob's staff position at Southwest by the end of the summer. We’re praying for God’s continued guidance and clarity as he directs us into this next stage of ministry, preparing us to engage a segment of culture that may be asking spiritual questions, but can’t yet imagine Christ is the answer.

We have a mission in life . . . like every Christ-follower, we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. We’ve started banking everything on that conviction. We know what we were sent to do.