Uncomfortable

Yesterday I was thinking about those times when you know you are in the middle of God’s will because life can be uncomfortable there. Yes, uncomfortable. Because it’s there that you are often under much attack from the enemy. Satan doesn’t like you there. So with the great blessing and peace of being in God’s will can also come great spiritual battle.

I have been uncomfortable recently. I thought it was because it was from being restless and unsure of where God is leading me. I have been feeling like I’m in a holding pattern that has lasted a really long time. But I realized yesterday I am uncomfortable, not because I’m waiting, because I’m in God’s will for my life right now. The wait is God’s will. And man has there been spiritual warfare that I was blind to seeing until the last few days.

I can across an old letter from my friend Emma today. I need to quote part of it:

“Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit and never overestimate your ability to do anything without God. When you fully depend on Him, you truly discover more of the Father’s heart, His great power and His mighty love for you. Why would you do anything apart from Him? Don’t ever underestimate what God can do in your life because your current situation doesn’t look like the promise given to you. Let God be God, wait on Him and watch Him do what He said He would do!”

Encouragement Expeditions is God’s ministry. He called me to create it and give it shape but I only go when and where He calls. Right now He is not calling me to go. And believe me, I have questioned God, even tried to plan a trip without Him. Yet here I sit, uncomfortable, because it is His will. I know that in this moment I need to, “Let God be God, wait on Him and watch Him do what He said He would do!”

You know that saying, “Pride comes before the fall?” I don’t want to fall. I want to be humble. I want to remain upright, walking on the path God has laid before me. I am trying to keep my eyes and heart open to all He is teaching me as I remain still and wait. I know that what I’m learning He will use for His glory in His time.

One last thought. As I was thinking about being uncomfortable I thought of the Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb.” I do not ever want to be in a place in my life as a Christ follower where I become comfortably numb. It’s exactly where the enemy wants me to be. I want to be actively engaged in the battle, uncomfortable as it may be, knowing God has equipped me, gone before me and walks beside me. The glory and the victory are His! Amen.

San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

At the beginning of December I had the opportunity to travel to Globe to meet, encourage and serve with Diane Lawrence from the Arizona Reservation Ministries, ie, ARM. ARM was founded, as quoted from the website, “to aid Apache Christians who are already serving on this reservation. ARM’s focus is taken from Exodus 17:8-16. This tells of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. The Israelites were winning as long as Moses held up his arms. After a long period, it became a difficult task to do alone. Aaron and Hur found a place for Moses to sit, and shared their friend’s burden…holding up Moses’ arms. With this partnership, the battle was won. It is the desire of ARM to represent the work of Aaron. By providing leadership training, children’s programs (including the mobile youth ministry), benevolence work, and emotional/physical support for our Native pastors, Tribal leaders and others, ARM can provide practical and much-needed aid. As you provide physical, financial and prayer assistance, you then become the representative of Hur; equally as important in assisting our Native Christians/Pastors/Tribal leaders in fighting the very real spiritual battle on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. It is clear from this word picture (and the experiences of those associated with ARM) that “Moses” (our Native Christian leaders) is weary and in need of assistance.

I met Diane and learned of ARM through my good friend Darla. Darla had recently been to San Carlos to serve with a short term mission team sent by her church. Darla recognized the need to encourage Diane on a more personal level so she called me about an encouragement visit by Encouragement Expeditions. Darla and I traveled to Globe where we spent the night at a local church affiliated with ARM then met with Diane the next morning. We had a time of sharing and prayer for Diane, her family and ARM. While Diane went to a meeting, Darla and I got busy decorating the church sanctuary with Christmas decorations. If you know me, decorating is another of my personal interests. So apparently God finds humor in using the talents He gave me to serve Him in unique ways. (Every trip there’s decorating or painting of some sort.)

In the afternoon, we went with Diane to participate in “shelter care,” at the reservation assisted living home. There we had Bible study and a time of prayer with 3 of the residents and Diane. I loved meeting the residents and spending time in God’s Word and prayer with them. How beautiful it is to meet fellow brothers and sisters in Christ! People I’ve never met, have relatively little in common with, and yet, have a bond that gives us an intimacy to encourage and pray together!

After the visit to the home, we went to meet the “church bus”! ARM owns a school bus that has been converted on the inside to provide Bible lessons, prayers, singing, snacks games, crafts and fun for an average of 200 kids in four different tribal housing areas. They also provide backpacks, school supplies and Christmas stockings through the Bus Ministry.

Please consider supporting Arizona Reservation Ministries financially either through regular donations or a one time donation. Also, consider going to serve with them! While we were there for our day visit, an entire family from out of state was spending their week of vacation  serving with ARM. They had their own RV parked at the ARM headquarters in Globe but ARM also has housing available for short term teams. So gather some friends, or let your church mission pastor know about the opportunities, and go encourage while serving! Be an extension of Encouragement Expeditions and local missions! You will be blessed while blessing ARM staff and the San Carlos Apache tribe!

And finally, pray! It seems like the obvious, almost cliche, thing to say yet I’m being completely serious. If you do nothing else, in word or deed, to be encouraging to fellow believers, you can pray. I believe wholeheartedly in the power and provision of prayer. This is the ultimate act of encouragement as a believer.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16

Memphis

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At the end of September I had the opportunity to go on an encouragement visit to my friend Farrann (pictured on left) who lives in Memphis. I’ve known Farrann for 4 1/2 years. We first met on a trip to China in 2013 where we served together as English camp teachers at an orphanage. Farrann and her roommate Kelsey (pictured in middle) both work for Campus Outreach based near the University of Memphis campus. Her other roommate Kayla (right) is a grad student at the university. They made me feel welcome in many ways and I felt like I was staying with three daughters! (Hopefully I made them feel a little bit like they had a somewhat cool mom with them for a few days.)

The staff for Campus Outreach must raise support money to work for the organization. Many people are surprised to hear that many ministry organizations whose outreach is within the US borders require their staff to raise full time support. Most people only believe this be true of global mission ministry staff. It is often more difficult for stateside ministry staff to raise support than global staff. Apparently the home mission field seems less glamorous than a foreign mission field. My question to you is, “Have you been outside of the four walls of your home recently?” It’s clear to me that people in America need Jesus as much as people living in other nations. Though as believers we’ve all been given the great commandment and thus should be reaching our neighbors, it’s quite evident we aren’t doing this in America. Therefore one could then argue that these ministries in the US need our support to do the work we as individuals are not doing. Really, as the Disney song goes, “We’re all in this together,” and should all be doing what we’re called to do, individually and corporately!

While visiting Farrann I attended a Campus Outreach Lifetime Labors Summit Conference for college students, most of whom were Juniors and Seniors. The purpose of the summit was to help these students see the potential of how God could use them to make a lifetime impact for the Kingdom & help equip them with resources for after college. I was thoroughly impressed with the staff of Campus Outreach and their heart for discipleship of these students. Leader after leader shared their personal stories of how they became involved in this campus ministry as students and the impact it had on their lives. They shared pictures of past small groups linking students in groups today to those in the past just through the interwoven stories and testimonies of dedication to God’s Word and discipleship of the next generation. Oh how I wish I had this when I was in college! If you’d like to know more about Campus Outreach in Memphis specifically, visit their website. I highly encourage you to consider financially supporting one or more of their staff on a monthly basis. They are doing great work with the next generation that will make an impact for the Lord!

While God did have fun with me this time – think my fear of big bugs, visiting the South and flying cock roaches – He also showed me so much. Being with connected to a college ministry allowed me to look back over the last 30 years since I graduated college to see all the amazing things God has done in my life. I was reminded of where I was, what I’ve experienced and that in everything, God was there working, leading, sometimes pushing or pulling, taking me to the next step. What a privilege it is to live life with Him. To know Him. To be loved unconditionally by Him. To be forgiven by Him. God is good all the time. All the time God is good!

 

Awkward Silence

Some days I have a difficult time waiting patiently for the Lord. I imagine most people could say this at one point in time in their life. You know that “awkward silence” in a conversation? That silent pause when you’re having a deep discussion with a good friend and you’re waiting for them to respond next. That’s the space where I am sitting right now. I have been earnestly praying for the next trip, the next direction for this ministry. And I don’t have a clear answer from God.

I could be like some and just plow ahead making plans for a trip. But that would be my plans, my trip and a trip without God’s leading and blessing. Oh but some would say, “Plan it and He can’t help but bless it. It’s for His glory, right? It’s ministry work! He blesses all ministry work.” I do not agree with that. I’m not of the “build it and they will come” mindset when it comes to ministry. It feels a little prideful, conceited and self-absorbed to plan without the planner.

This is also not a question of lack of faith. There have been past times I knew God had called me to go to a specific place and in faith I planned a trip and purchased tickets knowing He would provide the details and the funds in His time. God has not spoken a location to me right now. There has to be some kind of direction to move in faith.

So for now, I have to be okay with this silence, this pause. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t need to fight it. I just need to rest in it. I need to keep praying, keep conversing, keep asking. Stay alert, listen, trust. Be ready for God’s reply.

Qingdao, China

We arrived in Qingdao on the afternoon of March 31st. We are here visiting two families with nine children collectively. The kids welcomed us right away and have assaulted us with a vast array of fun, interesting and practical information. We’ve eaten at the biggest round table with the biggest lazy Susan I’ve ever seen. We visited the Olmypic sailing center from the 2008 games. We’ve met other Ex-Pats and enjoyed hearing how they’ve come to reside in China. 

As for our “work” here we are spending a lot of time with the children. We took them to the tidepools and the park yesterday to give the parents a break for a few precious hours. We are spending time with them this week helping with some homeschool and lots of craft projects (at their request). The moms have several organizational projects that we will help them complete. And the moms are also taking a couple of days away at the end of the week to refresh, rejuvenate and regroup. 

We love, love, love that we can be here to help them in all these small ways. I’m not sure I can put into words what it means to be used by the Lord in what seems such an insignificant manner yet to these families is very significant.

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

Galatians 6:10 NASB

Enjoy

A few months ago I began to wonder about my “word” for the year, “enjoy.” I was questioning why God gave me that word. Usually by early Fall I’ve recognized why God gave me the word and have seen His Hand at work within the definition of the year’s word. Honestly, I wasn’t seeing anything in the year that really stood out past the every day, ordinary pleasures of life and ministry. I enjoyed visiting many people, other countries and the Eiffel Tower, of course. But none of that rang out as extraordinary to enjoy. Those were experiences I enjoyed, yes, but they were physical manifestations of joy and not spiritual. There’s nothing wrong with physical joy but I was looking for something deeper with more impact on my life.

I looked up the definition of enjoy and I was reminded that the root, “en,” means “to be in.” So enjoy means “to be in joy.” Lightbulb. Encouragement Expeditions was founded to bring others encouragement (to be in+courage) and joy. I’ve been living the definition of enjoy all year. Not just with those I met on the mission field in Cameroon, Mali, Nevada and California but with friends and family, too.

I was also reminded last summer that God wants me to use the gift of encouragement not just in my ministry but in my every day life. I redefined my life from that point on to try to be an encouragement to those I interact with on a daily basis. Whether it’s ladies at a jewelry show, the clerk at the store, a friend, etc. God opened my eyes that every person I see I now see through His eyes. Does that make everyone nice and easy to love? Nope. But it gives me a perspective I haven’t quite had before. People are flawed. Not by God’s Hand but by sin. (So am I.) But that doesn’t mean I have to mean or nasty back at them. I might be the only person that day that represents Christ in their day.

I sit here now at the end of the year reflecting on “enjoy” and how it applied to 2016. In great joy I can say I experienced several deepened relationships with family members and friends. I made some new lifelong friends on the mission field that bring me joy when I pray for them and think of them often. I enjoyed learning a new business that gives me the opportunity to tell more people about this ministry. I enjoyed learning and growing spiritually through some really tough stuff. I didn’t enjoy those things at the time but looking back (there’s that life verse, Isaiah 55:8, in play) I’m thankful for what God did and taught and that brings me joy.

I’m sure most of you reading this didn’t have enjoy as your word for the year. Regardless, I encourage you to look back on 2016 and think about what you enjoyed. And then look forward to 2017 with the goal to be an encouragement in your words and actions to each person you encounter every day. The world needs some positive people! Allow God to use you!

Happy New Year!

P.S. If you’re wondering what my word for 2017 is it’s “promise.”

 

Parties Every Day

I hit the ground running when I arrived in Nevada. Birthday party for Jesus in Amargosa on Friday night. Saturday we held one in Beatty. Sunday was June Lake, Ca. Monday was Topaz Ranch Estates. Tuesday the party was in Independence. Wednesday we went back to Nevada to Round Mountain and Manhattan. Whew. Kids of all ages, cupcakes of all kinds, games like “Have you seen my reindeer?”, Christmas stories and boxes and boxes of gifts sums up those six parties in six days. Yesterday we spent five hours on the road back to Vegas so I could fly home today.

Sitting here in the airport I’m suddenly sleepy. Tired. And thinking of Larisa and those communities she will go to for more parties starting again on Sunday. Yep. She’s got more! More games, stories, songs, cupcakes and gifts to give. And though she has a couple of days off, those days still involve many hours and miles of driving to the places she’s going to visit family. 

I will write a longer recap soon. Until then please pray for those children we spent time with this past week. For some of them the gifts we gave will be all they receive for Christmas. Many of their parents work on Christmas so the parties were their only celebration of Christmas and opening gifts. Pray for their families. Pray for the children and teens Larisa will see next week, too. In what seem like such small gestures in a party are really a big deal. The most important thing shared, though, is the love of God and the gift of Salvation through His Son Jesus. Pray they hear this good news and accept this best gift. 
Until I share more, thank you for your support of this ministry and me! I appreciate you all!

Nevada

larisaIn 2010 I met the amazing Larisa Craig as our high school students were preparing to go to southwestern Nevada to serve local churches by holding week long vacation Bible schools. (Yes, school in summer! But fun learning, not math or grammar!) Larisa works with and is supported by an entire host of churches spanning hundreds of miles in western Nevada and eastern California. She is continuously on the road traveling from church to church throughout the year helping them with their weekly kids and teens programs. I’m pretty sure if you say her name anywhere in that region, the person will know of her and her legendary status.

I have the honor in December to join Larisa in her daily work for a week as she journeys across the state. I will be assisting her in birthday parties for Jesus every day. I know. I know. Somebody has to sacrifice eating that much birthday cake in a week. Seriously, I’m excited to be there to help Larisa and be an encouragement along the way.

The mission of Encouragement Expeditions is to encourage those working on the mission field around the world. Those in ministry in the US are often overlooked. They aren’t recognized because their work doesn’t take them across the ocean. They face the same challenges of isolation, spiritual warfare and financial support as those serving internationally. I’m happy to encourage those stateside and help bring awareness to their work so that you can remember to pray and support them as well!

You can support this trip two ways. First and foremost, Encouragement Expeditions needs your prayers. Pray for the trip, for Larisa and for those churches and lives she impacts daily for the Lord! Pray that I always seek God’s direction for every step forward and every encouragement visit planned. Second, please consider making a financial donation to Encouragement Expeditions. Any amount is sincerely appreciated. Without financial donations the ministry cannot execute the trips. I am so thankful for the monthly donors who support this ministry. Though it may seem they make small donations dollar wise, kingdom wise they are huge! And remember, December 31st is your last opportunity for charitable tax credit donations for the 2016 tax year.

Blessings!
Penny

Looking Back/Moving Forward

I cannot believe it has been almost one year since the official launch of Encouragement Expeditions! Approximately 35,000 air and vehicle miles were logged. Seven families were visited in two countries. 350 lb of supplies were taken. New friendships were formed. Prayers were lifted up and still continue!

Expectantly looking forward to where the Lord is leading this ministry in the coming months! Thank you all for your prayers along the way! Thank you to those who financially supported the ministry! Your partnership in this ministry is not taken for granted and is a huge encouragement that spurs me on to continuing encouraging others! May the Lord bless you for your support and prayers.

Penny