Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Who gives a pig as a Christmas gift?

What is the #1 question children are asked at this time of the year? Undoubtedly, it is this: "What is Santa Claus going to bring you for Christmas?" I understand that people are well-meaning when they ask my children this, but sometimes when I hear it, I have to grit my teeth so hard I think blood is going to flow out of my ears!

Don't get me wrong--we love presents at the Jarrell house! And although Jeff and I get all the credit for the gifts under the tree instead of Santa, our girls are otherwise remarkably similar to other children who are excited about Christmas. They circle every girl gift in the Target catalog (other catalogs are discreetly hidden in the recycle bin) and beg for toys advertised on TV. Many conversations center around their ever-growing Christmas gift list.

They shake presents to determine what might be inside. There is endless speculation about who will get a Rapunzel Barbie and who will receive Barbie at the beauty salon. They countdown the days until it's Christmas when they will FINALLY get to open their presents with unadulterated glee!

All this is fun!!! We believe that exchanging gifts is a symbol of God's gift of his Son. The memories we make on Christmas morning when the girls giddily rush down the stairs to open up their stocking and gifts is absolutely priceless.

But is "what are YOU going to be getting for Christmas?" the only question our children should be asked? Does this not feed right into their sense of entitlement and belief that the world revolves around them and that they are owed presents simply because they are totally awesome?

How about this one: "What are YOU giving Jesus for his birthday this year?" I think 99% of kids would look at any adult who asked them this a dumbfounded stare. This includes Mika and Macy, but we are working to change that.

We are trying to stress to the girls that since this is Jesus birthday, he should get some gifts that are meaningful to Him. When I asked the girls what they think Jesus would want for his birthday, they responded "worship and prayer." Actually, those are good answers that I hadn't really considered to be gifts to Jesus, but they most certainly are!

Regarding more "tangible" gifts for Jesus--those that can be touched and seen--our Savior has requested that we give to the least of these in his name. God's heartbeat for the poor, sick, orphans, outcasts, and oppressed can be found throughout scripture. The verses below demonstrate just how personally Jesus views our care and concern for others:

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40)

So, we have told the girls that they will receive three presents under the tree plus a few things in their stocking (we also bought a Wii as a family gift). The rest of the money that we have available for Christmas will be spent to buy gifts for Jesus.

You may think that spending money for gifts on anyone other than themselves is a real bummer for children, but Mika and Macy have really been excited about our focus on Jesus' birthday gifts. As Macy puts it, "this makes my heart feel good!" (from the mouths of babes...)

We love the gift catalogs (available in an online format, but hard copies work best for children) put out by various organizations. For example, in the World Vision catalog, you can purchase chickens, pigs, and cows (or shares of an animal) to be given as a gift to a needy family in the developing world in honor of a friend, family member, or teacher. International Justice Mission puts out a catalog showing how a gift can help train an investigator, free a slave, or provide aftercare for exploited children. There are many worthy organizations; here are just a few:

Visiting a lonely shut-in, delivering a meal, baking cookies for the neighbors, sending a Christmas card crafted by your children to an overseas missionary, donating a toy to Toys for Tots, and collecting food for the local food pantry are also gifts Jesus would love to receive!

To assure that Mika and Macy do not forget the gifts our family has given to Jesus, we write them on a slip of paper and place them in a special box. After we unwrap presents on Christmas morning, we open the box and read the gifts we have given to the King.

Of course, number #1 on Jesus' gift list is the same year after year. He has given His life for you; have you given him your heart?

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

Have a blessed Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How we attract a crowd: A fire in our front yard!

21st century hospitality has been on my mind, and in the last post I shared some ideas on how to break free from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). It has occurred to me that for many people, the idea of hosting a sit-down meal might be biting off more than they could chew, so to speak.

So, I want to set the record straight: showing hospitality does NOT have to be a four-course meal, it does NOT have to take place at a your table, it does NOT have to include the entire family, and it does NOT necessarily require you to invite people inside your home.

Allow me to elaborate:

I was once a stay-at-home mom with a baby, a toddler, a mountain of laundry, and cheerios in my bra (if I was even wearing one). I would find a lonely stay-at-home mom--someone who had just left the working world, someone who was new to the area, or someone that just needed to escape her own house. I'd ask her to come over and bring her kids. She did not mind the mess; she was gratified that someone else lives the way she does. We let all the children run amok while I folded laundry and visited about ear infections and overpriced baby food. Kraft Mac 'n Cheese and milk was the lunch menu. By the time my friend left, we both felt better, the kids were tired from running around, and the pile of laundry was greatly diminished.

Jeff is a man who likes to home-brew beer. But instead of keeping the bounty for himself, he invites male friends over for beer-tasting. I leave for Barnes and Noble to drink a Frappuchino and read a scholarly periodical (People magazine) and Mika and Macy go to bed. Jeff sets out some chips, nuts, and some beer glasses. He invites random neighbors, co-workers, running buddies, and anyone else he think might enjoy a night out. One co-worker from India who had only been in the country a week showed up to our house with a huge smile on his face. He proclaimed Jeff "my first American friend!" Priceless.

What requires no menu, pre-planning, RSVPs, or ever a semi-clean house? A marshmallow roast in our cul-de-sac! This is how it goes down: We start a fire in our pit and set out some chairs. We raid our stock of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate bars, and put them on a table with a pitcher of water and some plastic cups. The girls knock loudly on our friends' and neighbors' doors and invite them to congregate on our front lawn. Jeff sends out a text to friends with a simple message: "marshmallow roast." Everyone knows that means that they are welcome to come hang out with us in our front yard.

Our Golden Retrievers serve as the welcoming committee. There is no set arrival or departure time. People come and go at their leisure. They're welcome to invite others to come along. We encourage the kids to bring their bikes, balls, and skateboards so they can play in the cul-de-sac while the adults visit. We never know who will show up or how many--it is part of the fun. We may have a dozen people or we may have forty.

There is something magical about standing shoulder to shoulder with others on a chilly fall night while you gaze at marshmallows browning on an crackling open fire. The squeals and laughter of children playing tag coexist with easy conversation between old and new friends. People tend to relax and unwind as the skies grow dark and the moon and stars provide a glorious canopy for our informal gathering. There is no agenda; our only hope is that we communicate to each person, "we are so glad you are here to share this evening with us!"

A couple of hours before one of our roasts, I was probably tired and looking forward to a leisurely evening in front of the TV. Most likely, I reluctantly succumbed to the pleading of Macy, our extrovert, to host yet another marshmallow roast. But, by the time everyone heads home and the embers on the fire die down, I feel rejuvenated, connected, and without any regrets. The effort made by us is small, but the pay-off in terms of community is huge.

By the way, we live at 617 Ashford in Coppell; if you ever see a fire at the end of our cul-de-sac, don't call 911! Instead, please stop by to chat and enjoy a s'more! We look forward to meeting you!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the dreaded CHAOS syndrome

Ever heard of CHAOS? I became a victim of CHAOS soon after I started popping out babies. It stands for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

Can't have anyone over because I haven't washed my hair in three days. Can't have anyone over because no one can see the carpet through all the toys. Can't have anyone over because I have nothing more creative to cook than chicken, stuffing, and cream of chicken soup thrown together in the crock pot. Can't have anyone over because my children will be loud and disruptive. Can't have anyone over because guests might spot the spiderwebs lurking in the corners of my vaulted ceiling. Can't have anyone over because I'm too tired, too busy, too cranky. I could go on and on...

When my girls were little, I occasionally mulled over the meaning of the Apostle Paul's exhortation in Romans to "practice hospitality." Then, I forgot about it and went to change another diaper or figure out which "little angel" managed to lob pink play-dough onto the ceiling fan. But, eventually, I begin to look into this Biblical notion of hospitality a little more. I was overwhelmed by the number of times homes were mentioned during the time of the early church, both as a meeting and eating place for believers, and as a tool to spread the gospel. "They (believers) broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts." (Acts 2:46). Hospitality was not supplemental for the discipleship of believers and spread of the gospel; it was foundational.

Jeff and I came to realize that even though we are introverts, even though we have young children, and even though our schedules seem full, we can carve out some occasional time to have people into our home. Perfection or anything approaching perfection is not required. Max Lucado, in his book "Outlive Your Life," said it best:

"If we wait until everything is perfect, we'll never issue an invitation. Remember this: what is common to you is a banquet to someone else. You think your house is small, but to the lonely heart, it is a castle. You think the living room is a mess, but to the person whose life is a mess, your house is a sanctuary. You think the meal is simple, but to those who eat alone every night, pork and beans on paper plates tastes like fillet mignon. What is small to you is huge to them. Open your table."

For us, the best time to host someone is lunch time on Sunday. This is because we attend church services on Sunday evening, leaving our Sunday mornings and afternoons free. People seem to be more available at this time because they work less and have fewer scheduled activities on Sunday. We have also had guests over for dinner during the week (especially Jeff's co-workers visiting from outside the country).

We don't have people every week--far from it. Sometimes we need some family "down" time, sometimes life gets too hectic, and sometimes plans fall through for a myriad of reasons. But we have become more intentional about opening our home.

Who do we invite? It is definitely anything goes, and we have moved far beyond our comfort zone and also acquired friendships, connections, and a richness to our family's life beyond anything we could have dreamed. We invite our neighbors, especially those we don't know well. We invite our friends and family. We invite people from church that we would like to know better. We invite the families of our children's school friends. We invite visiting missionaries. We have even invited families who we meet at the park for the first time on Sunday morning--next thing you know, they are sitting across the table from us, sharing a meal.

Together we have laughed, cried, shared, reminisced, and conversed on everything from the weather to life-and-death decisions. We have been blessed to learn about other cultures and faiths. We have achieved a knowing and an understanding of others that is impossible to replicate by exchanging status updates on Facebook, texting, or communicating by e-mail.

Mika and Macy have been taught that each guest that comes to our home is made in God's image and deserving of our honor and respect. They open the door to our guests and say, "Welcome to our home!" They have learned social, cultural, and spiritual lessons that cannot be acquired in a classroom. The girls have looked across the table and seen people of all ages, colors, abilities, walks of life, and backgrounds.

Don't get me wrong, things don't always go smoothly. Sometimes the meat is overcooked or the tablecloth is wrinkled and lopsided. Sometimes my girls spill milk or end up fighting over who they are going to sit next to (yes, it's embarrassing!) There are moments of strained silence and times when the noise level threatens to unhinge my eardrum. I've spotted a live bug in the corner of the dining room; don't know if our lunch buddies saw it or not (just keeping it real, folks).

But it is so worth it! What a blessing it has been to open our home and our table to others. I hope that, even if you are in the midst of CHAOS, you will consider giving it a try--I think you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Facebook is an extension of my brain"

Will you tell me a secret? If not me, then is there someone in your life you can confide in when you need to? According to research, over the past two decades, the number of people who say they do not have a single person with whom they can discuss important matters has doubled.

Friends meeting together and sharing their lives has eroded as the media gadgets and technology available to stay connected with people all over the world has exploded. People with 500 Facebook "friends" and a stream of Twitter updates lighting up their phone often claim to fell lonely and isolated.

My younger friends tell me that telephone calls and even leaving a voicemail is intrusive and passe. One of my closest friends even told me that if I didn't start texting, she did not know how we could maintain our friendship. She detested talking to me on the phone. (I have joined the 21st century and have text capabilities now). A teen states, "Facebook is an extension of my brain." An eleven year old child warns, "if you don't text, you don't exist."

I am the first to say that technology can be a blessing! I am grateful for the ability to access my digital coupon list at the grocery store, study Spanish on my iPhone while I wait for the doctor, and view photos on Facebook of my friends' children and vacations. I have also learned how to sew an awesome pair of pants by watching a demonstration on YouTube.

Our family's livelihood depends on technology. My husband makes a living by helping to manage a website for American Airlines. Part of his and job is to do everything he can to get you to transact business on the website. Do you want to check on a flight arrival time?--website. Do you want to make a reservation?--website. Find your lost luggage?--website. Don't you even think about talking to a live ticket agent or customer service representative unless you are prepared to pay for it!

We can transact most of our business and communicate with our sphere of friends without ever seeing them in person or even hearing their voice. Is this the new normal? It seems that the perks of technology have come at the cost of personal human interaction. We've settled for a shallow relationship with hundreds of people and found it increasingly difficult to maintain (or begin) authentic relationships with even a few.

I am trying to learn how to reconcile the world of rapid-fire technological connections with the time and effort that must be put into lasting, satisfying, deep relationships. It is a constant struggle, and I don't have all the answers.

But I am convinced of one thing: no matter how much technology advances or how it increases our ability to be connected with others, we are hard-wired to have meaningful, face-to-face interactions with people. This is true regardless of the time and culture in which we live. In his book, Outlive your Life," Max Lucado agrees, and makes a suggestion to boot:

"Call us a fast society, an efficient society, but don't call us a personal society. Our society is set up for isolation. We wear ear buds when we exercise. We communicate vial e-mail and text messages. We enter and exit our houses with gates and garage-door openers. Our mantra: 'I leave you alone. You leave me alone.' Yet God wants his people to be an exception. Let everyone else go the way of computers and keyboards. God's children will be people of hospitality."

Hospitality? Huh? What does it mean for me and my family? Do I have to become Martha Stewart? Invest in some new table linens? Learn to cook beef wellington? No! Max Lucado states,

"Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can't be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries, hospitality..."

In my next post, I'll be talking about some ways our family has tried to grow in the area of hospitality, and also share how I was cured of CHAOS syndrome. Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My girls--suppliers of contraband to Colombian guerrillas

My sweet American daughters are suppliers to hardened and vengeful guerrillas who are rampaging and killing their way through the jungles of Colombia.

What, you may ask, could a five and seven year old possibly have to offer these insurgents, and more importantly, why would their mother allow them to render aid to some of the most hateful and fierce fighters that currently occupy our planet?

The facts: Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. It has been ravaged by decades of civil war between revolutionary left-wing guerrilla groups such as the FARC and the NLN. Although these terrorist groups claim lofty goals such as representation of the rural poor, opposition to meddling by foreign governments, and protection of natural resources, their covert agenda seeks to overthrow the government and establish a communist agrarian state, control the country's lucrative drug crops, and make some extra cash through kidnapping and ransom, extortion, and a mafia style "tax" on peasants for "protection."

These are no ordinary soldiers with ordinary weapons. Sure, these insurgents possess an enormous arsenal of guns and bombs, but they do not limit themselves to traditional weaponry. The FARC and NLN fighters also rely on terror, assassinations, gang rape, and coercion of children in order to train them be killing machines and perform the most dangerous dirty work in their stead.

A commonality among the various rebel groups is that they preach atheism throughout their ranks, wanting fighters to only pledge allegiance to "the cause." Christianity is especially hated since followers of Christ teach a message of peace, forgiveness, and love for one's enemies. Missionaries have been run out of the country or summarily executed. Those unfortunate believers trapped in the jungle with the guerrillas have seen their churches burned, their Bibles confiscated, and have frequently been murdered in cold blood for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ.

Often the Colombian government has met for peace talks with the various guerrilla factions. These talks have been anemic, fruitless, and have always devolved into ever-increasing cycles of violence.

Sound hopeless? Are these radical guerrillas "too far gone" to experience God's grace and mercy? To a rational mind, it would seem so. However, there is One who can bring peace, healing, hope, and redemption out of even a hell on earth inhabited by evil and violent men bent on death and destruction.

Most encouraging is the testimony of the Apostle Paul, himself an enemy of Christians and a mass murderer. Bent on exterminating Christians, he exclaimed after conversion that "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." (I Tim. 1:15). If God can change a heart like Paul's, then he can change the heart of a Colombian guerrilla.

Because the jungles are very difficult to penetrate by land and dangerous to navigate, a Christian pilot named Russell has been taking to the skies. He flies over the Colombian jungle and deposits small parachutes with an attached bag containing Christian books in Spanish and a short-wave radio pre-tuned to a Christian station.

Russell, operates at great risk to his safety. If he flies too high, the Colombian government will shoot him down, assuming he is a drug runner. If he flies too low, the rebels will shoot him down, assuming he is an enemy. If captured, he faces torture and execution.

Our family has ordered parachute kits from Voice of the Martyrs, an organization striving to get the Bible and other materials into this difficult-to-reach area of the world. We have been constructing parachutes using a simple pattern and directions. When we return the parachutes, a bag with the books and radio will be attached and Russell will drop them and the other parachutes collected from all over the world deep into the thick underbrush of the Colombian jungle.

Our parachute kit included a video interviewing Russell and actually showing him going on a mission and dropping parachutes from the sky. Amazing! The video additionally features some former assassins who have come to Christ, laid down their weapons, and are now preaching the gospel to their former comrades as well as former enemies.

Any new convert in the Colombian jungle has likely signed his death warrant. If he speaks up to share the good news of the gospel, he stands a great chance of being killed by his former "friends." However, there have been amazing movements of the Holy Spirit where the message is getting through and soldiers are receiving it. Instead of retaliation, they fall to their knees and seek forgiveness and peace.

There is a saying, "A racehorse can run just as fast in any direction," said a missionary on Colombia. If you get guerrillas going the right direction, they become powerhouses for the Lord." Guerrillas are trained to be fearless, and some new believers have decided to be fearless for the cause of Christ.

Is penetrating the Colombian jungle with the gospel extremely difficult and wrought with danger? Yes! Impossible? NO! "What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:27) The gospel is good news, and history tells us that in many different contexts all over the world, the gospel is powerful and the message of Jesus cannot be stopped.

Mika and Macy are very excited about a hands-on opportunity to provide parachutes and join the mission! They have been busy cutting, gluing, and assembling; construction of ten parachutes is near completion. Before mailing them off, our family will pray for the hearts of the guerrillas who will receive these airborne materials as they are strategically dropped in and around the guerrilla camps.

We are covert suppliers to the Colombian guerrillas of the greatest weapon in the world, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 8:17)

For more information, or to order a parachute kit(s), see

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Unusual Dinner Guest

Not long ago, I found myself sitting at our dinner table with a man who was almost a complete stranger. His skin was dark, his accent was noticeable, and his life experiences were very different from mine, to say the least. His loving wife sat beside him, her beautiful countenance betraying the realities of the difficult life they have lived.

When I invited them through their ministry website to our house for dinner with my family, my main intent was to expose my girls to a "real hero" (at least in God's eyes), someone who serves God tirelessly in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. What I had not counted on was that God had much more in mind than a simple spiritual lesson for Mika and Macy. The result of our visit was that I was transformed by this man's incredible faith, courage, joy and love--both for God and his fellow man.

Although I had heard bits and pieces of his story before, I was overwhelmed in hearing him fill in the details of his life. Before I tell you more about this man, let me tell you a little more about me.

Sacrifices I make as a Christian:

Riding to church services on Texas Summer Sunday afternoons in a car that is hot for five minutes until the air conditioning kicks in. (My husband insisted that I mention that I make him start the car and A/C before I will get in my seat--mascara running down my face is not a pretty sight). Then, I have to get out of my car and walk in the heat for 60 seconds until I can get into the sanctuary where A/C will keep me comfy during the service.

Giving money to my church, the poor, and missions: I already have all my needs and most of my wants met, but still, the money I donate could be used to make a payment on a luxury car, purchase more of my beloved Starbucks Java-chip Frappucinos, or stay at a five-star hotel on my vacation.

About once every six months, I have to listen to someone make a disparaging comment to me about Christianity. Or, I will hear Bill Maher or another comedian making fun of my beliefs on national TV.

Occasionally, the local Christian bookstore will not have the newest Christian book I want in stock, and so I have to order it from Amazon and wait five days for delivery.

I could go on, and on...

Allow me to introduce you to my dinner guests: Celestin and Bernadette Musekura. They were born and raised in Rwanda, and then were living and raising four children in Kenya, where Celestin had gone to seminary.

In 1994, the Rwandan genocide took place. More than 70% of the Rwandan pastors were killed or forced into exile, leading to an enormous vacuum in leadership of the church. Similar mass bloodshed and resulting lack of church leadership took place in Burundi and Eastern Congo. There was even more war and tribal conflict affecting the body of Christ in Uganda and southern Sudan.

Celestin realized that the African church would need strong leadership to foster training, teaching, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation to leaders and individuals in communities. So he founded ALARM, which stands for African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries ( ALARM has played and continues to play a crucial role in developing both church and government leaders, reconciling relationships, and transforming broken and traumatized communities all over Africa.

Sacrifices Celestin has made for being a Christian:

When God called him to go from Kenya to Rwanda in December 1997, his name was put on several "kill lists" and he became a wanted man. Both the Hutu and Tutsi tribes hated the message of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. They did not want peace, but instead craved vengeance. Celestin, a Hutu, was seen as a traitor of his tribe and deserving of death. He had to tell his wife and four children that "God has called Daddy to minister in Rwanda, and I might not return." His youngest child, only five years old at the time, replied, "If you die, I know our Heavenly Father will take care of us."

Celestin eventually found out that 5 members of his family and 70 members of the church he had pastored for four years had been ruthlessly slaughtered. He chose to "forgive as Christ forgave us." He met with the relatives of the murderers, forgave those who had killed his family and friends, and then proceeded to share the love of Christ with everyone--Hutus and Tutsis alike.

While in Rwanda, Celestin was caught and tortured. He explains that the beatings were horrible, but that the worst torture was the psychological pain of hearing the screams of people being put to death in other rooms. He was kept in a literal house of horrors. Miraculously, Celestin was released.

He spends much time working in Sudan, where he often visits churches in remote areas. Usually there is no church building; 300 people from the tiniest newborn to the elderly gather under a tree in the sweltering 100 degree heat. Often there is no pastor and no Bible. Yet, these precious believers worship God with everything that is within them, including much singing, dancing, and praising God for his love and faithfulness to them--for THREE hours.

He has presided over untold numbers of funerals for children who have died from having nothing but dirty, contaminated water to drink.

He has faced ridicule, scorn, and threats from overtly evil people who would love to chase him down with a machete and leave his severed head to rot in the streets.

How does anyone survive such things with their sanity intact, not to mention their faith? Amazingly, Celestin and Bernadette are some of the most joyful and peaceful people I have ever met. They have a sense of purpose and an unquenchable desire to fulfill the mission God has given them. Their smiles radiate the depth of their love and devotion to Christ.

They love their Savior so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of Christ, and to die if necessary. Celestin reminded me of the words of Paul, "to live is Christ, to die is gain." (Phil 1:21) He shared that when God called him to return to Rwanda after the genocide, to him and Bernadette it was a simple matter of whether they would chose to obey God. He knew that if he was killed, he would be in heaven with Christ, and that God would provide for his family.

I asked him where he gets the courage to walk boldly into an unstable, violent situation where the air reeks with the stench of death and hatred, and he humbly replies that "when God calls you, he gives you the courage to do whatever is necessary."

He insists he wouldn't trade what he has been through for anything, because all the trials and sufferings have been used by God to mold him into the man he is today. His experiences have enabled him to proclaim boldly his message of forgiveness and to give an awesome testimony of the Lord's faithfulness. He reminded me of what Joseph said in the Bible after being sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, and thrown into prison. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Gen 50:20)

Finally, he reminded me that "a call to Christ is a call to suffering," a statement that is politically incorrect but theologically sound. Persecution and suffering are repeated themes in the teachings of Christ, the Apostle Paul, and the disciples, yet you will rarely hear it uttered in most churches today.

How does a story like Celestin's affect my faith? Good question, I'll probably be mulling that over for some time, and blogging about it, too. Some of my initial reactions:

I do not feel guilty that I have been spared the deprivation, persecution, and horror that Celestin and his African brothers and sisters have, but I do feel an immense sense of gratitude for the freedom I have to worship God however I choose, freedom from constant fear of slaughter and rape, and freedom from hunger, disease and poverty. I am reminded that I have been blessed to be a blessing to others, and that I need to be a good steward of all that God has entrusted to me.

I am inspired by Celestin and my other brothers and sisters in Christ; I feel a strong kinship with them. The stories of their suffering and trials bring me to tears, and I am motivated to deepen my faith. I want to support my persecuted family members financially, through encouragement, and with my prayers. I want their stories to be told in our churches so that they are not forgotten.

I also need to ask myself if I really believe that God is worthy of sacrificing everything for. Because if the answer is "Yes," nothing will be the same. Even if I am never called to the mission field in a dangerous and hostile country, being totally surrendered to Christ requires sacrifice, and it will not be easy. But the pure joy radiating from the faces of Celestin and Bernadette remind me that there is really no other way to live.

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." I Peter 4:12-14

Thursday, April 14, 2011

MIA from my kids' history books!

Amy Carmichael. William Carey. David Livingstone. Familiar with these names? Did you study them in your history class when you were in school? If your child is in public school, their historical education will not cover these folks, either. Who are they, anyway? Were they army generals, people who brought about a political revolution, spies, leaders of ancient civilizations, or those who presided over vast changes in the social landscape of their country?

These people and others like them are every bit as important and perhaps more important than many of the people who fill our history books, yet their memories exist in relative obscurity. They are the people who have, in many different contexts around the world, put their safety, security, and sometimes very lives on the line to minister to others in Jesus' name and to be part of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. They are missionaries of the past who now dwell at home with their heavenly Father.

Not only are their stories worthy of our attention, but the life and spiritual lessons that can be drawn from their experiences are breathtaking. It is up to us as parents to introduce these amazing role-models to our children.

There are some great missionary biographies available both online and in stores. Right now, I bet you are thinking, "ZZZZZZZZZ. That will put my kids to sleep, and me, as well." Not true: These incredible stories deliver more excitement, drama, suspense, and interesting characters than even the best episode of The Bachelor, 24, or Law and Order!

If you are enthusiastic and entertained by missionary stories, then likely your kids will be as well. In some cases, they can be even more captivating than series like the Magic Tree House, Harry Potter, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because these stories are about REAL people, REAL dangers, REAL adventures, and REAL heroism! This summer, our family is going to have fun "getting to know" about several missionaries from the past--I hope you will consider doing this with your own family.

Here are some resources I have found to get you started: -- a website showing pictures and presenting brief biographies of many missionaries throughout history.

"Heroes for Young Readers" series (YWAM Publishing) These books are simple with great illustrations and written in rhyme form. They are geared towards children ages five to ten.

"Hero Tales" by Dave and Neta Jackson (Bethany House). Each volume contains 15 key Christian heroes, including a short biography and three extra stories for each hero. This book is aimed at children ages 6 - 12 and is meant to acquaint children (and parents!) with historically important missionaries and also to teach valuable spiritual and life lessons.

"Heroes of the Faith" (Barbour Publishing) Written by various authors, this series contains biographies of various missionaries as well as other men and women not thought of as "traditional" missionaries, like Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and C.S. Lewis.

"Men and Women of Faith Series" (Bethany House) This excellent collection of books is geared toward older readers--7th grade to adult.

"Trailblazer Series" If your child likes action, suspense, adventure, and a thrilling plot line, these books are terrific! They are geared for children ages eight to thirteen and are perfect for children to read to themselves.

Of course, there are a number of individual missionary biographies, too many to list here (such as "Through the Gates of Splendor" by Elizabeth Elliot).

I suggest you borrow or purchase a book about a missionary and dive into it with your kids. The books by themselves are wonderful, but they additionally provide so much in the way of jump-starting conversations about taking risks for our faith, trusting in God to provide, keeping an eternal perspective, and many other topics. They may even ignite a spark within our children's own hearts to serve the world on God's behalf someday.

Our kids need some new heroes--let's give them some that are worthy of their interest and respect. Here's to great reading, great life lessons, and a great awakening to the importance of taking the gospel of Christ to then ends of the earth!

"God had an only Son and he made him a missionary."--David Livingstone

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pinatas, Origami, and Heroes

As I wrote in my last post, it has dawned on me that my children need heroes beyond those featured 24/7 in the mass media and social networks. Certainly there are many people, in many capacities, who qualify as heroes. Those who put their lives on the line, such as police officers and firemen, as well as those serving in the military, are heroes. People who foster and adopt children from abuse and neglect are heroes. If I may be so bold, I think moms of young children are heroes for just surviving each day. I could go on and on...

The heroes I want to focus on right now are those who have invested their lives in spreading the gospel to the nations, especially missionaries living on the foreign mission fields. These include both past and present missionaries. So, the question has become, "How do I teach my children about these great people of God?" This post will be about current, living missionaries, and then I'll tackle the subject of missionaries from the past in my next post.

I began making some first attempts at teaching my daughters (ages 5 and 7) about missionaries when they were about three. It occurred to me that in order to understand the magnitude of what these missionaries are doing, they must have an understanding of God's love for the world. I talk to my children about how God is not just the God of Coppell (our little suburb) he is the God of the whole world! He created every person on the earth, and it is his desire that persons from every nation, tribe, people and language bow down around the throne of God in heaven(Rev. 7:9).

We look at a world map and I will ask them, "does God just love people on one side of the world?" "Does God just love people who have skin like us or speak the same language as us?" They shout, "No, Mommy!" I will then ask them, "who does God love?" "Everyone in the whole world!" Does God desire that everyone in the world know about his son Jesus and that he is their Savior?" "Yes, Mommy, yes!" Ok, I don't always get an enthusiastic response, sometimes they roll their eyes. But regularly reminding them of these truths does seem to get through sometimes.

I explain about the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children (all the children of the world...)" I tell them that their are people who have devoted their lives to loving little children all over the world because they are important to Jesus, he loves them, and wants them to know about Him.

We try to pray for missionaries that we know. As the Mission-Minded Child states, "We need to remember that the prayers of a child--even our children--can change lives and impact nations." Their pictures are posted near our world map so we can remember to pray. We also pray for missionaries and residents of countries that are currently in particular turmoil--such as Libya. I remind my girls that anytime there is a country with uncertainty, upheaval, and unrest, God is moving and it is important to pray that through this trial, many will come to see and know Christ.

We have tried to have a few missionaries over to our home when they are in America on furlough. There is no substitute for sitting face-to-face with people who are living in different cultures among different peoples and serving them while sharing the love of Jesus Christ. My girls' eyes grow wide when they hear about all the exotic foods (squirrel stomach?) and exciting adventures that these missionary families have. Our family gets to see others model first-hand what it means to be truly sold-out to Christ and live a life fully committed to him.

Ann Dunagan shares that they often have missionaries stay in their homes for a few nights. Their older children clean their rooms and wash their sheets and agree to sleep on the floor in their little brothers' room (with a smile!) in order to make room for the visiting missionaries. Her children have all kinds of stories: "When people from Africa or India come over, they usually think my bedroom is like a royal guesthouse! It reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for and how much I usually take for granted. Sometimes our visitors have never seen dishwasher, or a grocery store....International guests have stood watching in amazement through an entire washing machine cycle--when the lid was up!"

So, find out from your church who some of your missionaries are, and start teaching your kids about them, supporting them through prayer, mail, and e-mail, and consider welcoming them into your home (for a few hours or a few days) when they are visiting the States. Other ideas to engage your children in learning about missionaries serving in different cultures:
  • put together a world map puzzle
  • let your children dress in international costumes
  • try to eat with chopsticks
  • listen to international music
  • buy a pinata and have a Mexican-themed party
  • learn to draw a few Chinese characters
  • learn to draw the flag of the country of a missionary you support
  • check out a library book on origami are and experiment with Japanese paper-folding
  • collect international postage stamps send a quick and encouraging e-mail to a missionary. (better yet, send a handwritten letter or small care package!)
  • visit a local travel agency (or one on the Internet) and browse through international travel packages
  • visit the children's section of your local library and check out several books about a particular country
  • watch a TV show or special about another country

(*excerpted from "The Mission-Minded Child")

The world is full of great role models for our children, if we will just look for them (because they are not going to be featured on Entertainment Tonight, People magazine, the Drudge Report, or Facebook. I know, I've looked ;). Missionaries are a particularly valuable role model for my children, because my heart's desire is that Mika and Macy will grow up to be equipped to whole-heartedly fulfill God's call on their lives, whether across town or across the globe.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

NEW heros anyone?

Who do your children look up to? Who do they want to be like? Who influences their behavior? Who do they think is cool?

These questions are important, because their heroes and idols will captivate their hearts and minds. Often, they imitate the way they talk and sing, and will aspire to be like them.

I know that my girls want to grow up to be Belle, Cinderella, or one of the other Disney Princesses, because they have been steeped in "princess culture." They have watched all the movies numerous times, they have all the princess costumes so they can role-play as princesses, they sing the princess songs from the movies, they ask me questions about the princess' lives, and they have the princess dolls. There are probably no less than 100 items in my home that display the Disney princess brand--everything from band-aids to toothpaste, to clothes, to toys, to fruit snacks.

I don't think all this is necessarily bad. I liked the princesses when I was a young child, and I still enjoy the movies I watch with my girls. It is just precious when they "get dressed for the ball" and seek out my husband, requesting a dance and asking him to be their "prince."

As they get a little older, the princess world will probably fade away, and other people will take their place. For example the new "idols de jour" for tweens are Hannah Montana, depicted by Miley Cyrus, and Justin Beiber. (Of course, this applies primarily to girls; having two daughters, I only know about girl stuff).

Of course, as kids get older, their heroes can go from relatively harmless to those having values that are diametrically opposed to ours. Lady Gaga, the Jersey Shore cast, rock stars with opulent lifestyles, and athletes who abuse substances and brag about the number of people they sleep with are a few examples.

I cannot shield Mika and Macy from the people that our culture exalts as heroes to be captivated by, interested in, and possibly emulate, but I can at least give them some alternatives, some people who truly are heroes in God's eyes. These can include anyone, of any profession, who is living their life for God.

One of the best examples I know of "a true hero" are missionaries, especially those serving God on the foreign mission field. These heroes are unlikely to ever be on reality TV or have a sitcom made about their lives. They will never have a large following on Twitter or have a Facebook page with tens of thousands of members. They will not be endowed with a celebrity iPhone app that bears their name and likeness.

They will not have a blockbuster movie made about their lives, and they will not have hundreds of licensed products with their names and faces plastered on them.

Their greatest reward will be in heaven, for eternity. One thousand, ten thousand, ten billion years from now, they will be reaping the benefits of living a life faithful to God, often in very difficult conditions and sometimes sacrificing their very lives for the purpose of bringing the glory of God to the ends of the earth.

Ann Dunagan, author of "The Mission-Minded Child," says that "We need to instill in our children an admiration for servants of God who lived for His purposes instead of their own." So, although there are many positive role models for my children, immersing them in the lives of missionaries seems like a good place to start.

However, before I can teach my girls about missionary heroes, I have to do some reflection and soul searching. I asked myself, "other than a few missionaries that our church supports, how many missionaries can I name?" I thought for a few minutes, and could recall three: Billy Graham, John Wycliffe, and Jim Elliot.

I try to tell myself that I am so often consumed with the needs of my family that I don't really have time to learn about missionaries and the work they are doing (or have done) around the globe. But then I am reminded that in the last few weeks, I have learned about the latest celebrity divorces, the life perspectives of Cher and Jane Fonda, my favorite singer's sold-out tour, my Facebook friends' opinions of the Black-Eyed Peas performance at the Super Bowl, and the possible political ramifications to the GOP if the national debt ceiling is raised in March.

All that is required is that I turn off Oprah and Fox News, put down People magazine, and investigate some of these missionaries. I want to learn about people who do not hold anything back and are not motivated by fame, glory or money, but instead, remained faithful to God even if it cost them their lives. Resources to learn about missionaries abound, so it will not be difficult to find information once a put my mind to it.

Only when I develop a passion for missions and see missionaries as heroes worthy of my respect will I be able to teach my children about them. Mika and Macy will not learn people like David Livingstone or Amy Charmicael from public school, their friends, TV shows, music, or movies. If they are going to learn about these missionary heroes, it will have to start at home.

So, I'm off to read some mini-biographies about missionaries. Some ideas for giving my children an alternative to the world's heroes will be coming in another post.

"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among the nations." Psalm 67:1-2

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What do Sex, Slavery, and the Super Bowl Have in Common?

The SUPER BOWL IS COMING TO ARLINGTON! I remember bursting with pride on the exciting day in 2007 when the news came out that my hometown was playing host to the granddaddy of all sporting events, the Super Bowl. Finally, the world was going to see what a great town Arlington is!

I began to think about what the Super Bowl would mean for Arlington, and for that matter, all of North Texas. Obviously, it will be an enormous boon to the economy, which we can definitely use. In addition, as the eyes of the world are upon us, they will see that we Texans are not a bunch of ranchers sporting cowboy hats and six-shooters. Most of us don't live on large swaths of land featuring oil wells and tumbleweeds. We don't all drive pick-up trucks and eat barbecue at least once a day. Our town is diverse, friendly, hospitable, and fun. And even though I'm not attending the game, I get excited when I think of all the immense energy that will vibrate through every crevice of the Metroplex when the AFL and NFL champs arrive in town to do battle. Yea!!!

I recently came off my Super-Bowl high about two weeks ago when I was smacked in the face with this unbelievable fact: the Super Bowl (where ever it is held) is sex trafficking's biggest weekend. Now, from what I hear, there are plenty of prostitutes already in Dallas. It boggles the mind that there will be ten thousand or more additional sex workers brought in specifically for the Super Bowl--and many of them will be under-aged children who are forced to work as sex slaves.

I shake my head in horror and disgust when I watch a TV show or read an article about the selling of boys and girls in filthy brothels in places like Cambodia or the Philippines. I tell myself that we in America are far more cultured and refined; sure, there is plenty of sex sold between supposedly willing adults, but the buying and selling of children so they can be raped by the highest bidder is extremely rare. WRONG.

Why all the trafficking of children during a massive sporting event? Apparently, the Super Bowl is ripe for this kind of exploitation for the following reasons: large numbers of male tourists travelling without family, lots of drugs and drinking, and revelers with money to spend. Add to this the fact that 40,000 people come to the Super Bowl host city who don't even have a ticket to the game--they just love the party atmosphere.

According to the Department of Justice, "Children trafficked into prostitution are often found around major sporting events. Since children are often more vulnerable, they are easy to move and in high demand, they make ideal victims to travel to major sporting events." Online sites like make it easy to "advertise" children; customers can scroll through page after page of exploited children as though they are choosing a consumable product from a catalog. Many pimps and traffickers will rent homes or apartments near the event to establish a brothel to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand for sex with underage minors.

I have to admit, when I hear about things like this--the evil underbelly of one of our most cherished cultural and uniquely American events--I want to pretend it does not exist and hope it will go away on its own. I do not want to even consider the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated against innocent ones who are made in God's image the same as my own daughters. But in my heart I know that turning a blind eye is not the answer; only when it is exposed and dismantled will there be healing, restoration, and justice.

But what can be done? Obviously, part of the answer lies with law enforcement. I am glad to see the Texas Attorney General, the FBI, and the Metroplex police forces are taking this issue seriously and training and dispatching extra staffers, analysts, and officers to deal with this problem.

Also, I came across an organization called Love 146 ( who is doing all they can to prevent this type of atrocity from happening at the Super Bowl and to rescue children who are brought to Arlington and surrounding areas for the event. You may be curious how Love 146 got it's name. I read the story behind the name on their website and it is so disturbing to me that I'll omit most of the details and simply say that the number "146" was pinned to a little girl's dress in a Cambodian brothel where an undercover sting operation was taking place.

Both Love146 and Traffick 911 are planning a number of events prior to the Super Bowl. These include a screening of "The Playground" (a movie about child sexual exploitation), a community prayer service, a tailgate party to raise awareness of the issue, fliers posted in high-risk neighborhoods, and billboards posted around the Metroplex. Both groups will continue to be active after the Super Bowl, involved in the restoration of children who have been rescued.

If you live in the DFW area, please consider attending a Prayer and Awareness Event at Irving Bible Church on January 28, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. (

Really, I think the absolute most powerful weapon against the horrors of child trafficking is prayer. Prayer can be done anywhere and anytime--prompts like a billboard or TV commercial advertising the Super Bowl can remind us to offer up a prayer for any young victim whose health and life is at stake as she is being prepped to be trafficked and abused during the Super Bowl.

A few prayer thoughts that came to my mind:

1) pray for a spotlight to be shined on this type of evil--making brutalization that thrives on secrecy more difficult.

"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." John 3:19

pray for freedom from those held in bondage

[Jesus said] "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has send me to proclaim freedom of the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed." Luke 4:18

3) pray that justice will be manifested in the lives of the pimps, the customers, and the victims.

"It is not good to be partial to the wicked or deprive the innocent of justice." Prov. 17:5

4) pray that these precious children will come to understand God's love for them.

[Jesus said] "Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Mark 10:13

5) pray that a canopy of angels surround the Metroplex during the Super Bowl and that the forces of evil will be brought to ruin and destruction.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph. 6:12

For more information, see or

If you happen to encounter anyone you think could be a victim or to report suspicious behavior, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

Monday, January 3, 2011


SOLD OUT in six minutes! Many are disappointed they won't be at the event, and others are going to show up at the venue and beg to be allowed entrance, even if they have to sit on the floor. There's a lot of buzz on the Internet. Facebook updates spring up about who was able to obtain a ticket and who wasn't. There are numerous pleas for extra tickets that people might have to spare.

Certainly I must be talking about the Super Bowl, a Bon Jovi concert, or the "game of the year" between two college rivalries with a slew of die hard fans. Actually, the above scenario played out recently with people trying to get into church to study the Bible!

David Platt is pastor of a church at Brook Hills in Alabama. He has travelled all over the world, including to many places where sharing the gospel will get you killed. He has met with house churches in secret. These brave and devoted followers of Christ will gladly sit in a dark cramped room for 12 hours at a time because they are so excited to hear the Bible taught and have such a passion for God's word.

So, David Platt got an idea: what if he designated six hours on a Friday night (although he never finishes on time) from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. to gather and study a portion of the Bible in depth and also pray for the persecuted church around the world? There would not be a meal served, socializing, or entertainment. It would be called "Secret Church," after the many house churches he has visited around the world. Would anybody come?

Yes! Over a thousand came that first night. Before long, Secret Church was standing room only. At one point, so many thousands of people showed up for the quarterly event that many had to be turned away. So the church resorted to giving away free tickets so everyone with a ticket would be guaranteed a spot.

The latest Secret Church was held in November 2010, and tickets "sold out" on the Internet in six minutes. The 2500 free tickets, plus several hundred for an overflow room were gone quickly. A sell-out to study the Bible on Friday night? What could possibly going on?

David Platt believes that "Biblical literacy is a precursor to Biblical transformation." He is intent on teaching the Bible in a way that is meaningful and practical and that will ultimately change people to become more like Christ. He is also passionately committed to taking the gospel to the nations and supporting the persecuted church.

It is so exciting and refreshing to hear about people being so serious and interested in prayer and Bible study. The "Secret Church" page on Facebook is replete with those saying they have extra tickets they cannot use and others trying to be the first to snatch them up. The vast majority of those with extra tickets give them away, but a few are even selling tickets to Secret Church!

I definitely believe that those who have spare tickets should not sell them, but this does bring up an almost unheard of scenario: people actually scalping tickets for a Bible study!

This is made even more remarkable by the fact that Dr. Platt's teaching is deep, hard-hitting and convicting; much of it is counter-cultural. He does not pull punches and is not afraid to offend if he feels he is truthfully speaking from the Word of God. (As my friend Karin likes to say, "sometimes I need to be offended, because otherwise, I won't ever change.")

What this tells me is that people are hungry for truth from the Bible. They do not need their ears tickled by watered down, feel-good drivel. They do not need to hear a lot of opinions from the pastor. They do not need for their pastor to apologize for the Bible because there are some passages that are difficult to accept or understand, or because they are controversial. They do not need another self-help, "10 ways to be a better person" style sermon.

The result is that more and more people are coming. Many (including me) have heard the teachings from Secret Church on the church's website. The next time Secret Church is held, there will likely be live streaming video available for those unable to attend personally.

Of course, there is a danger here. Though Dr. Platt approaches his teaching humbly and constantly aims to deflect any attention from himself and onto the Bible and Christ, there is no question that he is a gifted and anointed teacher and many people are drawn in because of him. If they ever had a "guest speaker" for Secret Church, it is unlikely the crowds would be as large or the enthusiasm so intense. Also, I'm sure his theology is not 100% perfect, because no one's is.

Still, I am heartened that he has created a lot of interest in serious study of the Bible. He and a handful of other prominent pastors in America have decided to be unafraid in their preaching. Whether 1000 people or 10 people show up, they are committed to teaching the Word unapologeticlly and with zeal. I hope this will give more pastors the courage to speak the truth, and not to base their teaching on concerns about church growth or political correctness.

In our culture, we hear a lot about celebrities who can sell tickets quickly. For example, last year Taylor Swift sold out her show at the Staples Center (20,000 seats) in ten minutes.

The venue for Secret Church (about 3,000) is small compared to the Staples center. Yet it is HUGE when you take into consideration the lackluster commitment that many Christians have to serious Bible study. Now, there is a stampede for tickets to an event where attendees spend six hours with an open Bible in their laps. Who knows, maybe someday sports and entertainment arenas will be filled with people who want to pray and learn from the Bible. That would be awesome, indeed!

For more information on Secret Church or to listen to the teaching, visit