This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More than all we ask or imagine...

Back in 2001, the vision for Come before Winter hardly exceeded the completion of our first event: an equipping and spiritual renewal for women in ministry serving in Brazil. The team of eight agreed to raise the money and serve based on little more than the calling in each woman's heart. We planned carefully, but when we arrived, we had to admit to the 26 women attending that we hardly knew why we had come. Our own anticipation of witnessing what God would do overshadowed any hope that our own plans would succeed. "Thus," we said, "if at any time we discover that the ministry plan we have brought will not provide what is needed, we promise to toss it out and begin anew!"

For the most part, Come before Winter's business plan has been one of planning, preparation and service, then watching and listening to discover what God has in mind. In response, He has regularly unfolded a ministry that delivers more than we ever asked or imagined. We began, hoping not only to renew hearts, but to infect women in minstry everywhere with a love and commitment to serious Bible study. However, because of our limited language abilities, we knew our first obligation would be to English-speaking women.

As years have passed, God has shown us His amazing penchant for creation, offering us opportunities to serve women who do speak "foreign" languages--even English. Since 2003, I have been blessed to study with groups of women in Russia, Brazil, and Albania, helping nationals to practice the art of biblical study. In 2007, after four years of dedicated study, one such group of Russian women hosted the first Come before Winter renewal in a language other than English. Still, every training event was taught in English.

Germana Downing of Recife, Brazil, attended the first CbW renewal in 2001. She remains one of the ministry's most ardent disciples, having studied with me as she taught Mark, Matthew, Philippians, 2 Corinthians, and 1 John to her own small groups. Married to American-born missionary Dennis Downing, Germana's grasp of the English language, her continual commitment to teaching small groups, and her experience with our approach to the exegetical process inspired my pursuit to teach a four-day study in Mark to a group of Brazilians, half of whom did not speak English.

We met together outside Recife at a small but lovely hotel in the country: ten of us--eight Brazilians, CbW board member Linda Forrister, and myself. As I looked around the group, I could hardly believe what God had done. Of the eight Brazilians, He had given me a personal history with half. Besides Germana, Marisa Signoretti and Marta Braga serve our home congregation as missionaries from Southern Brazil to Natal (in the north). Westover's work in Natal dates back over a decade, and Barry and I have visited Natal multiple times, even hosting the Signorettis in our home while they visited Texas. I know only a few whose gifts for teaching, pastoring, and service equal those of Marisa and Marta. I was even more amazed by the presence of Cida Amazon, a native of Recife who received the gospel while living in Austin, TX, and later attended a small group study in my home before moving back to Brazil. She and her husband Giacamo and their three children now attend church with the Downings, and Cida attends Germana's small group weekly.

I did not know what to expect; I had never taught for four days, stopping after each phrase to wait for translation. Once again, I had to go on faith, admitting (again) that if God failed to show up, the entire effort would fail. I have taught women biblical exegesis for over a decade now, and the process never fails to challenge. I often hear student complaints. "Who cares?" they ask. "Need Bible study be so challenging?"

What an amazing experience we had in Brazil! Despite hearing everything twice due to translation, these women literally ate the Word and the concept. They engaged the book and the process with questions that revealed sincere commitments to hear, understand and see Mark's Jesus. By the morning of the fourth day, they sat around a table together, sharing in tears what they had learned and how these lessons would be put to work at specific points in their lives the next week. They also committed to complete their study of Mark by early next year and to host a study for women, sharing what they learned. Since our departure, they have already met twice to begin working toward these goals. If all goes well, and I have every confidence it will, Linda and I plan to return next fall to continue our study in another book.

Wow, God! Wow!

Winging our way home on the winds of prayer

One week ago today, I was on an airplane, returning from Brazil on one of the most convoluted journeys to date. The trip itself (time spent in Brazil with Germana Downing of Recife and seven other Brazilian women sandwiched between short visits with Germana's family) had been a total delight. God blessed the four-day seminar, engaging the book of Mark in ways I could never have planned. Traveling buddy Linda Forrister and I agreed that our time in Brazil had been time well spent.

The trip home was something else. We began our day in Germana and Dennis's kitchen, praying for her family, particularly her two beautiful daughters Paulina and Victoria who faced a round of significant tests later in the week. I remembered off and on all day and night that Dennis prayed for us and our trip, as well--a trip that would be riddled with mechanical difficulties.

Within 30 minutes of our prayer, the transmission in Dennis's car gave way in the middle of a six-lane divided thoroughfare on the way to the airport--but praise the Lord! The car immediately following proved to be an empty taxi; we were able to offload our luggage (in the middle of the street!) from the Downing's trunk to the taxi and continue on!

Since we were trying to check in two hours before takeoff, we thought time was tight. But no, the plane from Salvador, Brazil, was delayed for undisclosed reasons. I am guessing that delay was rooted in mechanical issues, as well. I say this because of the announcement that greeted the passengers on AA 980 about two hours before our anticipated arrival in Miami: the deicer on one of the wings was not working. "Though it is nothing to worry about, federal law requires that we set down at the next nearest airport--San Juan, Puerto Rico." So, we did.

Instead of arriving in Miami at 5:55 p.m., per our original itinerary, we arrived at 2 a.m.--only a slight variation in plans. The bad news: the AA attendant in San Juan had scheduled us for a 7:30 a.m. departure the next morning. Including travel time to and from the Doubletree (where American was picking up the bill) and an hour lead time for check-in, we could sleep about three and a half hours after our 20-hour travel day--maybe. Thankfully, the representative at the end of yet another line in Miami found us a later departure, affording us six hours of sleep. More lines for flight changes in Dallas, and we arrived in Austin early afternoon, thankful for a safe, if unbelievably difficult, journey.

In spite of it all, we were remarkably blessed. We did land safely! We never waited hours in line, though some did. The shuttles were waiting, both to and from the Miami hotel (which had wonderful soft linens on luxurious queen beds!). AA picked up the tabs for all our meals. Even elevator doors opened on our approach. I am not sure I ever remember so many little things going absolutely perfect! Blind luck? Blessing?

Thank you, God! And thank you, Dennis (and everyone else!), for your prayers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Three-Year-Old Angel, Bearbarry's Swingin', Dancin' Delight

I never thought I’d understand when my husband “fell in love” with another woman, but I do.

In truth, he’s “in love” with two (to date)—our granddaughters Eleanor Abigail and Elizabeth Lenna. This post is in honor of Eleanor, our second oldest grandchild who turned three on September 24. The flu, a bad back, and preparations for a trip to Brazil have delayed this post.

Still, NO ONE makes you feel more special than this little lady—Bearbarry’s (her rendition of “Granbarry”) and Dranna’s (same story for “Granna”) precious princess. She has a laugh that can supply enough energy to light up the world and a spirit that calls for everyone to step in line.

Eleanor entered our lives softly. She was born four weeks early—tiny and beautiful. Her mom
said that from the beginning she held her hands around her face in the traditional “princess pose” (see picture at right), and we thought that was appropriate. She was a perfect lady, after all—easily pacified in daylight hours, at least. She slept and ate and smiled and cooed at all the appropriate times. Her gentle spirit drew us in as she claimed her space in our hearts.

She has the prettiest red lips any of us had ever seen. Jo's mom accused her of putting lipstick on her to take her picture...but no! It's all natural.
I want to share a few meories:

First Chrstmas in New Mexico: A little bewildered, but all bundled up for a sleigh ride in the snow.

Granna's model: Is there anything better than taking pictures of your grandkids? And look, what great material!

Daddy's girl: This little one has melted and molded her Daddy's heart. One of my all-time favorite "store-it-away-in-my-heart" memories is of Brent, looking at his daughter and sitting by Jo at the hospital on the day Eleanor was born. The look on his face said it all. The lights had come on, and this man was just beginning to envision the delights life would hold as a father.

Second birthday: Since we couldn't be there on her special day (we went a few days after), we sent balloons! I didn't know if she would be old enough to enjoy! But oh my, she LOVED IT! It made my day!

Granbarry's girl: On the weekend of the Bosnia team's training retreat, we thought Jo had gone into labor. Since I was at the pretreat, as we call it, Barry went alone to DFW. The house was a hive of activity, and he spent the weekend crawling on the floor with Eleanor. From that day forward, no one, and I mean no one, has held a candle to "Bearbarry." Eleanor's love for her Granbarry (who I also called "Bear" while we were dating) has delighted her grandfather's heart like nothing I have ever seen. My eyes get misty just typing the words. While I may gain some ground occasionally (coloring, baking cookies, playing in the playhouse under the stairs), Granbarry is not to be displaced. She loves him so well! Hats off to you, Eleanor! Happy third birthday (a couple weeks late)! I love you so much!