Welcome Back! The Photo Blog

We’ve had several amazing days of getting reacquainted to with our old friends in the Ati communities. Today, a group of friends, headed up by one family in particular pulled together an awesome undertaking and served over 200 people at a special “Welcome Back” luncheon! This family had been raising a pig for a celebration when we would return… and today was the day. Below are some photos of this great day of reunions, celebrating God’s work and learning new things!

Welcome Back Russell Family! From our dear hosts, the Mediano family

Welcome Back Russell Family! From our dear hosts, the Mediano family

Levi offered to help and they let him!

Levi offered to help and they let him!

Levi learning to add wood to make the fire hotter or take some away to cool it down.

Levi learning to add wood to make the fire hotter or take some away to cool it down.

Levi tried his hand at cooking!

Levi tried his hand at cooking!

Huge pot of pork deliciousness!

Huge pot of pork deliciousness!

The men were the master chefs!

The men were the master chefs!

Some of the delicious foods prepared for the feast! Fried pork belly and lumpia shanghai (spring rolls with pork and veg)

Some of the delicious foods prepared for the feast! Fried pork belly and lumpia shanghai (spring rolls with pork and veg)

These pots and buckets lined with banana leaves represent hours and hours of cooking over open fires by our generous hosts!

These pots and buckets lined with banana leaves represent hours and hours of cooking over open fires by our generous hosts!

The Russell family ready to eat!

The Russell family ready to eat!

A group of local pastors came to celebrate with us!

A group of local pastors came to celebrate with us!

One of the highlights for the kids was a litter of five new puppies!

One of the highlights for the kids was a litter of five new puppies!

Some of our sweet friends including Sister Emma and our generous hosts, Elsie and Pato Mediano (seated in front)

Some of our sweet friends including Sister Emma and our generous hosts, Elsie and Pato Mediano (seated in front)

Matthew entertained the kids with his antics...  he says balance isn't his thing, but he did alright crossing the water here!

Matthew entertained the kids with his antics… he says balance isn’t his thing, but he did alright crossing the water here!

A few of our friends waiting for lunch to be served!

A few of our friends waiting for lunch to be served!

The kids enjoyed jumping over the "creeks" that criss-cross around our hosts home.

The kids enjoyed jumping over the “creeks” that criss-cross around our hosts home.

Many sweet reunions….

Being welcomed by one of the older women of the village

Being welcomed by one of the older women of the village

This sweet baby girl is named Kristin Carrie. :) We're so happy to get to be a part of her life! We love this family!

This sweet baby girl is named Kristin Carrie. :) We’re so happy to get to be a part of her life! We love this family!

Matthew is reunited with his Filipino family!

Matthew is reunited with his Filipino family!

Baby Amy and I getting to know each other again. She's considered my granddaughter by the whole village. Her mother died shortly after her birth and our  family has helped her grandparents raise her by assisting with her medical bills and buying her milk.

Baby Amy and I getting to know each other again. She’s considered my granddaughter by the whole village. Her mother died shortly after her birth and our family has helped her grandparents raise her by assisting with her medical bills and buying her milk.

Rusty and Ena pose for a selfie! This sweet girl is the daughter of a dear friend of ours who passed away about a year and a half ago.

Rusty and Ena pose for a selfie! This sweet girl is the daughter of a dear friend of ours who passed away about a year and a half ago.

We hope you’ve enjoyed a little window into our world here! We’ve loved sharing it with you!

Jet Lag, Humidity and other things that slow you down…

I promise that I will finish my Top 10 list…. but I’ll need a little grace and patience from y’all, as there’s a BUNCH of stuff to do now…   Actually there was another “bunch of stuff to do” before which was the primary reason that it didn’t get written so far, too….

First props to my amazing mom and dear friends for putting up with me in the last few days before we left for the Philippines. A serious thank you also to our dear host family who put up with all our stuff in transition and the noise and late night visitors during our last week in the states. I’m hoping your total selflessness earns you a special gem in your Heavenly crown! And my mom who doesn’t like good-byes, who stood by us til we pulled out of the church parking lot, bound for JFK airport– then took home three car loads of “extra stuff” and sorted and stored it all for me. I love you Mom, you’re the best!

Our travel to JFK airport was super smooth, we rolled right up to the front door outside our check-in area in a little less than 5 hrs. On the way, our awesome “driver” treated the kids to Wendy’s which was on Mark’s bucket list… Check!

In line at the check in counter in JFK!

In line at the check in counter in JFK!

We unloaded our terrible pile of suitcases and attempted to form a jumbled line at the EVA check-in area.  We’d hope for some grace and mercy, to be pulled out of the regular line and checked-in as a group, but it was not to be. Instead my strong boys got to haul the load around the zig-zagged check-in line. At this point I’m doing great, no stress, until I hear one of the EVA counter staff give another passenger a hard time about and overweight bag…. then I start to worry a little.

Our check-in guy was pretty great. He had a reasonable sense of humor, which is helpful when checking in nine people and 18 checked in bags, plus carry-ons! We hadn’t expected them to weigh our carry-ons and we did end up have to redistribute some of the weight. Jared voted to toss his Algebra book t help his bag make weight,  but Mom said no way!

After about an hour, we were all checked in– 18 bags on their way to Manila and the rest of us with legal carry-ons… or were they? I think at the end our check-in guy looked the other a way a bit. Thankful for his grace and God’s provision!

The flight from New York to Taipei was really easy and we all agreed it didn’t seem to take as long as past flights. It was still 15 hrs and 50 mins, but I guess we’re getting good at managing our time. A couple of movies, a couple of meals, a nice sleep (sort of!) and you’re there!

Still feeling fresh and alive in Taiwan!

Still feeling fresh and alive in Taiwan!

Everything went well at Taipei, unfortunately it was rainy so the take off in the morning light was not as picturesque as it could be. But Levi and I (who had the only seats near a window of the family) got to see the beautiful mountain peaks of Taiwan jutting above the clouds.

We arrived at Manila not too far behind schedule, and our check in at immigration and customs was smooth. We ended up managing our own bags without a porter, exchanged some money and got “load” (minutes for the local cell phones). Carrie and Randy met us with two rented vans which was another HUGE answer to prayer. We began our journey toward Batangas port and that’s when things started getting hard.

Jet lagged and travel worn, kids started to fall asleep in the comfort of the air conditioned van. We arrived in Batangas at 4 which was several hours before we needed to check in for the 9 pm boat launch. So we persuaded our drivers to detour to a local mall so we could eat something before we got into the port. It wasn’t easy or pretty to wake everyone up at the mall, but soon we had everyone on their feet and moving toward a restaurant. But before dinner was served Matthew was back asleep in my arms and Mark ended up falling asleep while eating his dinner.

Back in the vans, we traversed busy traffic to the port and began the arduous process of unloading the bags. This was probably the breaking point of the whole trip, as everyone was exhausted, jet-lagged and ready to just lay down (or be there!) And of course it wasn’t simple, at least not at first…

We had hoped they would corral all of our luggage and run it through as a group, but at first, that did not seem to be the case. Then the porters got involved and loaded the majority of our bags onto three huge carts. They by-passed the line for the x-ray machine and placed our bags on along side those of the travelers who were waiting in line. We were all still waiting outside, trying to figure out what was happening and what we were supposed to do next, when one of our porters summoned Rusty to come to the security check area.

They had found knives in our bags.

At first I was thinking it was just the kids pocket knives and Rusty’s Leatherman that had to be in our checked bags for the flight. But then I remembered that our checked bags had all our household items in them, including a set of brand new knives that was given to me our church ladies! As I saw the security guard carry out the knife set, each one still in the box it came in, my heart sank! Oh, please don’t take my new knives!

Thankfully, they had decided to “lock up” the weapons until we disembark the boat in the morning… whew! That was close!

After some wrangling around on the ship to find everyone’s bunks (we were spread out over two rooms of the ship because we had purchased 10 of the last 14 tickets on the trip) we settled down to sleep. I think Josh was asleep first, followed by Mark and then the rest of us. Matthew had slept almost non-stop from 2 pm that afternoon. He even managed to sleep through the check in and security debacle by being passed (still asleep) from parents to siblings multiple times.  It had been a long and exhausting journey.

At about 2:45 AM, Mr. Matthew was awake! Since I had him in my bunk, so was I. I convinced him to go back to sleep for a bit and he allowed me sleep (lighly) until 4:45 am. At that point, we got up, went to the CR (bathroom) and had a nice breakfast on the upper deck while we watched the sunrise. Poor Matthew was quite hungry, since he had missed our 4 pm meal the day before! We dined on boiled egg, Skyflake crackers and 3 in 1 coffee as we watched the islands pass us by.

Landing in Caticlan was an exciting, welcome relief! We were almost home! Getting all of our luggage (and confisicated knives) off the ship wasn’t as simple as we’d hoped, but eventually we all arrived at our new home in Cubay Norte!

I decided to try to unpack as much as possible the first day and successfully sorted through all the suitcases but the ones

Mark exploring his new space and the bamboo bunk beds!

Mark exploring his new space and the bamboo bunk beds!

that had Rusty, Matthew and I’s clothes in. The kids were each given a carry-on sized suitcase to serve as their “dresser” and limited number of clothes for starters.

We made a couple of trips to town the first few days, today (Saturday) we finally bought a refrigerator. The house is reasonably set up, thanks to a lot of Carrie’s help in organizing the kitchen and we are beginning to feel unpacked and settled in.

We spent a fair amount of time in the village the last two days as well, and the reunions have been sweet! Tomorrow we are guests of honor at a huge party hosted by my dear friend Elsie and her family. Last year they were raising a pig in anticipation of our return. He got quite big, but he’ll make a dandy feast for everyone in the Ati communities and neighboring friends tomorrow! Jon and I were there for the butchering process, yet another interesting cultural first!

We’re really thankful to be here, despite the challenges with travel and adjustment. We appreciate all of our “home team” who make it possible for us to be here, and especially for the prayer support for the outreach to the Ati!

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray for everyone’s adjustment phases. Matthew still is asleep by 7 pm and Mark awakens at 5 am. Our house is in a noisier neighborhood than we are used to and there are a lot of roosters surrounding us! The heavy rain on the metal roof each night has made sleeping straight through the night a challenge for everyone. Rusty and I were both sick the first two days here and are slowly rebounding, but still more tired than normal. There’s a lot to adjust to, including the high humidity!
  • We’re praying that tomorrow’s welcome lunch will be a great time to reconnect with old friends and begin the work of building friendships and promoting unity and love among the people. We’re especially excited about the opportunity to get to know some of the men and boys in the community!
  • Pray that our language skills will develop quickly and that God will give us a supernatural power to retain all we are learning! We’re thankful for patient friends and tireless teachers!
I snapped this picture from the trike (motorcycle with sidecar) while coming back from town today. The scenery here is fabulous!

I snapped this picture from the trike (motorcycle with sidecar) while coming back from town today. The scenery here is fabulous!

Paalam! (Good-bye!) for now!

6 weeks, 5000 miles, and 300 sq ft—the Top 10 List (Part 1)

Over 7 weeks ago our family of 9 launched out on the first leg of an amazing adventure of living in full reliance on God. Blessed with the generosity of dear friend, we packed a few earthly belongings, left our family homestead in the care of another family, loaded up a 31 ft motorhome and a mini van and headed southwest to Phoenix, AZ. After 5 days of driving, slowly escaping the grip of winter, we arrived in the driveway of our mission leaders that would be our home base for the next six weeks.

This blog could also be entitled 40 days in the desert…

Unlike fish in a pond, which will only grow so big in limited space, we feel our family really blossomed and grew inluke in the desert remarkable ways through these experiences. Here are ten memorable ways God blessed our family as we trust Him on the journey!

10. The Glory of God’s creation! The kids had amazing opportunities to experience the vast, majestic and varied topography and creatures throughout the traveling days. Within an hour one morning crossing New Mexico, we saw a bald eagle fly over us, hundreds of pronghorns, a coyote, prairie dogs, and deer. Other animal highlights included a 6 ft rattle snake that was encountered by Josh and then the rest of the boys and Dad, on the path at Signal Rock in the Saguaro National Park near Tuscon, AZ and herds of elk grazing along the road into the Grand Canyon. Rusty and the five older boys had two days of hiking in the Grand Canyon, our family walked down into Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico and we enjoyed a family hiking day at the Saguaro National Park as well as many “small groups” of various kids hiking to explore the peaks around Phoenix and near Tucson. On the way home we had a fun day in Kansas with big sister Beth at the Milford Nature Center. The take away is that God’s creation in the US is diverse and beautiful—from desert to mountains, to canyons and buttes, to prairies and farm land! All creation does glorify the Creator God!

9. Less is more! (Subtitle… “Well, well, well…”) In packing up for the trip we limited everyone with the number of clothes, shoes, toys and entertainment they could bring. While laundry for 9 is still a pretty regular occurrence, it was nice to not have so many things to pile up. Dishes need washed right away or they won’t be clean for the next meal. Sweeping and vacuuming only takes a few minutes and dusting, which I hadn’t even anticipated needing to do but discovered is the biggest household battle in the desert, only takes a few minutes too when your living space is 300 sq feet. You can only clean the toilet if you are kneeling in the hallway. You can’t get out of bed, unless the person you are sleeping with gets out first. One child can be in the way of the other getting to the bathroom, just by being in his own “room.”  The fear was all the family togetherness would wear on our patience with each other, but instead we found the close proximity lent itself to deeper conversations and richer moments of family bonding. That’s not to say that there were never moments of frustrations— like the morning Rusty and I woke to find Matthew in our bed saying, “Well, well, well… I see what happened here,” as he discovered he had wet our bed and both Matthew and I needed a shower! Or the night that Luke yelled that he was cold until someone got up to get him a blanket or Matthew called out that he was thirsty until someone got him a drink. (Three guesses on who “someone” was in both of those incidents). Yes, some members of this family really get stinky feet and other people have really loud gas in the morning, but overall we really did discover, in very special ways, the value family togetherness.

8. God’s provision is often more generous than we could ever imagine. We brought some food for the journey, but one concern I had was the cost of living in a large city like Phoenix. Content to live on beans and rice and other low budget food options, we set out to trust Him as our provider God. Much to our surprise and complete delight, God had much bigger plans for our family. On Monday of our first week of training a delivery of excess food, donated by local ministries who partner with grocery stores to supply food banks in the greater Phoenix area, blessed our family with more than we could ever ask or imagine! There was ground beef, chicken, fresh veggies, cheese, crackers and snacks. God provided lamb to grill for our family’s annual Valentine’s Day dinner. He sent Kristin’s favorite cheese (brie) and Rusty’s favorite snack (avocados). The kids were treated with Oreo’s and a box of corn chips and other “special treats” that we almost never buy! The donations came every Monday and we were always so blessed by the variety of food God sent to us. We ended up having to spend almost nothing on food for our entire stay in Phoenix and we were able to eat like Kings! Praise God for this sweet expression of his love, care and provision for our family!

—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:17b-21 ESV emphasis mine.

7. Passionate Jesus-Followers come from all types of backgrounds. Our experiences in Phoenix exposed us to a much broader dynamic of people than we’re used to in small town Pennsylvania. Not only is Phoenix racially and ethnically diverse, we were exposed to Christian unity expressed by people from a wide variety of Christian traditions. It was refreshing and inspiring to interact with believers who worship in Anglican, Baptist, Non-Denominational and other varieties of Christian churche11071624_10153193205689540_2902042797256960609_os. It was stirring to sense the bond of Christ that unites us beyond our differences in tradition, practice or even minor theological variations. We agree on more than we disagree on. And the power of love and unity of Jesus followers is a far more powerful witness to a watching world than polarity and competition.

6. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but closeness makes a marriage stronger! There’s a distinct lack of privacy that comes with sharing a small space with a lot of people. And we have found that changes in residency and work, along with the natural transition period that goes with any change will either draw you closer together or drive a wedge in the marital relationship. After all, our spouse is the easiest person to “unload” on when the stresses start to build up. However, having your best friend share the good, bad, and blessed experiences with you can actually be the most beneficial part of any family upheaval. A good friend, who’s walked the missional path with her family, once gave us theDSC_0036 soundest advice we’ve ever been given as a couple; “No matter what happens, never let anything, any situation, any circumstance or anyone come between you. You must commit daily to keeping your marriage strong. Never neglect it, never ignore it, and never let it take the backseat to the mission work or even your children. A strong marriage is the most important thing you take to the field and you must intentionally fight to keep it that way.”

Check back soon to for the next 5 things we learned

and experienced on this amazing journey– including the life altering #1.

If you’re not already subscribed to this blog, please feel free to follow us now!

That way you’ll never miss an update!

The Finish Line…

There’s something powerful about a finish line. For our family the finish line in training and transition is in sight! We fly to the Philippines on April 7th! 
This was Rusty's welcome back to the village last Spring....

This was Rusty’s welcome back to the village last Spring….


In so many ways reaching this finish line will begin a new race, one run at a new pace in a new culture, one run away from the familiar of family, friends and home church. A big part of the last few months has been team building, seeking people who would hold us up in prayer and intercede for the Ati people as we love them and show them Jesus and His ways. We believe in the power of prayer and must trust that our friends will be faithful and not forget us or the work that God is doing among the Ati. 

 
There’s one other finish line that is in sight now too, and that’s discovering all of our financial partnerships. We now need just 8 more families that will commit to pray for the Ati people and be willing to pledge $100 per month to reach them for Jesus. 
 
Would God have you be one of our finishers? We know HE has a plan for us, for you and for his precious Ati children! Thank you for your willingness to hear from the Spirit and your obedience to Jesus where He has called YOU!  
DSC_0036Connect to us by through our ministry site
www.cjmi.org or email: dozenrussells@gmail.com

Acts 20:24 “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”

The journey to be

My dad had a lot of sayings when I was kid. “Dad” stuff like, “It’s 6 of one, a half dozen of another,” and “Caught between a rock and hard place,” or “Kill two birds with one stone.” You never realize how much you think or communicate in idiomatic expressions until you move to a different culture! Clearly some idioms are easier to decode. And interestingly enough, every culture/ language group has its own form of idioms.

One of the most memorable and forming proverbs of my Dad was, “You can’t take it with you” meaning of course that the riches of this world can not be taken with us into eternity. Interestingly, this idiom has a Biblical foundation in Proverbs 11:4

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.

The idea is that all of our striving for things here is fruitless. In fact, the only thing we can take with us to eternity are people!

Yet in this western culture of pursuit, we can easily transfer the pursuit of “things” to the pursuit of “people.” This I believe is closer to the heart of God, yet still missing the mark on some levels. It’s the tension of “doing” vs “being.”

American culture is obsessed with prestige and ranking which makes us driven, goal oriented and project based. Please hear me, I do not believe these things are evil. I believe that our focus on them is out of balance. I believe that God has created us for so much more than riches, status and success. I think it breaks His heart when we settle.

I was recently introduced to a new proverb that I want emblazoned on a wood plague to hang in our home in the Philippines.

It’s not what you do, but who you are that matters.

So whether I serve Jesus to the poor and needy indigenous people of the Philippines

Or if I serve Jesus by changing diapers and caring for the kids He sent me.

He does not value one higher than the other.

It’s who I am that matters.

A daughter of the most High King, highly favored, deeply loved– worth the sacrifice of His son.

Whether the world calls me “missionary” or “mom” or even notices me at all…

And when I get it out of balance, when I believe the lie that its what I do that matters most, I miss out on the richness of the love of Jesus. I exchange His peace for the drive to succeed.  I settle for the praise of men over the love of the Savior.

I have been spending a lot of time in 1 John lately. I am impressed with the number of times that John uses the word “abide” It’s 22 times between chapter 2 and the end of chapter 4!!

According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek word is “meno” and it means “to stay, to remain.”

It’s a passive action of resting, staying with, close to— a picture of intimacy with Christ.

My heart connected to His heart. It’s being with Jesus.

My prayer is that I will grow in my desire to want to be with Jesus more than I want to serve Him. I suspect I’m not alone on this journey. Let’s pray for each other! Let’s encourage those around us to go deeper with Jesus every day!

It’s getting REAL…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have a lot to be thankful for these days. Knowing that the trials of transition have a way of stealing my joy, I purposed to have a heart of gratitude a midst the hectic days of relocation, training and preparation. We often think of November as the season of thankfulness, but I’ve been convicted over the years that a grateful heart goes a long way toward keeping my focus on Jesus and my eyes above the circumstances of my life.

Today’s ministry preparation task was budget planning and fund raising focus. This is my least favorite part of the work and I’m thankful that through the years we’ve seen God graciously and generously provide. I’m not a “numbers person” by nature so the very idea of creating budgets, plans and strategies makes me wish that there was truly a way that I wouldn’t need to know the details and just blindly trust God to take care of the details.

The exciting part of all of this is that we are indeed coming toward the end of the process…. there’s an end in sight and even airplane tickets bought! Soon we will be with the people group we have been called to and love, soon all the prayers, preparation, and planning will give way to praying with, sharing the Word with and loving the Ati people.

I’d like to thank you for following us on our journey. I know many of you faithfully pray for our family and more importantly for the Gospel to be light to the Ati people. I can never express my gratitude for your partnership…  your prayers evoke the power of God in ministry!

If you’d like to be a part of the giving team, there’s still a special place for you there. See the attached file for more information and know that any place you share with us as we seek His Kingdom here is a true blessing for which words are not enough…

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO: Start-up Fund

The Many Faces of Training

It’s week two of our training time in Phoenix. We’re getting settled into the rhythms of life here, though no two days look the same! Since there are so many of us here, there are so many ways to look at what’s been happening with the Russell Crew.

Here’s a look at life in training so far from the  youngest to  the oldest…photo 1

Matthew (4)spends his days playing outside. The Alianza family gathered scooters, skateboards and balls. This along with the big box of sidewalk that Mimi sent along, keeps Matthew pretty busy while the “school kids” work on their lessons.

Mark (7) is the extrovert of the family (and the only true ‘morning person’ in the family). He is thriving here with so many new people to meet and talk to endlessly. He’s thrilled with the Alianza’s three daughters, especially his new best buddy, Aimee.

Luke (9) has had an interesting break-through in his time here already. For some reason, he has become determined to improve his reading skills and has made some real progress in this area. Right now he’s reading his Bible and filling out the take-home paper from church… all on his own! This is a huge answer to years of prayer!!

photo (4)Jon (11) is enjoying the neighbor’s basketball hoop and has already began a gardening outreach here! Determined to have plants to tend in all this summer-like weather, Jon and Rusty have planted tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, onions and zucchini as well as some marigolds and petunias.

THE TEENS

Jared, Levi and Josh spent the day at a local Christian high school sharing about the work in the Philippines. Lord willing, this school will send a ministry team to serve along side of us in the Spring of 2016. It was interesting to hear the teens reminisce about our first term with the Ati and discover new ways to share their love and knowledge of the Philippines with their peers. Outside of school work, the teens have developed rich relationships with the Alianza family, which includes nearly nightly rounds of cards or “Spoons,” coffee runs to Dutch Bros or hikes to the desert peaks that surround the city. The older kids have been helping with some service projects too, helping Rusty fix a drain/septic issue here and some handy-man, upkeep jobs connected with the another ministry work here.

The kids are plugged into children and youth ministries at Bethany Bible Church and Rusty and I are involved in several Bible studies in addition to our weekly training sessions. Josh is going to check out the local college age ministry with the older Alianza girls next week.

Josh has really OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAblossomed here, in addition to some fun, relational stuff, he’s been a real blessing to the community by fixing several issues with people’s cars. It’s been neat to see him put his love of mechanics into service for the blessing of others.

In addition to regular home school teaching (in the bright, warm sunshine outside at the table outside of the motor home), Kristin has been working on keeping up with communication through email and blog and putting the finishing touches on the newly launched ministry site at www.cjmi.org

Tonight Rusty will assist one of our teachers at a multi-church outreach to celebrate Ash Wednesday. He will assist in the offering of communion at North Phoenix Baptist Church in their hosting of a community wide event to reflect on the coming of the Easter season.

The preparation has been a lot of time of reading, studying and discussing the role of Biblical reconciliation among people groups and churches. We’ve had a lot of time to explore what the Scriptures say about unity in the body of Christ. It’s been our practice to follow the teaching of Dr. Randy Smith of Grace Church Sebring, in addition to our local home church and now in addition to our training studies. Interestingly, Dr. Randy recently preached an excellent message on Philemon and the importance of unity in the body and reconciliation. Check it out here…

http://sebringgrace.sermon.net/main/main/20303467

Sunshine and Growth

One thing that Phoenix, AZ has in abundance is sunshine. Rusty commented earlier this week that he’s not sure he’s OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAever seen so many crystal clear, sunny days in a row having grown up in Central PA. The wide open ocean blue sky and the squint producing yellow hot sun make it hard to feel “down” in the same way as is common to many in the cold, gray, drab northern states this time of year.

But Arizona isn’t green unless it’s irrigated. For all the beauty of the sun, it alone can not create growth.

Our climate here is a bit of picture of what’s happening inside my spirit. On one hand there is generous amounts of blessing. So many things on this journey have gone more smoothly than I ever would have imagined. We enjoyed safe travel, good health, minimal sibling bickering, limited marital strife. Since our arrival we’ve been blessed with the renewing of strong friendships and the budding of new relationships of discipleship and training. In many ways our experiences so far have been clear skies and sunshine.

But I’d be remiss if I allowed you to believe that there’s never been a cloud in my heart.

I have had moments where I’ve thought, “What in the world have we done???”  These are brief moments of panic when I think about the enormity of having packed up our whole earthly world and moved to the other side of the country in a motor home. Followed by the realization that this is just “phase 1″ and the next step in our journey will be moving back across the Pacific to our little island home. Away from family, friends, conveniences, and the familiar. To a place where God is calling our hearts, a people we dearly love, in a culture we’ve come to embrace, and yet is all so very different, strange and sometimes hard.

These moments of fear are short lived and not very frequent, but I would be misrepresenting the work of our Lord, if I allowed you to believe that I never fear or doubt or wonder. Thankfully I have a patient and loving Father who protects me from terror and skepticism and uncertainty. I am drawn to the feet of Jesus and reassured that I am the loved daughter of the Most High God and that He will never love me any more or any less than He does right now. I’m spurred to remember that He is using each sunny day and each dark night to make me more and more like Jesus. Every thing I face is all for my good and God’s glory. Do I trust Him enough to know what’s good for me and walk in whatever path He leads me on?

Some days the answer is an enthusiastic yes!

Some days it’s a weary yes…

and some days it’s yes– by faith alone.

He is worthy of my trust. He is worthy of my praise! He is worthy!!

And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us then what could stand against us?

Home is where…

photo (3)

Matthew waves “Hi!” to his family and friends from the front lawn of our temporary home in Arizona.

After five days traversing our beautiful nation, we finally arrived at our destination in Phoenix, AZ on Saturday around noon. Our journey took us through 8 states, two time zones and an entire climate change! Along the way we enjoyed the sights of rolling mountains, open plains, majestic rock formations and the variety of the desert. We parked the motor home in the driveway of a new friend, Wal-Mart, Camping World and at the foot of a national park. We ate sandwiches, salads and lots of Sam’s club chicken! The kids watched movies, did school work, and stared endless out the windows at the passing landscape. Levi got 10 hrs of driver’s training in four different states! Josh became a real road warrior, logging more than 30 hrs of drive time following the motor home in our mini van! The real driving hero was my dear husband, who drove every single mile of our journey in the 31′ motor home! Whether battling cross winds, pot holes, city traffic or boredom, Rusty never complained! Two thousand, five hundred fifty-nine POINT two miles later, we are parked, and more or less settled into the next phase of our journey with Jesus.

The kids were amazing on the trip (the DVDs and TV help immensely) and have been even more surprising since we’ve arrived. Our first morning in Arizona we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast meeting with one of the founding missionaries in the work with the Ati tribes in Malay, Philippines. Now almost 80 years of age, we were honored to have breakfast with the man who made the first translation of the Book of Mark into the Ati’s native language. The children weren’t shy to meet this man whose story they had heard read aloud in his gripping novel, “Soon Comes Sunrise.”  They patiently colored or listened as we talked with him and learned more about his experience in the tribe and shared our vision for continuing the work he and his family began so many years ago.

oranges

Oranges are to Phoenix what zucchini are to Pennsylvania. And we sure are blessed!!!

Then on to our host’s home and fun “Spaghetti Saturday” get together with many from the mission’s team and community. Through many, many introductions, the Russell Sprouts were never shy and they willingly shared their names and ages and often much more!  Our extra extrovert Mark is in his prime, lots of people to talk with and Matthew has enjoyed entertaining with his crazy stories and silly songs! Our children have found a new home here, in just four short days. We’ve been made to feel at home here, in a place so far removed from the icy but beautiful agricultural valley of the Cove. The church here is large (as is the city) but the community is close, warm and welcoming. It’s a special touch of His grace to us and a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ in action

We’re so excited to sit under the teaching and mentoring of a team of Christian leaders who have decades of experience in cross-cultural ministry to the poor. We’re eager to be equipped to share the Gospel of Christ in impactful, meaningful ways by sharing our lives with those God has called us to walk along side in the Philippines. We’re encouraged that our older boys are catching the vision for their role in ministry and a deeper personal relationship with the Living Savior. He is shaping us, making us more like Jesus as we face transition and change, blessing and provision, exhortation and vision casting.

We’re a long way from home, but are finding in new and beautiful ways that we are really most “at home” when we are following Jesus.

And we’re off….

After some delays due to winter weather and too much stuff to finalize at home, we’re off and on our way to Phoenix! Due to our late start and forecasts we are taking a direct southerly route today before heading too far west. The kids are enjoying the novelty of the RV and Josh and Levi are following in their own little adventure in the Town and Country, no doubt enjoying country stations on Sirius XM.

And so it begins, a new, exciting season where all our earthly goods are in storage or a 31 ft camper. A season of focus and preparation, a season of growth and building. An intentional season where we allow Jesus to plant more of himself within us– to know Him in deeper ways, in order to be more effective in His Kingdom for His Glory!