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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

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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

rescue - blog

rescue

Christians often talk about being “saved”. Saved, as in literally preserved, delivered, and rescued from the power and the penalty of sin. Our partners Mala and Greg Malstead have taken their own spiritual rescue and put it to work for the physical rescue of girls trapped in sex trafficking in India. Here is a letter from Greg on the occasion of Freedom Firm’s recent 10th anniversary.

On May 1st, 2006 Mala and I were nearing the end of an exciting though sometimes frustrating process of naming the organization we wanted to start. We began with a long list of potential names and then slowly checked them off the list as it became clear that a particular name wasn’t right.
 
Mala wrote in an email to our future colleagues … “The only name that has really sparked an interest in both of us is Freedom Firm. Freedom is the opposite of bondage and slavery, which is what the girls experience on many levels, physical, spiritual, emotional. And when a girl is rescued from the brothel, she is freed physically… according to her choice she can experience freedom on other levels as well and that is our hope for her. I feel the word “freedom” best describes our work. It encapsulates the intervention and rescue, and it describes our work in the rehab home too- the journey towards emotional and spiritual freedom. Freedom from hatred (forgiveness). Freedom from injustice. Freedom from abuse. Freedom from addictions.”

And so our vision was given a name and 10 years later more than 350 women and girls have been rescued from brothels and are now somewhere on the spectrum between bondage and freedom. More than 140 cases have been filed against numerous traffickers and 9 have been sentenced to prison for their crimes. So what is next? After 10 years of Rescue, Restoration, and Justice; what happens next?
 
In the last 10 years, we’ve witnessed a dramatic reduction in child sex-trafficking in places like Kolhapur, Pune, Sangli, Miraj, Nashik and Nagpur. Police, courts and welfare departments in those cities are better equipped, more responsive and sensitized to the issue of trafficking. What will happen in the next 10 years? How many more towns and cities will be added to that list?
 
At Freedom Firm, we need to keep pushing the boundaries. Keep going to the places where no one else has gone. Before our team found minor girls in Wani and Mul and Pratapgarh, I didn’t even know those places existed! Evidently there are 68 villages in the remote districts of Neemach, Mandsaur, and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh where minor girls are forced into prostitution by their own families. Freedom Firm is already there, conducting investigations and rescues. On the 21st of May, 2016 the Freedom Firm team rescued a 13 to 14-year-old girl in one of those villages. Hopefully, soon we’ll start a Ruhamah Designs employment opportunity for the girls that have been rescued.

How many more villages, towns, highway dhabas and roadside hotels are out there? The challenge of India is that it is vast, in geography and in population. As long as there are girls being trafficked someone needs to find them, rescue them, give them opportunities for a future and hold the perpetrators accountable… in every dark corner of this country.
 
My hope and prayer is that the work of Freedom Firm will continue; that more young women will experience release from bondage and that more traffickers will be held to account. We celebrate the 10th anniversary of Freedom Firm this month and I am encouraged with what has been accomplished. I look forward to the next 10 years with great expectation and hope for what will come.

This is part of the work of Jesus: being freed physically from injustice, and according to one’s own choice, being freed emotionally and spiritually as well. Please pray for the Malsteads to be able to continue their work in India, bringing true rescue on many levels to girls who need to be free.

You can help support the work of Freedom Firm! Every young woman employed with Ruhamah Designs (Freedom Firm’s micro-enterprise) is a survivor of sex trafficking. Check out their beautiful work here, and consider hosting a Ruhamah Designs Jewelry Party

Photo credit: Benzene Aseel license

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peace

Recently a fellow Browncrofter told me about her response to a very difficult and disappointing circumstance. As she described her initial response, and then her conscious ensuing decision, I thought: now THAT is a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Only Jesus can move someone to use peace as a weapon. Here’s her story.

One day several months ago, a friend sent me an article entitled Peace – A Weapon Against Satan by Os Hillman. After I read it, I thought, “Wow…I never thought about peace in that way. The words ‘peace’ and ‘weapon’ don’t even seem to belong in the same sentence together. I’m going to make a point to remember this when I need it sometime down the road.”

Well, as life goes, with all its twists and turns, it wasn’t long before life took me in an unexpected direction.  Just when I was getting into a real comfort zone at work, the rug got pulled from under me.  Some challenging changes were happening, but it wasn’t long before I said to myself, “The Lord will provide, as He always does.”  It took a day or two for this to sink in and to get beyond the bad news, and I made a decision to press on and watch what the Lord would do to “provide.”

Shortly after that, I received more disappointing news.  This time it was more than the rug… it was like the whole floor collapsing under me.

Wow, I did not see that coming. 

I was sad, perplexed, even angry.  This time I couldn’t just give myself a “keep calm and carry on” pep talk. For a day or two I wrestled with the new circumstances, and my first instinct was to throw in the towel and run away from the situation.  Though I knew in my heart that the Lord wanted me to press on and trust in Him, I was still unsettled. It was then that I remembered the article from my friend about choosing peace. I was getting nowhere on my own, so I followed that advice and made a conscious decision to choose peace as a weapon to fight back against the enemy’s scheme to keep me in a negative state of mind.

As I made my commitment to this idea of peace as a weapon against the enemy, I wanted to learn more about what Jesus taught about peace.  Is it a choice?  Is it a gift?  A fruit of the Spirit? All of the above?  Is it really a weapon? Can I be truly assured of it, in all circumstances?

Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  (John 14:27)

Jesus alone has reconciled us to the Father so we may be in relationship with the triune God and hold on to His gift of peace as His spirit is in us to protect our hearts and minds and give us wisdom that we may stay in right relationship with the Father.

“Life-change” is a term that is thrown around fairly casually in today’s society, even in churches. My new life with Christ came over 20 years ago when I accepted Jesus as my Savior. But faith in Christ can also bring about continual changes in dealing with life’s circumstances if we ask our Lord for help. I see the “life-changing relationship with Jesus” that Browncroft talks about in its mission statement as an active, ongoing process, not just a moment-in-time transaction.

So guess what happened. The circumstances at work didn’t change. But I have peace. Real peace. And I’m okay with how things are. Another dose of life-change, all thanks to the decision to hold onto His gift of peace. Peace – a part of the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:15), is in our divine arsenal as a weapon against the enemy in all circumstances. 

There are many voices all around us – our inner voice, well-meaning friends, co-workers, the media – all with no shortage of advice on how to live.  But I’ve learned over the years that the One and only reliable source of peace is the Lord, and that it is readily accessible through prayer and close connection to His Word – our personal instructions for living.  When I need to quiet all the voices around me, I get on my knees and listen to the still, small voice that provides peace, counsel and wisdom – in ALL circumstances.  When we seek His will for our lives, He makes it very clear that He is always there and will continue to provide for our needs, according to his plan, not ours – and His plans have always proven to be better than mine!

If you would like to learn more about communing with God in prayer, and the incredible way God wants to change your life through it, I would love to get you in touch with our prayer team. Just let me know.

Photo credit: Bryce Bradford license 

FMSC manna pack

hungry

Feeling hungry? In my experience, no one much likes to be hungry, especially when it’s not their choice. At Browncroft, we’re ramping up to an event on June 3 & 4 to help prevent hunger among children, giving them the strength and health to grow into productive adults.

To help get us in the right frame of mind, we provided prepackaged meals of the same type that our church body will be packing up for Feed My Starving Children, and offered these “manna packs” to families and small groups to try.  Here’s how that experience played out for one young participant. He tried one manna pack, and then, as he thought more about it, asked to try it again.

Hello, this is Jonathan Seeburger. I am ten years old.

My first experience with manna packs helped me to understand more about what the people in other needy areas might eat; however, I wondered how they actually felt when they ate the meal. I pointed out that the first time we ate the manna pack for dinner, we had eaten breakfast and lunch, and then we ate dinner. The people who need this food would most likely only have the one meal, not other meals before. I suggested fasting all day until a dinner of a manna pack , and we decided to try that out.

We tried it on Tuesday, May 15th, and it really helped me to understand what it is like to eat only one meal a day.  I was extraordinarily hungry at dinner, and ate two full bowls of the meal. During the meal, we talked about what the people in needy areas would be feeling as they ate dinner, and I was able to understand much better the impact of these meals. I am glad that we tried the meal a second time, as it was very helpful. Thank you for being interested in what we did, and posting it on your blog.

I love this because Jonathan willingly chose to enter into the suffering of others. Not content to just imagine what others were experiencing, he did in a small way what Jesus Christ did for us: experience our life and pain. Walking in the way Jesus walked opened Jonathan’s eyes — and stomach– to the suffering of many children around the world, and the huge opportunity to act on their behalf. Thanks for your great example, Jonathan! May God continue to grow your compassion for those in need, and use you in great ways as Jesus draws you deeper into this life-changing relationship with Him!

If you would like to help Browncroft pack 100,000 meals  sign up here

 

together

together

Why is it that lifechange happens so much in the hard times? Maybe one reason is because Jesus is so present there, sharing our suffering with us. Here are some thoughts from Sasha Hansen on turning suffering into service.

You know how sometimes when you start something,  thinking it’s going to be one way, and then life goes in a completely different direction? 

That’s me and the cancer support ministry here at BCC.

 Karen emailed me in 2013 and told me that there was some interest in starting a cancer support group and asked me if I’d lead it. 

My first reaction was no way! 

I had a very aggressive cancer in 2008. I spent a total of eleven weeks in the hospital, had five rounds of high dose chemo, lost my hair, and almost died a couple of times. It was a very difficult place. Why would I want to go back there?!?!?!?

I had just been pronounced cured. The blessing of having a very aggressive cancer: if my leukemia hasn’t come back by now, it won’t. I was done. I was moving forward and leaving that terrible chapter in my life.

But, I have a rule. I put it in place to save me from saying yes impulsively as I am wont to do. I always take some time to think and pray before I answer- usually 24 hours. 

Well, the Holy Spirit started in on me right away and I knew that I would end up saying yes to this group. It wasn’t an easy decision but I am so glad that I listened to the Holy Spirit. 

Because the last three years with TLC have been life-changing.

Our first organizing meeting included me and the three ladies who requested the group. What should cancer support look like at BCC? That was the question that we were supposed to be considering. And we did discuss the big question. 

But mostly we just laughed, and laughed, and laughed. 

Our meetings are still like that–lots of laughter, with plenty of joy.

We decided to offer a faith-based cancer support group that met twice a month. We started with just the four of us, but our little band grew. By the following year, we added an evening meeting to accommodate people who worked during the day. We opened the meetings to include spouses, caregivers, and friends. 

And we grew.

More joy.

Lots of laughter.

And the growing pains came. As is common in groups like this, we lost a few people, including two of our founders.

Painful- when you’ve had cancer yourself, loss can also trigger all sorts of things. 

So our little group circled the wagons and huddled together, growing and sharing and crying. “Together Living with Cancer.” Such an appropriate name.

God had a great deal to teach me through Together Living with Cancer. I never wanted to attend a support group during my own cancer treatment. I didn’t feel strong enough to deal with other people’s problems and I certainly didn’t want to go and whine about my own burdens. I was perfectly fine without a cancer support group.

Boy, was I wrong. . . .

At TLC, there was no whining, just joy as we celebrated the life we were given. Laughter came as we shared about the absurdities of a serious illness.

Understanding and acceptance was shared with the “newbies” by people who had been there and could truly say that it was hard, but Jesus can help you make it through your trials and be better for it. Growth came as we realized we had so much in common (PTSD anyone?).

And simply and quietly, we became a family. 

So much joy as I watch long-time members welcome the newly-diagnosed with care and insight. New patients draw strength from the experiences of the group, coming burdened and leaving filled with hope every single time. And the cycle continues.

This ministry that I never wanted has become a precious gift from God.

If you or someone important to you has been diagnosed with cancer please join us as we meet every other Tuesday at Browncroft. We are “Together Living with Cancer.”

For more information on attending or volunteering with our cancer support ministries at Browncroft, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Jesus might just use it to change your life.

Photo credit: Mike Monaghan license