August 25, 2014
As Church of the Resurrection seeks to live out the REACH mission of bringing the Lord to the “Lost and the Least,” we have gotten to know a lot of new people, many of whom started out as complete strangers. This can be an intimidating task, since strangers are often equated with danger, but the Scriptures explicitly and repeatedly command us to welcome the stranger, with the suggestion that, by doing so, we too might be welcoming angels without realizing it. While living at the Parkside apartments in Glen Ellyn, we have sought to build relationships with our neighbors, to welcome our primarily immigrant neighbors, and in doing so, we have been richly blessed by the “angels” we have gotten to know time and again.
A few years ago, a woman named Marie arrived at Parkside from East Africa with three children and a fourth just a few months from being born. We met this new family—Marie spoke very little English, though her kids could communicate with us better—and we did our best to be their friends. We found that they had arrived on tourist visas, but actually were escaping from threats against them in their country; they hoped to apply for asylum and start a new life in the United States. For the time being, though, they had very little resources, and no work authorization. We tried to do what we hope someone would do for us if the tables were turned: we helped find some furniture from folks at Church of the Resurrection. We helped the kids adjust to school. They joined Rez, and when two of the kids decided to be baptized, we were standing right beside them, overjoyed by their commitment to following Christ. My wife was there at the hospital when the new baby was born. When—after all sorts of prayer and fasting, because the process is complex and risky—they were granted asylum, we helped them get driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. And, in the process, they became very dear friends. They weren’t strangers any more. After more than two years, Marie’s husband was able to come to the U.S. as well; we wept at O’Hare Airport as we watched their family reunite, and as Janvier met his youngest daughter for the first time.
A short time later, while at Marie and Janvier’s for one of many delectable meals, the topic of children came up. They asked when we planned to have kids, and we shared, somewhat reluctantly, that we had actually been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, and it just wasn’t happening. We were discouraged and unsure if we would be able to have biological children, though we were also very open to the idea of adoption. They wanted to pray for us—they do this a lot, more than we do, frankly—and afterward, Janvier told us that, while he affirmed the beauty of adoption, he also felt that the Lord was telling him that he would provide us a biological child within a year. We didn’t know quite what to do with that. We were a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, and we were tired of being disappointed, but we thanked them for their prayers.
A few months later—once more at Janvier and Marie Josee’s for dinner—we had the privilege of sharing with them that Diana was pregnant! I’ll never forget that moment. They started shouting with their hands in the air as they fell to their knees, thanking God for answering their prayers. They went on to tell us that, for months, they had been rising early every Thursday to pray and fast for us to have a child, demonstrating a level of fervency in prayer for us far beyond our own commitment to prayer for ourselves. And God had heard their prayer.
On June 19th, Diana gave birth to our little girl, Zipporah Emmanuelle. We’re excited for her to grow in her relationship with Marie and Janvier and their family, people who arrived in our country as strangers but became our neighbors, who have become dear friends and spiritual family to us, and whose fervent prayers may have brought our precious little girl into existence.
Our prayer for Church of the Resurrection, as the REACH campaign culminates, is that as we seek to bring the Lord to the lost and the least, we would also see the amazing opportunity this type of outreach brings – a chance to be abundantly blessed by the vibrant faith that many in our community already possess. I hope the next time you are intimidated by a stranger, you’ll think not of a threat, but of someone who might just be a divine blessing.
August 24, 2014
Men can be a lot like shopping carts! That may sound like a strange way to start a blog post, but let me explain. I went to Walmart today and immediately grabbed a shopping cart when I entered the store. A grocery cart is sturdy, strong, and very helpful when it's under the control of the shopper. Well, today that cart did what I wanted until I got out in the parking lot. As I was unloading the cart, I let go of it just for a second and it started to roll away from me and right into a brand new, beautiful SUV. I ran towards the cart and grabbed it inches before it smashed into that SUV.
Men are irreplaceable to the Kingdom of God. When God's hands are on a man's life and directed by the Father there is so much good that results. He provides leadership to his family and the local church. He can be a shining a light at work or a positive influence as a coach to his kid's sports teams. He is strong force that benefits everyone that comes in contact with him. However, when his life isn't centered in God the Father, he can act like a runaway cart that creates havoc to others around him.
Unfortunately, there are too many men in our society who aren't surrendered to the Father and are exploiting and damaging women by their selfish conduct. They log onto porn sites on a regular basis, visit strip clubs with their friends, and hire prostitutes on out-of-town trips. They have convinced themselves no one is being hurt and they're making a private decision. They may ask themselves, Don't these women choose to participate in this lifestyle anyways?
But in my role directing a ministry that helps women exiting the sex industry, I get to see the hurt and pain inflicted on these women. Anger and lack of trust are common among these women and the ripple effects of the sex industry require long-term healing. Often childhood sexual abuse lurks in their background. Many have been victims of violence. No wonder many of them don't trust men!
Of course there are some men who will never change, but the good news is that a lot of men are helping transform these victim's lives. Refuge for Women has a good number of men that are involved in various forms of the organization. At first, the women may be hesitant seeing a man at the house, but eventually trust is earned and perspectives changed. One guest stated early in her journey, “There is no such thing as a faithful man to his marriage. Every man hires women!" A few months later, her perspective changed as she realized that not all men are contributing to the problem. A smile now appears across her face when we remind her of the broad comments she once made about all men.
In John 8:1-11 we see a beautiful picture of how Jesus models how to treat a woman and give her dignity. Jesus defended a woman caught in sexual sin. Can you imagine the healing experience in the soul of that woman when Jesus tenderly looked at her and said, “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you." He provided safety, respect, and instruction on how to live.
Based on Jesus story of love for women and our ministry in Refuge for Women, here are four ways—in the form of the acrostic H.E.L.P.—that ordinary men can make a difference in the issue of exploitation:
Exercise your gifts
Love your daughters
It will take all of us contributing in different ways to address this major issue of our day. Check us out on our website at www.refugeforwomen.org for further ways to get involved in the effort.