Leaning…

 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. Exodus 17:12

Life is a lot like that isn’t? It’s easy to weary in the calling God has on your life. Maybe you’re the mother of lots of little ones, constantly demanding your time, attention and love. Or maybe your little ones have grown to teens, struggling with finding their way in life and navigating the sometimes treacherous world outside the safety net of home. Perhaps your nest is empty, but the cares and demands of grand parenting, carrying for aging loved ones with less stamina and verve that you once enjoyed drains you and makes you weary.

Weary. That I just want to crawl into bed, I’m so tired I could cry, how can I endure? feeling that everyone faces at some point in their lives.

I’d guess that those in caring professions– pastors, missionaries, doctors, nurses, first responders experience it professionally more than most are willing to admit. But this weariness is certainly not reserved for only those occupations.

I think a lot of women are like me–somewhat fiercely independent by nature, not quick to ask for help or even prayer, especially for things we perceive our expected norms of our society. Sure, we’ll allow someone to bring us a meal after a new baby, but only for a few days and then we will clean the house to make sure it’s company ready before you arrive…

But this independence, perhaps we could even venture so far to call it “pride”: is counter-intuitive to living life as followers of Jesus. We have to be willing to humble ourselves not only be a servant, but to be served.

Secret struggles are a huge hindrance to Christian community. How can others hold up your arms, either literally or figuratively, if they don’t know you need help? Our willingness to be vulnerable with people will directly affect the depth of our relationship and in some ways the extent to which we experience the love and caring of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the way that Jesus designed His followers to live together.

Living abroad makes it difficult for us to have the type of Christian community experience we enjoyed in our rural hometown. But if I pridefully keep my mouth shut (or fingers still from typing) when I’m struggling, I allow the miles and my self-protection separate us even more. In being unwilling to truly be vulnerable, we actually make ourselves more vulnerable– to isolation, loneliness and the lies of the enemy.

For us, praying friends have been a life-line and through their sacrificial ministry to us we’ve seen God move! Whether its been spiritual battles, healing of physical needs, provision or peace, God is so faithful to answer the prayers of believing friends across the globe.

Maybe you are able to offer a more physical “holding up of the arms”– a listening ear to a young, struggling wife, a helpful hand to that Mama whose heart and hands are full with children, a hot home-cooked meal to the sandwich generation Mom who’s juggling work, teens and aging parents care… or maybe you can just pray. We should all live with our eyes and hearts open to those hurting, struggling or just plain weary around us.

Let’s commit to being authentic with each other. Let’s not hide behind the dressed up, happy faces of Sunday morning and really plunge into the waters of honest life with one another. Let’s skip the pleasant platitudes and get real! The difference it will make in each of our lives will be powerful and have a genuine impact on eternity!

So whose arms are you holding up? And who’s holding up yours?

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The Things We Do for Love

I’m often asked what our days here in the Philippines look like. No two are ever the same, but I felt the Lord asking me to share this summary of our week with those who wonder what the “missionary life” looks like.

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This week was a particularly full one for our family. The week started off with my birthday, another year up in the “line of 40” as birthday decades are referred to here. Sunday morning started with worship with the tribe in the village. This is always a sweet time of fellowship, even though we still struggle to follow all of the message in Malaynon. We’re getting better at singing in Malaynon, we praise Jesus with the old familiar hymns, only the words are different and a little hard to make our American tongues produce. This Sunday we had an extended testimony time, between the verses of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I was called on to share, and had the sweet privilege to reminisce about my early years. You see, my great grandfather used to rock me to sleep to that very song. What a precious blending of my two worlds– and what an awesome testimony of the love, grace and power of our God!

Sunday was a restful day and ended with our family tradition of homemade pizza. I was scrolling through the internet when I heard singing outside my window. About 20 of our Ati friends came to give me the best birthday gift– their songs to the Lord! We invited them in and shared our pizza and the enormous cake that Rusty had strangely purchased earlier in the day. It was a meaningful time of fellowship and sharing, that ended with several of the ladies praying for me. I ended the birthday feeling truly blessed.

The next day we had declared a “Russell Family Holiday” giving the kids the day off from school work and freeing Rusty and I up for a quick escape to the neighboring island for some rest and relaxation. Beach therapy, is what I think they call it… and it was wonderful! From the sailboat ride across the water to Boracay, to landing right outside of Starbucks, lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant in the world and a candlelight dinner on the beach, our tanks were full and our hearts were rested!

Which was a good thing, because only God knew the busyness that was to be the rest of the week…

I typically reserve my mornings for teaching the children (I’m homeschooling 5 this year), leaving my afternoons free for outside ministry. Tuesday’s agenda included taking a young woman with cysts to the nearest city for the removal of the largest one. The two hour travel by bus, each way is always an opportunity to reflect, pray and listen to podcasts or music. The waiting time was a great opportunity to practice my emerging Tagalog/ Bisaya language skills with my patients’ adopted mother. We shared a meal other at a local bbq place before returning home, arriving well after dark.

Rusty and the boys spent a good bit of time preparing for the construction of an organic piggery in the community garden in the afternoons this week. Most construction is very hand labor intensive, from digging the foundation with flat shovels and re-bar digging irons, to carrying the hollow blocks on your back, to bagging and then carrying the elements of concrete in sacks on your back and mixing the mortar by hand. Throughout the week they had two great Ati helpers, and another Ati man working in growth of bamboo cutting the poles that would support the nipa (grass) roof of the structure.

In between school and building, there’s plenty of relational opportunities from sharing times of praise and prayer together to assisting those with medical needs. Throughout the week, we helped 20 people get the medical care they needed– from an 11 month hospitalized with a combination of cellulitis and dengue fever to senior citizens dealing with the hardships of aging in a fallen world. We were blessed to be able to help people with medicines needed to begin the healing process, and to walk along side them as they faced the personal challenges of even seeking out medical care.

As the garden ministry expands in one community, there are new gardens springing up in two other small Ati  villages with our support and experienced guidance. We share seeds, techniques and strategies, while continuing to build relationships for Kingdom purposes. Along with new gardens, people are asking for additional opportunities to share the Word together and grow in their faith.

Seeds have been planted here, but many young plants have suffered the effects of rocks, thorns and dry soil. We are so thankful that God is using us to bring an new season of growth and that even more are coming to learn about Jesus.

So why do we do these things? The answer is simple, yet deeper than the ocean and more complex than my son’s pre-calculus– LOVE.

Jesus’ love is what motivates us. It’s what restores and refreshes– it reaches out to the hurting around us and says, “I love you and I’m for you!”

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We love Him back. And that love makes us what to share His glorious love with those around us.

If love were just an emotion, then God couldn’t command it. But love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action. The Bible says, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT) Rick Warren devotional

If you knew the person I was–the things I did– when I thought I was in charge of my life….  My experience with God’s love, grace and mercy to me has been truly life transforming! I am still His work in progress, but His love for me is my motivation to share His love to a lost and hurting world.

There is no end to the Father’s love.  Those who are in the process of being healed and made whole, can share the love with those in need.

We are blessed to spend our days in this community, but God has placed you exactly where He wants you to be to share His love with those around you because… it’s the thing we do for love!

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Growing Pains

You’d think after 23 years of mothering that I’d be ready for change. We’ve moved our family half away around the world– CHANGE! My oldest four children live in the States, far, far away from their Momma–CHANGE! I’ve graduated four from our homeschool– CHANGE! But somehow it never gets easier….

I’ve been guilty of savoring the time with the bunso (youngest of the family in Tagalog) and maybe even spoiling him a bit. (Insert many comments from older siblings HERE. lol) Throughout the many transitions in his 5 1/2 yrs of life so far, our bunso has always ro

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Christmas 2013, the oldest and youngest (with two from the middle in the background)

omed with us. Until last night…

A few weeks ago he started talking about moving upstairs with his 8 and 10 yr old brothers. Well, it actually started when he asked to have a sleep over at our house with two boys from the neighborhood. I teasingly answered, “You can’t have a sleep over, you sleep with your Mom and Dad!”

I guess that’s when I started to face the reality that this baby of the family is really growing up. The week that his class had a full day of school and he was away from home for 6-8 hrs a day brought a twinge to the heart of this home-educating mother. Yet…what a blessing its been for him to be a part of an indigenous preschool with the kids from the tribe!

All this growing up is happening among a host of other tell-tale signs of launching and transition. The oldest at home, will graduate in a few short weeks and in a matter of a few month, be released into the next phase of life and education. This particular life-altering event is always hard– but this time, it will involve a 26 hr flight to the other side of the globe! I think I need a hug….

This morning’s email included a promotion about a one-day sale from our Math book publisher… 20% off, the best deal of the year. Since our school year runs June-Mar and we have to plan on at least 3 months for shipping, the timing was really perfect to get the much needed books at a great price. But as I considered the grades my scholars would be advancing to– one in first, one in fourth, one in fifth…. again I was struck with an attack of their growing pains.

Two decades of home schooling and parenting should have prepared me for these realities. Of course there won’t always be a nursing baby, or co-sleeping toddler or now even a preschooler who’s bed is on the floor beside us. Of course there will not always be 4 or 5 elementary students and someday (soon!) there will be more graduates than students in our little school at home.

I’m thankful that though change is hard and watching these precious blessing grow into the next phases of their lives, there is so much joy in reflection. By the grace of God, we’ve come along way on the path with Jesus. My life has been enriched in so many way through this season of life that I’ve shared with each of them.

When we began our little family, which God quickly transformed into a ever-growing, larger-than-normal family, we acknowledged that these children were not truly ours. Our precious blessings were on loan from the Father, His cherished creation born to bring Him praise! Our role was to love and nurture them, and to point them back to the Father. We set out knowing that in the end that were not ours to keep and whatever time He gave us with them was ultimately to cultivate our own souls to love Jesus more.

Somehow in the routine of life I began to believe the subtle lie of our culture that these children are our greatest treasure, instead of His treasure. I allowed my heart to begin to make an idol out of my parenting relationship, creating pain in my heart as that relationship naturally evolved in their growing up years. Instead of seeing my role as steward, a “temporary guardian” of sorts, I began to see myself as owner. Rather than cheering on their newest skills and accomplishments, I selfishly mourned the passing of a season.

Our children are not ours. They are on loan from God. We’ve been tasked with providing a loving environment for them to grow into people who love and serve Jesus. We have the awesome honor of being caretakers of the sons and daughters of Most High King!

 

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Advance… into 2016

Wow. It’s been an amazing year. Last night after dinner, Rusty and I did something we almost never do, we sat down together and watched Fox News together. Along with reports of the storm damage in Texas (in areas we toured and visited on our way to Arizona last February) there was a report of the “infamous” news of 2015. Most of the stories we had heard of, but from a distance the clamor of non-stop news media is a little easier to tame. What struck me was the anew realization that most of 2015 we were living abroad…

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One snowy, cold February morning this crazy family set off in this RV for sunny Phoenix, AZ and six weeks of training with our mission organization.

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This was our home for 6 weeks… the front yard of the President of CJ Ministries International and his sweet family, who shared their kitchen, bathroom and lives with us in true community!

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A sweet circle of new friends and prayer partners sent us off to our mission to the other side of the globe!

After another cross-country trip back to our hometown in Pennsylvania and a hectic week of finalizing important paperwork things (like medical stuff, taxes and getting our “revolving” life disconnected) and hard, yet sweet good-byes with friends and family, we headed to NYC for our overseas flight. Another precious circle tearfully prayed for us as we loaded up our luggage and headed out for several years service abroad.

 

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In line at the check in counter in JFK!

We were greeted by our “old friends” in the tribe with open arms and they threw a huge party in our honor. A dear, dear friend Elsie had been raising a pig she lovingly called the Russell pig. He probably should have met his fate many months before, but she saved him for a special feast to be shared with the entire community!

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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!

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After all the festivities were over our sweet hosts took a break to take a remembrance picture with us!

Top of the Falls

Before the first month was over, it was time to test my physical limitations with a hike to Carong, the abandoned mountain village with a lot of potential for future agricultural ventures. Here we are part of the way back to the current village, enjoy a cool(er) break at a waterfall.

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Another joyful highlight of the first few months was this wedding! 

Many of the highlights of the year were not as joyful. There’s a lot of pain and suffering here. We’ve been blessed to walk along side our Ati friends in times of medical crisis. Through these sobering times of community fellowship, we have learned many things about ourselves and the precious people we minister with. We’ve seen painful injustices played out before our eyes and witnessed the bonding effect of such hardships on a community. We learned that almost any misery can be endured with the love and support of people around you.

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One family spent more than 6 weeks in hospitalized for meningitis. At the beginning of their ordeal, they had a nursing baby, who had to be weaned so that the Mother could care for the Father in the isolation ward. Their family will never be the same, but their Father is alive and continues his long road to recovery. The Mother counts the prayers of believers around the world as a big part of God’s healing in their lives!

God has given us many blessings in this first year back in our second home, and fruitfulness has been one of the biggest ones. This rocky hill was what greeted us in April. We soon began the hard work of digging out and rolling away the massive boulders to make way for rows of garden plots. Using organic methods of soil enrichment like vermiculture, composting, and charcoalized rice hulls, the Lord blessed and transformed the barren hillside into a flourishing garden!

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Before….

AND AFTER….

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And Lord willing the project will continue to expand in the New Year. We are praying, dreaming and sketching an aquaponics set up at the bottom of the Community Garden, as well as more family plots, a seedling shed, a piggery and additional vermiculture beds.

Will you join us in prayer for the next phase of the ag outreach? 

Farmers by birth, our mission is more about relationships than agriculture. This year God has blessed our willing spirits and open hearts with many opportunities to engage people in God’s Word. First we started a casual Praise and Prayer gathering that has slowly grown to a faithful band of hungry Bible scholars! Each week we interactively study through a passage of Scripture and discuss how God’s word impacts our daily lives. A special thanks goes out to our language helper and skilled Bible teacher, Randy Patron. His assistance in our outreach here has been invaluable!

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Randy is often behind the camera and rarely in front of it. This snapshot of a Praise and Prayer gathering captures him sharing from the Word,  between Levi’s hands and Rusty ;)

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We’ve been blessed to fellowship with this group of believers on Sunday!

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This was the first meeting of what’s casually known as “Guys Group” a fellowship of young men 10-18 yrs of age, that focuses on relationship building, discipleship and preparing the future men of the tribe for leadership.

God has blessed in personal ways, too. He’s proven Himself faithful and photo (5)enough– when we are far from home, friends and family– He is truly all we need. Because of His great love for us He has given us special relationships that continue despite the miles, new friends within the region we are serving and a dog.

Yes, that’s right… once again, God has given this dog-loving family a “sort of” pet. This is the second time a dog has ‘adopted’ us which gives us all the joys of family dog without the ties and responsibilities. Dogs basically roam free here, though most have “owners” who make sure they get them their rabies vaccinations at the annual community rabies drive; dogs eat, play, sleep where ever they choose. This sweet pup, who we simply call, “Puppy” or “Pup” now that he’s getting bigger, just wondered in one day and gradually become more and more a part of our family life. He sleeps at his “real home” but eats with us and sleeps on our floor (near a fan) most of the day. If we go away for a day or two, he’s happy to see us when we get back but never offended that we left.

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“Pup” enjoying a snack of pan de sal. (Bread)

Yeah, he’s a pretty smart, spoiled pup!

So as we ADVANCE into 2016, we are thankful and blessed. The year was not without it’s hardships– tough personal moments of self-doubt, loneliness or sadness over the long distances between us and four of our children. My oldest son and daughter in law are foster parenting two kids I’ve never even met. We missed our family dearly at Thanksgiving and Christmas, yet even in those heartrending times, God showed up and gave us supernatural joy in Him!

There are so many other highlights I could share, but since WordPress says this is already over 1000 words, I’ll stop with sharing a few of my goals for the new year….

  1. Eating around the dinner table and mindfully eating. Maybe even classical dinner music, my boys will love that ;). Let’s slow down and enjoy it!
  2. Eating more greens… really super hard here because lettuce is rare and expensive! We’ve had trouble even growing it! But we are going to have something green– raw or lightly steamed once a day! Thank you Lord for okra!
  3. Thankfulness— Mom sent us a barrel of sourdough pretzels… and now that it’s empty (wow they tasted good! Not available here!) it will be our Blessings Barrel 2016. We have so much to be thankful for and when we acknowledge it… it grows!
  4. Walk and Sit. I would like to walk to the village at least three days a week (no cheating with tricycles!) and just “be” there. No agenda, no plan, just “be.” Truthfully, the thought terrifies me on a couple of levels… I like plans, I’m already awfully busy, my language skills are lacking, but this is my goal… to just be present and see what God does!

Four seems like such an awkward number, but I’m determined that these will be lifestyle changes (and in a moment it will be published for the world to see!) and not-shot-in-the-dark resolutions that are easily broken in the first few weeks of the New Year.

How about you? In what ways has God rocked your world in 2015? How are you looking to grace in His grace in 2016?

Holding onto each other

HOLDING ONTO EACH OTHER…. With Jesus, it’s always a wild ride!

Nativity Scavenger Hunt

nativity_scene.jpgThis year we wanted to Christmas to be extra fun. Rather than focus on what we are missing, our grandparents, siblings and other friends and family in the States, we changed the lyrics of the painful song,“I’ll be Home for Christmas” to “We’ll have FUN this Christmas.”

One game night we really enjoyed was a scavenger hunt using the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2. Here’s the clues we used. Our kids worked together and had a lot of fun! (We played this as a way to make a one gift night more fun, but you could do it without a gift… or make the “prize” at the end something free and fun like touring the Christmas lights in town while drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols. Be creative!)

Intro: Luke 2:1 “In those days a DECREE went out…” In these days a decree would come in one of these. (Envelope)

Clue #1: Luke 2:2 “This was the first registration…” look for Clue #2 where the Philippine registration is recorded (Stamp on door) You’ll most likely have to modify this one.

Clue #2: Luke 2:2 “… while Quirinius was governor.” Look for Clue #3 in the place where local rulers meet. (The barangay hall which is near our house) Again this one might need modified for you

Clue #3: Luke 2:3 “And all went to be registered each to his own town.” Look for the next clue under something that came from your own town. (We used the large shipping box that our Christmas gifts came in!)

Clue #4: Luke 2:4 “And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David.” Find your next clue under the __  ___. A two letter word that uses letters found in the names of the towns. (TV)

Clue #5: Luke 2:5 “to be registered with Mary his betrothed who was with child.” Find your next clue where a pregnant woman can’t reach very well. (Hidden under shoes)

Clue #6: Luke 2:6 “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” This item might not help with a birth, but it’s sure handy if you get hurt. (First Aid kit)

Clue #7: Luke 2:7 “and she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.” These are the modern swaddling clothes. Your clue is there. (Blanket closet)

Clue #8: Luke 2:7 “because there was no room for them in the inn.” This clue is in a room that Joseph hoped to find in Bethlehem (Spare Room)

Clue #9: Luke 2:8 “and in the same region…” You’ll find the first gift and the next clue in the same region. (Bathroom off the spare room)

Clue #10: Luke 2:8 “there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night.” If we had a night watchman he’d have a great view from your next clue (upstairs balcony)

Clue #11: Luke 2:9 “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them…” Your next clue is under one of these (Angel tree topper)

Clue #12: Luke 2:9 “and the glory of the Lord shone all around and they were filled with fear.” Your next clue is hidden where Matthew (the youngest) goes when he’s afraid. (Moms side of the bed!)

Clue #13: Luke 2:10 “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news…” This book is full of Good News and your next clue! (Bible)

Clue #14: Luke 2:10 “…of great joy that will be for all people.” The next clue and the next gift is hidden in a place that is used by all people. (downstairs bathroom)

Clue #15: Luke 2:11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David….” Four letters from the above bold phrase hold the next gift and clue. __ __ __ __  (Oven)

Clue #16: Luke 2:11 “…who is Christ the Lord” Your next clue is behind something with his other name (Jesus plaque in our home)

Clue #17: Luke 2:12 “This will be a sign to you…”  Your next gift and clue are hiding near a sign. (another plaque in the house)

Clue #18: Luke 2:12 “You will find the baby wrapped in clothes,” your next gift and clue are hiding in a place that rhymes with “elf” (Shelf)

Clue #19: Luke 2:12 “and laying in a manager” Your last gift is NOT in a manager, but it IS in a place where animals live (rabbit hutch)

This game worked well with our six children ages 16 to 5 yrs. They really played it together, some clues were easy, others took some thinking! I love that incorporates team work among siblings and the Bible narrative of Jesus birth!

My prayer for you this Christmas is that where ever you are in the world, that you will focus on Christ— the greatest gift we could ever receive! And have fun! Make a memory… they grow up fast!

Merry Christmas!

Routine

I’m not sure why it happened today– because it’s Christmas week and get-things-done-with-these-to-do-list-appsnothing is “normal,” but this morning, I found myself slipping into an alarming place. It’s that place we all go to when something becomes familiar, commonplace….yes, routine.  It’s the psychological phenomenon that enables you to arrive home from work and not remember making the turns or taking the exit to your street. The comfort zone that allows you to make your favorite recipe effortlessly.

It’s also the ease we fall into as experienced parents, when we can “multi-task” while dealing with our children’s questions, often failing to truly pay attention to what they are saying or what they need.

How does this happen? Surely no parent sets out to be a half-hearted listener! Yet the familiarity of their life experiences and the busy pace of our world enable us to tune them out in moments of distraction, even the distraction of lesser things!

This morning we started out day with a discussion of the tentative plans for the day. A few things were concrete, we had patients coming at 9 am. There was garden work in the village. The “I’ll have Fun for Christmas” list including cookie baking as today’s activity. Then there were the negotiable items; decant the organic pesticide mixture, take a family photo for the holiday, start new seedlings, visit with the tribal elders, wrap Christmas presents, grade a research paper, write a blog post, text family or friends in the States… the list goes on and on.

A small group of patients arrived at our doorstep on foot a little before 9. They walked the 2 miles to our house, for “exercise” they said. As we walked out the main road to find a tricycle to the hospital, I was preoccupied with the potential do list at home as well as the inventory of chest x rayailments to present to the doctor at the hospital. An x-ray for suspected TB, a senior citizen with painful, swollen joints in his arm, a one year old who’s been sick for more than 3 weeks off and on, with diarrhea, cough and wheezing.

It was on this walk to the road that I realized that it had happened… the medical ministry was becoming routine. And while this comfort zone was an easy place for me to be, it is completely the wrong attitude in a people based ministry. This might be the 5th x-ray we’ve helped someone get this month, but for Tatay “C” this the diagnostic tool that could potentially alter the next six months of his life.

Just like an over-stressed parent or a complacent driver, I have allowed the familiar to become “all-too-familiar.”

It’s Christmas week, so I guessing there’s a few other people who are struggling with being in the moment and not consumed by the fleeting moments left til Christmas Day. So whether your a Mom, a medical professional, a Pastor, a cashier in a busy store… anyone who interacts with people…I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Let’s slow down, and really see the people that are all around us.

Let’s share love the Jesus with them this Christmas.

A gentle smile, a listening ear, a friendly hug, a thoughtful prayer… can go a long way toward meeting their needs this holiday season.

And I guarantee it will leave you feeling more fulfilled than a completed “To Do” list.

Merry Christmas to you! 

Holding onto each other

We did get the Christmas pictures done too… this one is entitled, “Holding Onto Each Other”

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And the last one of “a hundred!” ;) Merry Christmas from the Philippines!

 

For Such a Time as This…

LIVE SIMPLY, SO OTHERS MAY SIMPLY LIVE.

It was many, many years ago when I first came across the above slogan, on the key chain of a passionate Millennial who’s drive for social justice and the spread of the Gospel led her to organize US groups on mission trips to an orphanage in central Mexico. At the time, I was pursuing my version of the Christian American Dream, (which looks nothing like most people’s American Dream by the way) as a homeschooling mother of nine children. Our family had purchased our first home, an 1800’s mill house in need of some updates and efficiency improvements. We were self-employed and chasing the dream of growing our businesses, while God faithfully supplied the needs, and so many of the wants, of our ever-expanding family.

This young woman’s passion for the less fortunate was partly responsible for opening our family’s eyes to the plight of the poor in the world. My newly 14 yr old daughter, my Mother and I spent a week in Mexico,

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A squatter settlement in the shadow of high rise apartments in Mexico.

ministering among the orphans and learning about the living conditions of the squatter poor and indigenous peoples in the area. While we were away, my husband and our boys were doing demolition on our family room, and I vowed that our room would be decorated with the faces and the photos of our time in Mexico.

We were changed and I never wanted us to forget.

Little did we know that this was to be the first step of a long journey our family would make as we followed the leading of our Savior and answered His call on our lives.

Fast-forward to December 2010… a time of reflection, as we counted our blessings from the year past and looked forward to what God would do in and through us in the coming calendar year. As Rusty and I reflected on the ways we felt most fulfilled in the Lord, the theme of service resounded.

Six trips to Gulfport, MS were formative in our family's calling.

Six trips to Gulfport, MS were formative in our family’s calling.

When we were helping others, reaching the hurting, lost or hopeless– those were the moments that we felt closest to Jesus. Whether it was storm clean-up after Hurricane Katrina, local flooding disasters, helping a single mother with childcare and household goods, taking meals to and visiting the sick– God was creating in us a pattern of service to Him that ran through service to others. As we looked forward to another decade, we began to ask God how He wanted to form and mold us next.

It was during this season of reflection that the Lord brought the ministry in the Philippines to our hearts and minds. 14 months later, our family moved to the Philip

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Our family of eleven on our way to the Philippines, along with our awesome send off team– Pastor Adam, Megan and Isaiah and Bob and Barb Ferry.

pines for our first term of missionary service.

Making the transition to a life of foreign service with the Lord from the fiercely independent business owners, has been an interesting conversion. Most all of our married life has been a real expression of faith in God’s provision financially. But there was always the subtle idea in the back of our minds that equated hard work with success. While the Lord had taken us through various highs and lows over the years to show Himself the faithful and sovereign provider, shifting our family from self-employed to fully supported was a sometimes trying, always faith building experience.

In our old economy we were barely middle-class. Sure, if we had the standard 1.7 children, we might have been considered upper middle class. (My mother jokes about how I could have financed her retirement with what I spent in diapers over the years!) But we had put our trust in God to plan our family and rested in the Holy confidence that He would provide our needs.

Now we live among the poor in a developing country. Our “middle-class” existence of simplicity makes us richer than most everyone in our neighborhood. We don’t own a car or any type of transportation, except a couple of bicycles. God hasn’t provide for one yet. We eat meat almost everyday, though our poorer neighbors may only eat meat on special occasions; their diets consist many of white rice and a few dried fish that are smaller than American bait fish. We have electric fans and internet– forsaking the luxury of air conditioning in a country who’s daily average temperature hovers in the 80’s year around and never gets below 70. We have felt that the cost of air conditioning, both in initial investment and daily costs, was more than we wanted to allocate in these early stages of ministry.

All this to say that our eyes have been opened to the reality of the financial blessing that most American’s enjoy. Yes, I’m aware that there are truly poor in the United States, and I’m honored to say that we know and pray for a number of Jesus followers who are passionately reaching those who face social injustice at home. But God has called us someplace different, and in doing so, He has shared with us His precious children.

We understand in new ways what Jesus means when He says in Luke:
“Blessed are you who are poor…”

Blessed to not have the preoccupation with material things. There’s no one in the community who has hours of time in cleaning their home from top to bottom. The slatted bamboo floors let most dirt just fall through to the ground beneath. The average home is roughly 10X12 and houses often two generations. There’s no furniture, except maybe a built in bamboo bench along a wall. They sleep as a family together on the floor, sometimes on woven natural mats that are rolled up and stored in the eaves during the day. They cook in a corner of the house or outside over a wood fire.

They are simply living.

There’s no discussion of whether their sofa matches their new recliner. They don’t have either.

The dishwasher is never broken, most households use large plastic basins to wash and rinse dishes, with water they’ve carried for sometimes as far as a mile.

It never takes long to “clean” the bathroom. A few households have simple pit latrines outside their homes, but many in the village use a grassy area just above the village for bathroom needs. And a shower is something you take out-of-doors, partially clothed with a bucket and a pail.

Readers, we are so blessed. Blessed with options, blessed with convenience, blessed with choice.

One of the crucial segments of our outreach here has been medical outreach. Shortly after our arrival to our second term in the tribal community, we discovered a continuous need for assistance with medical

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Outside help can be the difference between treatment and no treatment.

needs. Tragically we’ve found incidents where poverty has created the unimaginable hardship of not being able to seek out life saving medical care for a loved one. The government hospitals provide care for free, but if you don’t have the money to buy the medicines, patients will literally slip into eternity while family members watch helplessly.

Abundance isn’t God’s provision for me to live in luxury. It’s His provision for me to help others live. God entrusts me with His money not to build my kingdom on Earth, but to build His kingdom in Heaven. “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11). Randy Alcorn, Eternal Prespective Ministries

It’s been our honor to help stand in the gap for families in these situations. We pray for them, share their need with our praying and giving friends at home, and share with them what God has provided. He is the One doing the work, we are simply His representatives.

Will you open your heart to what He is doing around you?

Can you be His representative?

We still are dreamers. We look at our friends in the tribe and we see the financial hopeless of a $5 a day existence. We are so thankful that no matter what God does with these dear folks financially, He has offered the eternal Hope of Jesus to each of them. We see a small band of believers, who we encourage, train and build up to reach the lost around them. Praise the Lord that His perfect gift is free and available to all who will believe!

“Blessed are you who are poor, for you will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.” This is a precious, inestimable promise for our believing friends!

Another avenue of our outreach here is very practical and a throwback to our agricultural upbringing, as we’ve helped the community establish a Community Garden. Using minimalistic and organic methods to improve the soil, God has blessed our frugal investment and modest efforts to transform a rocky hillside to the fruitful beginnings of ever-producing organic vegetable plot. Today we are praying for God’s guidance and provision for the next chapter, a phase that could include a small piggery, and a fully-functional aquaponics set-up that would provide fresh fish (tilapia) and even more vegetables for the community.

By giving the tribe alternatives to cheap day labor rates, as well as opportunities to produce much of their own food, we anticipate helping this indigenous group break free of the bondage of subsistence living and dependence on others.

This is our God-sized dream. We wait on the Lord. He will be the one to provide the needed funds to take this dream from the basic sketches to a blossoming reality.

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We’re praying for a fully functional aquaponics set up in this spot. Will you join us?

There is always HOPE. Jesus came to bring us hope that springs eternal, no matter our circumstances in this life.

Perhaps you’ve been blessed.

Maybe you’ve been inspired.

We pray that God will bring us those who share our passion for real ministry. Let’s work together to make Him known and transform reality.

If you’d like to become a part of what He’s doing here, please reach out to us!

If He’s calling you to something else—

PLEASE, be encouraged, be BOLD in your faith and answer His call.

YOU WILL BE BLESSED!

We should every one of us consider for what end God has put us in the place where we are, and study to answer that end; and, when any particular opportunity of serving God and our generation offers itself, we must take care that we do not let it slip; for we were entrusted with it that we might improve it. ~Matthew Henry’s commentary on Esther 4:14. (emphasis mine)

 

Behavior Modification

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I grew up in a pretty strict home. My parents had rules and my brother and I were expected to obey them. We knew if we didn’t there would be consequences and that was a thing to be feared. My parents’ parents were the Greatest Generation, my maternal grandfather had served in World War II and was the kind of strict disciplinarian we imagine when we think of men of that generation. I never saw him that way, by the time I joined the family, Pappy had mellowed to a broad shouldered man who towered over us grandchildren and his petite less-than-5-ft-tall wife, but always seemed to me to be patient, loving and kind.  My mother has different memories, and assured us that our grandfather had some strong handed behavior modification techniques of his own.

These days I’m the Mom. I started out my parenting life as a relatively immature Christian, carrying some angry baggage of my own. I was a short tempered Mother in those early years, a sin that I still struggle with on an almost daily basis. My “natural spirit” runs toward anger, when others might retreat or experience sadness or… I don’t know, because that’s not me!

I’ve been learning over the past few decades how very true God’s Word is in James 1, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Outside of my own spiritual formation and growth toward becoming more like Jesus, I have experienced a desire to see my own offspring mature in their faith. This is an godly goal, yet, my motherly methods were often shadowed in my anger and controlling nature.

I naturally fell into the school of thought that followed the path of order and control— chore lists, attempts to modify behavior by checklists and rules, and sometimes reactive parenting. I found myself personally injured when my children disobeyed, rather than being able to stay objective and purposeful in my response.

It’s an on-going area of growth for me, and the Lord must have known Iwould be a slow student, as He has blessed with me with an unusually large number of “opportunities” to learn from Him through my children.

But whether you have children at home, or not, the principles I’ve been learning are applicable, because they are truly the basis of all human relationships.

Whether its a difficult neighbor, a harsh relative, a trying church member or obstinate child, the lesson is the same. It’s not up to us to change them. 

Only the Holy Spirit has the power of behavior modification. We can partner with Him or get in His way. 

When I react rather than respond, I get in His way.

When I attempt to get the results I want through rules and punishment, I get in His way.

When I see my child, my neighbor, my friend, my family member, as a precious child of God, a work in progress like me, I’m much more able to partner with the Holy Spirit. I’m able to offer grace rather than wrath. I can mourn the sin rather than blast the offender.

If the person we are struggling with is not a follower of Jesus, then our focus needs to be on sowing seeds in their lives. After all, *we* don’t get people saved either. That, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is a Biblical truth that crosses all cultural lines, every socio-economic division, every language, denomination, political party or any other man-made classification system that has or will ever exist. We’ve been humbled to see the truth of God’s word played out in front of us as we ministry cross-culturally in a foreign land.

The fact is we are all human. And all flawed. We are hopelessly disposed to our natural sin nature– “But GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:4-9

This is the hope of the Gospel. This is the power of His truth.

This is the key to our transformation– the daily, often painful process of leaving the old sin nature behind as we press on toward Christ-likeness.

It is also the key to relationships with others– our kids, our families, our friends, even our antagonist…

Because the only true behavior modification is the life-transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus and the spiritual evolution we undergo as we become more like the One we adore.

Won’t you join me on this journey toward a life that exudes love, peace and unity and allows God to be God in every area?

Thanksgiving 2015 Photo Blog

It’s hard to be on the other side of the world from your loved ones at holiday times. A traditional Thanksgiving for our family includes a long, stretched out extension table with somewhere between 26-30+ family and loved ones gathered around copious amounts of food.

Here in the provinces, we lack turkey, a large extension table and many loved ones… so we opted for a different kind of Thanksgiving this year!

About a week before the holiday we were alerted to an Organic Agriculture Festival being held on the island to the south of us. Had it not been a holiday, we might have just sent Dad, but since we wanted to be together for Thanksgiving and the trip might be a good diversion from the traditions we were missing at home… we decided to make it a family trip!

First we had a long van ride to the end of our island. Though only 245 km (152 miles), the journey across the mountains and over sometimes unfinished roads usually takes about 7-8 hrs by bus. We opted for a van, in the hopes of a quicker trip and the ability to stop if someone (Matthew….) got car sick (again). Our driver took a different route than we had ever been on, through his old hometown, and since he knew the roads, we still made amazing time… arriving in Iloilo in just a little more than 5 hrs.

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This tractor and plow, a rare sight in our part of Panay island, was one of the many signs that we were traveling through a more agricultural part of the island. We also saw many corn fields and quite a few cows, for meat, not milk on our fast-paced journey to Iloilo.

We got to Iloilo so quickly that we didn’t even stop for lunch. So after checking into our hotel, we walked across the street to a little carinderia. The street facing our hotel was lined with these tiny restaurants that serve inexpensive lunches to the students of the two universities near there as well as workers at the shops nearby.

This lunch will go down in history as the cheapest meal the Russell crew has ever eaten.

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Prepared foods are displayed at the front of the carinderia. There were about 20 choices in all.

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Matthew pointing to his pick of the fare… a hot dog… with rice, of course!

 

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Lunch for 9, with soda… Only 381 pesos

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which at the current exchange rate is $8 and change USD!

We took advantage of the early arrival time to check out the hotel’s swimming pool for a few hours. Then, like true foreigners, we hit the SM Mall, which is a little like stepping into a different world. We walked the four blocks from our hotel to the mall, past street vendors selling rosaries and “healing” rocks, bark and compounds. We walked by small shops selling wooden furniture and bicycles, where the assembly team was spread out across the sidewalk assembling China-made bicycles for the coming Christmas rush. But when you turn off the hot, city street into the mall, it’s literally like walking into the first world part of the Philippines.  The huge mall is full of shops that I deem too expensive to shop at… designer clothes, imported shoes, high end, authentic electronics. And there are restaurants, some American like Pizza Hut and KFC and others local but very top quality. And everyone’s favorite mall feature… the cinema!

But first… dinner…. at Ole! A Mexican themed restaurant on the third floor.

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Luke, Mark and Mama shared this Mexican Platter, it was yummy!!!

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Everyone with their meals– Cuban sandwiches, street tacos, burritos, enchiladas and Matthew’s homemade (not frozen or processed) chicken nuggets and fries!

After our very non-traditional fourth Thursday of November dinner, the older kids headed to see the new Hunger Games movie, while Rusty and I took the littles to see The Good Dinosaur. Movies here are very inexpensive, about $3 per ticket.

I’ll save my US friends a bunch of cash– the The Good Dinosaur isn’t very good. :(

After the movies it was back to enjoy some night swimming…

The next morning we headed to our final destination of Bacolod City, across the water from our home of Panay Island to the island of Negros Occidental. The trip can be made one of three ways. The longest way is a boat to Guimaras Island, then land transportation across that small island and then another boat to Negros. The next shortest is what is called a Ro-ro (roll on, roll off) ferry, which is the way you must travel if you are taking a motorcycle or van to Negros. The ro-ro option is about 3 1/2 hrs.

The fastest way are the Fast Cat boats, short for fast catamaran. fast cat

We had a whole row near the front, but the waves were strong and even with a window seat, Mark got seasick. It seemed like a long hour and fifteen minutes, but we all arrived, some greener than others to our destination of Bacolod City!

Coming off the boat, we didn’t know what to expect… but like every terminal in the Philippines, we were greeted by many, many “conductors”

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A street view of Bacolod downtown

trying to sell us transportation options. There were jeepneys lined up for those familiar with the area, a few small tricycles and lots of cabs. A friendly gentleman found Rusty and offered 150 peso ride in his cab which conveniently seats 10 to our destination. As we left the port, our driver, Randy introduced himself and handed Rusty his calling card. We were pleased and amused to see that Randy is a driver for God’s Taxi. :)

Photo credit to Randy Patron, who takes amazing pictures and was a super helpful kuya (big brother) on this trip!

russells at festival.jpgOur main agenda for Friday was to spend the day exploring the Organic Agriculture Festival. We had planned to stay at a very inexpensive overnight accommodation option– a pension house– located upstairs in a local shopping district. The sparsely appointed rooms cost just $37 for the nine of us in two rooms. These rooms were made for sleeping only, so we enjoyed our time at the Festival and then had dinner at the Bacolod SM Mall!

There were many vendors at the Festival. Many were selling food– we had our lunch there and Mama enjoyed her first green salad in a long, long time! There was a lot of good information about solar and organic technology available in the Philippines. We had a delicious ice cold carabao milk and learned more about carabao farming–including artificial insemination. We spoke with people doing aquaponics on a small scale, as well as mushroom growers and bee-keepers. Lots of great information and fun learning for everyone from Matthew to Dad.

turkey

This was as close to turkey as we got this Thanksgiving! And at 900 pesos each (almost $20 USD) we figured that was close enough!

The Festival was set in the Provincial Capital park. A beautiful historic building and lagoon, in the heart of Bacolod City. The kids enjoyed exploring the area while Dad learned more at the vendor sites.

Dinner at KFC at the Bacolod SM mall… this mall was HUGE!!!

The Christmas displays were impressive and fun!

We stopped by Krispie Kreme for one of the best tasting treats of all! Most Western treats here are less expensive than their US store prices, but Krispie Kreme is not one of them! A little taste of luxury… and brewed coffee with real whole milk for cream…. HEAVEN! ;)

The next morning we decided to take a historical side trip about 20 km north of Bacolod City to see “The Ruins.” This impressive structure was built by a sugar baron who settled in Negros from Panay Island as a tribute to his much loved wife who died while pregnant with their 11th child. Known as one of the 12 most impressive ruins in the world, it is a must see!

The mansion was started in 1911, it took 3 years to complete and was finished with gorgeous 2 in think flooring that was a meter wide and 20 meters long. The house was said to be filled with the finest furniture and goods from around the world.

During WWII the Japanese threatened control of the Philippines. The American and Filipino forces charged with liberating the Philippines were ordered to burn the house, to prevent the Japanese from making it their headquarters. The house burned for three days. What’s standing is an impressive testimony to a by-gone day and the heartache of war.

Any Moms of more than 2 kids knows that family pictures are always a bit of a challenge. Throughout the last two decades of parenting I can hardly think of a time when one of the kids didn’t make his mark on the photo remembrance. Today, it was Luke’s turn. :)

Back to Bacolod City and off to the special surprise we had in store for the kids. There’s a place called Caribbean Water Park and Resotel. It’s literally the coolest waterpark we’ve seen, with hotel rooms within “spitting distance” (to quote Levi) from our rooms.

We had so much fun… nobody took many pictures. So I borrowed these from the internet so you could see how cool it really was. Matthew said, “This is the best day of my life!”

For dinner, we got all cleaned up and tried out a little place with an ionic name… Kristin’s Steak House.

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Beef is kind of a rare treasure here in Malay. Very, very rarely can you find reasonable quality beef, and it’s often sky-high prices. But in Bacolod where there’s much more diversity to agriculture, we thought it was worth a try.

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It wasn’t Hoss’s or even home grilled steaks from our own freezer, but it wasn’t half bad. And the price was right…

The next morning, we decided to let the kids play in the waterpark until the noon checkout deadline. The first few hours of the first day Matthew was a little shy of the waterslides, but by bedtime he was a champion waterslider! Rusty stayed back to play lifeguard, while Jared, Levi and I made a food run to SM mall. We took the opportunity to buy a few items that we can’t find any closer to home– chocolate chips, cream cheese, blue cheese, and local Bacolod beef to try at home. We did find one thing we won’t be having for Christmas dinner this year! WOW!

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3411.50 pesos= $75 USD. Nope, kids, we aren’t having ham for Christmas!

From our check out, to our God’s Taxi drive back to the port… we just made it on next boat back across to Panay. This time it was a 2GO Fast Cat, a nice ride with no seasickness!

Our Caticlan based van driver met us at the port and after a quick stop to pick up a special potting soil Dad located in Iloilo, we were headed north toward home. This time we traveled the regular route, through the heart of Panay’s sugar cane country

travel view

We passed many huge loads of sugar cane, which is cut by hand and carefully loaded to be hauled to a processing center. This work is some of the hardest in the Philippines, and one of the lowest paid. Many young Ati men from our tribe move to this area of the island to find work. Often they come back broken physically, and with very little financial gain.

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One our way through Kalibo we stopped at the provincial hospital to check on an Ati patient. Sadly, he still was awaiting his surgery and no one had changed his dressing in almost 6 days. We ate one last “American” meal at McDonald’s before we headed home to “reality.”

It’s always refreshing to get away and usually hard step back into the responsibilities of “regular” life. The discouraging news in Kalibo was a first “reality check,” followed by a series of tough news the next day. A widowed mom with active TB, a 24 yr old man facing an amputation, children with cough and fever…

Even the food is back to normal…

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The GOOD NEWS is that we have plenty to be thankful for— whether at home around the bountiful table with friends and family, away on a fun educational trip or in our host home country, enjoying the simple pleasures of rice and fried fish– Jesus has given us so much more than we deserve.

I was reminded this weekend by a favorite teaching pastor who’s faced some real hardship in his own life over the last year, that we are daily saturated with unmerited grace. We deserve hell, but Jesus offers us a victorious life in Him and EVERYTHING we have that is greater than hell, is more than we deserve. May you rest in that Word of truth as you go about your days this holiday season.

May we all rest in Jesus’ love, grace and mercy to us… for it’s so much more than we deserve!

Following in Faith…

hand and hand medicalTHANK YOU to all who took time out of their day to pray for “E” and his family in their emergency. (Click here for the backstory) I’m happy to report that he is now at home, continuing his recovery under the loving care of his wife and community, with the assistance of a local doctor who graciously agreed to transfer him to his care.

The hardship of having a patient in a hospital almost 2 hrs from home was wearing hard on “E’s” wife as well as the entire family who was tasked with caring for the couple’s 5, 3 and 1 year old children. After 18 days of IV medications, the provincial hospital decided to release his care to another doctor near us, enabling the family to be reunited. E’s treatment will continue for many, many months and we continue to pray that God will fully restore his mind.

Meningitis is a dangerous disease and even more deadly here where treatment options are so limited. The family has been blessed by God with a second chance. E’s wife could have ended up like so many others in the tribe– young and widowed with many small children to care for. We’re praising Jesus for His healing power and thankful for whatever small part we played in that.

Thanks to a generous donor from our sending church, we will be able to not only help continue the medical treatment, but assist the family with basic groceries til their bread winner is able to get back to work.

That, my friends, is what following Jesus looks like…

Over the last eight months we’ve been presented with several opportunities to walk along side folks in the tribe that are facing enormous medical challenges. We’ve found that not only has obedience to Matthew 25:34-45 and James 2 been powerful in our own personal walk with Jesus, but doing things God’s way has opened doors to share the Gospel.

Go figure, when we do it God’s way… there’s blessing AND growth.

 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? ~~James 2:15-16

You can be a part of this Jesus sharing ministry, too.

Please continue to pray for E– physically and spiritually that He will some day acknowledge the love and truth of Jesus. We’re trusting that God will use this ’emergency-turned-saga’ for His glory in the days, weeks and months ahead.

You can pray for the Ati people. Pray for open hearts and God’s work in their lives.

You can give, too, and help us walk along side our Ati friends when tragedy

strikes.

Your gifts to our medical outreach will enable us to help with life-saving medicines. You can give someone like “E” a second chance at life and the opportunity not only hear about Jesus, but see the difference He makes in your life! 

CLICK HERE TO GIVE  TO THE ATI MEDICAL OUTREACH