Friday, August 31, 2012
Admittedly, I have been too busy. After I last wrote, which was a year and a half ago, Come before Winter hosted back-to-back renewals in Africa. We hosted 26 in Rwanda, May 23-27, 2011, then hosted 45 the next week in South Africa. Three renewals in four months was exhausting, but exhilarating. We couldn't help but think how God has blessed and matured the ministry for all of it to have gone so well.
Jeanene Reese and I taught our much loved Psalms curriculum in Rwanda, and Brooke Hollingsworth and Arlene Kasselman teamed up to teach the same material in South Africa. The renewal provided our younger teammates another opportunity to teach together before they opened their own Exodus curriculum in New Zealand this past June.
I arrived home to an announcement of sorts: I would be selling my house. Barry and I had talked for years of selling our two-story home near Pond Springs in Austin. Because all the bedrooms were upstairs and both of us have bad knees, we knew it had to happen at some point. While I was in Africa, he decided the time was now. I was shocked, but summer offers one of the few slower seasons for Come before Winter, so... we began. I needed to sell and move before the end of the year; if we hadn't sold by then there was no way I could do it, I said. Spring is tooooooooo busy for such (or so I thought). We returned to our house on New Year's Day, 2012, with firm plans to take the house off the market--but guess what? We had a contract. I won't bore you with the details, but we were out by February 1--without a home to move into. Did you know Come before Winter also offices in my home? What a season!
The next four months were a hurricane, and the whirlwind continues. In March, we hosted the "last" Psalms renewal in Ukraine. We also bought a house--with a projected completion and move-in at the end of March. We returned from Ukraine to publish all new materials before we opened Exodus in New Zealand in June. The event was FANTASTIC! Kudos to Brooke and Arlene who drove the project, and to Heather Hammock, Kelliann Hale, and Mariana Long, who developed major pieces of the curriculum. Somehow we managed the pretreat, other speaking engagements, pretreats, and planning sessions, and moving into my new home in MAY! Yes, (of course), it was late! We returned from New Zealand in June and left for a three-week trip to Brazil in July. I got home two weeks ago and have been celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary ever since (really). I have one more international teaching trip this year--to Panama for the third of four International Development Seminars with Spanish-speaking women's ministers from Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the southern US.
But then.... I am on "furlough." The board has granted me from October 22 until October, 2013, to be still, to pray, to re-imagine my ministry, and realign my spirit.
Thus, I plan to be writing more--and more reflectively. I plan to be still, to be alone, to listen and to wait. I hope you can witness the journey with me through this blog.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Some events mark time better than the rest. High school graduation, marriage, the birth of a child, a grandchild, special birthdays-
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Cancun normally falls far short of a site choice for a Come before Winter study seminar. We prefer quiet areas out of the way of noise and traffic and crowds. In Cancun, the hotel PA system boomed with DJs by 11 a.m.--with comics and exercise classes by the pool and a different show on stage each night. "All-Inclusive" meant the liquor flowed free from morning to night for the majority of the hotel's guests. More than once an Elvis Presley movie from my childhood came to mind: "Fun in Acapulco." Unfortunately, no Elvis. Security advisors, specialists in moving people in and out of dangerous locations, had recommended Cancun, though. Unfortunately, Mexico has become a dangerous destination. We were told: Do not host along the border (duh!) or "anywhere on the Pacific coast;" really? Tuluca and Puebla were possibilities, but both required flying into and out of Mexico City (and many of us were flying alone). Even though Cancun was recommended, I received email the week before, telling me about a bombing in one of the city's restaurants.
I have never feared traveling for a CbW event before, but Mexico spooked me. We considered (as we had with Thailand a couple months earlier) calling it off or moving it to Florida. However, four women from Chile had already purchased expensive tickets; they could not get visas into the U.S. without a lot of lead time. It would be Mexico or nothing, and we decided not to cancel. Instead, we would fly in, collect our baggage, and immediately meet "authorized transportation" from the airport to the hotel. We would not leave the hotel during the week, then take the same "authorized transport" back to the airport. No touring or siteseeing--just in and out. It worked well.
Our participants included a group from Mexico and the United States (almost all born and reared in various Central American countries). Carla Lowe had been working with this group for several years. In addition to these, Holly Emery brought three protégés from Santiago--"the Chileans." Angelica Martinez,who works with her husband to serve The Hills Church of Christ in its Spanish speaking ministry, joined us, as well. Including Arlene and I, we were twelve.
Come before Winter now budgets for 2-3 International Development Seminars a year. The events represent the ministry's commitment to serve women in ministry around the world, including those who do not speak English. Whereas our renewals are taught in English and so intricately designed so as to prohibit translation, these seminars are simpler: smaller groups, a team of 1-3, and a program limited to study and worship: three full days of study--only study--eight hours a day. Whereas the renewals are designed with American missionaries in mind, these seminars actually cater to national women--women who serve in their own culture and speak a language other than English. At first I taught these seminars in English to ESL speakers, but by now they are translated. I have been amazed at how well they proceed, though every sentence is spoken twice.
These brief, intense studies renew my spirit. No razzle dazzle--just a serious minded group of friends joined around the table, eating a piece of biblical text. In Cancun, we devoured the gospel of Mark, my favorite.
I am humbled by the women who meet me for these days. They don't complain about the hours of study (they have been told in advance what to expect). Rather, gratitude boils over into gestures of love--hugs, notes, gifts, laughter. Before we left, we set the date for "the twelve" to reunite--perhaps with a few others--in 2011 in Costa Rica when we will study Philippians.
After four years of study, the Russians hosted their own Come before Winter renewal in Russian. The Spanish group has that goal in mind, as well. They have completed step one. From the vantage point of the CbW board, that renewal will symbolize a type graduation. We do not have a goal to "syndicate" our program. We desire to equip. Once our students become proficient enough to host a renewal (with all its bells and whistles), they will have the skills to redefine and retool what they have learned to fit another culture, to take what they have learned and reinvent new and better ways to serve. Neither have we closed the door on the idea of Spanish-speaking Come before Winter teams. Instead, we wait. In this, as in all other tasks and missions laid before us, we have only one question: What does God have in mind? When we know that, we will know what to do.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Our team of 15 functioned flawlessly. We missed Brooke Hollingsworth who made the hard but appropriate choice to remain home with her family as husband Brent made the transition to retirement. Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo debuted as our theme speaker at our opening session with a stellar lesson on God's hesed.
…as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than each person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will.
Over the years, I have come to recognize certain moments in Come before Winter’s history as “defining.” In these times, we collide head-on with events, issues, and/or challenges that allow us an opportunity to reexamine our purpose. In short, we get to double check our clarity regarding what God might have in mind. Most often these experiences provide manna that feeds growth, allowing the skeletal phrases of our mission--“to renew, equip, honor and unite women in ministry around the world”—to build enough muscle and tendon to become practical ministry. The recent Thailand renewal, held June 14-18, in Chiang Rai presented such an opportunity. Just three weeks before departure political unrest, demonstrations, and warnings from both the United States State Department and the government in Thailand seemed to indicate that cancellation might be prudent.
By the time the travel warnings were issued, the fifteen-member team was on the “downhill slide.” Team members had already raised the funds needed to welcome and host thirty-eight women from six countries in Asia to the mountains of Northern Thailand. In fact, about 85 percent of the costs for the week had already been paid. Registered participants from Bangkok and the other Asian countries (Japan, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines) had also purchased non-refundable airline tickets. The long process of registration had ended, the tote bags had been monogrammed and delivered, the notebooks were printed with detailed information including home addresses and telephone numbers, room assignments at the host hotel, and small group divisions. Five team members had already taken possession of the “team bags,” those packed out to carry the needed supplies to our June 9 flight; another three were packed and ready to be delivered. For all practical purposes, were ready to go.
But there was this nagging question of safety. Everyone agreed that while we were not “afraid” to make the trip, wisdom had to prevail. As one advisor so aptly stated, “At times like these it is easy to discount one’s own safety, but are you willing to put the families of the participants and team members at risk of losing their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters? How important is this?” By three weeks before departure I had begun to believe there was “no way” the trip could occur; I would later learn that many on the Board felt the same. Others on the Leadership Team had serious questions—in regard to going and not going. Thank the Lord for having built among us such a strong sense of unity in diversity! To a person, we all agreed that the decision could not be made in terms of lost funding; responsibility, safety, and mostly a keen listening ear had to prevail. Thus, the Leadership Team convened in Abilene to weigh issues and to pray. Never before had we come together to make a decision with such varying opinions. However, each of us also recognized the necessity of listening to the other and going to the Lord together—a united front of prayer. May I say that the time together that day was one of the sweetest days we have shared?
In preparation to meet, we sought the advice of two security advisors. Both Sam Jeffrey, son of Leadership Team member Suzy Jeffrey and Chris Hale, husband of Leadership Team member Kelliann, provided us with invaluable insights. Sam had spent a few years working for the U.S. State Department; even now his work includes ensuring the safe travel of others, often into areas where security is questionable. Chris, who works as a chaplain for firemen in the state of Texas and has often been present as a first-responder to tragedy, also worked with inner-city missions in St. Louis, MO. In addition to these two, we sought on-the-ground reports from Thailand missionaries David Allen and Robert Reagan; both missionaries live and work in the northern regions of Thailand where we would host our event. Finally, we polled a fourth of the participants, at least one woman from each of the six countries who had registered. How were they feeling about attending? What were their husbands saying? In all these communications, we asked for frank responses.
By the time we met in Abilene, less than two weeks before departure, the Thai government had regained control in Bangkok—albeit just two days earlier. No one knew how long the treuce would hold, so in addition to moving forward with last-minute details, we were all reading news reports and listening to television analyses, as well. Our security advisors warned us to be cautious, but well-prepared if we proceeded. The on-the-ground missionaries (apart from discussion with one another) strongly urged us to come—the renewal was needed now more than ever, they wrote. The women themselves assured us they were not afraid: one group told us that if we did not host, they were going to Thailand without us (they already had tickets, after all).
At the end of the day, we decided we would proceed—if we gained Board approval. Even so, we would give every team member and every parrticipant the opportunity to back out. As an extra precaution, we would write a detailed security plan that involved planned exit strategies and renting satellite phones—in case Thailand’s government decided to shut down all common communication, as their state of emergency warned they might. Only once before, when our African hotel cancelled on us just 10 days before departure, had we worked so busily up to the times our flights would take off.
We assured each team member and participant that we trusted them to listen to God and to act on His personal words to them alone. Going would not be considered a greater action of faith that remaining behind; remaining behind would not be considered “wiser” than going. We would recommit each woman, indeed the whole event, to God. In the end, we lost two participants, one whose supporting congregation had already pulled her from Bangkok for safety reason and another who discovered a work conflict that could not be avoided. One team member, after prayer and discussion with her family, remained behind, as well, serving us from stateside in prayer and communication.
You expect to learn from such situations; you are aware that you are setting precedence, writing policy as you go. What I didn’t expect was the way the process would sharpen our senses in regard to our mission. Two communications particularly initiated ripples of thought as we moved forward.
The first was a brief line from board member Donna Willbanks: “Could this possibly be God opening our eyes and hearts to a new way of using CbW? …we know this is no surprise nor glitch to Him.” The second was a comment made by a former missionary to Thailand, Larry Henderson, now a missions professor at Abilene Christian University. Larry commented that he was not as concerned for the future of the country of Thailand as he was for the church in Thailand. The political rifts so totally permeated the country’s social fabric and ran so deep that he feared division in the churches might follow.
As we pondered these questions in relation to our program, we were forced to examine not only how the unrest might affect the renewal, but how the renewal itself could possibly impact the situation. Our rule forbidding controversial discussions and comments had been written to dissuade anyone from focusing on our mutual differences in regard to faith. How would that rule play out during the current political situation? Likewise, every Come before Winter team covenants with the others: not only will she avoid controversial discussion, but she will surrender her personal will for the good of the women we serve. We even agree in advance to trust one another above all—to set aside hurt feelings and/or anger, determining to trust the good in the other, no matter how the incident may appear. We have learned that these commitments speak clearly without a word. Each time we receive a set of evaluations, someone (often many someones) mentions being blessed and instructed by the team’s witness of unity. Some have claimed that it was the most beneficial aspect of the renewal!
Thus, we came to understand that God had prepared us for “such a time as this.” We did not go to Thailand only to walk on the holy ground of confession and spiritual renewal with those who would come. Granted, that mission would never be minimized! However, as we traveled, I pondered how spiritual health impacts more than one person’s personal walk and personal witness in regard to Christ and faith. Each individual influences the will of a group, and indeed, a group’s spiritual health can, has, does, and will impact governments and social societies. Thus, the collective witness of Christ, of believers’ allegiance to God and to one another, have always tinted the pages of history; they always will. Salt seasons the whole.
We better understood this Truth as we greeted the hotel staff that would serve us; we were purposeful in recognizing that we had women from every piece of Thailand’s social cloth. We remembered what God had taught us in our first 19 renewals, and we accepted this new lesson with thanksgiving.
Come before Winter’s 20th renewal in Chiang Rai, Thailand, was one of our sweetest to date. Not once did we feel threatened. Though we overnighted in Bangkok both on the way in and on the way home, we saw nothing but smiling, gracious Thai faces—not a hint of unrest anywhere. We noticed this, and we thanked God for what we might never have seen had it not been for the recent turmoil. Perhaps we were even more thankful for the opportunity to be there.
We cannot thank enough those who invested in these days of peace and tranquility, of meditation and reflection. Your support of our mission, your prayers and your financial investments became the foil for understanding the tragedy of division and war. May God bless all those who serve Him in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. May His Unity, His Peace, and His Pardon be evident to all.
Monday, April 26, 2010
- At his baptism--Luke 3.21
- Looking for direction after healing late in the night in Capernaum--Mk 1.35
- He was praying in Luke when the disicples ask him to teach them to pray--Lk 11.1. I am not counting the "Lord's Prayer" in Matthew here, but as teaching. I am not arguing that he didn't pray as he taught, but I am looking for personal prayer.
- The night before he chose his disicples--Luke 6.12
- Looking for direction and peace after he feeds the 5,000. Mk 6.46. At this stressful time, he knew that a) the people were planning to come get him to make him king (John 6.15), b) John the Baptist has just been killed (Matthew 14.13), and c) the disciples have just returned from having healed in His Name; they are so busy they can hardly find time to eat (Mark 6.30-31) .
- He is praying alone when his followers come and he asks, "Who do people say that I am?" It is here Peter confesses, "You are the Christ." Luke 9.18.
- He is praying on the mountain when his face is changed and Elijah and Moses appear. Luke 9.28.
- His longest recorded prayer for the disciples and all that will believe through their name is recorded in John 17.
- Matthew, Mark and Luke record the prayers in the Garden (John does not. John's Jesus speaks to the synoptic writers' claims in John 12.28; he will not ask to be spared the cross. This prayer is listed below in the second list. Find the synoptics prayers in the garden in Mt. 26.36f; Mark 14.36f, and Luke 22.40f.
- Praises God for revealing the truth to little children, rather than the wise and learned. Matthew 11.25
- At Lazarus' tomb, he thanks God in the hearing of the people so they will know that he has invoked God's name in this miracle that is about to occur. John 11.41
- In speaking of his coming death in John, Jesus tells the disciples (who have brought Greeks to see him) that he is very troubled about what is coming. But, shall he ask to be saved from that suffering? No! Instead he says to God, "Father, do what will bring you glory!" God responds, I have; and I will again."
- I would argue especially that the entire time on the cross, Jesus is praying--though it is not what we would normally term as "prayer." Three times we hear him speak directly to the Father: Luke 23.34; 46; and Matthew 27.46 record these utterances, the last of which is committing himself into God's care before he dies.
- The people brought little children to him to be prayed over: Matthew 19.13
- Luke says it was his custom to withdraw and pray: Luke 5.16
- He tells Peter that he has prayed for him so Peter's faith will not fail: Luke 22.32
- He tells the disciples that he will ask the Father and He will send them an Advocate to be with them--the Holy Spirit. John 14.16
- He also blesses God for food at the two feedings and at the meal in the upper room.