Working Hard for the Lord

Monday was the first work day on our mission trip to His Eyes in Honduras.  Our team learned firsthand Biblical lessons about working hard for the Lord.

Our team was split into two groups.  One group spent the day backfilling an area where the mission house will be expanded as part of a remodeling project.  The team loaded a pickup truck with large rocks from a nearby road construction project, then dumped the rocks into the area to be backfilled.  The process was repeated over and over again – all by hand of course – and the space slowly filled.

The other team spent the day at the church next door.  In the morning, they dug the footers for a new bathroom, pick axes and shovels slowly penetrating the rocky ground.  In the afternoon, they moved truckloads of sand – one 5-gallon bucket at a time – that will be used to make the concrete for the building foundation.

It was all hard work, especially for a group of people not used to manual labor.  And it was painstaking slow at times, especially for people from a task-driven culture that is used to instant gratification.  At the end of the day, we were tired, sore, and dirty – and satisfied.

Ironically, no one will ever see the work we did.  The backfilled area will eventually be covered by a concrete floor.  The trenches we dug for the footers will eventually be the support for the foundation of a church bathroom, the sand we moved just one component of the concrete for that foundation.  But all of the work was essential.  No floor can be poured until the area is backfilled.  No bathroom can be built without the proper foundation.  Without the floor, there is no mission house.  Without the bathroom there is, well, a mess.

The work we did illustrates at least two important Bible lessons.  Paul uses the analogy of the parts of the human body to teach us that we all have our place in the body of Christ and that each of us is essential to make the body function.  We are not all eyes or all ears or all feet.  If we were all ears, how would we see?  If we were all eyes, how would we walk?  And sometimes we have to perform the unglorious functions necessary for the body to survive, just like parts of our bodies do.  One day we might be asked to preach the word; the next, to dig the hole for the footers for the bathroom.

Jesus taught a similar lesson with the parable of the harvest.  Some plant, some water, some pull the weeds, and some bring in the crops.  But there is no crop if the seed is not planted and watered and the weeds pulled.  The one who brings in the harvest is not performing any greater function than the one who plowed the ground for the seed to be planted.  Both are necessary and essential to the final crop.

Our work day in Honduras is much like the Christian life.  We are each called to do the hard work necessary to bring others to Christ, work that God has assigned to us and asked us to perform a specific function.  Sometimes, that work is the hard work of building the foundation on which the walls of faith will be built.  That work can be painful, with little recognition, and progress can be frustratingly slow.  But when we work hard for the Lord in all things, we can be assured that God will use our work to produce the harvest He desires.

Awakened to God’s Love

I am a morning person.  I enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning – fishing at our old lake cottage, spending the morning in my garden, or starting the day in prayer and devotion.  So it is no surprise that my favorite part of the day on mission trips is usually first thing in the morning.

That is especially true here in Honduras.  Tegucigalpa is a bowl, a sprawling city surrounded by mountains.  From the mission house half way up the mountain, we can see the city below, the amber lights marking the perimeter where the mountains begin.  Dawn here is not like a sunrise over the corn fields of Indiana.  The sun does not really come up here.  Instead, it sort of emerges, a purple-pink glow slowly increasing behind the mountains.  It is as if God knows how hard many people here have to work to survive and He wants the city to ease into the day.

As the sky turned colors this morning, I was struck again by the thought of how very big our God is and how very much he loves us.  Here, in this culture so different than the one I am used to, and where the campus I am calling home for the next week is surrounded by poverty, I was reminded that God loves the people of Honduras just as much as he loves the people of McCordsville.  It is an almost foolishly simple thought.  The idea that God might somehow love some of his children less than He loves others is contrary to God’s very nature.  And the idea that the greater material blessings God has given us at home somehow means that He loves us more than He loves others is embarrassingly prideful.  Yet it is a thought that I believe seeps into our subconsciousness more often than we would like to admit.

I was reminded again of the extent of God’s love for all his children at worship this morning.  We had driven two and a half hours up the mountain, to a little town called Sampedrana.  It is a town largely isolated from the rest of the world, without electricity, with no jobs that do not involve planting, growing, or picking something.  The little church had only 15 adults and a similar number of kids.  Almost all of them had walked a large distance up or down the mountain to attend.  Their worship was simple, a single voice leading the tiny congregation.  Despite the small attendance and the absence of the bells and whistles we are used to in our American churches, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room was perceptible.

I can think of no better way to start the day or to start a mission trip:  joining our brothers and sisters from another part of the world to praise the God who makes the sun rise on both of our countries and who gives us each our blessings – in different ways, for sure, but each more than we deserve. I am blessed to have been able to live through this experience often, in several different countries.  Each time, I feel I have a little better understanding of the vastness of His love, and a greater desire to love His children the way He loves us.

I hesitate to post a blog about this, for lots of reasons.  Even as I type these words, I have doubts about whether I will push the “Publish” button.  But the event I am going to describe has made such an impact on me that I at least have to put my thoughts into words.

As the person ultimately responsible for the church’s mission trips, nothing makes me happier than when a team member says something or does something that shows me they are experiencing spiritual growth as the result of their experience.  On our most recent trip to Nairobi, that team member was my wife, Angie.

This was Angie’s seventh trip to Nairobi, every six months for the last 3 ½ years.  She probably has more knowledge about the Grogon School and more relationships with the people there than anyone else in the church.  So it might be surprising that someone with so much prior experience would be the one to show a burst of spiritual growth.

A few weeks before the trip, we found out that one of our sponsored children had died.  Angie was devastated by the news.  We made arrangements to meet with the family during our trip, to offer our condolences and support.  This visit was difficult, to say the least – painful, confusing, and emotionally exhausting.  https://outlooktakeaim.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/the-joy-of-a-broken-heart/

When the time came to pray, I was really struggling.  I hesitated for what seemed like a very long time in order to gather my thoughts and control my emotions.  When I began to pray, what came out was pretty much gobbledygook – shallow words and disjointed thoughts offered in a cracking voice.  I paused again, trying to pull myself together.  When I started again, it was even worse.  I paused a third time.  I could feel a rush of emotions coming over me, sadness and confusion and embarrassment combining to make an already difficult task seem almost impossible.

Just as I was about to give it a third try, Angie began to pray – tender, beautiful words, spoken in a firm voice and filled with love for God and Shirleen’s family.  She said the words I had wanted to say, at once praising the God who gives and takes away and mourning with those who mourned.  After a couple of minutes, she too began to falter.  As she did, I was able to take over where she left off and prayed with the same confidence and grace that she had shown.  It was as if we were one person (because, by God’s grace, we are), one spirit, praying in two different voices.

This might not seem like that big of a deal, except for two things.  One, Angie is extremely uncomfortable praying in public.  She is one of the most Spirit-filled people I know, but she would much rather exhibit the Spirit in actions than in words.  Second, as emotional as I was about Shirleen’s death, I knew she was going through 10 times the emotions I was.  The fact that she was keeping it together at all, let alone praying out loud in the midst of that emotion, could only have come from being filled with the Holy Spirit.

From a ministry perspective, the primary goal for mission trips is for people to experience spiritual growth.  I’ve seen this in a lot of ways on a lot of trips, but never as directly as I saw in my own wife.  In her simple, quiet way, Angie did exactly what God asks us to do with our lives.  She carried the burdens of others – mine, Shirleen’s family, her own – and she did so in a beautiful, grace-filled way at a time that was incredibly difficult for her.  No planning, no thought, just following the Holy Spirit when prompted.  I realized in her sweet prayer just how much God has answered our prayers that He would use us to minister together.  And I realized how much this sister in Christ – who I literally had to beg to go on her first trip to Kenya – had become His servant.

There is another, much more personal aspect to this as well.  In those brief moments, Angie showed me just how much God has truly made the two of us one.  Like lots of old married couples, we often communicate through a familiar phrase, a single word, or a knowing glance.  This was much more than that.  Never before have I experienced the sense of oneness with her.  In our combined prayers, there was no “she” and “me,” only “us” – one voice speaking from a heart knit together by God.  By speaking the words of our heart when I could not, Angie did the one thing I hope happens on every mission trip – she brought someone closer to God.

The Joy of a Broken Heart

While our recent trip to Kenya was wonderful, I learned a painful but valuable lesson about the sacrifice we sometimes make when we respond to God’s call to love one another.

For the last few years, we have sponsored two girls at the Grogon School, Mishele, a sixth grader, and Shirleen, a fifth grader.  Both are quiet, happy girls with gentle dispositions.  Angie and I (especially Angie) have now been to Kenya enough that we have developed a good relationship with both of them, and being with them was always the highlight of our trips.

It is amazing how fast you get attached to these sponsored kids, especially once you meet them.  They are more than just a face on the fridge.  They are members of our extended family, brothers and sisters in Christ living in a far away land.  I find myself wanting the same things for them as I want for my own children, praying for their safety, their purity, their spiritual growth.

About a month ago, we found out that Shirleen died near the end of January.  We don’t know many details and we have tried to be respectful of the family’s privacy and not ask a lot of questions, but she apparently died of a bladder infection.  As the father of four daughters, I have encountered bladder infections on a fairly regular basis and paid little more attention to them than the common cold.  The fact that a little girl who has so touched my heart died of a condition that would have been easily treated if she had simply been born in another country sends me down a rabbit trail that I have tried to avoid at all costs.

During our latest trip, we visited Shirleen’s family, her mom, little brother (who we have since sponsored), and grandfather.  During our time with them, we discovered that Shirleen’s mother and father are involved in a legal battle over the disposition of her body.  As a result, she has been in the morgue since her death.  The thought of it was so overwhelming that it took all of my strength not to run out of the room as her grandfather tried to explain.

Shirleen’s family handles her death with a kind of quiet dignity that seems to have epitomized their lives.  They are clearly sad over their terrible loss, and confused and angry about the ongoing dispute with her dad, but they keep their pain largely inside.  I was embarrassed at my inability to control my emotions, especially in the face of their stoic response.

As much as I don’t like it, pain like this is probably a good thing.  It tells me that I have given my heart to another of God’s children, and that is a precious thing.  Of all the things I think God wants from us — our time, our talent, and our treasures – I think what He wants more than anything else is our hearts.  And when we give our hearts, we expose ourselves to the pain of having our hearts broken by the mysteries of God’s sovereignty.  The pain is real, but the blessings of God’s love and comfort are sufficient.

God, let me love others enough to bear their pain with them and never allow my fear of pain to prevent me from increasing my capacity to love your children the way you love us.Shirleen

A Servant of God

This is Irene.  Irene is one of God’s servants.  Her job is to serve as the janitor at the Grogon School, the Missions of Hope International School Outlook supports in the Korogocho slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

Irene spends her entire day keeping the school clean for the nearly 400 students who attend, plus the staff, parents, visitors, and anyone else who might pop in.  It is a difficult job on the best of days.  The school is an open air school and the dirt and dust of the crowded slum accumulates quickly, especially with 400 pairs of little feet tracking it in from outside almost constantly.  The school’s Kenyan toilets – little more than a porcelain bowl in the floor – challenge the skills of the most experienced users and are a frequent source of embarrassment for the American team that invaded the school for the week.

Irene is easily overlooked.  She has a quiet disposition and her job does not include any teaching responsibilities or anything else that would call attention to her.  The kids frequently push past her, step around her, or over her, or do whatever they need to get by her.  I am sure that in one of my several trips to the school, I have done the same.

But on this particular trip, God showed me what a servant Irene is.  It rained virtually every day of this trip and the slum was an unusually messy combination of mud, sewage, and who knows what else from the streets outside.  The combination of a broken sewer line and heavy rainfall brought a river of murky, stinky water literally to the doorstep of the school.  Rain almost every night caused puddles in the school’s hallways each morning.  It was Irene’s job to keep the school clean despite this mess.  I saw her, multiple times a day, scrubbing the hallways with an old fashioned mop and soaking up the mud and excess water with nothing more than a large towel, either on her hands and knees or bent over at the waist, pulling the muddy mixture “downstream,” sopping it up in the towel, rinsing the towel in the bucket, and starting over until each hallway was cleared.  On more than one occasion, I saw that after she had finished cleaning the last hallway, the first one was already muddy again and she had to start back over at the beginning.

I noticed Irene, not because she called attention to herself, but because the school’s hallways and bathrooms were incredibly clean.  I thought about what a difference clean hallways and bathrooms make, to the safety of the kids and the overall atmosphere of the school.  I thought about how easy it would be to ignore something like clean hallways, or at least put off cleaning them until after the rain stopped or after the kids had headed home.  But that is not how Irene approached her job.  I don’t know whether she was driven by personal pride, or a detailed job description, or just an obsession with cleanliness – and it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that these kids whom I have come to love so much had a clean school, despite the incredibly difficult conditions.  Irene served them and single-handedly made that possible.

Our attention is naturally drawn to the teachers and social workers who are constantly interacting with the students and the families in the slum, to the administrators who keep the school operating, to the visionaries who have turned a preschool classroom of 50 kids into 22 schools serving more than 16,000 students.  They are undoubtedly God’s servants and their work has inspired me, literally to tears.  But it takes people like Irene, people who accept whatever role God has given them and work “as if serving the Lord,” to keep the place from becoming an unbearable mess.

Irene is a wonderful example of ministry – the real ministry of loving one another in our day to day lives.  God calls some to preach or teach, some to lead the battle, some to serve in ways that everyone sees.  But real ministry is done in the trenches, in the muddy hallways of people’s lives, in the pain of trials and loss, in the uncertainty of God’s mysterious ways.  God calls and equips each of us to serve others.  Our obligation is to serve him well and faithfully wherever and however he calls us to serve.  Sometimes, those the world sees as the lowliest of servants are the ones keeping God’s children from standing in the mud.

The BEST Moment from the Christmas Store

My first reaction was, I need to take a picture.  I probably should have – wish I would have, now – but I just couldn’t.  I was afraid to spoil to the moment.  So I just stood there and watched.

I was at our Christmas Store, a “store” we organize with our partners at Crossroads Bible Church so families in the neighborhoods near Post Road and 42nd Street can buy Christmas presents for their children.  The presents are donated by Outlookers and by a generous donation from one of our local ministry partners, Shepherd Community Center.  For a small fee, parents can pick out toys, games, hats, gloves, underwear, socks, and an item of clothing for their kids.  The parents pick gifts they know their kids will like, we wrap them, and the parents take them home and put them under the tree.  They are gifts selected, purchased, and given by the parents, not donated by strangers from the suburbs.

The room was crowded – lots of tables lined close together and jammed with toys and clothes.  There were lots of people milling about, people from the neighborhood shopping alongside their “personal shoppers,” volunteers from our churches who make every effort to make the parents feel comfortable and loved.  But I could see the two of them clearly across the room.  An Outlooker with a bright white complexion and long red hair locked in an embrace with a black mom from the neighborhood who had been shopping for her children.  This was no courtesy hug.  Each of them had both arms around the other and held each other tight.  Then our Outlooker began to pray for the young mom, each of their heads bowed and touching each other.  As with the hug, I could see even from the distance that this was a real, intense, heart felt prayer, and graciously received.  It was a perfect Kodak moment – everything I dream of for this ministry.  I took the snap shot in my head.

THIS is where racism begins to end.  Right here, one on one, person to person.  We will never be able to overcome our prejudices, suspicions, and fears until we begin to see each other first as fellow children of God, and only second as children from different races.  And that was happening right in front of me.  These two ladies, one black and one white, who had been total strangers not even a half hour previously, shared a real moment.  A brief moment, for sure, but a moment of human kindness and compassion that broke through all racial barriers.  A moment ordained by God to put just a little bit of salve on the hurts we have been inflicting on each other, especially over the past year.  I don’t know what either of their views on race relations were earlier that day, but I am 100% confident each of them went to bed that night feeling a little bit more hopeful about the other’s race.  I would like to think the two of them prayed for each other as they drifted off to sleep.

There were other moments like these.  One of the men in our church, so worried about the burdens of one of the ladies he had shopped with that he made sure she had a Bible to take home with her.  A young black mom with several children, who sat at the wrapping table for more than a half hour after her presents were wrapped, chatting away with the ladies who were wrapping presents like they were old friends.  A lady from our church who admitted to me that she had been scared to serve in the neighborhood and was so excited to see our ministry first hand.  A dad from the neighborhood who admitted that he had fallen away from the faith and promised to make a sincere effort to come back.

It was a good day – a VERY good day.  As a result of all the hard work and generosity, 144 children from 40 different families will wake up with presents on Christmas morning they probably would not have received.  And those presents will come from their parents, parents who were treated with love and dignity and bought those presents with their hard earned money.  I hope that we took away a little bit of the sting of poverty for these families, at least for one Christmas.  That’s a good thing and will keep me coming back for more.  But those two ladies, black and white, heads bowed against each other in prayer – that is an image I will never forget, photo or not photo. THAT is why I serve.  Praise God for the blessings of moments like these.

Summer Program at IPS 105

As part of our ongoing effort to minister to the children at families in the neighborhoods near Post Road and 42nd Street, we will be hosting a summer program for kids at IPS School 105 with our ministry partners at Crossroads Bible Church.   The program will run from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from June 19 through July 21.  Students in grades K through 5 will have the opportunity to improve their math, reading and other academic skills and will learn Bible stories, play games that will help develop their cognitive abilities, and develop much-needed relationships with positive role models.

This is a great opportunity for us to not only help these children gain the skills necessary for them to succeed in school but also to continue to build relationships with families in these neighborhoods.  The program will present many opportunities to serve, including:

    • Group Leaders – Group leaders will be assigned to a group of approximately 6 students and will lead those students through various stations throughout the day.  Students will be divided by age group.  Group leaders will not be responsible for teaching the lessons at each station, but instead will focus on supervising and building relationships with the kids in their group.
    • Station Leaders – Station leaders are responsible for teaching the lessons to each group in individual stations (i.e. math, reading, Bible, etc.)  Each lesson will be prepared in advance and will be ready to teach in an easy to learn, age-appropriate format.  Station leaders can teach in the morning session (approximately 9:30 to 11:00), the afternoon session (approximately 12:30 to 2:00), or both.  No lesson planning or other advance preparation is necessary.
    • Program Assistants – Program Assistants will assist as needed throughout the day, helping with tasks such as preparing snacks, addressing children’s individual needs, helping supervise children in the cafeteria and on the playground, and assisting the Group Leaders and Station Leaders as needed.
    • Nursery – One of the ways we are trying to make it easy to volunteer is by providing child care to our volunteers.  Nursery volunteers will supervise the children of volunteers serving in the program on sight in the nursery at Crossroads Bible Church.
    • Transportation – Van drivers will use the church van to pick-up and drop off a small number of children with transportation needs.  All children live in a small radius near the school.  Van drivers will be needed from roughly 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. and from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m.

 

 

This program will present wonderful opportunities to build and strengthen relationships with children and families who face a number of difficult circumstances.  We have already seen how these kids respond to the kind of individual attention a program like this can provide.  For this program to be successful, we need lots of volunteers.   Please prayerfully consider whether you have some time this summer to serve these kids in one of these capacities.

There will be an information meeting with more details about the program and the many opportunities to volunteer on May 14 during second service in Room 207.  If you would like to volunteer or if you have any questions, contact Mike – mwilkins@outlookchurch.org.

Sponsor a Child at Grogon

Today, we are beginning a drive to find sponsors for at least 50 children at the Grogon School in Nairobi, Kenya.  Our ultimate goal, along with the two Indianapolis churches we partner with to support Grogon, is to make sure that all students who attend Grogon have sponsors.

After sending several teams to Grogon, we have seen firsthand the tremendous impact of child sponsorship.  Sponsored children receive an education, something we take for granted here but something that is highly sought after and valued in the slums of Nairobi.  Even at a young age, these kids know that a good education is their best hope of overcoming the pervasive poverty they have been born into.  The children who attend Grogon and the other Missions of Hope International schools progress through school at a rate far higher than children attending government supported schools in Kenya.

Through the child sponsorship program, children and their families receive regular visits from social workers who are focused on meeting the entire family’s needs.  They have access to medical care that would otherwise be out of reach.  They have opportunities to receive skills training to help them obtain employment.  They receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and are connected with churches committed to transforming their lives spiritually as well as physically.

But the benefits of child sponsorship go well beyond the resources the monthly support provides.  Children who are sponsored know that they are loved by someone on the other side of the world.  They are consistently amazed by the fact that someone in America, — someone who, from their perspective, is rich and powerful – cares enough about them to not only support them financially, but to pray for them, to write them notes, to treat them as the beautiful children of God they are.

Time and time again, we have children come up to us during our trips and ask us if we know their sponsors.  Many of these kids know all about their sponsors – their names, their children’s names, things the sponsors have shared about their lives.  And time and time again, they tell us that they are praying for their sponsors.  Children, living in poverty so severe you really do have to see it to believe it, care enough about their sponsors that they are praying for us.  That is a divine connection, a foretaste of the connectedness we will experience in eternity.

Sponsoring a child does something to the sponsors as well.  It expands our capacity to love others the way God calls us to.  Our family sponsors three children.  We pray for them every day.  We have now met them and each of their parents.  We have been to each of their homes.  We know them well enough that we pray for the same things we pray for for our own kids, from their health and safety to their purity to their future husbands, the growth of their faith, their eternal salvation.  It would not be fair or accurate to say that we love them the same way we love our own children.  But there is no doubt God has used them to expand the capacity we have to love those who otherwise would be total strangers to us.

Sponsoring a child is a financial commitment.  But it is a commitment that almost all of us can afford to make, if we choose to do so.  And I am absolutely convinced it is the best $38 you will spend each month.  If you have never experienced the blessings of sponsoring a child, will you please pray that God will guide you in deciding whether to do so?  And if you already sponsor a child, please consider expanding your impact – and your heart – further by sponsoring another.  It is a commitment you will not regret.

The Transformative Ministry of Missions of Hope

Although I have made several trips to Kenya, I never cease to be amazed by the amazing work being done there by our ministry partner, Missions of Hope International (MOHI).  A ministry started 17 years ago by a husband and wife whose hearts were broken by children living in poverty, which began serving 50 students in a two room shanty, now serves 14,200 students in 20 schools, including schools throughout the Nairobi slums and most recently in heavily Muslim and unreached areas in northern Kenya.

We have witnessed firsthand the amazing transformation that takes place in the neighborhoods MOHI serves.  In Grogon, a community in the Nairobi slums where just a few short years ago we were not even allowed to take our team, we are now welcomed as guests.  We see students being educated who previously would have had no realistic hope of an education.  We see kids and families with hopes and dreams for the future, not merely focused on day to day survival.  We see a neighborhood where crime has been reduced and where even the government has now committed resources to help improve lives.  Life is still difficult, without question, but the change in attitude is perceptible.

Because of its success in the slums of Nairobi, MOHI has embarked on additional projects that are incredibly ambitious.  In 2012, MOHI began serving in Turkana, an area of northwest Kenya heavily reliant on raising livestock and recently hard hit by a prolonged drought.  In this area, girls were historically prevented from receiving an education.  Instead, girls were groomed, sometimes as young as 7, for marriage and motherhood.  Many of these girls were married by the time they were 10 years old, often to men several times older than they were.  Against the opposition of many community elders, MOHI started a school in the area that was open to both boys and girls.  At last count, 1060 students were enrolled in the school, half of them girls.  Because children are often forced by families to begin working (or, just as often are married) before they enter high school, MOHI is now preparing to open a boarding school to serve students after Grade 8.

As a result of the success of its programs in Turkana, MOHI has also begun partnering with government schools in two nearby communities, providing a feeding program to the kids in this very impoverished neighborhood.  The impact of that program is staggering:  school attendance has increased from less than 30% to more than 98%.  The result is that kids who would have never received an education are now receiving both nourishment and an education.

Last year, MOHI opened its first school in a predominantly Muslim community.  Roughly 160 students attend the school, all of whom are Muslims.  Despite the religious differences, the Muslim leaders have no objection to Christians working in the community because they recognize the need for a quality school.  Although the approach in this community is necessarily different than the approach MOHI takes in its other schools, an entire community is having a positive encounter with people who are showing them the love of Christ.

Finally, just last month MOHI opened a school in Mersabit, an area of Kenya that has virtually no knowledge of the gospel.  There are already 91 students enrolled.  MOHI sees this as an incredibly fertile opportunity because the people in the area are very interested in the good news of Jesus.  There are already discussions about opening a second school in the area.

The take away from all this information is that holistic, transformative ministry works.  We are witnesses to it.  The challenge for us, both individually and as a church, is to find a way to make this type of transformative ministry work in our local communities and neighborhoods.  If MOHI can transform the slums of Nairobi, surely with God’s help we can reach even the most difficult neighborhoods in our own communities.  Please join me in praying that God would fill us with a desire to do so and guide us in the steps we need to take to transform lives through the love of Christ.

Growing Pains

Last week, a young lady who is one of our tutors at IPS 105 shared with me her frustration that one of the girls in the class she tutors in had moved away.  “I’m just so sad I will never see her again,” she said.  “That’s good,” I responded.  She looked at me funny.  “That means God is working on your heart.”

One of the many blessings we experience when we serve others in Christ’s name is an expanded ability to love the way He does.  When we begin to see those we serve not merely as people who are oppressed or in need but as children of God and greatly loved by Him, it is easy to care about them, to love them as our fellow brothers and sisters.  However, that increased capacity to love brings with it an increased exposure to pain.

I have experienced this many times.  Just a week or so prior to my conversation with our tutor, a little girl in the kindergarten class I tutor in had moved away.   She was one of my favorites, a chubby little girls with a sweet smile and her hair in a braided side pony.  She struggled with learning her letters, but she always tried and her smile got even wider when she did well.  One week, I was encouraged by her progress; the next week, she was gone.

We sponsor – or, I guess more correctly, we used to sponsor, a boy in Kenya named Alan.  Alan was a troubled kid with a tough past.  We loved on him when we saw him, but he was always very withdrawn.  On one trip, we could see he was not doing well.  His eyes were very yellow and his hair was falling out in places.  Although the staff at the school paid special attention to him, after a while he stopped showing up at school.  Missions of Hope was able to track him down in another neighborhood, but then lost track of him.  We don’t know what happened to him and we probably never will.  But his picture still hangs on our fridge and we continue to pray for him as we do for our other sponsored children.  In a little over a week, I leave for another trip to Kenya.  My prayer, as it has been for the last couple of trips, is that Alan will miraculously be there, in the school or at least in the neighborhood, safe and sound.

No one likes to experience pain like that.  But that increased exposure to pain happens only because we have developed an increased capacity to love.  If we want to become more like Christ – and that is the goal of spiritual maturity – we have to increase our capacity to love.  That means opening our hearts to others so that they can see the love of Christ in us.  It also means learning to trust God more with the pain that can come from exposing our hearts.  As difficult as it can sometimes be, we need to learn to put the worries and pain that come from loving others at the feet of our sovereign God’s, trusting in His never-ending love and his perfect plan for our lives and the lives of those we open our hearts to.  Only then can we love as He first loved us.