Thursday, February 27, 2020

What I Discovered On Our Ministry Trip to South and Central Asia

I woke up in the night to hear three gun shots fired off in measured succession. I told myself it was fireworks and probably something in this Asian, Muslim-dominated country was being celebrated. About a minute later there were three more. I wished I had the hearing I had twelve years ago before I started getting recurring ear infections. Was that a sound out on the street? Were there people coming down the narrow alley behind the church compound? The shots were fired again. There was definitely a noise outside and the normally docile German shepherd, who lived in the compound, raced toward the gate barking. And then everything was quiet. I convinced myself it wasn't gun shots so I could fall back to sleep.

This is the result of an overactive imagination.

But having experienced whatever the sound was in the night, I still made the first discovery on our trip to four countries in South and Central Asia. In a country that has been in the news over the recent years, is it's not all like the news makes it sound. There are countries where life is awful and unbearable, but just because you hear a lot of bad news about a country doesn't mean the whole country is full of people who hate you and are just looking for a reason to cut your head off! In fact, the Christians we met in that country, in cities and in villages, said they don't fear for their safety. Not to say there aren't problems with the majority religion people in places. But there did seem to be less problem with pickpockets and other petty violence. Our host always left his car unlocked when we went in somewhere!

They share the gospel
carefully, but fearlessly

The second thing I discovered on our trip is that God is at work in these countries. He has people there who are eager to reach out and share the gospel. They do it carefully, but fearlessly. And they are seeing results. Foreign workers would most likely only be expelled from the country. But it's not easy to convert to Christianity. It could mean your family will disown you. Or a young woman might be forcibly married off to an unbeliever. And in some places your family could kill you and the "honor killing" would not be prosecuted by authorities. But God will build His church. Christ is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

The third thing, is one I have known: No matter that you can't communicate with them, wherever you go, it is wonderful to be with God's people. Sitting on rugs on the floor of an adobe brick church out in a village with their unique rhythmic music accompanied by harmonium and dhol, you can't help but see the love of their Savior in their faces, even though the only word you recognize is "Aleluya". Having a queue of people come to you to shake your hand after the service and say any words they know in English because they are glad to meet a sister in Christ and being showered with flower petals on arrival at a church and given a garland to wear as a sign of honor for the Bible teacher and watching barely literate people pay rapt attention to the Word of God being expounded, all make you realize we are one in the Lord.

In spite of a thirty-six hour delay in arriving in our second destination due to a flight being cancelled because of the Coronavirus, which involved five hours on the Internet finding a way to go within our budget and twenty-four hours of travel beginning at 1 a.m. and going through two countries completely out of our way, we had a wonderful trip! I told my husband that I would go back anytime if we had a reason. And I don't say that about many places!

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Last Minute Family Valentine's Ideas!

I love Valentines!

Not only is it a day to remind us to show love, it is Jim's and my "Half" Anniversary! (We're celebrating 37 1/2 years of marriage this year!) With our kids, we celebrate family love and love to others more than romantic love on that day, but don't worry, we still keep plenty of romance in our marriage. Our now grown kids are well aware of our love for each other.

Here are some ideas for making the day a special day of giving love.

Secret Valentines (This is one of my favorites!)
When I was in college we had "Secret Heart Sisters" during Valentine's week. We all chose names from from a basket full of papers with our names and all week we were supposed to secretly express love to the girl whose name we had picked. I can remember wandering around the dorms trying to look nonchalant as I carried a large poster board heart in a hallway I had never ventured down before.

A couple of years we decided to do this with our family. Every evening during the week before Valentines, we chose names for the next day. We were supposed to be "good fairies" of love. Some of the things we secretly did for one another:
  • made their bed while they were in the bathroom
  • left a chocolate on their pillow
  • wrote a note telling them what we appreciated about them
  • bought a small gift for them
  • raced to do one of their chores before they got the chance
  • gave them a card
It was so fun to watch our children who normally squabbled, like kids in all families, trying to find ways to show each other love.

Family Love Day
Dottie, from Ohio writes: I usually make a special dinner and decorate the table nicely with a card at each person's place setting - some years it contains money, some years they may receive a gift such as an engraved "treasure chest" or engraved heart-shaped jewelry dish. I make a heart-shaped cake and then we usually spend the evening playing a game or watching a movie. This year we may  actually deviate from the "norm" since our kids are now 12 and 15 and go to a local church where two Christian groups are performing in concert. Either way, we will do something a as a family to spend time with each other as a reflection of our love for each other. 

Make Valentines Cards
Throughout most of our children's school years, we lived overseas where Valentine's Day was not celebrated, so there was no opportunity to run to the store and buy cheesy kids' Valentines. Since our children attended an American Missionary Kid school, the teachers still liked to celebrate Valentines Day, so we got creative. Now I'm a stamper and make all the cards I send out year round, but back then we folded red and pink paper in half and cut out hearts, made pop-up cards, cut heart-shaped windows into cards, stuck the stickers grandmas kept us supplied with onto cards, and even did origami cards. The best thing about this kind of card is that what you say to someone is so much more meaningful than a store-bought card.

Send Cards to Those Who Don't Expect Them
Every year I make about a dozen cards and we send them to widows and divorcees who don't have someone special to send them a card filled with love. At least two widows have told me that my card is the only Valentine's card they receive and they enjoy it so much. Who do you know that might need a small dose of love this year?

Tell Them Why You Love Them
I recently heard a guest on a radio program tell about her first year as single mom. She had no money for Valentines so she cut out paper hearts and put a mobile of them together for each child. Each mobile had the child's name on one heart and one attribute she loved about them on each of the others. She hung these from the kitchen ceiling late on February 13 so they saw them when they got up on Valentines'. The next year on the 13th they asked if she was going to do it again. Guess what she stayed up late doing? When a friend came over and asked what they were, her son said, "Oh my mom does that every year." A tradition was born! Have you told your kids what you love about them?

Tessa, in California, asked me, "How do you turn a holiday which is overpriced and focused on romantic evenings for two, into a family friendly celebration of love?" 
Tessa, I hope I showed you how a little creativity goes a long way in teaching our kids how to show love and think about others who need love. 

For more inspiring Valentine's ideas, click here.

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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Meditating on Scripture

All my life I've heard about meditating on scripture, but I must confess that I have never done a very good job of it. I have been fairly consistent in spending time in the Word since I was 19 and went on a missions trip with Operation Mobilization. Our team leader made us spend an hour of quiet in the house each morning. Since I had never spent more than 20 minutes before that, I had to teach myself to fill that time. After two months, I realized that I had been having a long quiet time every day and had learned to enjoy it. "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) came true in my life and I would say that I have spent some time with the Lord most of the days since then. (Not generally an hour--especially not when the children were little!)

I also did some memory work. When I returned home from that trip, my home church had adult Sunday School classes which required a memory verse a week. I had memorized previously in the King James version as a child in Sunday School and children's Bible clubs. Now I chose the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for these verses. When we were new missionaries in Peru, I made an effort to relearn most of my verses in Spanish. Having already memorized them in English made it easier as I knew what the verse said. Later, in Colombia, several ladies and I made a pact to memorize scripture together and we were amazed at how it affected our prayer lives. Then more recently I have started memorizing again and using the Bible Memory app, I have been fairly consistent.

I tell you all this to say that despite what I was doing I was still not meditating. I was checking things off on a to do list: memorize, review, repeat. Even these last three years where I have been intentional about memorizing, I was not spending time thinking about what the verses meant and talking to God about them.

We all know how to meditate. You take a thought and turn it over and over in your mind, talk to God about it, ask Him questions about it, maybe complain about it, and think about it some more. We usually do this in the form of worry! That isn't very profitable.

I wanted to start doing that with scripture.

So I did two things to help myself:
  1. I decided that each Monday when I memorize a new verse I would use my quiet time to study out this verse, think about it, learn from it, and talk to God about it. Since I've started that, sometimes I have to continue into Tuesday.
  2. With the help of my son, I found an app that helps me meditate on scripture that I have started using every morning.
Using the app takes about 10 minutes and it has changed the way I think about God's Word, my ability to concentrate on God's Word, and given me greater peace of mind. The app I am using, called Christian Mindfulness, has the option of silence or several quiet music pieces playing in the background and the relative volume you want of music to speech. The man, with a pleasant British accent, first begins by encouraging breathing exercises to calm myself and focus my mind, first on my breathing and then on the scripture he reads, clearing away the distractions of daily life. 

After he reads the passage he goes back over it slowly focusing on key words and suggesting I repeat them to myself or think them through. I usually try to think about what that word means, what God is telling me. I might ask God what He wants me to learn from this verse, this word, today. I often have other verses come to mind that help me understand or view the truth from another angle. When I am done listening, I am calmer and take a moment to think about what God wants me to do today with what I learned.

I am an auditory learner so this is a great way for me to concentrate. For someone else, looking at the words and thinking or writing about the verse might be the best way. The principle is the same: look at the verse or short passage from many angles, turn it over in your mind, think about the meaning of key words or phrases, and ask God to help you understand in the light of the rest of scripture. I do write my thoughts during my quiet time, but, for me it becomes a "job" to get done. Inactive meditation has become a valuable means for me to connect with God that I have not been able to do before.

My verses for the year are Joshua 1:8-9:
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth,
but you shall meditate on it day and night,
so that you may be careful
to do according to all that is written in it;
for then you will make your way prosperous,
and then you will have success.
Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous!
Do not tremble or be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you
wherever you go.

This is my goal for this year and for life. And this is how I have started.

I believe you can teach your children to start meditating on scripture at a very young age. Read them a verse--maybe their memory verse for the week--then go back and read through it phrase by phrase while they listen. You could have them close their eyes so they think about it. Point out important words or phrases and ask simple questions like, "What is another word for _____?" or "What do you think God is telling us when He says, _____?" Get them to think about the truth of the verse and how it is used in a Bible story they know. Finally, ask them what God is telling them personally from the verse. What a great habit to start in your children of any age!

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