Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Writing to Prisoners


Recently I shook hands with a man who had been imprisoned for his faith for several years in a country hostile to Jesus Christ.  We smiled and conversed, praising God for his release and all that God did in and through his time in prison.

Suddenly, I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe that I’m standing face-to-face with a Brother who surrendered all to our Jesus and lived through a hellish experience – and he’s overflowing with joy as he talks!  He looks familiar, too, but I can't make sense of why that would be.  I know I've never met him.

Then this Brother said that if I ever make it to his country, I’m invited to his church.  His underground church.  

I try to take it all in.  I’ve just been invited to an underground church.  Definitely first time to receive that kind of invitation!

My eyes are burning with unshed tears as we talk.  The joy of Jesus is so evident in this man’s life and I’m struck again with how blessed and yes, spoiled, I am as an American with my religious freedoms.  I start contemplating this:

I have a Bible in my own language.  In fact, I have several.  I also have one on my mobile devices, accessible any time I want it.

I have a church, complete with a sound system, air conditioning, a preacher who freely shares the Word and the freedom to sing as loud as we want, when we want, how we want.  Did I mention it’s only a short drive away?  Yet, for example, in many countries believers must whisper or even mouth their worship songs for fear of being heard.

My family doesn’t live in daily fear of being arrested or kidnapped or martyred for our faith.  We go about our daily lives with relative ease and freedom and peace in this respect.

Then I look at this Brother and realize he went through some of those things like whispering worship songs, not having adequate Bibles in his own language, and being arrested and thrown in prison for his faith.  But instead of being discouraged or bitter about what happened, this Brother is standing in front of me beaming, praising God and sharing the story of what God did every chance he gets!

It’s time for the Body of Christ to wake up, to rise up and join the Good Battle.  To join ranks with believers around the globe and support our Brothers and Sisters in Christ who face persecution all the time and to aid them as they continue to share the Good News even in the midst of it all.

Perhaps one way you can join the Good Battle is by encouraging your Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are imprisoned for their faith in Jesus.  You can write them an encouraging letter through The Voice of the Martyrs’ site, Prisoner Alert.  VOM has phrase selections and Scriptures to choose from that they have translated into the prisoner’s language.  It takes only two minutes and can have such an amazing impact on a Brother or Sister who is suffering for Christ.

Oh and as for why that particular Brother looked familiar?  I realized that years ago, he was one of the prisoners I had written to and prayed for!  How amazing it is that God orchestrated our meeting years later.  Not only that but that I was also able to hear how God worked in his life and used the prayers of believers around the world as he was in prison.  Pretty awesome if you ask me!

So what are you waiting for?  Head on over to Prisoner Alert and prayerfully pick a prisoner or two or ten to write to and pray for.  God can use your letter in a beautiful and powerful way to lift up another believer around the globe.  What a privilege!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where I'm At: Joanna

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Dear Bloom! sisters,

As I sat down to write this post, I looked back at what I wrote for my previous Where I'm At post and started smiling as I re-read it.  God has done so much since then and I'm so glad He has!  When I last wrote, it was October 2013 and my life had taken a much different turn than I had expected.  It was hard at first, seeing my dreams and plans die.  That summer I had been planning to continue doing missionwork in the same city in Taiwan when God changed my course and sent me to a new city instead.  It turns out, of course, that He always knows best.

Right now I have so much joy in my heart as I write this because God is sending me back to that second city again - next month!  You see, I spent six months in City One and one year in City Two.  Then I came stateside for a year, praying, healing, resting, traveling and even working on a Christian movie.  In May, I went back to Taiwan for a three week mission trip (you can read about that here!), not realizing that the God who called me there for 1.5 years before would call me back again.  But He did and I'm quite excited!

So here I am today, preparing to move back to City Two in Taiwan.  Sometimes you just never know how the Father will work in your life in something that seemed like a hard trial at first - like it did when I was transferred to City Two back in 2013.  Looking back now, it's easier to see what the Lord was doing and I'm very grateful He did what He did!

I'm looking forward to holding dusty hands as we walk to the river, sharing Bible stories with kids who've never heard them, teaching phonetics to orphans, singing in Chinese at church, practicing English sentences with my students, laughing with my teammates, using chopsticks, and once again, stumbling over the tonal language of the island. 

In the meantime, what's life look like for me right now?  Lots of shopping, planning, scouting for classroom items and things I can use in the orphanages and villages, going on adventures with family and friends, and yes, fighting some ongoing health issues too.  Through the easy and the hard, the fun and the pain, I lean on my Jesus and trust Him to give me all that I need in this next month and the ones to come - for His joy, grace, mercy, endurance, and love and everything else I need.  He's so faithful.

As I'm preparing to move across the globe again, I'm singing this song.  Won't you join me?

In Christ's love,
Joanna
P.S.  Yep, this means that my Tales from Taiwan will soon start up again!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mission Trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong






























It's crazy to think that it's been a year and a half since I went to Taiwan and Hong Kong on a mission trip! Time has flown by, but I wanted to share a bit more with you all. You can read my first post about my trip abroad here. I also wrote some about it in my last Where I'm At post. While in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we went to four different places and did a program like VBS for the kids while their parents attended a Christian seminar.  Here are a few snippets of my trip that I wanted to share with you:

Benjamin

In one of our first cities, seven-year-old Benjamin and his sister were on my team. They were both such a joy to be around and I loved their spirit. One of the lessons I taught was the salvation story. At the end of the lesson, I asked if anybody had any questions or were interested in becoming a Christian. Little Benjamin raised his hand and his sister piped up that they were both already Christians. I said something like, "Oh, that's great! Then I'll get to see you in heaven." Then Benjamin answered back very solemnly that he wasn't so sure because he would have forgotten me by then!  I laughed.

Susie

Susie was a twelve-year-old in one of my groups who knew some English.  She and I just seemed to connect well. For the older kids they had special sessions, and also "homework."  If a child completed all their homework, they received an autographed book from all the leaders of the ministry. Though there was quite a few who were old enough, nobody fulfilled the requirement. Nobody, that is, except Susie! I even remember one time after our program was over that Susie came running up, out of breath, to one of the teachers and handed in her homework. I remember feeling so proud when she received the book at the end during our closing ceremony. Later, Susie asked me to sign her book, and I got to hug her and tell her how proud I was of her.

Learning a hard lesson

In addition to having the joy of getting to love the children, I also learned some really important lessons while there. In each small group, the kids were divided up anywhere between 4-16 kids per group, depending on where we were. Each of these small groups had at least one American and at least one translator. Sometimes there was more than one American per group, so one would be the leader, and the other the assistant leader.

As it happened, I was given the assignment of assistant leader for quite a bit of the trip, and more often than others were. I'm not proud to say it, but it really hurt my pride. I thought, "Am I that bad, that they would make me assistant so much of the time?" I should have been focused on serving and loving the kids, but sometimes I would just get upset, twisting the situation around so that in my mind it looked like others didn't like me. In actuality, there were plenty of good reasons that things worked out as they did. I knew in my heart that it shouldn't bother me, that the important thing was serving God, no matter what work I was given. However, I let it all make me feel insecure and worthless. The truth is, titles shouldn't matter so much. But we let them.

This was a hard lesson to be taught, and honestly one that I still need to learn more. Paul wrote some amazing Bible verses that illustrate what our attitudes should be like. Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV) says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." He then goes on to write how we should take Christ as our example, who became like a servant, humbling Himself in obedience to His Father. This is true greatness, and does not go unnoticed by God.

Looking back 

I'm glad that God gave me this opportunity to go on a mission trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong.  He taught me some amazing lessons throughout my time abroad. Although it wasn't always easy, it was an experience that helped me grow in my faith and gain new perspectives on humility, success, and God's provision.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Exercising for the glory of God



Summer always seems to leave me more time for exercise. But recently I've been thinking as I walk on the treadmill or do some crunches, what's my motivation to do this?

We all know that exercising is right and healthy and good. We hear about it everywhere--from the back of cereal boxes to magazine ads. But what is our main motivation for exercise? Perhaps beauty. Or health. But how does exercising fit into glorifying God?

I recently read an excellent article answering this question on the Blazing Center blog written by Stephen Altrogge. Here's a preview:
Nowhere in the Bible will you find a scripture that says, “You must exercise three times a week (and make sure one of those days is a good cardio work out).” But we do read in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Every minute of our lives is to be lived for the glory of God, and exercise is a wonderful means of helping us live for the glory of God. How? By extending our years of service to God, and by making us more effective in serving the Lord.

(Continue reading here.)

Now that article explains what should be our motivation. But I know for me that does not always explain my motivation for running on a treadmill. More often than not, I exercise because I am unhappy with my appearance and I want to change it. Simply put, I want to be beautiful and mistakenly believe that exercise is the way there. But in the book Girl Talk, Carolyn Mahaney reminds us where true beauty lies:

God is not opposed to us making ourselves beautiful; rather, He unveils in this passage how women are to make themselves beautiful. First Peter 3:4-5 tells us to "let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves."

Now there is a whole lot more that could be said on this topic. But for today, I just wanted to remind myself and all of you that exercising shouldn't be a way for us to gratify our desires, but a means to better serve and glorify God. Beauty is not being thin. Beauty is trusting God.

-- from the archives