Monday, July 14, 2014

Tales from Taiwan #9

Dear sisters,

My trips to my favorite aboriginal village continue every Saturday.  Again and again, God speaks to the children in ways I never imagined.  So many times He's working  behind the scenes, in ways invisible to my human eyes.  Truly, He continues to show Himself strong and faithful and amazing!

Like the other week when I shared the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how they refused to bow down to the statue that the king put up.  My ten village boys crowd around me, intently listening.  These boys grow up rough.  They are often neglected or have broken families.  They use cuss words, get into fights, and have bad manners.  Yet when I sit down on this particular day, they scoot closer as I share the Scriptures.

I am praying the whole time.  I don't want these kids to leave saying this was an amusing story.  I don't want them going home thinking that Teacher Joanna is a good storyteller.  I want God Almighty to reach down into their hearts and work on them.  I want His truth to shine brightly into their lives and change them.

Continuing with the story, I realize that this is the first time these kids have heard this classic Sunday School story.  The boys are convinced that the three friends will give in to the king's demands.  When I inform them that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood firm in their faith and didn't bow down, these village boys simply stare at me.  Their amazement continues to mount as they find out that when the king threw the three guys into the fiery furnace, God protected them and they lived, with not even the smell of smoke on them!

When I finish, I ask them what they can learn from this account.  I'm not sure what I'm expecting they will say but it's definitely not what I hear.  One boy speaks up: this Bible story means we shouldn't bow down to our Taiwanese idols.  It means we should instead only worship Jesus, the one true God.

I try to imagine a kid in America giving the same answer but I can't.  When I had prepared to share this particular story, I never realized the significance it could have in this culture or the way God would use it to open their eyes to His truth.  For kids in Taiwan, worshipping and bowing down to idols is a common practice.  So when I shared this Bible story, God used it in a special way in their culture.  Truly, He continues to awe me and make me realize how powerful and wise He is!

Prayer requests:

~ pray for these village boys.  That God will continue to work in their lives and their hearts, that He'll break down their Mr. Tough barriers they put up and shine His love and truth into their lives.

For Him in Taiwan,

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Footprints

Happy Summer, readers!

Here's a collection of our fabulous findings this month...

A craving for a delicious blueberry muffin brought about a search for the best blueberry muffins on the web. This recipe takes the cake! (er uh...muffin!) We added a sweet crumble (melted butter, brown sugar, and flour) to top these yummy muffins off.

If you haven't already... Watch "God's Not Dead" the new movie, featuring the Newsboys and the Robertsons from "Duck Dynasty", about a college student's struggle to defend his faith on campus, specifically in a philosophy class taught by an atheist professor. This awesome movie deserves a review all its own.

Speaking of the Newsboys, check out two of our favorite songs! "God's Not Dead" the theme song of the movie and "Restart" a great song about God's forgiveness.

With so much negativity and non-Christian messages in media today we're refreshed to see these great Christian productions. We hope you are as encouraged by them as we have been!

Blessings to you!
Joanna, Krista, Megan, Emily & Victoria

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mission Trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong

I was so excited last summer when I found out about a mission trip opportunity to Taiwan. I’d never been out of the country, and all the way on the other side of the globe is certainly out of the country! Also, if I went, I could visit my sister, Joanna. I was super excited, but the journey to Taiwan was a long way off - not till January.

As it so happened, I didn’t find out for sure if I was going until a month before we were set to leave. When I did find out, I was happy and excited, but a bit scared too - I needed to raise $2,500 in a short period of time. It was a journey of faith for me and my family. At times I felt for sure God would supply the money, other times I wasn’t so sure - what if it wasn’t His will for me to go? I realized, though, that it wasn’t my job to raise the money, it was God’s job. I just needed to do all I could and let Him do the raising.

The financial situation ended up working out amazingly! I even was given extra money! After the mission trip I had the blessing of giving the leftover money away to be used for God’s work in Taiwan and Hong Kong. 

The ministry I worked with is called Children's Institute, which offers children a VBS-like setting while their parents attend Christian seminars. Each small group of kids had at least one American and one translator. Biblical character qualities were taught, games were played, and crafts were made. During large group time, when everyone came together, we learned songs (in Chinese, of course!) and motions. Also, this was the time when inspired skits were performed with great zeal, impromptu, and hilarity. Ever heard the story of Daniel and his three friends who offered the king a test to see which was better - eating the king’s choice foods or vegetables? Well, in our version Daniel and his friends could not eat the king’s favorite food - Oreos! We showed how we should honor our authorities, and if we have an idea we should present it respectfully. The kids loved the skits and stories and so did I!

We worked in four different locations over a month’s time - three cities in Taiwan and Hong Kong. My favorite was our last week - in Hong Kong. My group leader and our translator and I worked really well together and we had twelve precious children aged six to twelve. Mind you, we had some kids that stirred up trouble, but overall our group was awesome!

Two nights in Hong Kong we got to have worship time with the kids. Those two nights were some of the most amazing experiences of the trip! Even though I couldn’t understand most of what we sang, I felt God’s presence there. It was amazing and I realized that worshiping God is something that transcends languages and is a language in and of itself!

Also, in Hong Kong I got to play soccer with a lot of boys one day. I was the only American and the only girl playing, and I’d never played a game of soccer before! It was great fun running around after the ball and occasionally yelling “Jiao!” (it means "go on" or "fight on"). I even scored the first goal! It felt good to give my teammates high fives.

After the trip I got to spend a week with my sister Joanna! It was neat to see the school where she works and meet her co-teachers. When Joanna first went to Taiwan I never thought I would get to go visit her, but God certainly has ways of working things out! I'm so glad God gave me the opportunity to not only visit her, but to join in His work in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I look forward to sharing more with you in future posts!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sisters of the Faith: Sarah

Today we're excited to share with you this interview we recently did with Sarah.  As you read, we pray that you will be refreshed and encouraged in your own walk with Christ!

When did you start living for Christ?

I received the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart at the age of 5, just three days after my 5th birthday. I will forever be grateful for my mother who led me in prayer to receive Christ. It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I really began to grow spiritually, and not until I was in my teen years did I begin to more fully understand what Christ did for me. At one point during those years, my family was experiencing difficulties and for the first time I questioned God and even got upset at Him. Doubts began to creep in and I thought, “Perhaps I am not really a Christian.” But as much as I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t one, Romans 8:16 came true in my life as God’s Spirit bore witness with my spirit that I was indeed His child! That settled it.

I grew up in a family where we called ourselves Christians and others looked at us as a “perfect family.” I learned to wear a big “Christian” mask. It was a good mask that covered all the turmoil and struggles beneath. By the age of 12, I wondered if this was all there was to the Christian life. We were the only homeschooled family in our church and I had no close friends through my teen years. However, I would not trade the best friend in the world for those lonely years that caused me to become best friends with my Savior – the Friend of friends. He became my best friend! He walked with me through the heartaches and tears, the pains of family relationships, and shared with me the joys of walking with Him.

My spiritual life was awakened when I attended a seminar at the age of 13. I believe this is when I truly started living for Christ as I learned what it meant. I discovered there was so much more to the Christian life than religiously reading my Bible and praying every day. Looking back, I can see I began to grow by leaps and bounds as God gave me the desire to eagerly apply foundational principles of life. At the age of 16, I fully surrendered my life to the Lord. It was not at all an easy decision. I felt like I was losing my life, my dreams. But as the months went on, I found that instead of losing my life, I was finding it. 

Matthew 16:25 became a reality. By “losing” my life, I found it! God began opening up more opportunities than I ever imagined to make an eternal impact in the lives of others! The years following were growing times and stretching ones for me. I learned that living for Christ meant being willing to be different, to stand alone, to not be welcomed into the “in” crowd, even amongst some Christians. But the joy and fulfillment of pleasing my Savior far outweighed any temporary pleasure of fun, and the fellowship with my Lord outweighed the pleasure of a human relationship.

Following Christ is moment by moment obedience to His promptings, every second, every minute, every hour of the day. When that moment by moment obedience goes out the window, pride and following self creeps in and soon obedience is no longer to Christ but to self.  

How have you seen God take painful circumstances and turn them into something good?

Oh my! I could go on and on and share time after time of how God has turned pain into blessing. I will say one thing for sure. Though the pain was often heart wrenching (and there was a lot of it!), I would not trade any one of those experiences for a life of ease, because it has been those very circumstances that have helped me to grow the most. Sometimes I have not seen the good of a situation until months or even years later. But in the end, God is good All the time!  Even now, I still struggle to see the good of a vehicle collision God placed me in over a year ago as I continue to battle its physical and emotional effects. But I know that one day, I will see His plan! Circumstances can either make you bitter or better. I challenge you to choose the latter.

What's it like volunteering with the fire department?

I think "crazy" could sum it up in one word.  Running out at any hour of the day or night when my pager goes off, sometimes getting only a few hours of sleep, arriving to a “fainting” call to find myself doing CPR instead, being surrounded by smoke and intense heat in a grass fire, packaging patients from a rollover, being summoned to a dead person found on the side of the road, or the more routine “sick person” call …I love it! And I work with some great people. Most of all, I love getting to reach out, serve, and meet my community in a way that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to. My eyes have been opened to needs in my own community that I had not before seen.  Going on these calls, I am constantly reminded that life is short.


How has the Lord been growing you 
through this?

Joining the fire department has definitely been a growing experience for me. It has helped me grow in my public communication and relational skills, and it has challenged me spiritually. Being in this non-Christian environment has made me so grateful for the years of becoming first grounded in my relationship with the Lord and for the character qualities my parents instilled in me while growing up. Girls, purity and virtue will radiate from your life when you possess it! Don’t trade it for anything. When I joined the department, I was the only female for over a year. Yet I sensed the guys treat me with respect and honor. People would apologize for foul language when I was around. They wouldn’t talk about certain things. Somehow, they knew. Did I come in announcing big and loud, “Hey everyone! I’m a Christian!”? No. Words and actions spoke for themselves. People sense virtue. Over all, the Lord has been using my experience with the department to challenge me as a Christian and to really know where I stand. I am definitely still growing and learning! But there is so much blessing in living for Christ, wherever you are.  

If there was one thing you could share with the girls of this generation, what would it be?

Perhaps some of you may have asked, “Is it worth living for Christ?” May I answer that with a resounding “YES!”? I know that some of you reading this may be younger than me, maybe older. But as a 23 year old who has had her share of “sheltered” and “in-the-world” experiences, I can say with my whole heart, it is worth it.

No matter how pleasurable a “worldly” experience may be, nothing, girls, nothing compares to the pleasure of having a close and intimate relationship with Jesus. No matter how painful rejection may be or how uncomfortable standing alone may feel, in the end, following Jesus and living for Him is worth it. There is joy in His presence and joy in walking with Him!

As I close, I want to share three things that have been an important part of maintaining my walk with the Lord:

First is Bible reading. Having that daily quiet time with the Lord in His Word is so crucial. If you think you only need it on Sunday, don’t eat Monday through Saturday. 

Second is journaling. I am so thankful my mother encouraged me to start a journal when I was 6 years old. During my teen years, my journals became more and more my conversations with Jesus, the struggles He was taking me through, the joys and victories, and it revealed my present spiritual state. Whenever I look back at my old journals, they never fail to encourage or inspire me. I can see what God has been doing in my life, and I can evaluate if my relationship has gotten closer or farther from the Lord. I also recently observed that my relationship with the Lord seemed to weaken when I did not take the time to journal. I think perhaps it, in a way, keeps me accountable to my Savior as I record what He is saying to me and the lessons He is  teaching me. 

And lastly, make Jesus your best friend. I know that you have most likely heard this before, but no human relationship will be satisfying if you are not satisfied in Jesus. No job or prestigious title will be fulfilling if you are not fulfilled in Jesus. Make Him your everything.

I am constantly amazed that the God of the universe would choose me to be His child. I can only say with the apostle Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain...” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  Truly, it is by His grace alone.

A few of Sarah's favorite things...

Journaling :: having quiet times alone with Jesus :: 
corresponding with other girls ::  reading (especially books of persecuted Christians) 
::  horseback riding :: going on fire calls :: learning to make food that tastes and looks good:: spending time with people  :: discovering insights on how relationships work  :: enjoying creation/nature :: jogging :: playing piano and violin :: hard work

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The trash kids

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{This is the second installment in my Reflections from Cambodia series.  For part one, click here}

They stand solemnly, bare toes covered in red dirt. They have feet roughened by constant exposure to the weather and elements. And from the fact that there is nothing to protect them except flimsy flip flops. I can tell that they don't really protect the boys' feet. Their skin is still battered, with scabs and scars evident.

My eyes settle on their faces. Their skin shows their youth, but their eyes reveal that they have lived more in their young lives than some adults live in their 70 years. What precious faces they have. They cannot be more than eight. I start to wonder why this duo isn't in school but then I realize the answer is already clear - their families are depending on these little ones to bring home recyclables to sell, as well as money. Probably like they do every day of the year. Probably as they have done since they were old enough to toddle around on two feet.

Their heads turn occasionally, trying to spy a tourist with an empty plastic bottle. Their faces are almost unreadable. Almost void of all emotion.

Almost, but still I catch a glimmer of feeling. A tiny sliver of light enters their countenances as a Chinese tourist walks over to the trash can. The two of them, they lean back and look up, eyes pleading, grimy hands reaching out. The tourist hands them his trash. One man's trash, another man's treasure. I've always heard that saying. I believe it as I watch these two boys.

My heart dips and I yearn to take them in my arms and tell them of the big, bright hope of Jesus.

Yet, the language barrier stops me. I sit there, praying and longing to make a difference - even a small one - in their lives. To give them something that would convey my heart. I look around at my belongings. I have no food. I have no plastic bottles. I have no words in the Khmer language on my tongue. My friend's eyes meet mine. We are both thinking the same thing.

We cannot see this and do nothing.

We both start speaking aloud. What can we give? We dig in our wallets and each pull out a Cambodian bill. It's not much, but I know we need to give. We have to do something.

We walk over to the boys. They don't know what we are doing. We obviously don't have any trash in our hands, yet we walk directly towards them. I smile to show the boys we are friendly. They stare.

As we near, my friend and I pull out our bills and say it's for them. Confusion flitters across their features. We aren't giving them a used water bottle. We aren't yelling at them, telling them to leave.  Instead, we are giving them money and being friendly. As I place the money in one boy's hand and my friend does the same to the other boy, smiles split their faces.

Their smiles are so big I wonder - when was the last time I saw gratitude like this?

I crouch down to their level and I reach out my hand for a high five. They each give it, beaming. I know we just made their day. Their week. Perhaps even their month.

Their faces of gratitude stay with me. Those huge smiles. Those eyes brimming with joy.

And I just know - I have to go back to Cambodia.