Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Adventuring in Madagascar

When Josh and I moved to Pittsburgh we knew we weren't coming here to re-create the life we had in Clarion. We knew that God had touched circumstances in our life to cause us to move on and we knew that he had a purpose in doing so. Since being here so much has happened that I'm not sure I would have had the faith to walk in had I stayed where I was safe and comfortable. If I'm being honest I miss my life in Clarion. I miss being comfortable. It is hard sometimes not to look back. And at other times I can get anxious looking ahead wondering what might be next for us. But most of the time, when I steady my focus, I know we are right where we are supposed to be. And even while I don't prefer city life, my heart is fully present here, is fully alive, and it beats for the people in this city. I have but one focus, and that is to live out the gospel with my life in such a way that whoever my life touches would come to know the love of God.

Over the last couple years Josh and I have started to go out on the streets. I never know exactly what to call this to describe what our purpose is, so I usually just say we are going to do street ministry. Basically we go out with no agenda other than to let the Holy Spirit guide us into conversations and encounters where we can meet people where they are with the love of God. We may be sharing our testimony with someone. Administering physical healing to someone. Listening to someone's story of loss or hurt or discouragement and speaking truth and blessing over their life. Or even just meeting a physical need like giving away money or buying someone a meal or a sleeping bag. We go whenever it's possible for the two of us to get out together and we also join a group of warriors that go out once a month. I could spend a long time telling you testimonies of the work God has done. People have been healed. People have broken down in tears at being seen and known and touched by the God that created them. People have asked a lot of really great and hard questions that cause us to rely on the Holy Spirit to be present. Sometimes you just have five minutes with someone and then you never see them again. And sometimes you have ongoing encounters with the same people as God is relentlessly pursuing them. Sometimes you end up getting a big tattoo on your arm;) I can say God has never disappointed us out there. Every time we have made ourselves available, God has shown up. And the faces of those we have encountered remain in my mind, their stories on my heart, and I am often driven to pray for them. This...this is what I mean when I say my heart beats for the people in this city.

We aren't super-Christians. We have come to understand this is the normal Christian life. We believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and that the life of the early Church in the Book of Acts is for us too. We are growing in this. There are things we have seen that we never would have had the faith for when we started. And there are things we want to walk in that we haven't yet, but that we know we will. I want to see the dead raised. I want to set people free and see them filled with the Holy Spirit. I want to learn better how to effectively communicate the gospel. I want to see someone get out of their wheelchair. I want more discernment in my encounters to know when the grace is present to lead someone to salvation. I want to be increasingly more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to bring someone into our home to baptize them in our bathtub or to share a family meal. If I have learned anything it is this, I don't need more knowledge to see the power of God...I just need to take a risk, a step in faith. Because there is no method. There is just the belief that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. It's a partnership. I give him my life-my hands and feet and mouth and time and money, etc. and he does miracles through it. For a God who has no limits and who has all power and authority both in heaven and on earth, the possibilities of what can be done through our partnership are endless. So I'm dreaming big.

This leads me to Madagascar. Some time ago the Holy Spirit told me to be prepared because we would be going on a trip in the near future. I was so sure of what I heard I wrote it down and dated it. Some months later the opportunity to go to Antananarivo, Madagascar in June 2017 became available. I didn't have to "pray" about the decision to go because God already told me we would be going! We are going with a group called SOS Adventure. If you aren't familiar with them you can check out their website here: I would describe SOS Adventure not as an organization but as a radical family of believers who are sold out to living the Book of Acts and who have a passion to see the lost come to salvation. The opportunity extended to us to join the mission is truly more like saying yes to an adventure. I have been on a number of mission trips before, all of which were humanitarian in nature and none of which required me to have Christ. I functioned in compassion and the love of serving. These are good things, but I didn't need faith to do those things. I just needed to be a good person. I can tell you honestly that if I were headed to Madagascar without Christ I would be in trouble! The following is the list straight from SOS's website of the things we will be doing while we are there: We will preach the gospel, pray for the sick, cast out demons, share our testimonies, dance, act, and love on thousands of people. In the mornings we will minister on crowded corners of the city and in the afternoons we will host a Signs & Wonders Festival. While compassion and a love for serving will be a part of this trip, it is only the power of God through the Holy Spirit that will make any of these things possible.

Can I tell you that I am terrified? In my flesh, I am terrified. I feel nervous and anxious wondering what will be required of me. Will I have to stand on a corner and preach? Will a demon manifest in front of my eyes? Will someone with blind eyes or deaf ears ask me to pray for them? The thought of all of the possibilities leaves me on my knees with my hands and face upward to God crying out, "I can't do this! But YOU can." And that's the whole of it. Simply saying yes to God. The very thing that brought me into this relationship to begin with. So it is by faith that I walk into this thing knowing that God has shown up every time I just say yes.

Josh and I have decided to take our oldest daughter, Jezze, who will be 6 (almost 7) at the time of the trip. Why? Because we are committed to doing everything within our ability to expose our children to the reality of Jesus. Going to church does not require faith and it does not necessarily display the power of God. It would be foolish for us to think that simply raising children that "go to church" will result in lives being radically sold out to living in and for Christ. We don't go to church. We are the church. And we have been given the privilege of bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth. Our kids need us to show them this, not just talk about it. Just the other week at a pool party for a friend of our girls I held our baby in my arms as I knelt down to pray for healing for a woman's leg. The woman was so happy at being touched by God she asked me if she could hug me. I rejoice at these moments that I know, not just the person I'm ministering to, but my children are encountering the God we talk about, teach on and pray to. They can see God is real. And it is moments like these that are the seeds in their hearts that will produce faith of their own someday. We expect all of our kids to join us for an adventure trip as they become old enough to understand and when they are able to walk/stand for long periods of time, hold their bladders when necessary, no longer throw ridiculous tantrums, and when they stop complaining about eating things like broccoli for dinner. :)

Many of you have reached out to support us already and we are beyond grateful. We were immediately aware of how much we would need the support of others to get us where we are going. Every gift that comes in encourages our faith that God is working on our behalf. We are making the most of every opportunity that comes along to raise funds because we have thousands of dollars to raise. Today I can tell you we are approximately half way there, leaving us with about $5,000 more to go. Half the time I find this number impossible and half the time I find it laughable. In the grand scheme of things what is $5,000 to a God who owns all heaven and earth?! It's uncomfortable in our culture to ask for money, but we are asking anyway. Please give. Give because you know us and want to help us as friends. Give even if you don't know us. Give because you love and want to serve God. Give even if you don't. Give because you want to see the kingdom of God advance here on earth. Give because there are nations in a far-away land, families, people just like you and me that do not know about salvation through Jesus Christ. Nations that live in bondage and hopelessness and are waiting to be set free. Jesus is always teaching me about counting the cost of following him. It requires our life. We lay down our lives, deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow him. Living a life like he did. Stopping at nothing to prove his great love. Would you please take the opportunity to use your money to love? We are giving too. We are giving our finances and our vacation time. We are leaving 3 precious babies behind. We (non-vaxing parents) are getting required vaccines (eek!). We are giving our fears and our comfort and anything else required of us along the way.

Would you pray for us and pray for our finances to be met? Would you pray for boldness and courage in our lives? Would you pray for the hearts of those who we will encounter to be open to the gospel? Would you pray for the hearts of our children-both with us and apart from us? Would you pray for us to make the most of every opportunity we have in Madagascar? And would you pray for us to allow this adventure to not just be an experience, but be something that shapes our lives and our family forever?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for your support and encouragement. We will be happy to continue keeping you-all tracking with us on the journey. It's gonna be a good one!