Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

Archive for the tag “Missions”

Alaska and the Piece of My Heart That I Left There

I’ve been asked approximately a hundred times this week: “How was Alaska?” I don’t know why, but every time I try to answer, I get a lump in my throat.  I guess writing about it is my best bet, so here goes:

Alaska is a place of extremes: extreme terrain, extreme brokenness, extreme weather, extreme people, extreme lostness, extreme love, and extreme possibility.  When I heard that where we were going was the least evangelized place in the nation, many things went through my mind. I imagined stories from our friends who are church-planting in Brooklyn, the look of hatred on people’s faces when we went door-to-door in Spokane, the man cursing my husband at the top of his lungs at a market in the French Quarter.  I braced myself for extreme rejection and the heaviness that accompanies the dark places in our country.

But that’s not what I found.

You see, most places in our country have experienced a movement of Christianity, and that movement has started to pass. Some would even say the Bible Belt is “post-Christian.” But Alaska isn’t like that. When you look around, there are a few churches sprinkled here and there, but overwhelmingly the church is just absent. It never came to have the chance to leave.  Because of this, I expected extreme rejection. While our trip focused on service, I did notice this: The people of Alaska (generally speaking) are NICE! Many were very appreciative of what we were doing, and one even said, “Forget our differences; I’m just glad you guys are here sharing the love of Christ.”

Now THAT is not what I expected.

While most of our time was in Anchorage, we spent one of our nights doing ministry in a laundry-mat in Girdwood. While there, I had one of the most horrific migraines that I’ve had in years. I was almost an hour away from where I was staying and had no access to a vehicle. A complete stranger offered his van, and being desperate, we took it. When we got in, it was not just his van– it had a mattress and all of his stuff in it. I was overwhelmed that the Lord would provide through His people in such a way that a man would offer all he owned to me just because I was sick. This, for me, spoke volumes about the heart of the people there.

But it wasn’t all roses, and I don’t want to paint any false pictures. There is extreme lostness and extreme spiritual warfare there, too. When we arrived, we learned that the head church planter had unexpectedly resigned, leaving Jason (the Girdwood planter) and a team of interns with a full plate, two mission teams, and one week until Easter. The leadership there was under tremendous stress, and it was incredible to see them work together to stay the course and encourage their congregations to continue in what God had called them to do. With everything that happened, our entire agenda completely changed. We learned that we would not be doing anything that we planned to do. (Gotta love mission trip flexibility!:)

While we didn’t expect service projects, doing them gave us a truthful look at the lostness of the city. We did a block party in the most diverse neighborhood in the entire country and also did some street clean-up. This was a tense time as our team members encountered lots of homeless people and saw firsthand the devastation of particular lifestyles. Likewise, some of our team got the chance to serve lunch to a center with AIDS patients, seeing again the brokenness and destruction of drug addiction and lifestyle choices. Even our donuts ministry (we took donuts to local businesses to invite them to church) provided us with a chance to truly SEE the city. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first coffee shop that we went to was next door to a Buddhist society.

In all of this, we did not get to have many Gospel conversations, but we did get to invite many people to True North Church, and being in those places allowed us to pray and know more specifically HOW to pray for the people and the church.

On our final day there, Danny and I rode with Jason to Wasilla to discuss how he believed the Lord desired to build a church there.  As we drove, I couldn’t help but think about how much Wasilla reminded me of home, except my city is called “The City of Churches.” It broke my heart to hear that members of his congregation had to drive an hour just to attend a church service. In fact, later that afternoon, someone from the church said, “I’d love for someone to plant a church in Wasilla! I have coworkers who would LOVE to go to church but can’t drive all the way to Anchorage!”

And that’s where I lost a piece of my heart. You see, many people dismiss Alaska. They imagine this frigid ice-land with some kind of cross between igloos and Sarah Palin, and neither could be farther from the truth. The people of Alaska are as diverse and transient as those of New Orleans. Out of all the people we met throughout the week, only a few were actually from Alaska. That transience makes it hard to plant a stable church but likewise opens the door to many nations. In fact, planting in Alaska provides access to 68 unreached people groups.

Did you hear me? SIXTY EIGHT UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS, and that isn’t counting the melting pot of travelers who come to visit and decide to call Alaska home.

Since I’ve returned to Arkansas, I’ve pondered many things about our trip, from the people of True North Church to the need for people to hear the Gospel. I wonder if we could’ve done more? I wonder how God will continue to use the core group. I wonder how the church in Anchorage will move forward after the grief of losing their pastor? I wonder who will plant in Wasilla and bring Light to it?

And then my mind wanders from the crystal blue waters of the inlet to the heights of the majestic mountains, and the picture dissolves into a white field and Jesus calls out:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2

 

 

 

Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

We’ve all seen the pictures—the ones of men lined up on the beach waiting to have their heads chopped off. We’ve cried through the photos of children with tear-filled eyes posing with the leaders as a “warning” for the media. We’ve been enraged to hear about groups of people who have been forced to leave their communities, starve on a mountainside, and wait for an imminent death. We’ve heard of the rape, the torture, the crucifixions, the burnings… and we are angry.

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. The theme was prayer, and I can never express the power of the Holy Spirit in those moments when thousands of pastors cried out to The Lord for our families, our cities, our country, and our world.

The last part of the night was prayer for the persecuted. As the faces of our brothers and sisters from around the world flashed across enormous, panoramic screens, I couldn’t contain my sorrow. Sorrow for those who are facing a hell that I cannot even comprehend, and sorrow that I could live my life and only have them as an afterthought. Why had I not been praying, fasting, relentlessly seeking wisdom from the Word and interceding on behalf of these people? How could I have been so inconsistent? How could I forget the innocent blood being spilled? How could I have been so selfish?

So I prayed. I prayed for deliverance for them. I prayed for brave men and women to rise up with the courage to fight the terrorists. I prayed for the Lord to remove the enemy. I prayed for the believers to remain strong and look to the Lord. I prayed for the terrorists to have dreams and visions of Jesus. And more than anything, I prayed for the Gospel to spread like wildfire.

Fast forward just five months, and something miraculous is happening. Because of the persecution, the people of the Middle East are beginning to question things that they have never questioned before. They are beginning to wonder why they are being forced to subscribe to a particular extremist brand of their religion. They are wondering why people are willing to die for Jesus. They are wondering why a line of men sang praise songs to Jesus until their cords were severed with knives.   And a movement is happening. But you’ll never hear about it on the news.

And then another miracle happened. The Lord answered our prayers. He delivered the people from the arms of the enemy. He gave them safe haven in a number of countries, and HE even hand-delivered them to our doorsteps so that they could hear the Gospel and sleep without fear of death.

And we welcomed them…with hatred, closed borders, name-calling, stereotyping, and prejudice. We looked at the color of their skin, the hijabs on their heads, and the country from which they came, and we forgot that they are the very people that we asked God to deliver and chose instead to brand them all terrorists by affiliation.

My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom in this situation. The Gospel has NEVER been about comfort, safety, and prosperity. If you don’t believe me, just look at the lives and deaths of Jesus’ own disciples. Better yet, look at Jesus’ life! These people are simply LOST, just as you and I were once lost. I implore you; pray and ask the Lord to show you how to see them the way HE sees them. He loved them so much that He died for them; who are we to deem them unworthy?

I understand that this is scary. I understand the potential threat. And I understand that the Gospel is WORTH IT ALL. I am in awe of how gracious our Lord is to give us such an amazing opportunity to share and to give these people such an unlikely opportunity to hear the saving, glorious Gospel of Jesus. We don’t have to go to the front lines; we don’t have to sacrifice anything except our personal, luxurious comfort.

It’s time for us to rise up and BE the church. We should love these people (and ALL people) so immensely that they can’t help but wonder the source of our love. We should pour out ourselves in every way possible to show kindness, friendship, aide, education, and any other means available to bridge the Gospel to them. We shouldn’t be fearful of foreigners if they come to our churches; we should welcome them with open arms and as much love as humanly possible. Because this is what Jesus would do and what He commands us to do.

I realize that many of you will disagree with me, and that’s okay. This is truly the conviction of my heart. All I am asking is that you genuinely seek the Lord in how to handle this situation. If your words flow from the condition of your heart, what does the world see when it reads your social media posts?

As for me, I am excited. God is never surprised and always has a plan. My prayer is to be ready for every incredible opportunity that He has in store! He is working everything out for good…we just have to have the right vision to see it.

Thus says God the LORD,
            Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
            Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
            Who gives breath to the people on it
            And spirit to those who walk in it

  I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness,
            I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
            And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
            As a light to the nations,

   To open blind eyes,
            To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
            And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

Isaiah 42:5-7

 

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