Latest Posts

alarm-clock-2

wake-up call

Last week Browncroft celebrated our renewed commitment to reach our neighbors, our city and our world. We said yes to more prayer, more generosity, more growth, more change and more courage! We said yes to sharing the life-change we have in Jesus with others.

What’s this look like in the everyday? Here you go. When I read Christina’s note below, I knew that I needed to share it here, because this is EXACTLY what it can look like.

The Reach Initiative has made such a huge impact in the way I approach life.  I’m in prayer more often during the day and I’m acutely aware of the people God is positioning around me.  I come from a non-believing family, and I often pray that God will put believers in my parents’/family’s path, and I have made mention before that I’d get angry if a Christian was befriending my family and not sharing with them who Christ is and what He’s done for them.  So this initiative has been a wake up call to me – I am that Christian God is placing in the lives of those around me – I am the person who should/can/will be sharing His love with them, as I’m sure their beloved friends and family have been praying. 

A few examples of that:  An old classmate in college and now acquaintance of mine has seen some artwork that I do in my spare time (whatever that means when you have 3 little ones!) and she mentioned how she’d love to have something in her home.  So, I went ahead and created something for her, free of charge.  It was wonderful because I was able to pray for her while I was making the piece and on my way to her home to deliver it.  I was able to give her a hug and write some encouraging words down for her to be reminded of the kindness of God that was shown to her.  Who knows what God will do with that relationship, but I know that when she looks at the artwork hanging in her home, she’ll remember who it was from, and the genuine heart behind it. 

Another example.  Because I have been praying about people God wants me to be reaching, I was able to have the courage to reach out to old friends we haven’t spoken to in a few years, just because I happened to be in their neighborhood and I took the time to send one simple text message.  They got home at exactly the same time I’d texted to see if they’d be up for a visitor. It was great – we chatted and have a dinner date set up for our families to catch up and re-open the door to that relationship as well. 

God has been changing my heart, and helping me to feel less fear of awkwardness when I meet new people.  We have a neighbor who lives behind us whom I’ve never met.  But last week while my kids were playing in our leaves, they had their kids outside at the same time.  So we invited them to come play in our leaves and I was able to find out she just arrived last month.  She moved in with a family member because she needed help caring for her 16-month-old twins.  She will be having very serious surgery  soon and will not be able to do much for a while.  What an amazing opportunity to shower them with love and meals as they walk through this stretching time.  But even more, what an amazing opportunity to pray for them!  I feel empowered and courageous!  I feel like God has equipped us to reach out to them while they’re in need so that they can see who He is during this desperate time.  All because of a simple “Hello, my name is Christina.”

Another neighbor we’d been praying for finally made it over to our house over the weekend.  She’s also having surgery next month.  I wouldn’t have known there was this place I could be serving them if we hadn’t had them over for dinner.  I’m so grateful God opened up the times for our schedules to line up to make those connections.  We’ll be bringing them meals as well, as they have a perfectly chunky little 1-year-old who will need nourishment and care🙂. 

I’m so encouraged by the way God has been opening my heart to the idea that, just as I pray for Christians to surround my unbelieving family, God has arranged my husband and me to be “the Christians” in the lives of those nonbelievers around us.  It’s encouraging to know that He is the Master Planner of these meetings, and the Master Planner of the trajectory of the lives we’re encountering, as well as the Equipper for us in our own story. 

Could it be any simpler? God is speaking, calling, nudging, pushing us to REACH to those around us. Let’s keep asking him to grow us, change us and give us courage. Let’s hold each other accountable and ask how we’ve been able to put our growth and change into courageous action. Let’s pray expectantly and see the great things God has in store.

cornucopia

enough

One of the ways God changes us is through answered prayer– even when we don’t ask for enough. Here’s a letter thanking donors to our Ethiopia team this past summer that makes me smile at how God knows our needs before we do.

“I wanted to take time to thank you for your donation towards the air concentrator for the Langano Clinic in Ethiopia.  It is an amazing story of God’s providence over all the details of our lives. It’s taken me a long time to get this note out to you, but I do want to let you know that God has used this story many times to many people. I tell this story to so many of the women that I run with, to friends who ask me how our trip went and now to you.

If you remember at the commissioning of our Ethiopia team in July, Karen Wood let the congregation know of a last-minute request from Kim Scheel for the Langano clinic. It was for an air concentrator. This would be used to help the many adults and kids that come to the clinic with problems with asthma and breathing.  I had looked up the price on the Internet and told Karen a $500 price. This was the needed amount she shared with the congregation.

After the first service, a gentleman came up to me outside the sanctuary and said that he and his wife would provide a check to cover the costs. Our team was so excited that the need was met so quickly. We had some meeting time and a time of prayer and thanked God for His provision. I did not get to tell Karen of the donation, though, before it was time to get up in front of the congregation again for the next service.  Following the second presentation, a friend of mine came over to me and said she and her husband would cover the cost. I didn’t know what to say, but the sermon was starting so I just thanked her. A couple of minutes later, Karen sent me a text that someone had come up to her in the missions center as well, and handed her a check for $500; yet another person had given a lead on an oxygen company to contact that might be able to help us.  Praise the Lord again!

Following the second service I went to the missions center to update Karen on our donations.  At that time, one more person came up and handed me a check for $500. I told him that we already had some donations to cover it, but he still wanted us to have the check to use it where needed.

Upon entering the third service and sitting down, one of the other team members told me that someone had come up to him and said that he too would give to cover the cost of the concentrator. In this service, Karen did let the congregation know of the need but that it had been met.  What did the Lord have planned with these 5 people donating $500 each?

Now comes the amazing part of the story. On Tuesday I called the oxygen company and got the owner on the phone. We talked about what she had available, and she did have a unit that she could get to us for $450.  We talked a bit further and then realized that because of the voltage differences in Ethiopia, the motor of this plug-in unit would not work there. I looked back to Kim’s email and saw that she had said that a small portable unit would be ideal. When I told this to the owner, she said she had a portable unit that she could get me but that the retail cost of it was $3,500-4000. She then proceeded to say that she could give it to me for $2,500. Well, that was what God had planned with 5 people stepping forward to donate $500. His providence reigns supreme. 

I cannot tell you how many people have been touched by this story! The people of Langano who will directly benefit from the unit, the missionaries at Langano and Ethiopian nurses that now have it available to treat patients, the short-term team that has seen God work, the girls that I run with that have all heard the story, and I hope many more will be touched by this also.

I want to thank those who gave so generously when a need was present. I hope that you too are affected by this wonderful event!

God Bless, Colette”

These sorts of stories about an all-knowing God caring for the needs of people far away encourage me tremendously in my walk! They remind me that God is there, that he knows, that he cares, that he moves in individuals, and that he has a sense of humor. I hope that today this story inspires you, as it has me, to trust in the One who provides and works through his people.

Photo Credit: Sally Oh  License

fear

Fear

 

At Browncroft we love to send out teams of short-termers to help our missionary friends around the globe. Our partners are there because they’re longing to see the good news about Jesus touch and revolutionize lives in their host countries. What inevitably happens, however, is that the people we send out also come back changed. Here is Jeanna’s story from a trip she took just a few weeks ago.

There was political unrest in Ethiopia when I was there this summer.  I had feared something like this might happen.  I love to travel, but lately I have struggled with being afraid.  Even though I have traveled a lot overseas, I am afraid of flying.  I have had a few scary dreams about flying and I am nervous that something bad might happen.  I like staying in the US, thousands of miles from Syria and the heart of the Muslim world, too.  But in March 2016 God put it on my heart to travel again.  I looked into several overseas summer opportunities and decided to go to Ethiopia with a short term missions team from my church for ten days in August. 

When Bryan, our Sports Friends International leader through SIM, told my teammates and me the news about the widespread political demonstrations planned for the weekend, it was minutes before our final evening session with our kids at the Sports Friends camp in Langano, Ethiopia.  We said a quick prayer together about it and then started the service with a slow song, “Amazing Grace,” as the kids walked into the meeting room.  This final night was crucial for the kids.  It was the night we presented the Gospel.  We wanted to make it count despite the news we’d just heard.  We sang the four verses of “Amazing Grace” twice while camp leaders quietly told the Ethiopian staff about the potential for a coup.

As the staff joined us, I saw looks of worry and fear on my new Ethiopian friends’ faces.  I had naively thought that strong Ethiopian Christians were immune to fear.  I think I had put my foreign brothers and sisters who experience religious persecution around the world on some sort of a pedestal.  I realized in that moment that they were no different from me.  They did not want violence in their countries’ streets, or to see their communities crumble before their eyes.  My heart broke for them.

I had a chance that night to talk with one of the long-term workers in the area named Thomas.  Thomas and his wife, Daniella, and their four daughters joined us for camp that week.   Apparently this type of thing has happened before in Ethiopia.   Thomas said, “These things are like an avalanche warning; it may be bad, or maybe nothing will happen at all.”  He asked me if I was worried.  Answering him honestly while struggling to hold back tears, I said that I was.  He asked me what I worried about the most.  I told him that I feared not being able to have control over my safety.  Looking me in the eye with love and understanding he tenderly told me that whatever control we think we have, we really do not have.  It is truly all in God’s hands.  “We need to trust him,” he said. 

Back home friends were praying for me.  Many knew about my fears involving this trip.  Before the trip I had come to the conclusion that it was better to be in the will of God than to not be.  I had decided that the alternative to attempting to isolate myself from evil was to trust God.  I determined that the safest place for me was right where the Lord led me.  And the Lord had led me to Ethiopia. 

Forty-eight hours later my teammates and I were on our originally scheduled flight home.  Other than leaving for the capital a day earlier than planned so that we could catch our flight without any complications, the experience with the demonstrations did not affect us much.  Nevertheless, this experience did confirm what God had already been teaching me.  I feel surer now that the safest place is where God leads me.  Ultimately, my safety truly is not in my hands.   It is out of my control and in the hands of God.  My struggle with fears of flying may not be over, but after going on this trip to Ethiopia I want to travel again.  I think that is a sign of progress.

God is at work everywhere! He is surely changing lives here in Rochester, and he might also like to do some big work in you 7000 miles away from home. If you’re a Browncrofter who would like to reach further — both experiencing and being a catalyst for lifechange– be sure to get in touch with me. I’d love to help you take that next step.

Photo credit: Marco Arcangell license

 

grace

grace

At Browncroft we love sharing stories about how God uses the disappointments and painful parts of our lives for good. Here’s a word from Kimberly.

After 5 years of being self-employed as a full-time fashion blogger, I’ve had to learn a good number of business lessons the hard way. But the most difficult one of all happened recently, and it had a profound effect on me. Back in the late spring I signed a contract to create my own jewelry line with a NYC-based company. I worked for months to sketch the pieces by hand, and collaborated with their design team to fine-tune my creations and build a complete collection. I had planned to name each piece after important women in my life and donate 20% of the net proceeds to Feed My Starving Children.

A few of the pieces were already finished, which I was able to share with the public, and a handful were still in production as we prepared for our mid-August launch. Then, unexpectedly, last week, I received an email from the company who I was contracted with. They would be unable to produce the collection as promised because they were being bought out and would need to shut down their site completely in anticipation of their acquisition.

I couldn’t help but be devastated as I looked back on the months of time and energy that I put into the development of each piece. I was intensely passionate about this project, which made the news even harder to accept.  And then I thought of all the people I would be letting down as a result – the charity that was promised a percentage of the proceeds, the women that I named each piece after as a tribute…and all of my blog readers who had been so wonderfully supportive since I announced this new venture.

If I’m being honest, there was a little bit of pride involved too. Would this make me look like a failure? Would it hurt my brand? I immediately felt embarrassed that I had been so eager and hopeful about this opportunity. Even though I had no control over the situation and what was being done to me, I felt ashamed and foolish.

But, after some time of self-reflection (and a good cry), I have realized that what occurred is just a part of life. Disappointments happen, deals fall through, people break promises and let us down. We can pour our hearts and souls into something – whether it’s a work project, our families or relationships – but when it falls apart or ends up different from what we’d planned, it doesn’t mean that we are any “less than” as a result of that outcome. What determines our character is how we respond in those moments – will we allow our pride to get the best of us, lick our wounds and grow bitter? Or will we see that there is a greater picture beyond our circumstances and a deeper lesson to be learned? We get to choose if we will let it weigh us down or if we will use it as a stepping-stone to something better.

My initial reaction when I heard the news was anger. I felt betrayed and I wanted for them to make it right. But as time passed, the Lord spoke to my hurting heart and I realized that there was no benefit in holding onto my bitterness. Yes, they broke a binding contract and I could have pursued legal action. But what purpose would that have served? More importantly, what kind of witness would that be? God began to soften my heart and He showed me that a grace-filled response would have the greatest impact in this situation.

Something I’ve found to be true in my own life is that grace changes everything. I am an imperfect woman who makes mistakes, who is selfish at times and who can let her insecurities get the best of her. So I desperately need others to give grace to me, Knowing this, I should be just as eager to give it in return. But giving grace is not something that comes naturally to us; it has to be a conscious decision. And it certainly can’t be done in our own strength. The Lord in His great mercy gives us everything we need to forgive, even in the most difficult times.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of person who chooses a grace-filled response regardless of my circumstances. I want to offer forgiveness instead of harboring resentment. I want to continue to love in spite of being let down by others. Not because I feel like it…but because I choose it.

A pride-filled heart says: “How dare you wrong me. I don’t deserve this. I am owed something better.” But a healthy, gracious reaction is quite the opposite. I want to set a good example for my children, so that when they face disappointments in life, they won’t feel justified to retaliate and they won’t carry that hurt around like a heavy burden. I want to model for them the freedom that comes when we let go of unmet expectations, choose to offer grace and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose. And that freedom only comes when we surrender fully and completely to Christ.

Now that a few days have passed and I’ve processed it all, I can truthfully say that I’m grateful for the lesson I’ve learned. It has helped me grow and mature, and it has also put into perspective the things that are most important to me. If you are reading this and you’re likewise dealing with a major disappointment in your life, let me be the one to encourage you to earnestly seek the Lord, ask Him to help you release that hurt, and dig deep to find grace that you can extend to the one who has let you down. You will never regret it.

What a great reminder not only of God’s grace, but the opportunity we have to encourage each other with what God is teaching us. If you, like Kimberly, would like the opportunity to pass on your hard-earned wisdom to others, let me connect you to one of Browncroft’s mentoring ministries.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Smith

rowing

Fellowship

“Two fellows rowing in the same ship.” I don’t know who first said it, but it’s a definition of fellowship that I remember from when I was a kid. And “fellowship” has become such an important word to me in the past months as I’ve thought about how indispensable it is in our relationship together with Jesus.

Since mid-May, my octogenarian parents have struggled with a health crisis that has permanently changed their lives, uprooted them from their home of 59 years and ultimately brought them to live in Rochester. Mom is slowly adjusting to Rochester and assisted living, while dad continues to gain strength in rehab here. If all goes well, we hope they can once again live together, each helping the other with the strength and wellness that remain.

I’m grateful that we five children, scattered on the east coast as we are, have been able to share the load; but as the daughter living nearest the epicenter, it has fallen to me to be First Responder, Chief Chauffeur, Booking Agent, Call Center, News Anchor, Hotelier, Tour Guide, Patient Advocate, and Case Manager. Plans have often been made, scrapped and redone, fulltime work is out the window, a clean house a distant memory.

Through it all, however, our church family and the larger Church have really been rowing with me in my ship. I remember the very first weeks, when we were not at all sure that my father would be staying on the planet, and how my friends offered prayer for strength. Literal strength. I have often prayed for strength for others, but being on the receiving end in a desperate time was a new experience for me. To wake up, unable to face the work of the day, and then to somehow feel physical strength in your body–the ability to stand and breathe and do what needs to be done — that was truly the work of the Holy Spirit in response to the simple, sincere requests of his people. What a gift.

The Church sent cards and packages of encouragement to my family and my folks. People from Browncroft whom my father had never met before came to visit him, talking and listening and rowing in his ship as well. Believers from Browncroft who knew Rochester’s assisted care  and rehab options offered their connections and advice. A nurse who randomly answered a call bell turned out to be a Browncrofter, and when we recognized each other, offered prayers, encouragement and a comforting embrace. Our church lobby and fellowship hall became a place for shared tears, celebrations, scriptures and hugs. Five different families on five separate occasions drove two hours north to assure my parents that they were not forgotten, and that their sudden unexpected departure had left a huge hole. Love and love and more love is humbling, and life changing.

John the apostle wrote to the young church, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another;” and again, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Emmanuel, God with us, is really with us in our suffering, and equally so through his people as they help to navigate suffering. Jesus, who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” keeps his promise and never leaves us, never forsakes us.

There’s so much more yet to come. All the house decisions, the  final outcomes from rehab, even the inevitable decline, no matter how well things go. But I’m so grateful for the teamwork of Jesus’ oarsmen here, and for the life-change we find in that fellowship.

If you would like to encourage fellow Browncrofters through congregational care ministry, I would love to connect you.

Photo credit: Steve Burt License

125710155_3774c291f0_z

Life

One of Browncroft’s many effective partners is  CompassCare. Out of love for each person, born or unborn, CompassCare is working to erase the need for abortion one woman and one baby at a time. Here’s one example of the kind of encounters they are having. (Name and details disguised for privacy).

Joclyn felt confused and frustrated when she found out she was pregnant a few weeks ago. She was getting mixed messages from the father of the baby about whether to continue the pregnancy or not and feels as though she has very little support in her life. She went to an abortion clinic, and although she would’ve been fine with having another baby, she felt the abortionist pressured her into taking the medical abortion pills (RU-486). 

When Joclyn left the appointment she texted the father of the baby who was furious she had actually gotten an abortion. She immediately started searching the internet for a place that would help her reverse the effects of RU-486. She found her way to CompassCare about 5 hours later. Her nurse talked her through the process of reversing an abortion and told her we would walk through this with her. She agreed to start the process and was excited when she was able to see her baby on the ultrasound screen and hear a strong heartbeat. She talked to her baby and asked him/her to hang on! Joclyn will be returning for multiple appointments over the next few weeks as long as she continues to have a healthy pregnancy. 

Please pray for her continued courage to stick with the reversal regime and for the treatments to help her baby live! Pray that her heart would be softened to the Gospel and that the father of the baby would come on in full support of her pregnancy.

This is some of the extraordinary life-change that Jesus’s love makes possible. Browncroft is thrilled to join hands with CompassCare not only with funding, but also with volunteers. If you would like to hear more about how you can help, contact me.

Photo credit: Bob Whitehead license

sneakers

generosity

For the last several weeks, we at Browncroft have been looking at the concept of generosity. What does it mean for us to live our lives as generous people of God? We’ve talked about using our finances, our time and our relationships in a splendidly prodigal way, in response to God’s love for us. On one of the past few Sundays, Pastor Rob talked about Jesus’s challenge to the “Rich Young Ruler.” My friend Whitney responded to the sermon this way:

Since the message, I’ve been talking to God about what I need to “give up,” like the young ruler, in order to deeply participate in God’s eternal life. At the end of the passage, Jesus gives examples of things to give up:

 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

“What do I need to give up for the sake of the Kingdom of God?” I asked, followed by a knee-jerk plea:  Please don’t let it be running…..please don’t let it be coffee creamer….please not my gigantic bowl of popcorn at the end of each day!  

The three things I love, I look forward to, I plan on. Yes they are simple and cheap, but they are my loves. The question is: are they preventing me from experiencing eternal life here and now? And why do I plead with God as if He plans to snatch them away from me?  And why do I hold so tight to these pleasures if they are in fact holding me back from a Jesus-quality of life, especially in light of Jesus’s promise that I will be repaid many times over in this life and the life to come?

It’s because I don’t trust the promise. 

Instead, I believe that the happiness that running, creamy coffee, and popcorn bring outweigh the joy my Heavenly Father has for me. I count on the happiness from these cheap substitutes, but because of unbelief I don’t count on God’s promise. 

So how does God regain the proper place in my life? He frustrates my idols. 

This morning is a fabulous example. I wake before my children to run and have a coffee. Baby wakes to nurse twice (argh) but finally settles. Still time before my preschooler’s “Ok to Wake” clock lights green. But uh oh…she’s awake! Full blown awake. I decide to get her up and let her watch a faith-based video so I can still run (God will approve of that, right?!). The video doesn’t work, I lose my cool, and sin, all because I’m not able to run. 

But I haven’t given up yet. I put on a different video (not faith-based but still kind-hearted) and jump on the treadmill. Video freezes, infant wakes, I want to scream, but instead I finally laugh and surrender. “God, I have an idol. I hear You and I repent.” 

Later in the morning, after I ask my preschooler to forgive me and my colicky, don’t-ever-put-me-down baby miraculously sleeps in her bed for 30 minutes, I run. 

And I see the promise of Jesus. In a strange way, I am “repaid in this life” by surrendering the first fruits of my heart and time to God. He’s gotta be number one. Not so He can take away the things I love, but so I don’t become a slave to them. So that I don’t sin and hurt my relationships when I don’t get them. Case in point, my silly running this morning. 

Jesus gave up everything to gain us. Let’s allow that profound truth to deeply move us in our everyday lives to give up everything to gain him.

Browncroft runs a program for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) like Whitney  during the school year. Might Jesus be asking you to be generous with your time and volunteer this fall? If so, let me know!

Photo credit: Laura Billings license