Island of Hope

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On an island off the coast of Belize, God finally found me. I was the lost sheep that the Shepherd left ninety-nine other sheep to find (see Matthew 18:12). Only instead of being an innocent lamb, I was a happily ignorant human in a life focused on the next adventure.

I was in the process of settling permanently in Colorado when I got hit with an undeniable gut conviction to halt and reassess. I seemed to have it all—the rugged outdoor guy, the dream job, the endless extreme adventures—but it was time to choose between that life, and God. I turned down the job, said goodbye to the guy, to the extreme adventures that defined my life, and returned to my Tennessee hometown.

Still in a daze, I took an unplanned vacation to Belize with two friends. After eight days of blissful travels, dread about my future surfaced and finally boiled over. Walking down the sandy beach road on the island of Caye Caulker, a heaviness settled over my soul. Burdened with a sudden desire for solitude, I slipped away into the stillness of a tropical night.

As I walked down the beach, calypso music and town lights faded. A bold Belizean moon reflected the white foam of waves lapping against a narrow sea wall of crumbling concrete that jutted out and disappeared into the dark swells. Gingerly taking steps, I followed it to the end and sat under the weight of my regrets.

I had given up what seemed like every good thing in my life. And what was it for? Instead of moving forward into a successful and exciting future, I was returning to the  hometown I’d spent so long trying to escape. I loved the place of my birth, but it felt symbolic of starting over at the bottom of a mountain while everyone else was halfway up. Besides the pride-humbling necessity of moving back in with my parents while I waited for God’s leading, the circle would be complete when I returned to a job in the hospital where I was born.

Stars hung low in a sky that reflected midnight waters.  I looked up, knowing God was somewhere in the big expanse while I sat there feeling quite small. Was He tired of constantly redirecting me? Had it really been His Spirit leading or was it just another one of my poorly planned life decisions? I felt like a useless and wayward child, endlessly trying and failing to do the right thing.

If it really was His guidance that had changed my heart, then why was I suffering for it? Those in the life I had left behind were prospering in their continued ignorance. I chose God, and yet it looked to the world as though I was choosing failure. I felt a surge of frustration and despair. I was angry that I couldn’t feel His presence.

Pleading up to the night sky, I said, “I know You’re up there, but do You really care about me? I did what You asked and yet here I am, once again, with nothing. I know I’m the least of all Your creatures and that my problems are insignificant, but I can’t see where I’m going next and I feel like I’m struggling alone.”

Emptied of words and energy, I sat with shoulders slumped and arms wrapped around my knees. I couldn’t shake the heaviness. With the dark sea around me, I clung to my island of despair.

A movement startled my reverie and I turned to see a stray dog sitting calmly by my right side. Motionless, he gazed up at my eyes with a strange serenity. His scruffy fur of black and white splotches gave him the appearance my dog back home. Overwhelmed by a sense of something beyond explanation, the hardness in my heart released, and I began to sob.

Filthy though the dog was, I stroked his ratty fur and was comforted. Unspoken words from above seemed to say: Don’t worry, I’m here. You’re not alone. I know you want something to happen right now, but just wait. I didn’t forget you. I have a plan for your life.

I sat on the jetty petting my pooch pal as time sunk away, letting peace pour over me. The sinking weight lifted, and I felt like I was floating peacefully on the sea with stars wrapped around me in a heavenly embrace. Ready to face my unknown new chapter with a calm trust, I finally made my way back to shore. The faithful Caribbean canine followed me to the edge of town and then disappeared down a side street, gone as silently as he had arrived.

God’s approach in reaching my desolate heart that night was so gentle and familiar that I began to see Him for who He really is—the most loving and tender Father. He didn’t show up in a blazing light or speak in a loud voice. He sent comfort I could recognize.

When He sought me in my own space, a permanent inward change came over me. I gained a deeper trust and ability to wait in faith, even without visible evidence of His working (see Hebrews 11:1). I learned to move forward as He showed me one step at a time, even when things didn’t make sense according to human reasoning (see Isaiah 55:9).

That January night in 2016 was only the beginning of my journey. After my major life turnaround, the challenges only seemed to increase. The enemy was a sore loser.  Thankfully, Christ was true to His promise in John 16:33, which says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (NKJV).

My newfound faith and trust would soon be put to the test. While on a mission trip with four other young adults to the remote Alaskan island of St. Lawrence, I observed something: my companions had clearly fostered their spiritual gifts for ministry, where mine were lying dormant and unnurtured. They had even managed to balance outdoor adventure and world travel while making God and ministry their top priority.

I should have been inspired, but instead returned feeling frustrated and full of envy. I remembered God’s comfort in Belize and recognized that even with my imperfections, God could finally start using me in ministry now that I was following His lead, but I felt so far behind. I knew God had plans to give me a hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11), but I would need to surrender my own plans, desires, and stubborn independence in the process.

A seed planted in Alaska helped God draw me into a supportive church family where my spiritual gifts began to bud and blossom. I observed people who consistently followed their beliefs and lived “set apart” (see Psalms 4:3), while still maintaining a welcoming and nonjudgmental spirit. It created a spiritual accountability network that I hadn’t experienced in a church before.

Through that network, God led me to a seminar where I learned to pray more effective and Holy Spirit-filled prayers. As I put this into practice, I began to recognize God’s leading very quickly, but I wasn’t prepared for how much He was waiting to do when I was ready.

He showed me where I needed to more boldly ask Him for help with things that were crushing my spirit, the most remarkable of which was a whopping $137,000 of outstanding student loan debt. With a 6.7% interest rate on a single income, it was like a prison with no doors.

I was driving along on an August day in 2017 and praying to God about my suffocating debt, when I received a clear impression that He would wipe it out within three years. I accepted it—but didn’t see how it was possible. Over the next year, every time I would try to fulfill His promise by my own efforts, God would take away my peace until I relented to His reminders that only by decreasing my efforts could He increase and receive glory (John 3:30).

A flame of hope sparked when an anonymous donor paid off $30,000 of my student debt in June 2018. But the flame died out as the remaining $107,000 continued to steal my pennies and my peace. I gained a sense of what Joseph must have felt when he saw his opportunity to get out of jail, only to remain imprisoned for another two years (see Genesis Chapters 40, 41). Despite this, I followed God’s direction to demonstrate my faith in His endless resources by paying tithe on my gross income, instead of on the after-tax net.

At lunchtime on October 10, 2018, I was sitting in my car outside the hospital where I worked. I had just completed reading an inspired compilation on recognizing God’s leading, when conviction struck. I saw that going into debt for my physical therapy Doctorate was never God’s leading (see Proverbs 14:12) and that it was also unbiblical (Romans 13:80). He had not opened the circumstances financially or given me peace at the time, yet I had pressed forward. I confessed that I was to blame for my circumstances. I had always placed blame for my circumstances on everything and everyone else, except myself.

That evening I drove home in tears of self-loathing. I was tempted to complain that God had forgotten His promise to me and that I didn’t deserve it anyway, when a verse popped up on my phone. It read, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalms 116:1, 2, NIV).

Though my tears continued, I resisted the urge to complain. Instead, I began to praise God in faith by acknowledging aloud that I trusted Him to fulfill what He had promised (see Psalms 105:19). Twenty minutes later, I received word that the anonymous donor couldn’t find peace until they decided to pay off my remaining student debt. God had fulfilled His promise in half the time.

While this miracle became a testimony to people in the church, it also reached an entire hospital full of my non-Seventh-day Adventist coworkers as they watched events unfold. I had been open with them over the previous year that I sensed a calling away from physical therapy, and that only my student loan debt was keeping me there. Many of them had in turn begun to divulge their own career or spiritual struggles.

Exactly three weeks before the end of 2018, I came across bible texts about Daniel’s twenty-one days of fasting (see Daniel 10:2, 3). I was impressed to cut out unhealthy foods and to pray with a partner every night for three weeks over the future of my career. It wasn’t easy or convenient.

At the end of the twenty-one days, I was in the Great Smoky Mountains with friends for New Year’s Eve. Nothing happened. I drove home solo at sunrise back from the Smokies to work my New Year’s shift, and though disappointed, I began praying words of faith that God would still lead in His own time.

A sudden peaceful conviction came over me that I was to quit my job. I asked, “Really Lord? That doesn’t make sense. I don’t have anything else lined up or any money saved. Shouldn’t I save up first?”

The more I drove and prayed for confirmation, the more a peaceful conviction filled me. That night, I typed up a notice with January 22 set as my last day. Even with Hebrews Chapter 11 as encouragement, stepping out in faith without a safety net was incredibly scary. I could never have done it without the assurance that it was God’s will.

Over the next three weeks, God created so many opportunities for ministering to my coworkers that I was almost overwhelmed, but seeing God work powerfully filled me with boldness. Knowing how unworthy and spiritually unlearned I was, it gave me hope that He could do anything for and through anyone, if only they would surrender to Him.

I began to recognize how many people God wanted to have witness what He was about to do next, and I feared my own weakness. Would I be able to hold on, even if financial circumstances became desperate? In the past, He usually waited until conditions were nearly unbearable before opening a window. I prayed that I wouldn’t ruin His testimony by running back to my secure career if times got tough.

I think God delights in surprising us though, and I was certainly surprised when exactly one week after my job ended, another job dropped directly into my lap through a volunteer church position. Even more significant was that it was in writing and communications—an area far from my formal training but in the very field where I had told people I sensed God calling me.

In the months prior, I had applied and been turned down for countless communications jobs, and even a missionary career. It was only when I followed the Spirit’s guidance to step out in faith, without money saved or a job offer, that God opened the door. Perhaps only through impossible circumstances could He receive the glory.

This is just my story, though. Some people God allows to prosper while others He asks to set aside stability. The key is in trusting Him enough to know that wherever He places us is for our own good and for the good of others. This present Earth is only a fading battlefield anyway. I look forward to “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10, NKJV, abbr.).

Those things He asks us to give up, He will replace with things we didn’t even know we needed. If we hold onto God’s promises with the expectant faith of a child, while relinquishing our own desires, He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV).

In the end, giving up the money, the man, and the mountains, really wasn’t that much for Him to ask of me. God’s reassurance on the Caribbean Sea did not create fruitless hope. He was working behind the scenes all along. Only by stopping my struggle against Him was He able to fulfill this promise: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4, NKJV).

His desires became my desires, and instead of requiring me to give up happiness and adventure, I now echo David when He said to God, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11, NKJV).

~

Olivia Hale works as an author advisor assistant at TEACH Services, in Georgia. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, she has lived everywhere from Thailand to Hawaii. You can read more about her travel and outdoor adventures with God at: https://olivadventure.wixsite.com/travelwritingblog.

Melting Iceland – A New Approach to Missions

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For decades, mission has been viewed as a largely human endeavor with three simple ingredients: come up with a plan, enter a target country, and then execute the plan.

But what would mission look like as a primarily divine endeavor?

What would it look like to do something so simple and yet so full of faith and trust in God that it might seem radical and insane?

This is exactly what the GYC mission to Iceland this August was all about. 

GYC’s mission to Iceland was conceived two years ago as a crazy idea among those of us on the GYC Executive Committee. We had all seen people reach small towns and even cities through literature programs and public evangelism. Still, we asked the question: if we could do anything for God, what might we attempt to do? A town or city seemed like an achievable goal. But why not try to reach a whole country? As we further discussed our crazy idea, Iceland soon stood out as a country that could conceivably be reached by a group of 50-100 people.

As the planning began to take shape and focus on Iceland though, I didn’t like the idea at all. Iceland is a country sometimes associated with a secular, humanistic culture and a very small Adventist presence. In my mind, it made more business sense to build success into the equation by selecting a country that would be more receptive and open or at least one with a strong Adventist presence that could provide plenty of enthusiastic support. Attempting to reach the country of Iceland felt like a setup for failure.

Despite my reservations, planning went ahead! By this point, we decided that approaching this mission trip with a traditional goal of distributing flyers and conducting public evangelism might not be the most effective use of our time and energy. But although we knew what we wouldn’t do, we weren’t sure what we would do. After all, the people of Iceland don’t appear to have many needs – the standard of living is high and services like healthcare are freely available.

This is when I believe God struck us with a simple, yet profound idea. We would just go to pray. Person by person, street by street, town by town.

The mission trip was now only a few months away and by this time those of us who were going needed to start organizing flights. The problem was, I didn’t covet the work I knew it would take even though I had said I would go. The difficult process of applying for a Schengen visa was not encouraging. As a South African citizen, this required a lot of work too. When I discovered that the consulate I needed to go to for the visa interview was completely booked out, I was a little relieved, yet conflicted. With some reluctance and a sense of obligation, I prayed God would make an opening for me if He saw fit. Actually, I told Him I would only go if an appointment became available within the next three days.

First day: nothing. 
Second day: nothing. 
Third day: nothing.

Phew! What a relief. 

And then, right before I went to bed that night, God impressed me to check one last time. With even greater reluctance than before, I pulled up the page for the consulate and there it was: a dreaded green availability slot… for the very next business day. 

I wasn’t thrilled, but I knew that since God had clearly set me up here there was no point following in Jonah’s footsteps. So I planned for the best and God began the miracles!

The day finally arrived for the mission trip to begin. No sooner had we landed in Iceland and we discovered that we were over capacity for the building our team of about 50 people was supposed to stay in. As quickly as the problem arose it was resolved. As it turned out, another large group of people who had made a reservation long before had failed to show up and a second building on the campus we were staying at was available. From our perspective, God literally caused an entire group of people to vanish and not show up just so we could use the needed space for our missionaries. Wow! With God working overtime so soon into the mission trip I was really glad I hadn’t stayed behind.
Over the next few days, there were numerous difficult circumstances that God resolved for us in direct answer to prayer. Each day, we would come together in the morning and evening for up to an hour of united prayer. Though these times, God drew us together in a way that we had never experienced before. But the power of prayer became especially apparent to all of us as we began to go out into the community. Although many stories could be shared from the 10 days of the mission trip, I have selected a couple of experiences from our team members.

Eden Carr

“I came into the trip exhausted from three weeks of intense summer camp. I already knew that if I was going to survive and get anything done, I would need help from a higher place. To get anywhere, I had to ask God for strength, for words to say. God always came through. He gave me strength when I was at my weakest. He healed me when I was in pain. He brought people to me to give me a smile, and I knew that He was there.

Praying & Walking Door to Door
[One day] I was knocking on doors with another girl in our group. We were nearing the end of our last territory, and it was my turn to knock. A lady answered the door, so I shared my quick, little line: ‘Hi! My name is Eden and this is my friend Brittney! We’re with GLOW Iceland. We are Christians that believe in the power of prayer, and we’re wondering if you have any prayer requests that you would like us to pray for?’ The lady looked happy and called her son to join her. ‘Tell him what you told me!’ The lady, Barbara, asked. So I repeated who we are and what we were doing. Her son shared a personal prayer request and then we prayed for him. After we prayed, Barbara shared that her husband is a Christian pastor. He soon joined us at the front door and asked us who we are with. Upon sharing, he told us that he has a Seventh-day Adventist uncle. The whole family was very excited about what we were doing! ‘We’ve been praying for revival in Iceland!’ he told us. It thrilled my heart! That is exactly why we were there! To pray for revival! What a blessing to know that our work was not in vain. Other Christians in the country are praying for the same thing we are!”

Joreper Alatiit

“I was in a spiritual crisis before this trip. No one in my family goes to church anymore and it sometimes annoyed me that they would tell me to go on a mission trip to help my spirituality as if they had a good spiritual life of their own. One day I was browsing on social media when I saw a story about a mission trip opportunity in Iceland: the number one place on my bucket list. It sparked my interest because it was like hitting two birds with one stone. I could go on a mission trip like my family always wanted me to and it would be at the destination of my dreams!

Once the mission trip began, however, I began to regret that I was there. Listening to the testimonies of others made me feel worse. Why couldn’t I be as good as them? Some nights I just sulked and wanted to give up. One morning, however, Jonathan Walter talked about how we shouldn’t be discouraged if others are good at outreach and we are not because we were all called to Iceland for a reason. Of all the people who could have gone, we were chosen. That day I felt positive and even began singing ‘Walking with Jesus.’ Everything was just like previous days until I was dropped off at my last territory. It consisted of huge apartment-looking buildings. After distributing glow at the first big apartment complex, I moved to the next one which accounted for almost 30% of my total territory. It didn’t look like an apartment on the inside but instead seemed to be a hospital. I didn’t know how to reach the people there but I was bothered by the thought of skipping such a large building. 

As I considered what to do, I went to the next apartment building and met a man in the parking lot. We talked for a bit but he wasn’t interested in prayer. However, he pointed at a woman who was just leaving the apartment building and said: ‘that woman might need your prayers.’ I immediately went up to her and began a conversation. She shared that her sister had recently died and she was struggling to recover from her loss. I prayed for her and continued to talk only to discover that she was also an Adventist! She wanted to help me with what I was doing so I asked her to help me share GLOW in the large nursing facility. With her help, I was able to get permission from the staff to talk with the patients and share my testimony with them as well as leave GLOW tracts on bulletin boards and activity corners. I’m not sure what plans God has for that nursing facility but I am still praying for them to this day. I hope my visit will make a change in the patients’ lives and their outlook towards God.”

These are just two of the many stories that were shared by our team members. I wish I could say I began this trip out of love and a passion for the lost. In reality, I did it because I knew God would use it to melt my indifference.

Maps highlighted to keep track of progress.

By the time the 10 days were up, 150,000 glow tracts had been distributed and our group of nearly 50 had reached over half the population of the country of Iceland. With few exceptions, nearly every home, apartment, and person in Reykjavik and the surrounding cities were offered prayer personally or else received a glow tract if they were not home. We encircled every area we walked in prayer, pleading for God to bring revival and Christian growth to Iceland, and we know the best is yet to come. 

What does success look like when you go to do something as utterly radical as praying for a country person by person, street by street, town by town, no strings attached? What does it look like when you literally leave the results with God? For Iceland, only time and the progression of history’s story will tell, but for those of us who went, life will never be the same again.

We are thankful to the Iceland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Trans European Division for dedicating their personal and financial support throughout this trip. Please keep them in prayer as they continue the work in Iceland. We know God has incredible things in store!  

Eric Louw
VP of Communications, GYC

For additional testimonies and stories to come from this trip and others, be sure to follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter.

To attend GYC and become an active part of this worldwide movement, visit www.gycweb.org

Like the Coming of the Dawn

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I walked into the University church, prepared to sit through another time of worship in which I could only have minimal involvement. Another day in which I would have to guess at what the speaker was saying, and sing hymns while only recognizing the tune to which we sang. I’ve gotten used to it, and can now pay attention to or ignore whatever is being said around me at will. But I don’t think I will ever enjoy the fog of separation my lack of understanding creates, and I have come to appreciate just how much like sunshine communication and understanding really are.

The congregation stood for the closing prayer of Sabbath School, and I waited patiently for the Spanish prayer to be over. I almost jumped with surprise when I heard not ‘Nuestro Dios,’ but ‘Dear God’ instead. I stared with shock, at a very European looking man speaking English with an accent. For the whole time preceding the sermon, I was feeling apprehensive, because of the possibility that he might not be preaching. However, my fears were not realized, and I had the delicious pleasure of hearing a sermon preached my own language.

That church service crystallized for me just how much I’ve become accustomed to not really being a part of what’s going on all around me. Certainly my language skills have grown at an amazing speed during the last two months, but my Spanish of sixty-four days has a very difficult time comprehending the meaning of someone else speaking the Spanish they were born to. Every day is a reminder that I am different.

I often tell people here that every Friday I have English class and sometimes a test, but each day is a test in Spanish for me. A test of understanding. A test of speaking. A test for my courage and self worth. I can no longer depend on excellent scores in school, not even if I do everything I can to pass. Right now, that’s just not a reasonable expectation. To realize this, is to lose a significant part of what I have previously thought of as who I am – a person largely defined by what I could accomplish.

In the past, I had often shut myself away from other people by choice, but no longer. Now my isolation is born from my inability to communicate anything of real weight even if I wanted to. After two months of being surrounded by a foreign language, I can understand more of what people around me are saying, but am severely handicapped in my capacity to respond, not only by my pea – sized vocabulary, but by the insecurity which that tiny vocabulary produces. Before, I may have been concerned with saying something wrong in English, but now  in Spanish, the inhibition to express myself is far greater. Life for me here can change just as easily as the fickle weather in New England, all because of the words.

At school I may be laughing with friends over a hilarious joke, which we can all share, and five minutes later be turning my face away and hoping no one will notice the tears threatening to spill down my cheeks. Why the dramatic change? The words I didn’t understand. I might have copied down everything my teacher wrote on the board, and even attempted to read and understand some of those notes, only to be able to write nothing more on the test than my name, my class, and the date. What caused this to happen to a student such as I, with a record of A’s and B’s behind me? The words of a language I don’t fully understand.

The separation caused by these irritating unknown words is a unique situation to be in. Nearly every moment I am conscious of a determined mist that forces itself between myself and others, a fog that rolls in every morning, thick and seemingly impenetrable, reluctantly retreating each night with the quiet of my English speaking brain, but when I wake up again, the fog returns, looking as unforgiving as ever. The encouraging characteristic about fog is that sunshine has a way of making it disappear.  It does, however, take time to dissipate.

I have long stories to tell around single Spanish words and startling experiences of being rescued again and again by God in this struggle to learn. But the daily miracle, the silent growth in my brain of learning a new way of communicating with others is so quiet and unobtrusive, I usually don’t realize that it’s happening at all; it’s like the coming of the dawn.  New words distinguish themselves to me daily.  The fog is disappearing. I’m already getting excited for the day when I can walk into the church, the school, the circle of friends in conversation, and find that the fog is gone, and in its place is all sunshine.

Emily Merwin

Written in 2010 from Chile

Mission Service

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I was blessed to serve as a missionary over the past 4 years in Palau. The experience is one that taught me so much, not only about myself but about the world I interact with. Without a doubt, each year of service has increased my appreciation for the faith that I have, learning, and people.

It’s interesting, because I know the mentality we often have as we go to serve is that we’re going to change the world! After all, the Gospel Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) fills us with the spark and the power to go out there and really make a big difference for the sake of God’s kingdom. But for me, and for many missionaries alike, we find that the biggest differences are made in ourselves.

By interacting with the native people of Palau, I found a family among a people I never expected. Their love changed me, and only made me want to serve in more ways and better ways than I had from year to year. To be honest, the simple appreciation for people, people different than myself, wasn’t something I really had until I came out to Palau the first time. Palau has been a part of my life for the past 9 years, and that appreciation for them and for others continues to grow.

I learned many things in my time as a missionary, namely the purpose of service. I always thought it was always just about us trying to make the biggest difference and get the good news of Christ out into the world as quickly as possible so Jesus could return. While that is of course a big part of it, I’ve come to believe that God blesses us with the privilege of service as a benefit to us as well.

It might sound confusing, but telling someone about Jesus and serving like Jesus aren’t the same thing. In other words, we may not be accomplishing all that we think we are when we simply “tell” someone about Jesus and His love for them. We know that in terms of communication, the words that are spoken are worth the least, and the language of the body tells 90% of the story.

When it comes to Christianity, the Gospel in word is only useful if the Gospel in deed and action is revealed. That’s where the true power of the Gospel is. If all we do is tell people that Jesus loves them but never show them that He does, we’re actually doing more harm than good.

It’s a great cycle: our service shows others that we truly believe in what we say, while helping us to appreciate others more, and we continue to serve. Our service increases, and the evidence for what we believe and Who we believe in increases.

That’s why service is so important. It’s the link that makes the story we tell from our mouths believable, it’s the link that reveals the truth of a God who loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us, and it’s the link that makes this God worth living and serving for.

My encouragement to everyone is to choose to serve. In any way, whether overseas for a year or two or in the opportunities that come up in the day to day – choose to serve. It’s what it really means to be like Jesus, and it’s the one thing that can change the minds of the unbelievers, and fortify the minds and resolve of the believers.

Corey Johnson

I served as a missionary for 5 years. The first taste of mission service was after I graduated from Southern Adventist University in 2010 and returned for 4 consecutive years from 2015-2019. I have finished my time in Palau (for now) and am heading to Andrews University to work on the Masters of Divinity, as I plan to pursue military chaplaincy.

God Provides

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Brum-brum. Brrrrrrum. Scre-e-eech. Hiss! A large truck carrying the massive pressed-block machine stopped at 1 a.m. on our narrow road in Phnom Penh to begin what would turn into several hours of unloading. The middle of the night is the only time they make big deliveries here because traffic is too heavy for trucks during the day. Thank you to everyone who united to give our project this gift! The quality building blocks from this machine will be an invaluable boost to God’s work in Cambodia. After two years of traveling and fundraising and almost a year living in houses that didn’t keep out rain or insects, we are looking forward to using some of the first blocks to build a place we can call home.

Since we arrived in Cambodia, we have been praying that God would show us exactly where our home should be. There are no for-sale signs or realtors. We just drive around introducing ourselves to strangers and asking if they know of any land for sale in the area. We have been waiting for the rainy season to arrive before seriously looking for land. Places that looked promising before are now deep underwater. The few hills are occupied with Buddhist shrines and temples.

With Stephanie’s mom, Jan Roberts, here for a visit, we decided to spend the day property hunting. We drove past miles and miles of rice fields flooded 10 feet deep. By afternoon we were hungry and discouraged. We pulled to the side of the road to say a desperate prayer: “God, You have led us so clearly over the last few years and brought us here from so far away. Please bring us the last few steps.”

After a few more minutes of driving, we noticed we had left the floods behind, and the land was sloping gently upward. We turned onto a long driveway and spotted a foundation for a large building that had never been finished. Mom suggested we inquire with the nearest neighbors. They kindly left their chores and made us feel at home. The grandma had the sweetest smile and a bubbling laugh. Grandpa told us he felt as if he were in a dream. It was the honor of a lifetime that we had stopped by so he could meet us and be our friend.

He told us the land was not for sale. The foundation had been for a school, but construction was halted because there were already enough schools in the area. He said if we wanted to buy land, there were two long lots for sale across the street with more than 100 mango trees, dozens of coconut trees, rubber trees, good ground water and a house that had been abandoned for several years.

Grandpa took us by the hand and led us on a tour of the property. It is 10 beautiful acres, long enough that we can build at the back where the noise from the road is muted. The surrounding properties are covered with trees, too. The soil is sandy and ideal for making blocks. We could fix up the abandoned house and live in it while we build a new house. Later the old house could be renovated for use as a clinic, school and church.

The owners and the neighbors know we are Christians, and they are happy for us to come. We shared about how we teach people about healthy living, and they exclaimed that they had heard of us and what a great help we had been to other people. They said they had even tried three times to find us themselves. They commented about wanting their children to learn English. They told us that three Chinese people and two Cambodians had tried to buy the land recently, but they decided not to sell to them because they didn’t want to risk having loud Buddhist festivals, drinking or a pig farm next door. They are willing to sell the land to us for less than they have been offered, and they said they will pray that we become neighbors. “If Allah helps you become my neighbor, then I will quit smoking,” the owner promised.

There are a hundred other blessings we don’t have room to mention here. The land is central to three of the villages in which we will be working. It is surrounded by hundreds of mosques in every direction that represent the people God has called us to reach. A few minutes away, there is an all-girls Muslim boarding school that draws more than 1,000 students from all over the province. We might be able to volunteer there. And the land never floods!

In His own timing, often at the last minute, God likes to show us His plans that are more beautiful than we can imagine. This is what prayer will do. And we feel the power of more prayers than just our own. Thank you!

We have put a small deposit on the land, and now we need to raise funds to purchase it. The price stretches our budget just a little, so any extra gifts towards our housing fund are greatly appreciated. The size of the land also means that we can share it with our missionary partners, Carly and Eric Tirado, who plan to launch this fall.

We thank God in advance for providing a pleasant, peaceful, permanent base for many years of mission service.

Joshua and Stephanie Lewis

Adventist Frontier Missions

To read more of their story visit their website at https://afmonline.org/missionaries/detail/4329?fbclid=IwAR3MfWplUxxKPel-C1Y-vLSzo6rCFSq68J-CkCrdhjGsWVKMcBLDZhiKbds

A Plus Z Equals One

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It has been said, “Behind any great man, there is a woman rolling her eyes.” There is humor and validity to this statement. However, a better saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” In the Bible we read a good amount about the apostle Peter, and we find him to be a confident, arrogant and zealous man. He is passionate about everything he does, recklessly pursuing what he believes to be right in that moment. A little known fact about this bombastic and influential apostle is that he was married. There is no mention of his wife in the Bible, and we only know that he was married because of the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Perhaps Peter’s wife had died, but regardless we can imagine what she would have thought about Peter’s life and eventual ministry. One would hope that her love language was not quality time, as I’m sure Peter could give little of that. Nevertheless, I imagine Peter and his wife being complete opposites, one a determined game-changing disciple, the other a quite and unknown biblical character. In the book of Genesis, Moses writes that a man will leave his mother and father, join together with his wife and they will become one. The amazing part about this is, how do two people become one when their approach to life is entirely opposite. We can almost imagine how different Peter and his wife might have been, yet at the same time, they were one. How can two different personalities, extrovert and introvert, come together and be one?

About two years ago, I married my dear wife, Lindsey. I met her at summer camp in the flat, northern state of Michigan. She was great with the kids, a profound thinker, superb conversationalist and had a pleasant smile. I was immediately smitten by her green eyes and long, thick brown hair. We dated a few years and are now happily married. We are one. Yet, fundamentally we are different, different perspectives, different upbringings and different personalities. I am an extrovert, she is an introvert. To me the weekends mean a chance to see, talk and meet as many people as possible. To her the weekends mean a time to rest, self-reflect, and perhaps recharge with a select few or by herself in nature. Despite these differences, we are still one.

Without a doubt we are still on a journey. However, we have found that these differences are not ones that should or will tear us apart but ones that will strengthen our marriage. To be honest, I am not a romantic by nature. My good friend on his first date, bought flowers, did a scavenger hunt, cooked a few meals, wrote letters on sheets of papyrus, (where does one even find papyrus?) played her some music, read her a poem, it was endless and all this just on the first date. He was telling me this after I had a candle making date with my wife. I felt like my date was pretty lame after hearing his story. But Lindsey came up to me, sweet as she is, “Moses, Moses, yes Eddy had an overly romantic first date, but I love you and what you do, and even the little things mean the world to me coming from you.” So that is my journey, finding the little things that I can do to light up her world.

How does one balance extroversion and introversion, and how can that possibly build a marriage up? For starters, had we both been extremely extroverted, getting to know each other would have been more difficult, since we would have found more energy spending time with a multiplicity of people. Had we both been intrinsically introverted, I could see us encouraging each other to continuously be with less and less people. I am not saying this is bad, it is just not something I would enjoy. In short, she is a perfect balance to making our marriage work.

When I say balance, I imply that there is potential to be out of balance. The book of Proverbs, chapter eighteen, gives wisdom when it says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion,” again it says “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:2,13 ESV). Keeping Lindsey guessing as to what I feel in the moment does not help us grow, neither does it help if I give all my opinions without understanding her point of view. I know for me the hardest part is if I have something I want to do, such as go to a gathering or attend a certain event, it is hard to redirect my focus and understand what Lindsey is saying. An even harder and important step is, after listening to her request, finding how to change my mindset so that I enjoy the choice we make. What I mean is, if I wanted to go somewhere, but decided to stay home with her, being grumpy the whole time does not make me a good husband. This process is all about how to listen, understand and be content.

The idea is not about keeping score. Keeping a running list of all the times I chose Lindsey’s idea undermines the whole joy in bringing two opposites together. The times we choose something we did not initially desire, should be looked at as positive new experiences, challenges to step out of our comfort zones. Our marriage is not about compromising who God made us to be, it is not about shaming each other for being different, it is about fully celebrating our God given personalities. No, it is not always a walk in a rose garden, but marriage is a journey and being with Lindsey has made this journey fundamentally richer. We may have opposite personalities, but we are one. If only one person is giving, the cycle of love in a relationship is broken. Because I love Lindsey, I learn more everyday how to choose options in life that make her happy. Because she loves me, she does the same. If she is the only one choosing to do things that make me happy, the cycle is broken and the marriage becomes stagnant. Love gives and gives again, a vibrant marriage is dependent on both parties giving love.

Peter and his wife had their differences, yet they were one. My wife and I have our differences, yet we are one. I am imperfect and this means my marriage is not perfect as well. God shows me new revelations of what love means all the time. Lindsey is patient with me on a daily basis. Her character and love make life better. Her opposite personality makes the relationship come alive, it is to be celebrated. When I listen, understand and find contentment, I see more and more how two opposite personalities, extrovert and introvert, can come together and form a vibrant marriage experience.

Moses Maier

When God Gives, It Pours

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When God gives, it’s pours. “A life of service is a life of joy.”

God is so generous to us, and when we live in His services, we will experience countless blessings. This is what I’ve been learning through my recent experiences as a nurse missionary in the Masai Mara of Kenya.

Some people think it is hard to be a missionary: to leave your family and friends behind and go serve. To give up being paid in the United States, to sacrifice maybe cleanliness, or favorite foods, to give up luxury to live in the footsteps of other people groups and cultures.

I know there are challenges to being a missionary. I know there are sacrifices that must be paid. But I think time and time again, when you choose to follow God and serve where He wants you— the blessings far outweigh any “sacrifices” you might make. You can never out-give God. So when you start being generous with your money, your time, your relationships— the blessings just keep accumulating.

There are many ways to give and be a missionary. You don’t have to go overseas to represent Jesus and choose to live a life that witnesses about His love. Sometimes it is even harder to be a missionary in the states than it is overseas. When you are overseas, people recognize your work. People tell you “thank you for your service” or “good job”; sometimes you see the results of your labor quicker.

But when you are in America, sometimes the little things you try to do can get overlooked. It can get easy to get burnt out doing the sometimes mundane jobs of daily living. For me it is even hard to love each patient in the hospital when there are so many needs and so high expectations of nurses in the states.

No matter where you are working or living, whether God calls you to serve your neighbor or parents or a culture overseas, when we choose to love others and give to God we will experience more love and blessings ourselves. Sometimes our current work, or situations may be difficult and it may be hard to be faithful and make the right decisions. But God is watching us from above with love, and He will richly bless us for our service for Him. I just want to encourage you that no matter where you are in the world, and whatever work you are doing for God, not to give up. That God is faithful. He is stronger than anything the enemy can throw at us; and He will constantly provide for us- His children.

Colossians 1: 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

*Written by Brooke Bernhardt. Read more about her journey in Kenya at beautiful-journey.com

To Everything There Is a Season

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For most of the US, spring is either here or rapidly approaching. The air is slowly getting warmer, the daylight hours are longer and trees are budding and wildflowers are showing off their colors.  As a farmer, spring signals the start of a new season, winter crops are producing well but won’t last much longer. Summer crops need seeded, spring crops need transplanted, strawberries need weeding and the list goes on. At times like these,  it’s easy to get overwhelmed as everything needed to be done yesterday and new jobs keep coming up. Life is like farming; there are bills to pay, a home to clean, a car to maintain, a yard to mow etc. However, with all that goes on in our busy lives, we don’t have to be worried or stressed out because God’s children can trust everything happens in due season.

Let’s take a look at Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). Think about that. God had a huge task ahead of him, and He made a plan and followed through every step of the way.  Looking at the Creation Week, we see order: light illuminated the dark space, God separated the land from the water, then came the plant life, sea life and birds and animals. When all this was done, God said “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).  After everything was ready and in its place, God created His final masterpiece for the week: man. And after a time, He created out of man a companion – woman. Everything God did, He did with purpose and forethought; nothing was left to spur of the moment decisions.

The Bible says that everything has its own season. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV). None of us went from toddlers to adults over night, or skipped over college to walk across the stage to get our diploma without putting in the work.  If you have ever planted a garden or watched a deciduous tree go through the seasons of the year then you know that nature takes its time and never hurries. There is no instant gratification in nature. Planting a little seed in the ground, one wonders how it will ever survive to grow and produce fruit, let alone send up a tiny sprout, but it does. The very act of burying that seed in the ground allows for biological changes to happen that could never happen properly,  if the seed were left on top of the ground. The growth that the little seedling endures through each stage of life, prepares it for the next step.

In nature, all good things take time and it’s worth the wait till it’s ready. When life bogs us down, maybe it’s time to remember that we might be in the stage where “the seed” is underground and a growing process has just begun. While we are waiting for the “seeds” to grow, let’s keep watering them with the Word, keeping our face to the Son. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

 

Seth Shaffer

Generation of Youth for Christ Post-Conference Reflection

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Some have described GYC as a conference, while others have classified it more as a movement. The difference between these two is if the impact has lasted throughout the year.  According to the post-conference statistics, it seems that GYC is a year-round movement, not just a once-a-year event.

During outreach in Houston, TX, donations were collected for the cause of helping local refugees.  After the GYC Conference, the donation items collected were sorted into kits and distributed to local refugees families. These refugee kits included 73 cleaning kits, 96 family care kits, and 114 hygiene kits. Additionally, pop-up health clinics conducted short seminars and blood pressure screenings. The majority of the attending refugees hailed from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. Post-conference work also included canvassing for Bible studies, in which 189 doors yielded 19 new individuals interested in learning about God’s Will for their life.

“I’ve had the opportunity to lead an outreach bus twice, and each time, I was surprised how quickly the time went.  From start to finish, the whole thing was incredibly fast and high energy,” stated Gregory Church, a Community and International Development Major from Andrews University and volunteer Bible study canvasser. “Thankfully, Jesus is already inside each house. He’s been there with them through thick and thin, and has asked you to play a role in the process.”

Alongside the various GYC chapters around the world, the continual development and lasting impact of the outreach programs are what cement GYC as a movement, rather than simply a conference. It is not an authority that points young people towards mission fields. Generation of Youth for Christ is service-minded young people coming together to learn more and serve in the best of their abilities.

 

Konner Dent

To the End – Re-cap

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At the cusp of the new year 3,144 young Seventh-day Adventists gathered for GYC 2018. Under the banner “To The End”, like-minded individuals from a diverse collective of countries, colleges, and upbringings met to share ideas, cultivate networks, and take Christ’s Great Commission to their world. “Jesus had a vision that every young person become a spirit-filled missionary to the end,” stated Gary Blanchard at the conference’s beginning. 

For GYC as a movement, this spirit-filled mission work means Iceland. Currently, the Adventist population of Iceland floats in the 500s, and while SDA ministerial efforts date back to the late 1800s, the country’s secular majority and imposed Lutheran history has always made it a difficult audience to reach. While the mission trip is scheduled for the summer of 2019, the preparation began during the Monday even plenary, with VP of Missions Jonathan Walter, who flew out from GYC to knock on the first door, live-streaming the event with 2,520 listening conference attendees. 

WhatsApp Image 2018-12-31 at 8.02.40 PM

Of course, this is GYC. Mission work is par for the course. By now, the outreach numbers
have been announced all over, with 32 buses, 11,058 doors knocked on, and 19,643 GLOW tracts handed out by over 1,600 attendees, with blessings not just limited to those inside the homes. “As a bus leader, I got to meet so many new faces who got on the bus looking tired or gloomy or nervous, and then less than four hours later returned to the bus rejuvenated and ready for action!” reflected Jacob Martin, a Senior Biology major at Southern Adventist University. “The energy on my bus was electrifying, and I was so thankful for the opportunity to serve in this way.” Sunday’s outreach yielded 584 requests for Bible Studies, (350 in English and 217 in Spanish), with 17 requests by refugee families in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Mandarin, Swahili, Urdu, Cantonese, Pashto, and Twi. And that doesn’t even include the impact made by GYC’s post-conference follow-up. Additionally, over one-hundred homes indicated refugee status, and requested kits for cleaning, hygiene, and family help, as well as English language and citizenship classes. “Every single refugee care kit delivered during post-conference were met by the donations garnered in affluent neighborhoods from outreach day.” reflected Tara Vang, VP of Evangelism. “God is good!”

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Which ends with the conference itself. Activate small group sessions provided a launchpad for participants to take evangelism and sacrificial initiative, the essence of GYC, above and beyond the conference. The prayer room and multiple seminars were filled to room capacity, while the plenary events were streamed online and on 3ABN, as well as translated live into Spanish for 3ABN Latino and interpreted for ASL participants. “What excited me the most were the different speakers that we were able to bring in, a very diverse and unique group, who might not be the most popular within Adventism currently, but have really important things to share and say,” VP of Programming RD Gallant reflected. “For all ages. I think GYC has an awesome opportunity, demonstrating how we should be handling discussions and issues and controversies within the Adventist Church. There is so much in this world that could be potentially distracting from our mission and purpose as Seventh-day Adventists, and a return to a real, living relationship with God – a revive of primitive Godliness – is what will help in solving our problems.” To quote Michael Goetz’s final morning message, “If we stop to fix and get everything we think should be right, we will miss out on what we are called to do.”

 

-Konner Dent is a freelance writer and licensed chef from Southwest Michigan

-Photo credits to GYC ECOM members