Posted by: atxanna | October 20, 2008

LAUREN & JONATHAN: Taking Preparation Seriously for Sudan

Jonathan & Lauren being 'commissioned' in Sudan as advocates for the church there.

Jonathan & Lauren being

The first time I “met” Lauren & Jonathan was on a video screen last fall when our church (Austin Stone) shared their story as an example of people who were living out the call of the Church to minister to the poor and oppressed in Austin.  As a newly-wed couple, they had chosen to rent an apartment in the St. Johns neighborhood of Austin, which is a poverty-stricken, ethnically diverse, and spiritually tough area of town.  That choice, in and of itself, was a huge challenge for me personally at a time when God was beginning to stretch me in the area of local outreach.  But that choice had an underlying motivation that expanded my understanding of living intentionally in light of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

Lauren & Jonathan moved to the St. John’s neighborhood in view of a call.  But that call was not just to their neighbors in need that would physically surround them here and now.  The call was one of preparation for a different task… to one day move to Southern Sudan to live out the gospel to a people in need in a far off land.  And every decision they make is a reflection of this goal.

I have never heard of someone preparing so methodically for their pull to the nations.  It started with Jonathan doing weeks of research on the internet, narrowing his gaze to Sudan.  Next was a vision trip for Jonathan himself. Living 4 months in Sudan, he met as many church planters, ministry organizations, and locals as possible so he could witness first-hand what the needs are in Sudan and how Jesus is using His people to meet those needs. Since then, they’ve returned as a couple twice… once just the two of them, and once leading a team of other believers.  Being on the ground over there has been crucial to their preparation, and with each trip God connects their hearts more & more deeply to the cause of Christ in Sudan.

After Jonathan & Lauren were married, they settled on a home church in Austin (Austin Stone), knowing that they needed a place to get trained and fed.  Plus they recognized a hunger within themselves for a community of senders and encouragers.  Next they moved to St. Johns neighborhood to practice cross-cultural interactions and the art of living simply.  But their choice for a home also has paved the way for a good deal of practice in perseverance, fighting the spiritual warfare that encircles them, and understanding the need for constant prayer.  Being connected to a local church and a local community here in Austin, while they are in the mode of preparing to GO, has been pivotal for their development.  Plus it is forcing them to daily put into practice now what they hope to live out when they move to Sudan.

Last summer, the two of them served as team leaders for several summer mission trips back to Matamoros.  Knowing that one day they would be leading groups of people who will come to Sudan they wanted to practice guiding and helping others experience the global work of God.  The mindset of replication has been a high priority for them.  On the one hand, they want to reproduce themselves here, so that when they move to Sudan there will still be an advocating voice left behind to continue to connect Austin to Sudan.  And on the other hand, they also want to be mobilizers for the nations at large.  Yes, their heart is for Sudan.  They want people who are willing to join them by going (some short-term, and some to stay).  But their heart is also a replica of God’s heart, which is for the whole of this world.  “We desperately want people to come with us to Sudan, but we also want people who are willing to stay and keep the ball rolling for those in the field,” she says. 

They’ll return to Sudan in February 2009 to plant a garden and build a house, then come back to the states to attend an intensive 5 month training camp through Heart of God Ministries.  After that, they’ll head out to Sudan until God calls them home or to somewhere new.

Once they move, Jonathan & Lauren will be living among the Sudanese people, working with a Sudanese church-planting pastor & his family.  “I am excited to be discipled by this couple… to learn from those who aren’t just talking about church-planting or reading about it, but from people who are actually doing the work in a hard place and pressing on in the midst of difficulty,” says Lauren.  “They are church-planters with a vision for the unreached and they’re pushing the front lines further and further out from their home.  We want to be a part of that.”  William & Eunice are the Sudanese couple they’ll be working under. Their love for the people of their own nation runs thick.  They also believe strongly in development, not relief.  So all of their projects help to train and develop the local people to provide for themselves and each other, together. 

The project that Lauren will work on once they get to Sudan is a boarding school the church started.  The purpose of the school is not just to provide the kids in the region with an education—of both traditional school subjects and the gospel—but also to immerse the children in ethnically diverse groups, encouraging the development of inter-tribal relationships in hopes of one day eliminating the tensions felt between tribes.  Jonathan will serve as an assistant pastor to William, helping out in all-things pastoral, which in Sudan encompasses just about everything under the sun.

 

Boarding School classrooms being built

Boarding School classrooms being built

 

 

In addition to the boarding school, William & Eunice’s church has also created adult literacy programs, pastor & discipleship training for church-planting movements, a clinic to aid in mercy ministries to the locals, a women’s ministry, a grinding mill program that helps up efficiency of the labor needed just to provide food for the community, a nursery school, a micro-enterprise loan program to help locals start new businesses… the list goes on and on.  Each project has as the heart behind it a chance to share the gospel and redeem a people for Jesus Christ. 

Jonathan & Lauren have always had an element of missions intertwined in their story.  Jonathan and Lauren met while on a trip to Matamoros, Mexico, and their relationship began on a trip to China.  Jonathan initially made his intentions for marriage clear during his first stint in Sudan.  And they spent several months in the first year of their new marriage in Sudan, exposing Lauren for the first time to the land they felt called to long-term.  Their focus is directing all their energy to preparing to go back. Their heart remains there, even as they live here in Austin, because they are moved by the people who need love & mercy demonstrated to them through the lights in the lives of Christ followers.

To move to Sudan will certainly come with sacrifices for Lauren & Jonathan.  But what it boils down to for them is asking of themselves, “Am I all talk, or am I really willing to suffer for the gospel?  Do I say I would suffer, because I know that’s what I am supposed to say, or will I really do it?”  Not to suggest this answer has been easy for them to make.  Almost daily it is an issue of God having to soften their heart, bring conviction to their spirit, and remind them of the faces of people they know in Sudan who God has asked them to help on His behalf.  It is a struggle to continually surrender, but it’s also not a choice for them because of the call Jesus has placed on their lives. 

Jonathan preaching in the church in Sudan

Jonathan preaching in the church in Sudan

 

“There are many days when we just look at each other and want to say ‘let’s leave tomorrow and do it by ourselves,’ because of all the work it takes just to prepare.  But we know we can’t, we shouldn’t.”  They know they need a sending church, a group of advocates helping to keep their arms raised when they get tired.     

It would take nearly a year for me to meet Lauren face to face.  And I am glad I did.  To be in her presence gave me a clear sense of her dependence on God.  She takes her walk, and her call to Sudan, seriously.  She is no different than you and me, except maybe that she knows where God is taking her. 

Before she met Jonathan, she felt God speak a passage of Scripture over her life: Jeremiah 1:4-8

“The Lord gave me a message. 

He said, ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.’ 

‘O Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I can’t speak for you!  I’m too young!’ 

‘Don’t say that,’ the Lord replied, ‘for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.  And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you.  I, the Lord, have spoken!’

This is what drives her to press on.  Knowing that what seems impossible with man is possible with God.

Our church, Austin Stone, recently showed a follow-up video to tell their story one year after their first testimony video.  To see the follow-up video, watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVLGCd28xzM

Posted by: atxanna | September 21, 2008

JAMIE—Advocate for Haiti

Jamie & her husband Aaron

Jamie & her husband Aaron

I have only recently met Jamie, but from just my first few encounters with her, A) I immediately loved her, and B) I could tell right away that she has the gift of “influence.”  Now I am not making up a new spiritual gift when I say that, I simply mean she rubs off on you, ya know?  She’s one of those people that when walk away from a conversation with her about the things for which she’s passionate, you find yourself thinking “I have to do something about that!” or “I need to hear more about that!”  Her enthusiasm and zealousness for causes closest to her heart stir you somewhere inside and make you stop and think.

 

 

Where in the world is Haiti?

Where in the world is Haiti?

What is this thing that Jamie is so passionate about?  In a nutshell, Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  It shares an island with the Dominican Republic, but the way of life couldn’t be more different from its Caribbean neighbor.  75% of Haitians earn less than $1 a day and 70% of Haitians have no regular jobs.  80% of the population is estimated to be living in poverty.  8% of children will die before the age of 5.  It is estimated that there are 490,000 orphaned children in Haiti.  Malnutrition, and resulting death at its hands, is commonplace across all age groups, and the AIDS epidemic is at critical levels in this country. 

 

 

 

In November 2006, Jamie went to Haiti for the first time.  It was a short-term mission trip where they were going to pass out school supplies, pray with kids, and tour some of the villages.  Just in walking off the plane, Jamie was struck by the depth of poverty that was surrounding her.  I had never seen extreme poverty like that. It was such a needy place… it seemed so hopeless,” she shared.  When she returned home, she felt a deep sense of urgency for Aaron, her husband, to go.  She says, “I just really needed him to see it… I just knew deep in my heart that God wasn’t done with us there.  In the mean time, she started stalking blogs (to use her own words), researching and learning everything she could about Haiti and the Christian workers sacrificing their lives there. 

 

Eventually, she and Aaron planned and led a team from the States to go and experience Haiti for themselves.  The goal of their trip was to bring exposure and awareness to their fellow teammates.  For a lot of people, Haiti is this whole other world you may never know about.  We just wanted to bring awareness to people, because awareness alone can change you,” she says. “If you can see something first hand, you can believe it more… and then you think of it more.  Her idea was to take people from simply having abstract thought about poverty and giving that cause a face, a smell, a personal experience, a memory… in hopes that we might all be moved to do something about it.

 

And it’s not just Haiti, the country, that Jamie loves.  There is also a small organization there that has captured her heart called: REAL HOPE FOR HAITI (RHFH).  RHFH operates two distinct ministries: a Medical Clinic for Haitian locals and a Rescue Center for malnourished children and kids who need continual care while recovering from illnesses.  The Medical Clinic and Rescue Center are run by two sisters, Lori & Licia, whom Jamie found during her blog-stalking days.  The work that is done in these two ministries is purely incredible… there are really no other words to describe it.  And to Jamie, these women are her heroes.  After hearing about RHFH from Jamie, I, too, have started learning about the daily life of these ladies and the work they do.  To read about the family tree of RHFH, click here.

 

The thing about RHFH is that it is a small operation.  They don’t have big money or big organizations backing them.  They’re not a part of a giant anything.  They are just living in obedience to a small and specific call on their lives—to live and serve the Haitian people by meeting tangible, physical needs and caring for those around them with the love & character of Christ.  The more Jamie talks about, writes about, and spreads the story of RHFH, the more people she influences to support the ministry through much needed prayer, through new threads of people encouraging the workers in Haiti, and by raising funds for this organization.  Her dream would be to one day travel the U.S. speaking to different churches and groups about RHFH and declaring to them all why they need to care about Haiti.

“We will always, we will always, we will always advocate for Lori & Licia,” Jamie says.  For Jamie & Aaron, it’s a personal investment… they are adopting two children from Haiti: Amos & Story. (Amos was abandoned at the Rescue Center a little over a year ago.)  They view their commitment to Haiti as a long term one, since two of their children will be Haitian.  One of their biggest hopes is that one day those kids would want to go back to Haiti and serve in their homeland.  They plan to take family trips there often as their young kids continue to grow up.  

Amos & Story

Amos & Story

 

 

Their family is committed to telling the story of RHFH so that not only will people’s lives be changed here in America—by witnessing first-hand the daily lives of those in poverty—but also possibly some children’s lives will be changed in Haiti—through meeting their real needs.  Going changed my life and the course of my life,” she says.  Jamie doesn’t consider herself a materialistic person, but even she admits she can lose sight of what’s important at times.  But going to Haiti keeps her in check, it reminds her of what life is like for a lot of the rest of the world and helps her stay focused on helping others instead of taking more for herself.  Jamie has a dream of taking two teams (made up of new people each time) to Haiti a year.  I don’t know what will happen (in the hearts) of the people that go down, but I just wanna take ‘em!  They have to see it!  They have to see it for themselves!  Look out, if you meet Jamie one day, this just might be you she’s talking about… and don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

Meet Jamie on her blog: http://dreamingbigdreams.wordpress.com/   

Meet Jamie’s husband Aaron on his blog: http://aaronivey.com/   

Check out Licia’s blog: http://haitirescuecenter.wordpress.com/   

Check out Lori’s blog: http://www.xanga.com/haitinurse4life

Read about Real Hope For Haiti on their website: https://www.realhopeforhaiti.org/

 

As a little “extra”—Haiti was very much devastated by our recent friend, Hurricane Ike.  When you go and read the blogs from the Haiti workers, you will see tons of pictures of the destruction.  They are in a unique position to help some of the villages and people in greatest need.  If you feel like helping them restore this community, you can make donations online here.  Jamie will actually BE in Haiti this week, visiting her children, visiting the Rescue Center and Clinic, and touring the damage done by Ike in person.  Keep tabs on her blog this week as she’s post updates regularly.

Jamie & Aaron with their first two kids

Jamie & Aaron with their first two kids

Jamie agreed to let me tell her story on this website only if I emphasized her “ordinariness.”  Already a wife and stay-at-home-mom of two, she’s anxiously awaiting the arrival of her next two kids.  She has one domestic adoption under her belt, and two international adoptions in the middle of the process.  She, in some ways, laments that it is not her who lives on the front lines, doing the hard, hard ministry in Haiti.  But for now, that’s not her call.  Perhaps someday God might change that, but in the meantime, she sees her role as an influencer and a change-agent.  And what a valuable role that is.  Our extraordinary God uses her in this way to ignite change into the lives of those who meet Jamie!

Posted by: atxanna | September 7, 2008

KATIE– Middle Eastern “Baby Catcher”

Katie, with her husband Steve

Katie, with her husband Steve

Do you know any midwives that would want to come work in my country?  It’s not your everyday request.  Especially given what a narrow segment of the American population even has this vocation.  In fact, I had heard of midwives, but wasn’t even entirely confident I understood what my inquirer was asking for.  The person asking worked for a maternity hospital in a country in the Middle East (for the purpose of this story, I will call the country “Arabland”).  The hospital is in desperate need of more midwives or the government is threatening to shut it down.  Some friends and I promised to “put out feelers” when we got back to the States, but never in our wildest dreams did we think it would happen.  Enter Katie!

 

 

 

Katie was born and raised a central Texas girl.  The oldest of four kids (now many more thanks to her parents’ volunteer work in the Texas foster care program), she had the unique experience of witnessing her mother use midwives during her pregnancies.  She remembers it, and recalls being fascinated by it.  At a young age, she was always asking for books on the subject at the public library and would learn about its practices as a hobby.  In many ways, she had always dreamed of growing up to be a midwife.

 

“Midwifery” is a health care profession where providers give prenatal care to expecting mothers, attend the birth of the infant (in most cases as an alternative choice to a doctor), and provide postpartum care for the mother and her baby.  Midwives strive to help women have a natural birth experience.  When Katie talks about helping in the delivery of a baby, as a midwife, she might say something like: “I caught a baby yesterday.” When I asked her why she called it “catching a baby” she replied that “if all goes well during the birth, that’s basically all you’re doing—catching.  Simple enough. 

 

At the age of 18, Katie was offered an apprenticeship with an Austin-area midwife.  This is one of the requirements for completing your training.  In addition to the schooling and testing mandated by the state, to receive certification an apprentice has to be a part of approximately 60 births under the leadership of their mentor.  After that, you take a national exam and begin your own practice.  For Katie, rounding the corner to the end of her training was such a joy.  But the circumstances of her life were also quickly changing.  Right as she completed the national exam, she got engaged to Steve, and was unsure she would even go on to practice after all. 

 

Katie & Steve were married in December 2007, and this past spring they took a city-wide course called Perspectives (www.perspectives.org).  Katie said, “Perspectives made God’s call on our lives more real to us… it shifted our outlook to think: not only is living this out do-able, it’s essential.  Instead of thinking: I could be a missionary, I started thinking: no, I am a missionary… I just need to live like it.  It was during that class that one of the friends who’d been with me when I heard the request for a midwife in the Middle East met Katie.  When Katie told her what she did for a living, my friend about passed out from shock.  After further research, Katie & Steve decided to go to Arabland for a month, as a trial run, and see if the hospital (and country) would be a fit.  So this summer, the two of them went in search of answers—was God calling them to serve as His light in this foreign land? 

 

The place where Katie would work is a missionary maternity hospital.  They provide patients with prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care.  The hospital sees about 75 births a month.  In Arabland, there is socialized medicine and government hospitals will deliver the nationals’ children for free.  But still almost 40% of the national population pays to come and have their babies at this missionary hospital.  Why do they come to the missionary hospital?  Because the care is that much better.  The workers there are truly a reflection of Light and Life, as followers of Jesus Christ, and it overflows into their work every day.

 

In Arabland, it is illegal to evangelize, and there are strict anti-conversion laws in place.  At the hospital, though, if a patient asks for Christian materials, the workers are allowed to give it to them.  Even with such strictness around sharing, the people seem very open to asking questions.  When they see an American, they automatically assume he/she is a Christian.  And if you do not beat around the bush, and directly or openly share about your faith, they actually respect you.  They talk about religion like we talk about the weather,” Katie said.  There is constantly an opportunity to talk about what you believe.  The hospital administrator advised Steve and Katie to be bold in sharing.  His “encouragement” to them was, “If you are found out to be the one who led a local to convert, the police will put you in jail.  But go ahead and do it anyway. Because you are American, the worst that could happen is you are jailed for a week, the embassy will get you out, then they will kick you out of Arabland and you’ll never be allowed back.  The end.  But you become a testimony of the faith that you believed in so much that you were willing to go to jail for it… and you can still go on to work in its neighboring countries.

Today, the hospital is in the heart of the city.

Today, the hospital is in the heart of the city.

There are only 3 male and 6 female Christian workers in the whole of Arabland.  So the need is great.  The woman who started the hospital in 1967 still lives there and in all her years serving the people of this country, she hasn’t seen many converts (that she knows of).  But she has loved well.  She doesn’t attend the births anymore (she’s 86 and in her time delivered more than 25,000 babies), but she’s always at the hospital—she sees every baby and every woman, she says goodbye to each patient before they leave, and she PRAYS.  Everyone in the city knows who she is—they even call her the Mother of the city, because when she started the hospital, the “town” was nothing but desert… but now a city has grown up around this centerpiece.

When it was built, the hospital was in the middle of the desert.

When it was built, the hospital was in the middle of the desert.

After spending a month there—Katie catching babies and Steve researching what kinds of jobs he could get—they came back to Austin eager to prepare the way for their return.  They both had always thought “missions” sounded neat, like something they’d enjoy doing “someday… maybe.”  With this opportunity in their heads, Katie has started to remember back to her teenage years.  She used to be intrigued with and wondered about Muslim women.  She remembers dreaming—“wouldn’t it be cool to go to the Middle East to help women.”  She was concerned about the oppression of women in the Arab World.  She thought about the limitations women faced in healthcare.  She used to ask a lot: “who helps these women?”  And God is now opening the door for Katie to be that person. 

 

Fast forward to today.  She’s schooled in her trade.  She’s ready.  She’s called.  And she’s going.  Oh, and did I mention she’s a brand new mom?  Sienna Louise was born a week ago.  Now they will apply for a passport for their baby, wrap up their house, and hop a plane back to Arabland sometime this fall (or winter).  Steve & Katie cannot wait to serve the Lord in this desert land, caring for a people who do not know Jesus as Lord, doing their best to love them well. 

 

(Please pray that their house sells or they find a renter in this dismal housing market so they can get there faster.)

Posted by: atxanna | August 28, 2008

CARA– A Broken Heart for the Local Community

A few weeks ago, our church made this video-testimony of a girl who is a partner at Austin Stone.  I actually found it on YouTube the week before it was suppose to “air” at church and I cried almost all the way through.  Since then, I keep going back to it.  I get goosebumps and wells of tears in my eyes each time I watch it.  I barely know Cara, personally, but this story moves me and stirs my heart to love people more with the love Christ shows me.  Cara is an ordinary woman who lives out her faith everyday in her job, right here in Austin.  I want to share her story with you… may she touch your heart as she’s touched mine!

Posted by: atxanna | August 15, 2008

HILARY—Teaching Strangers in a Foreign Land

Hilary- Adult ESL Teacher

Hilary- Adult ESL Teacher

I secretly want to be like Hilary when I grow up, even though we are the same age.  God has set her apart for such an amazing ministry that it just makes me want to squeal with excitement when I think about it!  Hilary is a “welcomer”.  She teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) to adult immigrants and students right here in Austin.  She spends her days loving on and caring for these “strangers in a foreign land” all to display, in the flesh, God’s heart for this population.  If you have ever met Hilary, you also know this: that she loves the Muslim “strangers” she meets most of all.  This is what I am so inspired by.

For the last two years, I had heard bits and pieces of how she had wound up an ESL teacher, but to hear the story unfold from A to Z during my interview with her was pretty cool.  Looking back, God was creating in Hilary a love for the nations long before she even became a follower of Christ.  In college, she worked as a summer camp counselor for U.S. Embassies abroad (one summer in Russia and one in Spain) and she studied abroad her junior year in Mexico.  But her view on traveling the world was all about adventure and experiencing other cultures.

In 1997, Hilary committed her life to Christ and immediately began sharing the gospel with just about anyone who would listen.  She refers to herself back then as a “pistol” bursting with eagerness and passion for Jesus to be known.  About 2 months into her conversion, she went with a group of friends to a Passion Conference in Austin (she lived in Iowa at the time) and remembers hearing some crazy old man say in his sermon: “If you don’t have a heart for the nations, then you don’t know the God of the Bible.”  Hilary was actually offended at this… she knew the Lord that had saved her and yet she didn’t care much about the nations.  She thought to herself that this guy simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  But his statement was lodged in her brain and continued to gnaw at her for years. 

After finishing college, Hilary—a brand new Christian—decided to go on staff with Navigators, taking a placement in East L.A. working for 2 years among Spanish-speaking students on college campuses. During her tenure with Navigators, the organization also sent her to the Philippines for a summer with the sole objective of spending time on college campuses sharing the gospel.  She enthusiastically shared with dozens of students that summer—many of whom happened to be Muslims—and God was doing amazing things by calling many into relationship with Himself!  At the time, Hilary knew very little about the Muslim culture or the religion of Islam, but these were the students He kept putting in her path, and she was faithful to share the Good News.

After she completed her Navigators placement, she took a year to teach Spanish to high school students back in Iowa before rationalizing that if she wanted to serve the Lord, she should probably work at a church.  She took a job with her church doing college ministry, and settled in for what she assumed would be the long-haul.  In 2002, some of the staff took Hilary to a Passion “Thirsty” event.  She says she doesn’t remember much, but once again, one statement rung out above the rest and it haunted her: Louie Giglio said in his sermon, “Some of you in this room need to leave full time ministry in order to do the ministry God has called you to.”  What was that supposed to mean?  She had no idea what it would all look like, but less than a year later, Hilary had left her church job and returned to school to get her official ESL endorsement. 

She prepared to take all the remaining required schooling in a short 4 months, get her endorsement, and start working.  But not 30 days into the process, a representative from the school asked her to consider getting her Masters in ESL.  If she agreed to take an “assistantship” with the department, they would pay her way, full-ride, and give her a monthly stipend to live on.  She accepted.  The assistantship turned out to be the department using her as a TA for college-level ESL classes.  Her first student in the program was a Croatian woman (who just happened to be a Muslim—love it, God!). And with that, God began to stir her heart and open her eyes to the ministry He’d been preparing her for.

The first full class Hilary had as a TA in grad school was made up of almost all Muslims.  They came from far off lands: Egypt, Iran, Somalia, Mali, Sudan… but still Hilary knew nothing of Islam, just that God was softening her heart for these people. 

 

Hilary has an album with a photo of every student she's had.

Hilary has an album with a photo of every student she

As a natural “welcomer” at heart, she immediately began serving her students by trying to meet needs she recognized in them.  It took many different forms, but my favorite is how she noticed the men students really missed soccer, so every weekend, she would drive them all to a neighboring town in Iowa that had a soccer league they could play in.

She invited several of her students to come to a college church service one night and that’s when she began to sense what God was up to in her life.  One student was singing his heart out to worship songs about Jesus, and another asked if he was allowed to touch the Bible and when she said yes, he opened it and began to touch every page, page after page, in awe.  She remembers praying that night as she watched it all unfold, “God, are you using me in ways I can’t even see?  Open my eyes, Lord.”

In the spring of 2006, Hilary signed up to take a Christian course called Perspectives, which basically fills you in on what God’s been up to in the world since the end of Revelation and how it’s been His mandate since Genesis that we are to reach out to the nations.  The course completely shook her and she finally connected the dots back to what that crazy man, who happened to be one John Piper, had said at Passion 8 years earlier.  It all began to make sense.  She had finally developed, and understood why, God had given her a heart for the nations.  And she began to recognize that God had completely surrounded her with the nations—without ever leaving the U.S.!

That summer, in a classroom of 28, Hilary had 25 Saudi students. In Iowa!  One of the most closed countries in the world, where there is no way a missionary could go bring the Good News, and here God was, bringing the Saudis here.  At that, she says, “it was over.”  God overwhelmingly began breaking her heart for Muslims and burdening her deep inside to love them with Christ’s love.  It wasn’t easy though—she admits she was fearful at first.  But that summer, as she built relationships with her students, she started to realize “these are people, not ‘Islam.’  The Lord broke me for Muslim people through that.”

Just a few short months later, Hilary made the move to Austin.  With the University of Texas and

A page from her student photo album.

A page from her student photo album.

several large, high-tech companies actively recruiting from foreign nations, Austin is a hotbed for internationals.  She works for a private adult ESL school near UT’s campus and teaches dozens of students a semester.  She’s also a part of a House Church whose vision is to reach out to the Muslim population of Austin with the love and message of Christ.  She interacts with immigrants and foreigners every single day.  They are her friends.  And she loves them.

“Spiritual conversations happen all the time,” Hilary says, because religion is such a big part of her students’ lives.  So she often finds herself talking about Jesus, answering questions, or giving away Bibles.  One student’s face lit up when she saw a Bible because she said she’d never seen one before and didn’t know it could be in her language.

About 6 months ago, one of Hilary’s first students, a man from Mali, called her up (5 years later) to tell her that he was finally graduating and that he was thankful for her help in the early days of his coming to the States and for teaching him English.  He also shared something else that touched her heart.  He said, “I remember you loving people and that you talked about Jesus.  I am a Muslim and my family is to, so I could never believe, but I remember that about you.” 

Hilary says, “This is the prayer of my life… in every area.  In all who I am and in all that I do, I want to be and live in such a way ‘so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.’ (Isaiah 41:20).”  Her heart is to be a reflection of Jesus to those around her.  To be faithful in that is all God has called her to.

Hilary marks all the countries of her students with a black border.

Hilary marks all the countries of her students with a black border.

Posted by: atxanna | August 4, 2008

JEN– Side-splitting Voice of Our Generation

Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker

 

 

There is nothing “normal” or “average” about Jen.  To spend time around her, your sides would split from laughing, you’d learn more about her best friend, Jesus, and you’d honestly think to yourself, “geez, I want to be like her!”  Despite her fascinating character, she wasn’t born in a special people’s gene pool—given to pre-determined favor or celebrity and overflowing with superhuman wisdom.  She’s human, and (sorry, Jen) flawed, and simply a girl after God’s own heart.  Yet our God has given her a broad and unique ministry to women that is only of His making.  And my friend, Jen, shines as she lives it out.  

Jen is one of those people we all oooo and ahhhh over in the American Christian circles because she is a published author and Christian speaker.  She has personally influenced me at least 100 times over in her teachings about Jesus and the Bible.  I even teach a class based on her first book, “A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study”.  But she’s also influenced me at least 100 times over as a friend who I share life with.  I feel lucky to have had a front row seat to her life and am grateful to have seen first-hand the process of her going from “regular chick from Austin” to “author & speaker” because it reminds me that it’s not about her, but about Him.  You could hear some far off author or speaker tell you that their accomplishments were not by their own doing, but 99.9% of the time you’re an enamored fan and you don’t really believe them when they describe their “normal” roots.

Jen used to serve in the women’s ministry at the church where I first started walking with the Lord.  She would speak to the ladies at our annual women’s retreats and winter brunches.  She was our go to girl, because she just always had a good “word from the Lord” and because she was always good for a laugh at some point in her talk.  After a couple of years of doing that, Jen started a weekly Bible Study where her and her small group sat down to figure out how to study the Bible (using just a Bible and a blank journal—no pre-packaged studies) and ironically, that turned into her first book—a Bible study about how to study the Bible without using a Bible study (got it?!).  She wrote it first (clueless that it was not the norm to do so) and we set off together, with another friend from Austin, to a Christian Writer’s Conference to “pitch” ideas to the wide world of Christian Publishing.

Jen speaking at a women's event.

Jen speaking at a women's event.

We couldn’t have been more green (and young—not even in our thirties yet!).  But at the end of the day, Jen had not only one, but a handful, of publishers eager to offer her a contract for her first book.  God had prepared the way and He had big plans to use Jen.  That was 2004.  Fast forward a mere four years, where she celebrated the release of her sixth book (“Ms. Understood: Rebuilding the Feminine Equation”) and will speak at more than 22 women’s events across the country this calendar year alone!  Let me be clear.  Jen is not “cool” because she writes books and is a public speaker.  Jen amazes me because God has chosen to use her to teach and encourage His precious daughters how to open up His Word and get something out of it.  He’s used her to speak truth and inspiration into how we view ourselves as women (and how God views and values women).  He’s used her to remind and reveal to women how to tune our ears to hear our Maker.  And He’s used her to convince us to journey in faith together… women with women, looking to love, serve, and fear our Lord above all else. 

In her latest book, she even starts out the introduction with a little reminder of the warfare that wages against her in the process of being used in these crazy ways by God.  “(Here are the) mean voices in my head: You’re not old enough to write about this; You’re not a good enough writer; You’re hardly a model for superior femininity; Everyone else who addresses this subject is so much better than you; Everyone else who addresses this subject is more profound than you; Very definitely, you’re going to screw this up somehow—positively—count on it.” (Ms. Understood pg. 11-12)  But one truth she’s come to believe and trust about her God is: “Siding with God’s agenda (for your life) rarely makes conventional sense.  There are generally forty reasons on the con side and about two on the pro side, maybe one and half.  The obstacles look insurmountable.  Resistance is guaranteed.  The plan feels sketchy at best, if you even receive the whole plan.  The risks seemingly outweigh the benefits.  Oh, and failure appears imminent.  Yay, God!  Yet He knocks.”  (Ms. Understood pg. 87)  And she has continued to step out in obedience to His call on her life.

 

Jen with her three kids.
Jen with her three kids.

She’s a mom, a pastor’s wife, a writer, a friend, a goof, a talker, a church planter, a women’s teacher—a follower of Jesus.  God has chosen to give Jen a voice into the lives of women in our generation.  And He is tuning in hundreds of thousands of ears that are ready to hear His message of truth.  Jen doesn’t teach or write from her opinion… she searches Scripture and looks for what God says.  She doesn’t try to take any credit, she constantly points back to Jesus—it’s His words, His truth, His heart.  Which I believe is pleasing to our Father and no doubt a big part of His decision to use her to reach women.

Jen’s story is that of a young gal, overcoming what people expect from our generation. “…Young people are marginalized for being too idealistic, too naïve, too inexperienced, and too transient.  Age often disqualifies a girl—too young to be of real value or wisdom.  She has nothing to offer: better sit quiet and be a good girl. … High school is practically infancy; focus on college.  In college, build your resume and make contacts for your upcoming career.  Sandwich in graduate school to further prepare you for ‘later.’  Professionally, expect an entry-level position to guarantee future promotions. In fact, this company is just a front door for that next one.  In the meantime, you’re not ready for a relationship.  You’re not ready for leadership.  You’re not ready for a vision.  The whole process enforces this message: Not yet… someday.  God constantly blows the doors off our stereotypes, whether history, pedigree, geography, nationality, or age.  No one is more unconventional than God.  (Ms. Understood, pg. 167-168 )  But here’s Jen’s message to herself and all you out there: “Young woman, God is not waiting for you to grow up before He’ll take you seriously.  On His calendar, there is no such thing as ‘Not yet… someday.’  That’s nothing but wasted time.” (Ms. Understood, pg. 170)  Let Jen be an inspiration to you all—if God is calling you to a task, no matter how unusual or God-sized, HE is behind it.  Luke 1:45 says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Just to leave you with some shameless plugging for my friend… If you haven’t read any of her books, I highly recommend starting at the beginning—“A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study” will change the way you interact with and learn from Scripture forever!  And if you are looking for a Biblical look into how God loves and uses women, you’ve got to read her latest book— my copy of “Ms. Understood” is about 80% highlighted and has proven to be a valuable lesson for me to know and believe God has big plans for the women of our day!  Lastly, if you are looking for a hilarious and Scripture-inspired speaker for your next Christian women’s event, check out her website for information—http://www.jenhatmaker.com.  And just to add icing on top of the cake, her and her husband, Brandon, have started a new church plant here in Austin this year… check it out—http://www.austinnewchurch.com.

 

 

 

Posted by: atxanna | July 14, 2008

WAHIDAH*– A Matchless Ministry to the Handicapped

Physically handicapped child with her mother
Physically handicapped child with her mother

Wahidah,* in Arabic, means “unique, matchless” and I could not have chosen a better name to describe this woman and God’s story in her life.  Wahidah is an unsuspecting hero of the faith because her demeanor is so gentle, shy, compassionate, and sweet.  But her story sure grabbed my attention and I share it here in hopes that you will join me in praying for her perseverance in serving the Lord in this amazing way.

 
 

 

 

In 2007, Wahidah opened a daycare facility for mentally/physically handicapped children in a North African City, the clients of which are mostly Muslim.  The clients that she serves range in age from 2 to 22, all with various forms of disabilities—from downs, to autism, from CP to mental retardation, and many more.  Her heart in opening this facility is two-fold: 1) she is madly, passionately, and yet tenderly dedicated to caring for handicapped children, and 2) she dreams that this place will not only be an outlet to share the love and truth of Jesus with the children who are in their care, but also their parents.  It is a place where her and her staff can build relationships with the non-Christians in their town.

Wahidah’s vision for this center was birthed after the loss of her own child to down syndrome several years ago.  Because of the life experience God has given their family, her heart for children with disabilities runs deep.  For her, it is personal. 

Child in occupational therapy

Child in occupational therapy

 

 

While giving me a tour of the facility in March, Wahidah shared with me that, in her country, families who bear children with these kinds of handicaps are usually not educated about the illnesses.  They may not understand the diagnosis of their child and they are often uninformed about how to treat or care for their children.  For many families, it is a cause of great stress in the marriage because the spouses blame each other for the child’s handicaps.  Often times, children with special needs are maltreated, left at home alone, thrown out in the streets, or abused.  They rarely get attention or love and it is also not uncommon for the child to be hidden away because they bring shame upon the family.

When Wahidah began to recruit clients for her new facility, she went and made outreach calls to the families in poor areas.  She visited families door to door and met each child personally.  She cares for each child with an overflowing wealth of love from Christ.  And in the few months the children have been coming to the nursery, she has seen them transform from introverted, frustrated, misbehaving kids to happy, caring, smiling children.  The center doesn’t offer just simple child monitoring.  They use their days to educate, provide physical and occupational therapy, and basic training in life and trade skills.

Many of her client’s parents do not understand why she wants to help these children.  To them, they are a nuisance and embarrassment.  But to her, they are a part of her own family and they are God’s special children.  And each time a family asks her why—she has a chance to share Jesus’ love with those who do not know him.  I have had the chance to meet these precious children in person and can testify that their lives are truly being impacted by the nurture and care of my dear friend. 

Although we may praise God for her efforts, this endeavor has not been easy.  Even in the one and a half years since it’s been open—and without the nursery even being an openly Christian business—Wahidah has been brought in by the authorities and questioned many times, including the day before I met her and three more times in the last 3 months.  Some of the parents have removed their kids from her care when they learn she is a Christian.  And more recently she was forced to relocate the facility because those who shared tenancy in the building didn’t want a business near their’s that catered to this “shameful” population.  (Does your heart break like mine at that?!)  The project is obviously not without its difficult moments, but her heart is determined to persevere. 

Will you join me in praying for the staff’s strength, both physically and spiritually to continue to bring hope and love and joy to these special little ones.  And pray with me that the facility remains open (despite threats and persecution) and that Christ’s love continues to be shown both on the children and their families.

*Wahidah’s name has been changed to protect her identity.  I chose this name to represent her because it is the female Arabic name for “matchless, unique.”  Also, the photos accompanying this story are NOT of children or staff related to this specific ministry, they are just sample photos to illustrate similar situations.

Posted by: atxanna | July 13, 2008

CAROLINE- India’s Orphan Ambassador

Caroline with the kids in India
Caroline with the kids in India

In 2005, Andy and I had the privilege of traveling to India to serve alongside a young Austin visionary, Caroline Boudreaux.  I met Caroline through a women’s group at her church in 2002 and was drawn to her from day one.  But the story of God fleshed out in her life has been one of the most inspiring tales I’ve ever watched unfold.  Every time I see her, or read about her, or visit The Miracle Foundation’s website (www.miraclefoundation.org), I get all giddy inside-because Caroline is a bold reminder to me that God can do amazing things through His children when they yield, unexplainably and whole-heartedly, to His call to be His hands and feet in this broken world.

Having done time in the cut throat sales industry for years, making a name and a hefty bank account for herself, Caroline found herself discontent with living out her “expected” climb of the corporate ladder.  In 1999, when she heard that a friend planned on leaving the working world to travel the globe for a year, Caroline knew in her gut that she was to go too.  Quitting her job and sticking to a pretty loose agenda, Caroline spent time in Egypt, Israel, Nepal, Indonesia, Bali, Thailand (to name a few)… but it was India that touched her heart in an unexpected way.

It was in India that her friend arranged to meet a child that she had been sponsoring through the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) for several years.  They half joked that he may not even exist and that her friend’s money had been sent in vain.  But then they met him, Manus, and Caroline’s journey began.  The Indian man in charge of distributing the CCF funds in this region invited Caroline and her friend to his home for dinner that night.  When they walked in to his gated compound, they learned that his home doubled as an orphanage and there were 100 little Indian faces eager to greet and hug these two American ladies who’d come for supper.

Caroline was taken aback at the conditions in which the kids were living.  She could see first-hand that the children were not only dirty and poor, but also underfed, undereducated, and in need of medical care too (all of which their caretaker was hard pressed to be able to provide).  As if that weren’t enough, at the close of their night, a young girl named Sheebani came and curled in Caroline’s lap looking for nurture and love.  Caroline rocked her and sang her to sleep, then carried her back to her room.  The rooms were overcrowded and lined with rickety beds-two children sleeping back-to-back-no mattresses, no pillows, just wooden slats (similar to a picnic table).  As she gently placed this child in her bed she heard the clank of the girl’s bones hitting the hard wood and her heart broke.  In that moment she had found what she wanted to do with her life, care for these orphans and the 25 million like her that live in India.

That’s right.  India has over 25 million orphans, the grave majority of which are not eligible for adoption.  Not internationally.  Not nationally.  They are just stuck in a failing system of often-times corrupt orphanages, living in deplorable conditions, receiving little hope to raise themselves out of their lot in life.  Orphans are among an “untouchable” population in India, and opportunity is a foreign word to them.  Caroline remembers, “I had never thought about orphans before that night, much less held them, but soon we were singing with them, praying with them, rocking them, tickling, them… they were truly precious!”  That day, The Miracle Foundation, Caroline’s non-profit, was conceived.  “I decided if I couldn’t fix what I saw, I would die trying.”  And so it began. 

 

The kids greet Caroline on our 2005 trip
The kids greet Caroline on our 2005 trip
Returning to the states, God’s vision for Caroline’s service to Him in India was honed and focused in on “saving” one orphan at a time.  As we shared dinner with her one night in India, we asked with overwhelm, “How do you not get discouraged?  25 million orphans?  Even the 100 we just met is enough to paralyze us in thinking: how can we change anything?”  But Caroline responded, “When I think of 25 million, I freak out too.  I want to cry and throw up my arms and curl up in the Father’s.  It’s too much to handle.  But when I just think-one orphan at a time, as many times as I can-then I can press on.”
And press on she has.  In just 8 short years, Caroline has impacted the lives of orphans in India in ways she never would have asked or imagined from her Lord.  In 2007, her organization raised more than one million dollars and now has six orphanages in their network.  Today, they are one of a handful of American organizations allowed to organized domestic adoptions in India.  And they are reaching their goal of breaking the cycle of poverty by ensuring the children get the education, food, healthcare and the other basic rights guaranteed to all children by the United Nations.  But that just scratches the surface.  She is also giving these kids the love of Christ, and many, many prayers, and a whole host of other saints that now come to visit and love on, in person, the many orphans in her care.

One afternoon when I was hanging out with Caroline at her home, she received a note of encouragement from a church friend, who wrote this passage from Scripture in a card: “For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing.  I was sick, and you cared for me.  I was in prison, and you visited me… when you did this to one of the least of these, you were doing it to Jesus” (Matt 25:35-40 paraphrased).  The friend then wrote that she saw these very things in Caroline’s ministry to the orphans and she wanted her to know that she thought Jesus was pleased with her service to Him.

 

This month, actually, Caroline is featured on the cover of “Austin Woman Magazine” (check out the article at http://www.austinwomanmagazine.com/).  I laughed out loud at the last line of the article as the writer tries to sum up all that Caroline has accomplished because it is exactly why her story goes here on this blog, too.  Caroline says, “I’m not special.  Anyone can do what I’m doing.  Just sponsor a child.”  Caroline is simply tuned into God and giving Him all she’s got.  And she’s also just a girl, like you and me.  It is crazy how God can use a willing woman.  I am challenged and stretched every time I think about Caroline because she is an example to me of what God just might do with my potential if I surrendered more of myself to Him.

 

 

 

To watch a short film recently made by Turk Pipkin, called “One Child at a Time”, about The Miracle Foundation, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvDttkl46jI

 

 

Posted by: atxanna | July 6, 2008

ROBIN- Answering His Call One Day at a Time

Robin, answering His call one day at a time

Robin, answering His call one day at a time

 

I say this with all affection (and a bit of an inside joke), but Robin is one of the whitest white-girls I know.  But she love, love, loves the Spanish-speaking culture.  Virtually from day one of college, she was determined to become fluent Spanish, despite the odds of her gringo-ness.  She was one of only 3 non-native Spanish-speaking student in her program, but that never deterred her.  She did all that she could to learn the language and press on to fulfill her dream of a job (any job) where she would get to speak Spanish. That is her passion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 23, a college grad, Robin got her first job as a 1st grade teacher to little 6 year old Spanish speakers on the east side of Austin in a poor neighborhood… she was thrilled.  But during spring break that year, she went with her church (Austin Stone Community Church) as a team leader with a group of college kids to the Dominican Republic.  Unbeknownst to her—this trip was the initial crack to a wide-opening door from God… an invitation to live among and serve the least of these in the DR. 

The DR is a 3rd world nation with lots of Haitian immigrants.  The Dominicans speak Spanish, the Haitians speak Creole.  The Haitians live in utter poverty there and desperately seek out work every day in the cane fields in order to provide even the most minimal necessities for their families.  The Haitians are degraded by the Dominicans who are very prejudice against the outsiders in their country.  Life for Haitians is a forgotten life.  They are overlooked by the government, used by the locals for labor, and left behind in education and the economy. 

The organization that Robin’s church partnered with for this trip was Makarios, a ministry that serves the Haitian population of the DR—promoting educational development.  During the trip, God placed a call on Robin’s heart.  By the time she got home, she knew it was only a matter of time before she would be moving to the DR full time.  Not 3 months later, she was packed and headed to the airport for a year-long contract with Makarios.  She’s worn many hats as a Makarios staffer, but bottom line: she’s speaking Spanish, she loving on kiddos, and she’s trying her best to make a difference for the Kingdom.

So what is it that Robin gets to see and do every day while living in the DR?  Officially, Robin is the principal for the Makarios school which serves 140 kids four days a week—providing them with one square meal a day (sometimes the only decent meal the kids get), teaching basic hygiene and life skills, giving them an education in Spanish (the language one must have to get a decent job in the DR), and teaching them about Jesus.  But there are many things not listed in Robin’s job description, yet they are just part of everyday life when you are working with these precious children… she acts as the disciplinarian of the rowdy children (her least favorite part because she just wants to love them, but they need structure), she treats their many, many illnesses and injuries (ranging from lice to burns, funguses to open wounds riddled with infection, rotting teeth to parasites), she makes home visits to check in on the families (also often sick with disease or starving for daily food), she clothes the naked (many of which show up to school as such even though they were sent home with clothes the day before), and she prays… a LOT.  To be faced with the never-ending needs of deprivation, crumbling home lives, and a country that provides few opportunities to succeed, mark all the Makarios staff with a burden for the least of these.   

I have known Robin for 4 years now and she is one of my closest friends.  But she would be the first to tell you, there is nothing extra-special about her call to ministry.  She is just a girl who loves Jesus, period.  She is still growing, still messing up, and still trying.  She is following His call on her life one day at a time.  She knows she won’t be in the DR forever, but she also knows He is yet not done using her there—so she stays on.  Until this season is complete. 

During Christmas break last year, while back in Austin for the first time in almost 6 months, a staffer from her church asked, “So Robin, did you always want to be a missionary?”  To which Robin replied, “I don’t consider myself a missionary.  I have a job.  And I am trying to live every day for Jesus.  The fact that it’s in another country doesn’t classify me a ‘missionary,’ in my mind.  Living missionally is what we’re all supposed to do—everyday.  That’s all I’m doing, to the best of my ability.”

One of my favorite posts from Robin’s blog is a post she wrote about understanding pain and hunger for the first time in her life—it is really impactful… check it out: http://robininks.blogspot.com/2008/02/pain-and-hunger.html

Also, if you are interested in hearing more about Makarios and their work in the DR, check out their website: http://www.makariosinternational.org/

 

Students on a field trip to the beach
Students on a field trip to the beach
A student showing Robin his rotting tooth (subsequently removed)
A student showing Robin his rotting tooth (subsequently removed)
The Makarios School where Robin works
The Makarios School where Robin works

Posted by: atxanna | June 24, 2008

ABRAR*—Inspiring Me to Expand My Ministry

Recently, I have been struggling with this question: “Is my ministry enough or does God want even more from me?”  I am sure this is a universal question that believers ask themselves because our ultimate hope is that our lives are a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.  Here is specifically what I’m stressed about:  God has birthed in me a deep burden and passion to see His name proclaimed among the women of the Muslim world.  This is not something I stumbled into of my own power or interest, but the one way to explain it is simply that GOD DID THIS WORK IN ME!  Two years ago, I was intimidated by, uneducated about, and even spiritually complacent in regards to the Muslim population of the world.  I knew little about them and certainly had no personal relationships with any of them.  BUT GOD began a work in me to change my hard heart and create in me a compassion, a love, and a concern for Muslim women.  I desperately want them to know Jesus as their Savior, not just a prophet. 

I believe this particular heart and desire within me is pleasing to the Lord.  But the catch is, lately, I have been confronted with the many, many, many Scriptures in the Bible that talk about ministry to the poor.  And although there are poor Muslim women in the world, my ministry to and passion for outreach to Muslims is based on their estrangement from Jesus, not on their poverty.  So, the question arose in my mind… should God’s love for the poor trump the heart He’s given me for Muslim ministry?  I wrestled with this question, thinking to myself, “Do I have the time and energy to devote my life to both?”  I wondered: is this single focus sufficiently reconciled with His Scriptures?  I am terrified of getting the answer wrong… What if God truly wants both from me?  I am still praying for discernment and clarity on this… it is not an issue I am taking lightly.  I have been reverently, fearfully talking to God about this over and over.  And I believe He will one day reveal a definitive answer for me. 

Last week, I was praying about this matter once again when He brought Abrar* to mind.  I met Abrar in 2007 and had the chance to spend more time with her again this past spring.  She is an Arab woman in her late fifties who lives and serves the Lord in her home country in North Africa.  I first knew Abrar as an inspiring evangelist to the Muslim population.  She has a weekly television program that is designed to reach the Arabic speaking Muslim population throughout the world to tell them about Christ.  She has told Jesus’ story to hundreds of thousands of Muslims through this venue and I am in awe of the reach that God has given her.  But during my visit with her this spring, I learned she does far more for the Kingdom than make a TV show.  

    

   

  

 

A rooftop view of the satellite dishes that decorate the homes in the Arab World.

 

Here is a snapshot of a regular week for her: 

 

 

 

·         MONDAYS she travels to a slum area in her city where she ministers to poor women.  In 2000, she began meeting with just a small group of 10 women.  Now each week 150 women come to learn about simple life skills like hygiene and they also learn spiritual things about the Bible and the Good News.  In this area the homes have no facilities or running water, even the streets are filthy and the city does not service them, the people are poor and unemployed and the city government does nothing to better their situation.  Domestic abuse and marital conflict are prevalent, recurring themes in her counseling to the women there.

·        TUESDAYS she travels to a different slum area in another part of the city where she teaches a women’s Bible study to 100 women each week, after which she does home visits.  She sits in these ladies rat-infested homes with garbage all around, and listens to their stories, praying with them and counseling them and tending to their very real, physical needs.  She describes the poverty of this area as devastating and incredible, even more so than her Monday neighborhood.

·         WEDNESDAYS she spends time preparing for and recording her satellite television program called “God Loves All People.”  The show is aired in 77 countries worldwide and the premise is a weekly interview with a different Arab Muslim Background Believer… they share their testimony, talk about the Bible, and pray together.  Because in her country, as well as many other Arab nations, it is illegal to speak to a Muslim about Christ, she has found that satellite ministry opens the door for evangelism and sharing Christ with others.  She says that every day, those who work in satellite ministry hear stories of many Muslims coming to saving faith in Jesus. 

·         THURSDAYS Abrar meets with two groups of “rich” women in her city (her words, not mine) and together they pray for the women she ministers to (through Abrar’s poverty and satellite ministries) and try to collaborate on ways they can tangibly meet the ongoing physical needs of the women she serves in the poor areas.  Abrar says that these women, although not living in poverty, need Jesus just as much as the poor women in her life do.   

·         FRIDAYS and SATURDAYS she spends time serving alongside her husband, who works in drama ministry.  They organize plays throughout their city hoping to tell the stories from the Bible through drama.  It is a tool for outreach into the Muslim population.  His ministry also writes and produces movies and short films about spiritual topics geared towards the Arab population.

·         Finally, SUNDAYS she attends church and worships the Lord with her husband.  This is her day of rest.

This is the view of a street in the slums where Abrar ministers to women.

Needless to say, as I contemplated the diversity of her service to the Lord, I felt schooled.  This woman—who I once was inspired by simply for her outreach to Muslims—is far more complex and far more dedicated to serving the Lord than just one area of ministry allows.  As I prayed about her life, I landed on the simple fact that I want to be more like her as I grow up.  She has a huge heart for Muslims, she is burdened deeply with the desire to share Christ with those who do not know Him as Savior, she loves the poor in her own city (and she spends time with them seeking to help with their physical and spiritual needs), she loves her husband and serves alongside him in his ministry, and she also ministers to the “regular rich folk” that run in her upper class circle.  All of that, plus she still manages a day of rest and worship.  Can you believe it?!  Now that is a life worth modeling. 

Lord, would you one day use me the way you use Abrar?  She is one faithful woman.  Although she is a great warrior for the Lord, You remind me that there is nothing more special about Abrar than the next woman.  You have chosen to multiply her influence, bless her ministry with fruit, and continue to break her heart for what breaks Your’s.  She is beautiful because she is madly, passionately in love with You and she desires to live her life as a sacrifice to You!  Abrar’s life is a testimony of Your power at work in a faithful child of God.

*Abrar’s name has changed to protect her identity.  I chose the feminine Arabic name “Abrar” to represent her because it means “devoted to God.”

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