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Jesus is always with us

Jesus is always with us

Wow. Can you believe that it was just 322 days ago that I stood up here for the first time to tell you what Maggy and I were up to!? 46 short weeks ago! We did not expect God to move this fast. Our family is flying out for Thailand in two weeks on March 26. We will be in Bangkok for 9 months to learn the Thai language. Then we will head to Sangkhlaburi to teach English. It is impossible to convey how excited and anxious we are to board the plane. We will have to say some very difficult goodbyes. It has been very hard already, as we have started that goodbye process. I had to say goodbye to the township, Maggy has had to say goodbye to our farm, and Fern, well she has yet to say goodbye to her princess dresses. Thankfully I think we can sneak those into the suitcase!

It has been so hard to figure out what I wanted to say up here today. I have so many things that I would like to share, but then I also feel like you all have been such an inspiration and support to us, that we don’t have anything to share. You should be sharing with us. This is a paradox. Thankfully, we learned all about paradoxes when we were in Colorado. At the most basic level, according to Webster’s, a paradox is a statement that is self-contradictory because it often contains two statements that are both true, but in general, cannot both be true at the same time. So how can I have so much to say and nothing to say? How can we be excited to start our journey, but sad to leave our family, friends, and Central Lake? This is the essence of a paradox. We have so many seemingly conflicting emotions, and even as an adult it is hard to understand and communicate these feelings. Imagine how much harder it has been for a 5-year-old! It was nearly impossible for Fern to communicate how she felt. But she learned about paradox as well, through a “Pair of Ducks”, yeah duck and yuck duck. So, when we spent an evening at the symphony, she could now express that she really loved the music, yeah duck, but she did not like how long it was, yuck duck. It was amazing to us that she could now express this, instead of the usual I didn’t like it. Fern has also told us how much she will miss her cousins and friends, yet she is so excited that we will be living close to a 7/11 for a Slurpee! So, remember paradoxes, if we say that we are excited to go, it doesn’t mean that we will miss you any less. Or if we say that we are scared to go, it doesn’t mean that we are second guessing our decision to leave.

This Lenten season, Pastor Gary has been talking about promises God has giving us. He asked me to tell him a verse or promise that our family has been hanging onto for strength. It was difficult at first to respond, because there are so many!! Yet, I think this promise does a great job of summing it up, I am with you always. We read about this in Matthew 28:16-20, Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Isn’t that amazing, God is always with us.

In preparation for speaking today, I read through what I have said up here before. The first time that I was up here, I talked about my anxiety and lack of trust in doing what God has told us to do. I constantly was asking Pastor Gary what he thought we should do. He very gently encouraged us to just take the next step that we feel God is telling us to take. And I can honestly say that God has been here with us through this entire journey. Without God, we wouldn’t be here. If He wasn’t always with us, there is no way we could have the strength to accomplish this incredible task. Even if we do not feel close to God, He is still right there with us. We just have to take the time to stop and let His presence be known.

Not only is God always with us, He actively guides us. We see this several places in the Bible.  One instance is in Psalm 32:8 “The Lord says, “I will guide you along the BEST pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” The neat thing about this is that we all have a customized pathway. There is no one size fits all pathway. God is our personal advisor. Some people pay big bucks for a personal advisor, yet we all have one in God!! God has carved out a perfect path for us to take. In this passage, the word “path” was specifically chosen. That stands out to me. It is not a highway not even a road. Paths are not necessarily straight or smooth or wide. There are usually curvy and almost always have bumps and holes. Just because we are on the pathway that God has given us, does not mean that we will not experience hardships. 2 Timothy 3:12 points this out, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” We will have those struggles, we will have persecution, but do not let that stop you from living a godly life in Jesus.

I can admit that I am not that strong when it comes to struggles or bumps in the road. I mailed in for our Thai Visas about four weeks ago, and last week I started wondering where are passports were. I looked up the tracking number and noticed it said undeliverable as addressed. I thought that was weird. Well, I checked into it further and it turns out that while I was writing the down the city and zip code, I wasn’t paying close enough attention because I was talking to someone in the Post Office and writing down addresses.  I accidently wrote the city and zip code I was sending it to in the place of our return address. I was not making any progress with the post office and was becoming more and more agitated. Thankfully I have the most amazing wife, and she was constantly reminding me to pray and to give it up to God. She reminded me of how wonderful God has been on our journey thus far, and God was not going to let a human mistake hold Him up from using us in Thailand. Maggy was able to smooth things out with the post office in Chicago, not an easy task I might add, and we now have our three passports in hand. To top it off, the Thai Consulate in Chicago didn’t even charge us for the Visas! Isn’t God amazing!? This is just one example of many that I really need prayer as I struggle through the struggles. Thankfully God has provided a rock for me, in Maggy, and He gives me plenty of opportunities to learn through struggles.

As well as a promise, I want to remind everyone of how Jesus replied when he was asked what was the most important commandment. We find this account and His answer in three of the four Gospels, I will read from Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

I don’t want to give the impression that Maggy and I follow this perfectly. That is far from the truth. Yet, we try to model our decisions based on these commandments. I think that these commandments are important for us all to remember, ourselves included. When someone cuts you off when driving, how would Jesus respond? When someone mocks you, how would Jesus respond? So, when we are about to do something, we need to stop and think, is this loving someone? If not, we need to rethink our actions. Maggy was just talking with one of her very close friends that is not a believer about why Maggy loves Jesus and why we are going to Thailand. Maggy told her that this is what we are commanded to do, love others. It isn’t a whole bunch of rules and regulations to follow. Maggy followed up by saying that it is simple to follow Jesus, all you have to do is love Him and love others! We just have to love Jesus with all our heart, soul, and mind. If we do this, we will be able to love everyone else as well.

This week, while you are trying to love everyone, remember the promise of Jesus that He will always be with you. Jesus will be there to help you love the unlovable.

 

So…. this is our last week here at First Congregational Church. We will be at the Ellsworth Christian Reformed Church next week. Then we will be on a plane the following week. We cannot thank you enough as our church congregation for all of your support. You guys have lived the love of Jesus to us. Just remember, this is a temporary goodbye, because sooner or later we will all see each other again. Thanks!

Blessed to be a Blessing

Blessed to be a Blessing

Wow, it seems like so much has happened since the last time that I had the opportunity to speak to everyone. I’ll start out with what’s happened since the last time I was up here, follow up with our next steps, and give you some snippets of what God has been revealing to us.

So when I was last up here, we were preparing to head to India. What a marvelous trip that ended up being. The journey started out a bit rough with a 6 hour delay and 3 plane changes! But we eventually made it to London and then onto Delhi. Once in Delhi, we had our first taste of a different way of doing things. The airport requires you to have a print out of your flight confirmation email in order to even get into the airport! Of course, we didn’t have that as it is not required in America. Thankfully we were able to find a shack on the side where the airline printed it out for us, so then we could head on in and get our tickets for the next leg. The next panic of cross-culturalness was on the cab ride to our hotel. I was white-knuckling it, Fern fell asleep, and Maggy was having a great time. It was drizzling, we were flying down roads too narrow for two cars let alone three or four! But somehow, we made it to our hotel and I could breathe again. Once settled in, we ventured out and instantly fell in love with India. The food was great, and the people were so so kind, and there were plenty of stray animals for Fern to name. We spent the first five days in Goa, which helped us get over jet lag and adjust to the climate and the culture. While there, Fern made some friends that invited us over for dinner. The dinner tasted amazing! It just took a while to actually get around to eating… It was a great lesson in what Indians call IST – Indian Stretch Time. We were able to enjoy great conversation and discuss Hinduism and Christianity. We then took a “10” hour bus ride that turned out to be 15 hours to Bangalore, the location of our training.

Bangalore turned out to have an amazing climate. The temperature was between 75 and 85 with a nice breeze. Our training was at an Indian seminary. There were about 10 Westerners and about 30-40 Indian cross-cultural workers. The training was amazing! We learned so much. We learned how to conduct a Bible study without any external aides. And just a shameless plug that you can join us Sunday at 4:30 to see what that looks like. We also learned how to story, as demonstrated by Maggy during the children’s sermon. We also learned about spiritual warfare and how to spot culture stress and how to react appropriately to it. In Bangalore, we were able to head to a local Christian couples house for dinner. Once again, an amazing spread of delicious food. There we were able to talk about the local Christian movement and the struggles they experience in the big city. An interesting cross-cultural experience that we had at training was taking communion. They don’t really have bread, and many Indians do not drink alcohol, so wine was out of the question. So the way they were able to experience the symbolism of Jesus body being broken and His blood spilled was through a coconut. The coconut ended up being an astonishing representation of Jesus. You have to break the coconut to get to the meat or the body of Jesus. During this process, you inevitably spill some of the coconut water or the blood of Jesus. So while this was completely foreign to our Western eyes, it was spot on in the representation.

So we arrived back in the states in late July and were not planning any other trips until January, but TMS really encourages all cross-cultural workers to go on a vision trip. We really didn’t want to spend the money on three more international plane tickets. They usually run between $1,200 – $1,500 each, but for some reason I felt the need to search for tickets. They were $555! So I called Maggy and talked to her to see what she was thinking. By the time we agreed that we should go on a vision trip the tickets were down to $515, so we were able to get all three for what would normally be the price of one ticket! God is good!! So we will be headed to Thailand in the end of October for two weeks. We will be traveling around the country to meet with several established couples to see what they are up to. This will help to hopefully provide a clearer picture on what our future might hold for us. We will be in four different cities in all different parts of the country. This should be a great time of learning God’s plan for our life.

Finally, we will be headed to Colorado Spring in January for the final training course. This course is a month long and very intense. We will learn how to learn languages and also how to share the gospel with other cultures in a non-offensive way to their culture. After we get back from Colorado, we will take care of all of our final needs here in America and say our goodbyes and get ready to head to Thailand for good.

So that’s our story up to now and our plans for the future. But I also wanted to share with you today what has been on our hearts. Maggy and I have been extraordinarily blessed by God. I remember back to when we were first married living in San Angelo, we had a very frank conversation on finances that brought both of us to tears. We were trying to work out our budget and just could not figure out a way to make it work. I was in debt from school, medical bills, and foolish living. We just could not get the numbers to add up to how we were supposed to live, let alone pay off our debt. We heard about the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace and decided to give it a shot. We went “all in” to rectifying my financial past. We used the envelope method that Dave suggests and also started working on his baby steps to financial freedom. It took a huge amount of commitment and sacrifice. While everyone else in my military class was going out for dinner, Maggy would fix a nice meal of beans or rice and maybe a small amount of meat. We lived very frugally. We were eventually able to completely pay off my debt and start saving for the future. We were able to save enough to pay for half of our house in cash! And not only that, we worked hard and paid off the rest of our house in less than two years. Mostly because we bought a fixer upper, but also because we lived frugally and trusted in God that this is where we were supposed to be. All this to say, God has blessed us so much! And God says, “We are blessed to be a blessing.”

We have been talking about our house and how great it would be to use it to bless others. We found some incredible farmers the other weekend to rent our house. They are just finishing up organic farming school at Michigan State, Go Green, and will be moving into our house January 1st. We just feel overjoyed how we are able to bless them through our home and be a part of getting them off to a great start in their farming career. If our house wasn’t paid off, we wouldn’t be able to provide this space for them to learn and build a new business.

We can see this example of blessing others through our blessing way back in Genesis 12:1-3, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Think about that, all of our and your blessings are because Abraham did the right thing by God, was blessed, and all the families of earth are blessed. Incredible. Sure makes me glad he chose to obey God.

Also this call to be a blessing to others is repeated in Zechariah 8:11-13, “But now I will not treat the remnant of my people as I treated them before, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. For I am planting seeds of peace and prosperity among you. The grapevines will be heavy with fruit. The earth will produce its crops, and the heavens will release the dew. Once more I will cause the remnant in Judah and Israel to inherit these blessings. Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!”

So how do we apply this to everyday life? An African proverb states it like this, “There is only one crime worse than murder on the desert, and that is to know where the water is and not tell.” As Christians, we have been blessed with the salvation in Jesus. He is our water in the desert. Why would we want to hold onto this limitless water source!? There is enough of Jesus to go around to water the entire world and keep on going! Jesus as he told the Samaritan woman at the well is the “Living Water”. We cannot keep Jesus to ourselves. We must go and share the blessing of salvation and daily hope with others! Please remember every single day that we have been blessed so that we can bless others.

How we got here

How we got here

As many of you know, Maggy, Fern, and I are going to be cross cultural workers. We have committed to at least five years of service with TMS Global. We have already accomplished two separate one week trainings in Atlanta, Georgia. Next up, is a month long training in India. Sometime in the winter, we will head to Colorado Springs for another month long course. We believe that we will be headed to SE Asia, probably Thailand. We feel called to help children that are at risk for being exploited into the sex industry. Parents often times find themselves in a tough spot, they are too poor to care for the children they have, so someone comes along and offers the parents money for the child. Many times the trafficker does not tell the parents what they are selling the child into. Often times the parents are told that they are going to go work in the city, possibly at a factory, as a maid, or in a restaurant. Yet, that is far from the truth. These kids are often trafficked into the sex industry. UNICEF has estimated that nearly 2 million children are exploited into prostitution or pornography every year. In Thailand, the Health System Research Institute estimates that 40% of all prostitutes in Thailand are children. Even back in 1980, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand said, “I ask all governors to consider forms of sexual entertainment that attracts tourists… we must do this because we have to consider the jobs that will be created for the people.”

This is a travesty. So where do we start?

How did this all begin? First we will examine what mankind is like.

  • Our sinful nature has the tendency to be corrupt and selfish. (Galatians 5:17) “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” While God created a perfect world, God gave us free choice, with that free choice Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. This has caused all the evil in the world.
  • Sin is born by our evil desire. (James 1:14-15) “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Next, we need to look at what God is like. Our motivation to act and pray should come out of our understanding of who God is.

  • He is gracious, compassionate, loving and just. (Exodus 34: 6-7) “And the Lord passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” God loves us, after all we are all made in his image. While we might things many things on earth are unjust, asking ourselves why do bad people go unpunished and often seemingly rewarded, but we must remember that God is just and everyone will go before him for judgement.
  • He is in the process of restoring his broken world; the momentum of his Kingdom is towards freedom, healing and salvation (Jeremiah 31) The Lord talks about restoring Israel in this passage. The same holds true for us. God was to restore us, take us from our brokenness and heal us and give us hope. I know the healing power of God. He has taking me from dealing with issues from war and delivered me and has even given me the strength to go out and help others.
  • He does not leave his creation to its own devices; he actively works on behalf of those who suffer (Isaiah 42:6-7) I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. Maggy and I are allowing the Lord to take us by the hand and we are trusting in him that he will help us to be a light to those who don’t know Him. We are also trusting in Him that He will help us set captives free or even keep children from becoming captives.

 

While the Bible does not talk directly about human trafficking, we can infer from God’s nature on how he would react to human trafficking.

  • Rescuing and caring for the poor and oppressed is intrinsic to God’s very nature (Psalms 146) Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.
  • Jesus’ mandate was all about reaching the poor, the deceived and the enslaved (Luke 14:16-19) He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
  • Jesus himself was sold (Matthew 26:14-16) Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

 

So, how should we react towards the issue of human trafficking?

  • We must allow God to set our agenda. We need to rely on God to show us the way. Often times, we script out a well-meaning life for ourselves, yet that is not God’s plan for our life. Maggy and I had this nice script laid out for our life. I was going to be the township treasurer until I was 70, Maggy was going to keep growing produce, we were going to start Airbnb rentals. Life was going to be great! However, God has bigger plans for our life. It was difficult to realize these plans. It has been difficult to surrender ourselves to these plans, yet we are glad we have.
  • We must be different in our attitudes: not allowing prejudice, arrogance or selfishness to creep into our speech and actions. We need to look at every human as they are created in the image of God. It does not matter if they are Muslim, Hindu, Prostitute, beggar, or someone living in a McMansion. We need to share the hope of God to all. Often times we are quick to judge people, myself included, yet those who we judge are those who we probably need to share the love of Jesus with the most. Think about who Jesus hung out with. It was the outcasts, the prostitutes, even the tax collectors, heaven forbid! Let’s try to approach people with Jesus eyeglasses on.
  • We must be ready to let God’s compassion move us to deep, heart-felt prayer. I have always had difficulty praying. I am a very matter of the fact type of guy. Yet, God has shown me so much through this process. I would still not call myself a great prayer. Let alone a good prayer. Nevertheless, God is helping me improve. I now consciously pray about things. I am striving to be even more conscious about my prayer life and am asking God to help me with it.
  • We are called upon to do whatever it takes (with our time, energy and finances) to bring about justice for those who need it. We feel very strongly on this. We want to be the agents God uses to bring about a change in Thailand and beyond. We are very thankful for those of you who have already joined with us as financial partners. We are blessed by God through all of you. As some of you know this has been a very humbling experience for me, raising support. Yet with your encouragement and God’s help, I have learned that finances are a way that many people worship God. It is not so much about us, as it is about you worshiping God by partnering with us.

In conclusion, I’d like to remind you that we were all in slavery once. We were slaves to sin. But by belief in Jesus Christ, he has set us free from that slavery and has giving us hope for today, tomorrow, and for eternity. We are so thankful that you, as a church family, have been so encouraging for us to bring this message of hope to the least reached corners of the world.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Hello,

For any of you who don’t know us, I’m Andrew, this is Maggy, and this is Fern. As some of you may know, Maggy and I have committed to be cross-cultural workers, with TMS Global.

A little history on how we got to this point. We have both felt a calling to the least reached for quite some time. Maggy has actually gone on several trips before we were married to places like North Africa, Ghana, and Thailand. I, however, have been a master at excuses as to why I cannot go. Yet, we both have decided that we need to trust and obey God and go “all in”.

These versus have helped us see clearly God’s will. Acts 1:8 says that you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 22:21 hits on a similar sentiment, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’” Not only do we feel a calling, we believe that God has commanded us to go, Acts 13:47 says, “For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’” Also, in 1 Corinthians 9:16, Paul says, “Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!”

We have started to learn to trust God to provide and show us the way. Pastor Gary can attest to our anxiety and lack of trust of God’s providence. Yet, God has always been there with us for every step we have taken. We were only able to take those steps with encouragement from other believers and by our faith in God. God has been amazing on this journey. He has already provided for us in so many ways. Every concern we have, God has taken care of as we have stepped out in faith. God has taken care of our worries so well, that many of them now seem trivial, however at the time they sure seemed insurmountable.

We went to Candidate Orientation Week, in the middle of March, in Norcross, Georgia, which is located just northeast of Atlanta. Maggy and I were both amazed at the peace that we felt with TMS Global. Every question on doctrine and beliefs we had, they answered before we even had to ask.

We will be heading back down to Norcross again at the end of this month. This time, we are headed to Foundations training. This training will help us listen to God in knowing where he has called us. Maggy and I are drawn to SE Asia now. But as we all know, God can change our plans at any moment. We will learn more about TMS Global and how to integrate into another culture. Speaking of integrating into another culture, all three of us will be headed to India for a two week cross-cultural class in July. I’m a bit nervous because I thought Mississippi was hot in September, I can’t imagine India in July!!

So we are going to be cross-cultural workers. It is because of Jesus we have hope. We have hope for today and hope for eternity. There are whole people groups in our world who have no hope – they are praying to cement gods and have no knowledge of the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. Jesus came to give us hope. And in Matthew 28 he tells us to make disciples of all nations. So maybe that’s what we should call ourselves- disciple makers.

We leave in two weeks for more training in Georgia, and we will be learning about creating a Home Team. The purpose of a Home Team is to help us thrive in our journey – not just survive. We need advocates and folks to pray with us as we prepare and for the duration of our time wherever God sends us. If you feel like this is something you are interested in, please let us know!

We want to ask you all to pray for our family as we follow the Lord’s leading.

Most of all, we ask for you to pray for us to really listen to His voice.

  • Pray for our families as we plan our move 8,000 miles away from them!
  • Pray for a place for us to use our passions and skills to glorify Jesus.
  • Pray for our home details – we are looking for the right person to rent our home and farm – a beginning farmer hopefully.
  • Pray for Fern – her name means Adventurer, and we believe God has specific plans for her as a small disciple maker!