How Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways...

In October of 2013 I took a trip that changed me.

The trip was to a small town on the southern coast of Togo, Africa.
It was my first missions trip.
It was the farthest I had ever been away from my family.
It was the longest I had ever been away from my kids.
It was physically challenging.
It was emotionally exhausting.
It was so hard…and so wonderful.
It wore me out.
It opened my eyes.
It emptied me…and yet it filled me to overflowing.
It stuck with me.
It stays with me still.
Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways.

We sat in a simple thatched building with a corrugated metal roof, on handmade wooden benches and sandy dirt floors. This was the church. And it was beautiful. There were no fancy sound systems or video screens or colored lights, no air conditioning or padded seats, and I didn’t understand very much of what was spoken that morning – and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a church service that was more alive with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Togolese people who surrounded us that morning lived in poverty like I had never seen before. But as I sat there and watched them worship Jesus, I realized that I was the one who was poor.  I had a life that was overflowing with comfort and privilege and plenty (we may not seem "rich" by American standards, but when you consider all that we have--a solid roof over our heads and consistent food on our table and running water at our fingertips--we are really quite wealthy and extremely blessed)…and yet, as I sat there in that church service half a world away from my everyday life and over 5,000 miles outside my comfort zone, I realized that I was actually the one living in poverty…in spiritual poverty. I had cushioned myself within my safe and comfortable little bubble, carefully planning and crafting my life into the shape I thought was best (which looked an awful lot like the shape of what our culture says is best): the shape of least risk and most safety, least pain and most comfort, least struggle and most stuff. Oh, Jesus was always a part of it, but He was not really the whole of it. I thought He was. I said He was. But He wasn't really. I thought I was pursuing Jesus, but I was really just pursuing the American Dream with a side of Jesus. My life was not conformed to the shape of the cross...it was conformed to the shape of myself and my own selfish desires. And I didn't even really realize it. I didn’t realize how tight my grip was on my life…I didn’t realize how little faith I really had…I didn’t realize what I was missing.

I went to Togo with this idea that I would somehow help them, but the reality is that they were the ones who helped me.

The Togolese people in the church that morning may not have had much as far as worldly possessions go, but they had Jesus, and He was enough. He was more than enough.

Was Jesus enough for me? Had He ever really been enough for me?

I want to love Jesus every day of my life with the same passion that I witnessed that week in Togo...like He is all that I really need and everything I could ever want.

The people of Togo stole my heart...our missionaries, JJ and Melissa, inspired my heart...and God used Togo to begin breaking my heart in the very best way.

That trip to Togo was the beginning of the soul-shaping process that God used to begin breaking my selfishness, breaking down down my walls, breaking apart the box that I had tucked my faith into. It was the beginning of God prying my hands open…of Him showing me how to let go of my life and live with open hands, trusting Him with whatever He gives, whatever He takes, and whatever He asks me to give away. I’m still loosening my grip…still learning how to let go. Because I forget…oh, how I still forget. 

It has been almost 4 years since my feet were on that African soil. And my heart has been longing to go back ever since I left. But I’ve been learning to let God lead…learning to trust His timing…learning to love where I am, and to see the mission field right here where He has placed me.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to cross the ocean to share the power of the Cross.
I don’t have to speak another language to speak the love of Christ into someone’s life.
I don’t have to look very far or travel great distances to find a mission field.
I don’t have to get on a plane to get my life on mission for Jesus.

But I do have to open my hands.
I need to loosen my grip and not hold so tightly to this life and what I have….it is all a gift. I am blessed to bless…I have been given much so I can give much. 

And I do have to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus always requires sacrifice. My life must take the shape of the cross...arms open in broken surrender to His plan and His purpose.

And I do have to look beyond myself and see the needs of others.
I have to open my eyes....to really see people, see the souls that Jesus loves, see their need, and then do something to meet those needs.

And I do have to be obedient and do what God is calling me to do.
And He calls all of us to share the Good News. As Christians, we are all given a mission to share Jesus as if souls depend on it...because they do. Because a thousand years from now, all that will really matter is a person’s relationship with Jesus. Everything else will fade away, but the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus and the souls of people are eternal. If I really believe that, it will affect how I live my days and how I use my time and how I see every single human being on this big beautiful broken planet.

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
“Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor....It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean, by that, that those who use the pen for Christ are silent; they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well; but I mean this,—that man who says, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor.”
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 

Sometimes obeying God may mean getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world.

Sometimes it means getting out of the recliner and taking food to a neighbor.

This October, for me, it will mean returning to Togo with a small group from our local church to serve and work with our missionary partners, JJ and Melissa Alderman. And this time, my husband Mark is going too! (I’m so excited to have him by my side this time!)

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to the place that stole my heart 4 years ago.

The area where we will be serving, on the southern coast of Togo, is dominated by voodoo worship (witch doctors, fetish idol worship, sacrifices, etc). The spiritual darkness there is thick...spiritual warfare is very real…but the light of Christ is so bright, and the power of the Gospel is so strong. The work that the Aldermans are doing there is absolutely incredible, and it is a truly humbling grace to get to serve with them and work with them for a few days.

Here's what we'll be doing:

The Aldermans purchased a large piece of land on which to begin a camp and community outreach program. One of our goals on this trip will be to help with the construction of a building that will serve as a bunk house on their new property. This bunk house will be the first step toward reaching their goal of bringing locals in to share the gospel with them.

We will also be ministering to a few of the local church plants by spending some time with them and praying for their churches as they fight to share the gospel in their local villages. Most church plants there consist of about 90% new Christians – their passion for the Gospel, and the sacrifice many of them have had to make to follow Christ is both humbling and inspiring. We will also spend time with kids, loving on them and having fun with them to help build relationships between them and the Aldermans. 

I am also praying that we will be able to encourage and love on the Aldermans while we are there. Although, if it’s anything like the last time I was there, I’m pretty sure we will leave feeling far more blessed by them…just being around them and hearing their hearts and watching them do the work that God has called them to do, with so much love in their hearts and courage in their spirits…it is truly a gift just to spend time with them. They are the real deal…beautiful people who just love Jesus and want to share His love with the Togolese people and see this country experience the life-changing power of the Gospel. The dream God has given them for Togo is bigger than their lifetime…they know that the work they are doing is only a beginning, that they may never see the full results of their labor in this generation…but that doesn’t stop them from pouring everything they have into doing what God has called them to do. They are faithful to their part of God’s big story…and it is so inspiring and humbling to me just to be around them.

Mark and I are prayerfully preparing for this trip, and we are trusting God to provide all that we need. Our financial goal is, to be honest, a bit overwhelming…we have to raise a total of over $4000 since two of us are going. But nothing is too big for our God, and I am very confident that He will provide everything that we need. 

To help us reach our fundraising goal, I have designed a whole new collection of prints that I’m calling The Mission Collection. This collection includes 10 new designs, and 100% of the proceeds from all purchases will go toward our missions trip to Togo. Each of the quotes and verses I chose for this collection encourage me and remind me of the mission that God has given us. Perhaps one (or more) of them will encourage you, too? :)

Both Printable and Printed options are available. See more details for each design over on the Mission Collection page in the Shop.

If you would like to donate toward our missions trip, but would prefer to make a direct tax-deductible donation instead of purchasing a print, please email me at jennifer@littlehousestudio.net and I’ll send you all the details of how to do that. :)

Thank you in advance for supporting us and praying for us. We covet your prayers as we prepare our hearts for this trip and as we trust God to work out all the details.

And please be praying for JJ and Melissa Alderman and their Togo Palms ministry. God is doing amazing things through them. You can read more about their ministry over on their website: www.TogoPalms.life

 

Not just a lot of talk...

“For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 4:20

 (click the image to download the free printable of 1 Corinthians 4:20)

(click the image to download the free printable of 1 Corinthians 4:20)

1 Corinthians 4:20 || Little House Studio

This verse has really been convicting me this week.

Because I can say what I believe and I can post words and thoughts on social media all day long, but it’s how I LIVE that reveals the truth of what I really believe, and reflects what is really actually important to me.

What I do says more about the condition of my heart than what I say.

You know a tree by its fruit.

God has really been working in my heart lately, convicting me to go beyond just saying what is important to me and what I care about and DOING something about it. I’ve been doing a lot of self-evaluating lately, a lot of introspection...asking a lot of hard questions and asking God to reveal the truth of my heart.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" Psalm 139:23

First I've been asking, does my heart align with Christ’s? Not with that author I like or with that person I admire or with that article I read on Facebook or with some political agenda or some good-sounding idea or even my emotions or what “feels right”…but does my heart align with CHRIST? Is my soul in tune with His Spirit? Is my world view aligned with HIS Word, and are my beliefs aligned with HIS heart? (This requires some deep and dedicated time in His Word, and some fervent and intentional time in prayer…this is something I am still doing…I’m still asking, still seeking, still knocking.)

And then, do my actions line up with my words? What does the way I live reveal about my heart? Do my actions reflect Christ in me?

Am I just a lot of talk…or am I living by God’s power?

 (click for the free printable)

(click for the free printable)

That’s convicting, right there. Or at least, it has deeply convicted me.

Because the thing is, I’m not going to change your opinion about anything by yelling mine.

But...I might just make a difference in your life by setting mine aside and doing something to show you the love of Jesus.

I’m not going to be able to wipe out poverty or starvation in all of the world by simply writing a blog post or sharing an article on Facebook.

But...I can share a meal with a hungry neighbor or donate food to places that feed the homeless or volunteer to serve people in need.

I can’t mend all the brokenness in our culture and our world. I can’t stop all the fear and the fighting and all the hateful words.

But I can reach across the lines and choose to see the souls that Jesus died for and act in love anyway.

I can’t fix all the problems. I don’t honestly even fully understand all the problems.

But I can sit down beside someone who is different than me – who looks different than me, or believes different than me, or has a different opinion about something than me, or is passionate about something different than I am – and I can listen to their story. Because everyone has a story. Every single person on this entire planet has a story that brought them to this very moment. And every single person on this planet was created by God, in the image of God, and loved by God. Every single person. And not a single person is beyond the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus. Not a single person.

There is no person, no people group, no country that is fundamentally more worthy or more valuable or more loved by God than another. Jesus died for ALL. For everyone. His love is not conditional on your place of birth or color of your skin or economic status…so why should mine be?

1 Corinthians 4:20 || Little House Studio

I can’t help everyone, but I can help someone.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something.

And the something I’m called to do may not look exactly the same as the something that you are called to do. But that doesn’t mean we are against each other, or that what I’m doing is more important than what you are doing or vice versa. Now, there are some things that God calls all of us to do:

“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” Isaiah 1:17 NLT
“Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent!” Jeremiah 22:3
“ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:44
“…what does the
Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We are all called to do these things. But just as the parts of the body have different functions, I believe God burdens each of our hearts in different specific ways to fulfill His Kingdom purposes.

There are so many ways to serve God…so many ways to share the love of Jesus…so many people in this world to love. If we are willing to open our eyes to the needs around us, it won’t take long for God to reveal someone we can serve and love and help.

So if God burdens my heart specifically for a family in my neighborhood, I should do all that I can to help them and serve them and show them the love of Jesus.

If God burdens my heart for the homeless man begging on the corner, I should do all that I can to help him and serve him and show him the love of Jesus.

If God burdens my heart for single moms, I should do all that I can to help them and serve them and show them the love of Jesus.

If God burdens my heart for foster kids, I should do all that I can to help them and serve them and show them the love of Jesus.

If God burdens my heart for prisoners, or for a local school, or for veterans or pastors or widows or military families or police officers or a minority group…or anyone…I should do all that I can to help them and serve them and show them the love of Jesus.

And if God burdens my heart for refugees, regardless of their country of origin or religion or what they wear or what language they speak…if God reveals a need and burdens my heart, I should do all that I can to help and serve and love them.

And none of these are mutually exclusive. It’s not either/or scenario…we are called to love ALL and serve ALL and help ALL. We are called to see the image of God in every. single. person. And to extend the love of Jesus and share the Good News with every. single. person.

Veterans and refugees, widows and orphans, prisoners and police officers, our neighbors and our enemies.

And we are especially called to stand in the gap for the oppressed and the poor and the widows and the orphans and the hungry and the least of these.

Jesus said, “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46 NLT

I don't know about you, but these verses deeply convict me.

If I see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner…if I see a person who needs the love of Jesus, I should feed them and give them drink and invite them in and visit them.

But do I do that? Really?

If I see a need, I should do something, in the power of God, to meet that need.

Realistically, obviously, I personally can’t help everyone who needs help in this entire big beautiful broken world…but I can help someone. **AND I can cheer you on as you love and help the people God has called you to serve and help and love.**

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, but it is also much bigger than the boxes we like to put around it, and the Body of Christ needs all of its parts to fully function and have maximum effect in this broken and hurting world.

“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Ephesians 4:14-16 (ESV)

As followers of Jesus, we’re all in this thing together.

None of us can do everything…but we each can do something.

But our faith has to be more than just a lot of talk…we need to live by God’s power and DO what He has called us to do.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

If we all just did that…if *I* would just do that…

So, to that end…I’ve decided to not just talk about what I think we should do, and instead go and do something. I’m going to do what I can with what I have where I am.

God has been burdening my heart for refugees for over a year now. I’ve prayed for them, given to organizations that serve them, and I’ve shared my heart for them a few times. But God has really convicted me lately about being more than just a lot of talk…He is calling me to put hands and feet to my words and do something.

I know…right now in our country, the topic of refugees is a heated and polarizing debate. There is currently a ban on any new refugees entering our country. Many are speaking out against this. Many are speaking out in favor of it. Many are silent.

Please understand my heart…I am deeply aching, over all of this. I have been researching and listening and praying and reading God’s Word and seeking Him desperately.

Here’s the thing…this is not an either/or choice for me.

You see, I LOVE our military. My dad was in the Air Force, and I grew up all over the world as a military kid. I could not love our military more or be more thankful for their sacrifices and service. But I ALSO love refugees and immigrants. To say I love one is not saying I don’t love the other. Love is not mutually exclusive. As Shannan Martin says, “Love never divides, it always always multiplies.” I believe with all my heart that I can care for both, stand up for both, have compassion for both. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, us/them scenario. In the same way, I can care about our country’s security AND have compassion for those who seek refuge…they are not mutually exclusive. My heart breaks for the way some of our military have been treated when they return home from serving our country. It is wrong. It breaks my heart. My heart also breaks for the families from war-torn countries that have already been through the extreme horrors of a war that I can’t even imagine, who have already been through a rigorous, multi-year process to be vetted as refugees, who were already cleared to be resettled in America, but are now being turned away at the last minute with no home to return to. This is wrong. It breaks my heart. My heart breaks for a boy from Iraq named Samir, who was badly injured by ISIS fighters when they doused him in gasoline and lit him on fire (you can read his story here). He needs advanced medical treatment in order to fully recover and walk without pain, and his best hope was in America, but now that door, at least for now, is closed for him and his family. My heart breaks for him.

I’ve read stories on all sides. And my heart breaks on all sides. Because beneath all the layers of debate and heated dialogue, behind all the headlines and polarizing rhetoric, and under all the broad stokes that are so easy to paint over issues like this…under it all, are people. Behind every side of every issue are real people with living souls and with broken stories…human beings created by God, made in His image, loved immeasurably by Jesus who gave His life for them.

So whoever you see as the “enemy,” whoever you view as the “other” in all this…those people on the other side of the debate as you, those people on the other side of the world, those people on the other side of the screen…we have to remember that they are people, too. People with souls and stories….people who God loves so much that He gave His Son to rescue their souls and redeem their broken hearts.

And the truth is, there are people who are hurting today. There are people who are scared today. So I ask myself, how can I be light and love to them today? How can I break down the walls that divide and compartmentalize and categorize groups of people and instead see individuals and love them and help them and serve them today?

God has burdened my heart for refugees, and yet I don’t personally know a single one.

I want to change that.

Just because right now no new refugees are allowed into our country doesn’t mean that there aren’t already MANY here who I can help and serve and love.

So I’ve been doing some research. A lot of research.

And I’m going to start doing something…I’m going to put feet and hands to my words and my heart and start living like I’m more than just a lot of talk…I want to live by the power of God. Because 1000 years from now, it won’t really matter what I said I thought about an executive order or how many “likes” I got on a Facebook post…the only thing that will really matter for any of us 1000 years from now is our relationship with Jesus. The rest will burn away like chaff…the only thing that is eternal is the soul. The only things I do that will matter 1000 years from now are the things that I do to invest in eternity. So, how can I help others come to know Jesus? How can I be His hands and feet in this world? How can I take the burden that He’s put in my heart and make it more than just a lot of talk, but by His power reach out and make a difference for a soul who needs Jesus today?

If God has burdened my heart for refugees, I should be doing more than just saying we should care for refugees…I should go and care for refugees.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Jennie Allen compiled a great list if you are looking for ways to get involved too. (And I love what she says: “We don’t need permission or legislation to rally for refugees.” She is right…there are already so many ways we can help and serve them right now.)

It breaks my heart that our country is not accepting more refugees right now, but that doesn't mean I can't advocate for them, stand up for them, and serve the ones that are already here...

I can do what I can with what I have where I am.

There aren’t many organizations where I live that work specifically with refugees…the only ones that I have been able to find so far in my state of Georgia are about 2 hours away from my home, near Atlanta.

So….I’m going to start by looking into volunteering in Atlanta, even if it’s just for a few hours a month.

I want to put faces to this burden in my heart…I want to pull up a chair sit next to a refugee and hear their stories and hug their necks and tell them that they are loved. I want to break down the walls around my comfort zone and enter into the brokenness of another…I want to live cruciform and lay down my own plans and my own life for the sake of sharing the love of Jesus.

I don’t want my life to just be a lot of talk…I want to live by the power of God. I want to DO what He is calling me to do.

What is God calling you to do today? Who is He asking you to love? He might be burdening your heart for prisoners, or for police officers, or for the kids living in poverty in your community, or for a country halfway across the world…

Honestly, you don’t have to drive two hours away or fly halfway around the world to find someone who needs the love of Jesus...most of the time all it takes is opening your door and taking a few steps across the street.

What steps can you take today to live by God’s power and not just a lot of talk?

 “and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds” Hebrews 10:24 AMP

Let’s love one another and cheer for one another and encourage each other as we walk this cruciform way, the way of Jesus.

On loving the refugees...

Like so many, my heart is so heavy after the events in Paris and around the world this weekend. My heart aches for our broken and hurting world. There are so many broken hearts, so many wounded souls, so many people left weeping and hurting and searching for answers. There are so many who have lost their homes, people they love, everything that they know.

If you have read some of my posts over the past couple of months, you probably already know that God has really burdened my heart for the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East. It’s a touchy subject, I know. What I am about to share is probably not the most popular opinion, and many will disagree with me. But it's something I just can't shake and that I have been really wrestling with. I've read so many of their stories. I've researched all sides of the issue. It is deep and complicated and difficult, and I agree with those who say that there are no simple answers. The problem is overwhelming, and there is so much fear.

So much fear.

On the one hand, there are real refugees - millions of them - who desperately need help. They are truly fleeing for their lives, to protect their families, to save their lives. Children are dying, families are starving, so many people are without a home. Many left because their homes were being destroyed, literally turned to rubble…they left because their children were being kidnapped, their girls were being raped, their friends were being shot and killed, their parents and cousins and brothers and sisters were being threatened, food was scarce and hope was gone…read their stories, listen to their voices, and you will see that they left because fear was all they breathed every single day. They have already faced a very difficult journey…a journey that has taken so many lives. They left everything they knew behind for the slim chance of finding a place where they could live without fear, where they could work and provide for their families, where their kids could go to school and play outside…a place they could call home. And now they are in the middle of an enormous crisis and they are hungry and homeless and they need help.

They truly need help.

At the same time, there is an evil that is very real too, an evil that is cunning and fierce and seeks to only destroy and dismantle with no regard for the value of human life...an evil that, yes, we must fight.  And of course no one wants to knowingly invite that evil in, of course we need to fight for truth and justice, of course we need to stand against terrorism and the evil in this world and stand up for freedom and liberty.

And I have struggled with trying to reconcile the two: compassion for the refugees and desire for justice.

But what I’m coming to realize is that maybe I don't have to reconcile the two...because maybe it doesn’t have to be an either/or issue...we don't have to choose to either help the refugees OR fight the evil. I believe they actually can, and really should, go hand in hand.

Fight the evil AND help the refugees. Is that possible? Surely that is possible. There has to be a way.

I understand that many do not agree with me, but I unapologetically have compassion toward the refugees who are fleeing for their lives. Yes, I understand that most of them are Muslim. They were raised in a world very different from my own. They worship a different god, they have different customs and beliefs. But I do not believe they are all terrorists. And I also do not believe that I am called to only love and help those who believe like I do. If I only ever love and help other Christians, how in the world will those who do not know Jesus hear about Him and experience His love and grace?

I love because Jesus loves. Period. I love because I want them to know and experience the love the Jesus too. I desperately want to help them and feed them and give those children a home...I want them to see the love of God through those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Many of these people have never met a Christian before, all they have known is a Muslim world and Islamic ideology…I pray they will see Jesus in the hearts and actions of those that they meet along their journey, that they will experience the love of the one true God who loves them so much that He sent His Son to die for them, and that many will come to know Him as a result. Jesus loves them and died for them just as much as He loves me and died for me…and because Jesus loves them, I love them too.

Is there a risk? Yes, of course there is a risk. But isn’t love always risky? And when did Jesus ever call us to live a safe and comfortable life? When did He ever tell us to keep those who are different at a distance and not let them get too close because they may pose a threat?

Some have asked if I would invite them into my own home, to sit at my own table…would I let any of these refugee families into my own home, with my own family? Would I invite the "enemy" to sit at my own table? I have asked myself those same questions, searched my own heart (which I have found leans toward its own set of prejudices and selfishness that I have had to face and wrestle with and work through, and am still working through). But the more I listen to the stories of the refugees, the more I learn about their horrific experiences and see the pain and fear in their eyes, the easier the answer has become for me:

Would I let them into my home? Yes!! In a heartbeat, yes! Give me those babies…I will kiss their sweet little cheeks and hold them in my arms. Let me sit beside those mamas, and I will hold their hands and tell them they are not alone. Let me look into the eyes of the fathers who gave up everything to save their families, and I will tell them that Jesus loves them with a love that is bigger than all their fears.

Let them in, and I will LOVE them!!

But just because I love the refugees doesn't mean I am naive and don't realize that there may be those who intend to do evil among them. There is always evil. There are always wolves in sheep’s clothing. But should I allow my fear of the wolves cause me to abandon all the sheep? That is the question that has been nagging at my heart. Use wisdom, yes…but wisdom that is fueled by compassion, not fear.

Jesus never promised that following Him would be safe. He never said it would be easy. He never promised me comfort or government protection. But He did promise that He would be with me. And if I have God Himself with me, do I really have anything in this world to fear? I am free to love and give and risk because I have the God of the universe with me, IN ME. The enemy has no power over me...his threats and his fear tactics will not keep me from following Jesus and doing what He has called me to do.

Should we fight the evil and fight for justice? Absolutely. But I believe that we can have compassion for the refugees *and* still fight for justice. In fact, I think part of the way we can fight all the injustice and evil in this world is by helping those who are the victims of it, regardless of where they are from or what they believe. I just don’t think we should allow fear to keep us from reaching out in love to help someone in need.

Yes, we should fight for justice and peace and seek out the terrorists and stop them. And yes, we should do what we can to protect our country and our families. And yes, we should do everything we can to meet the needs of the homeless and hurting here in our land too. But it is not an either/or decision. I firmly believe that we can do all that AND help the refugees who need help too...we don't have to abandon them in their great time of need just because they are Muslim...we should not turn our backs just because there is a threat of evil. Our God is greater than any evil in this world…He will help us and equip us to do what He has called us to do.

I don’t know why God has burdened me so heavy with this issue…and I certainly don’ t have all the answers. But I do have Jesus. And He has all the answers. He IS the answer. And one day He will return and wipe away all the tears and make all wrong things right and crush the enemy once and for all. But until then, I will do all that I can to love lavishly, give generously, risk selflessly, and fight relentlessly for justice…so that as many as possible can come to know the grace and the love and the forgiveness of Jesus. That's all that really matters in this life, anyway...helping people know Jesus. Because a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, that's what will matter.

And if I can’t literally open my home to a refugee family and physically wrap my arms around them and show them the love of Jesus, then I will give to those who can…or I will go to them and do what I can…because I believe that their lives matter, and they need to know Jesus and experience His love.

Samaritan’s Purse and other wonderful organizations (like World Vision and Preemptive Love and many others) are on the ground in Europe and the Middle East doing some pretty amazing things to help those affected by this crisis. They’ve posted many videos that show what is going on and how they are helping:

Like this one: 

and this one:

and this one:

If you take just a few minutes and listen to some of the stories, hear their hearts and open your own, maybe we will see that there is a great and wonderful opportunity here in the middle of this crisis to be the hands and feet of Jesus and share His love with those who have probably never experienced it before.

This is bigger than any political agenda. (I hate politics, honestly, and I have no desire at all to enter into any kind of political debate). My heart just aches for those who are suffering. I believe the enemy would love for us to lump all of the refugees into one hopeless, evil group that is unworthy of our help and compassion. But if Christians don’t reach out and help, if Christians don’t love them and share Jesus with them, who will?

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’ ” Romans 10:14-15, NLT

There are no easy answers. So what do we do?
We do what God has called us to do:

Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT)

and

 “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Ephesians 6:10-18, NLT

Those two passages do not contradict each other…we can do both...we should do both: love our "enemies" AND stand firm against the devil and the evil in this world. In fact, I believe that by doing one we are doing the other…by loving our enemies, despite the fear and the threats and the risks, that we are indeed standing firm against the schemes of the devil who would love nothing more than for us to give up and shut our doors and our hearts on entire groups of people in the name of our faith and our own protection.

I don’t know…maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m emotional, maybe I’m unrealistic…but I believe God has called me to live a courageous and risky faith, a faith that lives out a love that is bigger than any fear the evils of this world can bring…a faith that reaches across borders and belief systems and loves people right where they are, just as they are, so that they can see and experience the love of Jesus who loves them and wants to rescue them...He gave His life for them, He defeated death and sin and the grave for them...He has already proved that He loves them, as He loves me, more than His own life…so maybe I should love them more than my own life, too?

And maybe, by loving them and helping them and reaching out in compassion to meet their needs and show them in real and tangible ways the love of Jesus...maybe, just maybe, those who we now call our enemies will one day be our friends, our brothers, our sisters...our family.

For Such a Time as This...

This is not the kind of post I usually write. But I feel like I can’t just keep silent on this…even if I don’t really know the words to say. (Forewarning: this is a long post, but one my heart needed to write, even though it is a bit imperfectly patched together, just a flood of thoughts that I’m still making sense of and working though…thank you for grace.)

Our world is in crisis.

 

Truth is, our world has been in crisis ever since sin entered the story. Tragedy, pain, disease, trauma, disasters, heartache, evil…the world has been filled with these things, broken by these things, for so very long. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why He died and conquered death through His resurrection. To break the curse of sin, to conquer death, to bring hope and new life to this broken busted up world…to bring hope and new life to me, to you…to all.

He was and still is our hope in the middle of all that is horrible and sad in this world. He is our hope.

And the world sure needs some hope today. Because it seems like we are hitting a crisis point, in so many ways. And I think we are reaching a time when it is becoming impossible to remain naïve or to claim ignorance about the realities in our world today. You have to intentionally choose to not hear and not see, you have to intentionally look away and ignore…because the realities are all around us.

 
 

Babies are killed before they have the chance to breathe their first breath, their tiny body parts sold for testing…as if they were without soul, without worth. Children are kidnapped and raped, sold to the highest bidder. Slavery is still very real and very active. Races are turning on races, as if the color of the skin implies value of the soul. Wars and fighting and ISIS beheadings…people fleeing for their lives, leaving homes and family and sometimes even children behind.

To live in fear of your life…willing to face the very real risk of a horrible tragic death in exchange for the tiniest fraction of a chance of being able to live without that fear....I just can’t even imagine.

I can’t imagine because I’ve never had to live that story. The story where your child is stolen and raped over and over and over, then sold into slavery to the highest bidder so they can do it again…and again…and again.

The story where you live in the middle of a war-torn country, hesitant to walk out of your front door for fear that you will be attacked or tortured or killed.

The story where to be a Christian doesn’t just mean people may tell you not to pray at football games or sing about Jesus in public, but it means your daughters may be taken and raped, your sons may be killed, your home taken away…it means you may lose the very head on your shoulders, cut right off simply because you claim the name of Jesus.

The story where you are forced out of your home, out of your city, out of your country, away from everything you know, because to stay would mean to die, it would mean your children may be taken and your family may be murdered or starve to death…but to leave means living illegally in a country where people don’t really want you, in a culture you don't know surrounded by a language you don't understand, with complete uncertainty of the future.

It’s an impossible choice. An impossible reality for so many people.

SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

I’ve not lived that story. I was born in America. I’ve lived a life of privilege. Though our bank account, our lack of any real savings, and our humble little home might lead you to believe that we are not at all rich by American standards, the fact that we even have a home and full bellies and full closets and a few dollars in our wallet would tell you we are far richer than the majority of the world.

Why have I been given so much, when others are living with so little? Why can I lay my head down on my soft pillows at night, without fear for the lives of my family, while there are others lying on concrete floors or in the bottom of a boat or in a shipping container, fleeing and hiding for their very lives, in constant fear for the safety of the ones they love. Why?

Maybe…just maybe…I am where I am, with all that I have for such a time as this.

I am not blessed so that I can hoard my blessings and turn away from things that I don’t understand or that make me sad or uncomfortable.

For too long I have just looked the other way. It is so hard to open up my heart and my ears…maybe because it hurts, or maybe because I don’t really know what to do about it…or maybe because it is just easier to live a vanilla kind of faith that just talks about doing good but doesn’t ever put hands and feet to those words and do the hard thing of really living it and doing it and being it.

I fully acknowledge that this stuff is hard to read about, it’s difficult to accept...the tragedy of little Aylan, the reality for millions fleeing their homes in fear. I can't even imagine. Part of me doesn't want to read their stories, to hear their voices...because my heart can barely stand the sadness of it all. It's so much easier to just pull the covers up over my pampered North American eyes and tell myself that this has nothing to do with me, that there's nothing really I can do.

But I can't just turn away. I don't think Jesus would turn away.

So at the very least I must listen. I must hear their voices. It’s only through really hearing the heart of another that I can hear the beat of Jesus’ heart for them. And His heart beats with a love that gave everything, that gave His own Son, to woo them to Himself. He loves them. So I must listen and I must love them too.

And then I must do all I can with all I've been so generously given.

Ann Voskamp wrote in her post this week, "There's always enough abundance and grace to welcome those in need, because it's only by abundant grace that any of us are here--and if there is abundant grace for us, by God, there's abundant grace for all of us."

There is enough. There is abundance. I have more than enough to share…more than enough to give…more than enough.

I am blessed to bless.

But how?

I’ll be the first to admit that it is overwhelming...it is so hard to take in, so hard to not feel utterly hopeless to do anything that would make any kind of real difference.

But we can’t just look away. We can’t just ignore those who need refuge and safety, love and grace...who need to experience the love of Jesus, the kind of love that reaches out past the safety of our church walls and beyond our comfort zones, the kind of love that has hands and feet that does what it says it believes...the kind of love that is a light in the darkness, a hope to the hopeless, a comfort to the broken and the abandoned and the orphaned and the alone.

I won’t even pretend that I have all the answers. I’m only sharing what I am learning and reading and finding…ways we can begin to give our faith hands and feet, to reach across the waters and the walls and the cultures that divide us and reach into the lives of those who need help. Because I truly believe that we all can do something. I believe as followers of Jesus, we are called to do more than just warm a pew on Sunday mornings…we are called to go and do and be...to BE the Church, to BE Body of Christ to this desperately broken world.

So if you want to help, here are some things I’ve found, some places to start:

  • I’ve made 3 little printables that I’ve added to the shop:

100% of the proceeds from all three of these prints will go directly toward organizations that are on the ground helping people in crisis (Doctors Without Borders, MOASPreemptive Love Coalition, World Vision, and Hand in Hand For Syria). Just click on the image of the print you want to see more details and information. And when you order your print, you'll even get the option to select which organization you would like your donation to go to!  It's an easy way to help, and you'll have a print that will remind you to pray for those in crisis, and to do all that you can with all that you have to make a difference right where you are.

 

Of course, these are not all the ways you can help. And the refugee crisis is not the only crisis in our world. But just because we can't do everything doesn't mean we shouldn't do something. Just do one thing.  If everyone does just one thing, just imagine the difference we can make.

I love what Kristen Welch wrote today over at We Are That Family:

"...when we see a need to help restore dignity to school girls in Kenya, provide water for a community, a job for an impoverished woman or the image of a drowned refugee toddler in red tennis shoes - and we are moved to act - this isn't us.
This is God whispering Do something. Don't let the moment pass. Take your own suggestion and instead of discouraging a person trying, join them. Put your good idea to work! Because you're probably right: you can make it better, but not by making suggestions from the comfort of home with nothing to lose. No, let's put our faith and feet in action." 

I know we can’t solve all the world’s problems. We can’t fix everything. Only God can make everything right. And one day He will…one day He will return and He will set all things right again. He will once and for all crush the enemy and mend this broken world and make all the wrong things right. That final chapter has already been written, the end is already secure and for sure…Good wins! Boy, I can’t wait for that day...even so come, Lord Jesus!

And until then, may my heart be soft and my ears be open and my hands and feet be ready to do what God is calling me to do. Because there is a world out there that needs Jesus, that needs to see and experience His love in real and tangible ways. And God loves the world through His people, through those of us who have experienced His grace and His hope, who are clothed in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), empowered by His Spirit (Acts 1:8) and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). He has already given us everything we need (2 Peter 1:3) to be salt and light in this dark world. We just have to die to ourselves and our comfort and our safety and be willing to risk selflessly, give generously, and love lavishly.

Thank you for reading and for hearing my heart. Is there something God has put on your heart and has been speaking to you about? How are you listening to Him and following Him today? Maybe your burden is not for people across the world, maybe God has burdened you for someone across the street…? Whatever it is, when He speaks, when He nudges, when He calls…may we be quick to listen and obey and to give our faith hands and feet, willing to go and do whatever it is He asks us to do.