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fourth

Yesterday was the first day of spring (supposedly!), and gardeners are turning their thoughts to planting. Our friend Mike did some planting recently as well, and was astounded to see a sprout shoot up immediately before his eyes.

Matthew 13:23: “‘But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’”

Jesus gives us a framework for effective evangelism in Matthew 13. Scatter the seed to all places and invest in the “good soil.” We have been commissioned to be gospel sharers. We have been empowered and equipped to be farmers for the kingdom of God. I have done very little actual farming in my life growing up in the suburbs, but I have had the privilege to do some spiritual farming that Jesus taught His disciples about.

This past fall for 3 months, through my work with Campus Target, I was part of our team in a large nation in Southeast Asia. Our primary goal: share the gospel radically as many times as we could. We were farmers, seeking to reap the spiritual harvest Jesus spoke about.

We scattered the seed of the gospel dozens of times during our time there. We encountered all of the types of soils Jesus spoke about. My friend Yohan* is a great example of a fourth soil person, good soil that I believe will produce a fruitful harvest.

When my teammates and I first met Yohan at his school’s cafeteria, he told us he recently went through a hard breakup. His ex-girlfriend didn’t tell him why she broke up with him. As we ate dinner, God gave me a powerful picture to share with him.

The way we view life is like a spectator of a parade. We see what is right in front of us clearly, while what has already gone by and what hasn’t happened yet aren’t totally clear. We can understand our present, but our past may be hard to understand and our future is unknown. We may not understand the situations we face in life, but we can rest in the knowledge that God does.

My teammate and I got to share the entire gospel message with Yohan. Right before we were about to explain what he needed to do to start a relationship with Jesus Christ, our conversation was interrupted by loud construction happening behind us. I remember thinking “I’m not sure if any of this is sinking in. Does he understand everything we’ve shared with him?”

The three of us reconvened on a bench outside the exit to the cafeteria. Right away Yohan declared, “You’ve changed my mind. You’ve opened a door for me.” This happened about a half hour after Yohan told us, “Maybe one day you’ll convince me.” God had done an incredible work in his heart through our conversation.

We celebrated with him after he prayed to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.

There are Yohans all around us, not just on the university campuses of a large nation in Southeast Asia. God has sent all of us to scatter the seed everywhere and then invest in the fourth soil people that rise to the surface.

*Name changed for security purposes

It’s a great reminder that only God can make things grow. Whether the initial growth or the blossoming or fruit-bearing stage, life, and life-change, come from the Master Gardener. Let’s not stifle that growth today — and be sure to keep planting around us.

If you would to hear more about the work God is doing through Campus Target, email Mike .

 

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approval

“Life change in Jesus” is part of Browncroft’s DNA–what we pray for, long for, and work towards. And when we see it, that’s what we joy in. Read Deb’s story of God’s work in her life, and share our joy!

Eight years ago, if you met me, I would have worked hard to convince you to like me, affirm me, be impressed with what and whom I knew and how much I’d accomplished.  I was always comparing myself to those around me.  Control, manipulation, criticism, and perfectionism were my everyday tools fueled by my fears.  Even though I had been a Christian since 1976, growth was stunted because of my hurts and hangups.  As much as I desired spiritual transformation, I was stuck. 

Psalm 32:3-5  “There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was.  But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration…My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them.”

I am Debbie, a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, who has been in Recovery for eight years, and I am learning to live Loved by my Awesome, Faithful, Trustworthy God.

I grew up as the second daughter in a Catholic family with four children, an angry, abusive, alcoholic father, and an emotionally and physically battered mother.  In my childhood, my memories include violent fights, glass being broken, and gunshots being fired in our house.  Many nights, my sister and I would lie awake in bed, completely terrified of the fighting going on downstairs.  Karen was determined and strong, and she would defiantly stand up to our father.  I, on the other hand, learned not to speak for fear of receiving a whipping.

Desperate for love and approval, from a young age I exhibited good behavior and excelled in schoolwork.  My struggles with worry and fear manifested as early as age 5 with tension headaches diagnosed by an eye doctor.  My parents constantly reminded me that children should be seen and not heard, and that I’d never amount to anything.  In order to survive, I learned to bury my feelings and work hard.  I felt I didn’t have a voice.

The deep lie I believed was:  “I don’t matter.”

Starting in 5th Grade, I walked to daily Mass, feeling compelled to serve an overly scrupulous conscience.  Some OCD behaviors became an additional struggle.  Shaming, constant criticism, and Physical abuse reinforced my identity with guilt and worthlessness.

My teenage memories are mostly of working hard to survive…paying my own Catholic Education tuition, Studying incessantly, and trying to make myself look “just so,”  At times, my buried feelings would explode at home prompting my family to call me a street angel and house devil.  That saying became part of my warped belief system: “ I am a hypocrite.”

My efforts to protect myself consumed me. I began shopping to steal clothes hoping I would look and feel better.  The coverup lies added to my guilt and shame.  Any honors I received in Academics, as a Harvest Queen, Salutatorian, Magna Cum Laude Graduate, only added to my sense of phoniness.  I was working increasingly harder to maintain a perfect outward image, yet I felt a deep sadness, extreme loneliness, and a chasm of emptiness.

My parents finally divorced, and I was happily challenged at college by the intellectual escape academics offered.  Yet I was ill equipped to navigate real life.  My struggle compounded when my sister tragically died in a car accident February, 1972.

Where is God now, I questioned?

Trying to relieve my grief, I began a season of alcohol and drug abuse and sexual sin.  This only helped launch me into more confusion about myself.  When I graduated from college in 1975 with highest honors, I remembering feeling like a failure.

Shortly thereafter, I responded to an Altar Call at a Charismatic Mass in 1976.  I so wanted Christianity to fix all that was wrong in my life, but the precepts of surrender and trusting God remained foreign to me.

I married my closest friend, a wonderful man, John Erbland, in 1977.  His unconditional love for me has never failed in 40 years, despite all my fear motivated behavior.  He understood me, patiently loved me, and even used humor during some of my most unattractive times.  As my craving for control surfaced, he affectionately named that behavior “Bossy Betty.”  I struggled with depression and frequent bouts of ugly anger.

In 1980, our twins, Alissa and Carin were born. In 1982, our third daughter Jennifer arrived, and in 1985, our son Jeff was born…God’s biggest blessings, for sure.  But I was determined to work even harder to show everyone that I could mother 4 children under 5 better than anyone else, do everything better than everyone else.  Approval I craved.  I was pretending to be healthy when my life was in chaos.  I denied myself sleep in order to keep our house perfectly organized, and shuffled everyone off to so many activities that I needed a poster-sized calendar to keep it all straight. I was hard working, driven, determined. Wasn’t I just an involved Christian mom who loved being Volunteer of the Year at my kids’ schools?  Busyness crowded out my need to deal with my real issues.  

We attended church, and many Sundays I left feeling worse than when I had arrived.  Look at all those happy people in the church pews, I lamented. I continued spiraling into the insanity of trying to control, worrying, comparing, criticizing, compulsive shopping, and feeling guilty about everything.  We moved several times around the country, and each time I threw myself into arranging innumerable activities for our 4 children, decorating a perfect house, always attending Church, Sunday School, and Bible Study.  A deep sense of worthlessness and insecurity remained in my core despite intellectually understanding Christ’s Supreme Sacrifice.  I felt empty, alone, overwhelmed and exhausted.  I was stuck.

Twelve years ago, my brother accepted Christ and began attending a Celebrate Recovery Group.  God’s transformational work in Greg was evident, his becoming drug and alcohol free, letting go of anger, and living a new life in Christ. As he encouraged me to attend, I became defensive and argumentative.  Even as I went to hear his testimony at Crosswinds, I remember thinking, “I surely hope these people don’t think I’m here for me, I’m here to support my brother.”  Fear, Denial, and Pride were my companions. 

Fast forward two years, and some leadership at Browncroft Community Church wished to begin a Celebrate Recovery.  I agreed to begin training, falsely thinking I could “help others.” 

As I worked through my first year of training by completing a Step Study (a gender-specific weekly meeting where Personal Recovery work is accomplished), I found myself being honest with others for the first time in my life in a safe and confidential group.  James 5:16: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you MAY BE HEALED!”  By sharing my Inventory with my Sponsor, forgiving and making amends, I began to experience a newfound and growing trust in Jesus Christ and a profound release to be able to surrender and allow Christ to begin to transform me.  Halleluiah! I get all jazzed about the fine work He is doing in my life and in the lives of those around me as we learn Recovery Principles…all based on the Word of God in the Sermon on the Mount and more.  Proverbs 29:25: “It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you Trust in the Lord, you are safe.”

HIS opinion is what matters, as HE is my accountability.  While I spent my life comparing myself to others, I now go to God.  “Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.” Galatians 6:4

This has been freeing for me, as I diligently work the Steps.  My energies were misspent for so many years on self-protection.  Now I can more lavishly spend effort pursuing my God and genuinely loving and serving others.  I am learning to live Loved.

Recovery is really about growing deeper with Christ.  Letting go of hurts, hangups, and habits, becoming aware and bringing God into the process.

By intentionally working the 12 Steps of Celebrate Recovery, I am finally beginning to experience true peace and joy and the freedom in Christ offered  to us all.  My Recovery is equipping me with useful tools to navigate life one moment at a time.  As I continue daily learning to live loved, I am privileged and grateful to serve in the Celebrate Recovery Ministry at Browncroft Community Church.

Here I have witnessed nearly 1000 people receive help and hope through God’s healing power.  The positive impact on families is nothing short of miraculous.  It’s exhilarating to meet each Tuesday night with the people God brings for the first time.  I am able to champion and witness first steps of recovery from paralyzing hurts, hangups, and habits.  We are a welcoming and safe community. A “church within the church” where we continue to reach the entire spectrum of hurting people with the healing Jesus taught and modeled.

“May His miracles have a deep and permanent effect on your lives. Tell your children and your grandchildren about the glorious miracles He did.”  Deuteronomy4:9

“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice…But delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on His laws and thinking about ways to follow Him more closely.” Psalm 1:1-2

Thank you for letting me share.  To God be the Glory!

If you would like to be connected to Browncroft’s Celebrate Recovery program, please let me know. 

 

decision

When we think of the change that God has made in our own life, we know we should be sharing that with others. But doing so requires a decision on our part! Read how Karen N. made the choice to share the Good News, and the life-changing decision that followed.

Our new nursing home outreach, Sparrow Watch, was in its fledgling state when I met Catherine, a resident at a local skilled nursing facility. The volunteer coordinator had assigned us lonely residents; Catherine was the 3rd on my list, and I only stopped by her room on my first day there because my other two “sparrows” were sleeping.

Catherine, a frail, bruised woman, was only 65, but longtime drug abuse had aged her unmercifully. After some small talk, she abruptly confided she was scared to death of an upcoming surgery. I suggested we pray about it, but she countered, saying, “I don’t deserve to have God listen to my prayers—I haven’t been a good person.”

I told her that made two of us—in fact, no one deserved to have God listen; we were all sinners but Jesus made a way for us. I told her about my prodigal days and how God never gave up on me. She told me she was raised Catholic and had wanted to be a nun when she was a little girl. I said, “Then you understand that Jesus’ death on the cross means we can have peace with God. That His blood paid for our sins.” She nodded. Meanwhile, in my head, I was yelling “God, are you KIDDING ME?? I am totally not ready to tell this woman about salvation!”

I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. When she said it was too late, and said she’d wasted her life, I shared the story of the thief on the cross. I told her Jesus was the Good Shepherd; how He went looking for the bad, wandering sheep, because He loved it so much. She soaked in these stories with no resistance, starved for hope. As I read her Bible verses, I wrote them on sticky notes and stuck them on her bedside table. She was touchingly grateful.

About 30 minutes after we’d started talking, I felt the Lord saying “pop the question.” I nervously said, “You can know you’re going to Heaven for sure. You can know you’re God’s child by asking Jesus to come into your heart” (or something like that)—all she had to do was pray. I knocked on the wooden bedside tray and said, “He says He stands at the door and knocks and all we have to do is ask Him in and He will be with us forever.” She said “Oh, I don’t know how to do that. I would have no idea what to do.”

I could see God wasn’t letting me off the hook, so I said, “Okay, well, I’ll pray first and you can follow along after me, in your head or out-loud, however you’re comfortable.” She closed her eyes and folded her hands, like a little girl. I prayed aloud what I had just heard Pastor Greg Laurie pray that morning on his radio program…the sinner’s prayer. She prayed, aloud, phrase by phrase, right along after me, as a child would. After we prayed, she put her hand on her heart and said “I don’t believe it!” I asked her what she meant. She said, “I’m not afraid anymore. That feeling is just gone. I just can’t believe it.”

I told her that was because the Holy Spirit is now in her heart and Jesus will never leave her, nor forsake her. “I think God must have sent you,” she said. “It’s like a miracle!”  I told her she was absolutely right; God did send me because He loved her so much, He wanted to make sure she knew she was going to Heaven. We hugged and I left, feeling like someone had hit me upside the head with a cast iron skillet. “What just happened here?” was all I could think. I had never had the honor of leading someone to Jesus and certainly was NOT equipped or prepared for it, except by God’s amazing grace and the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The next time I visited, I told her the story of the woman at the well and gave her a hot pink Bible promises book and a bookmark illustrating the lost sheep story. (I’d asked the Lord what she needed and these were what He pointed out. I said “Hot pink? Really?” The Lord said “Yes. That one.” I asked her if the color was okay and she said “Actually, it’s my favorite color!” Of course!) When I gave her the bookmark, I said “See? This is like you and Jesus. He’s got you in His arms and He’s never letting go.” She wept for joy and hugged me.

The next week was her birthday; I brought her a little gift bag and a Billy Graham tract. When she pulled the tract out, I said “That’s a little reminder of what we talked about; it’s just a little thing.” She looked at me and said “A little thing?” in a tone that said “this is anything *but* little.” She immediately started reading it very intently, ignoring her party guests, me and another resident there to help her celebrate her day.  

I couldn’t visit the next weekend, and had decided I’d start going after work on weekdays, since her daughter occasionally came on weekends. When I arrived at her room that next Tuesday evening, I found her bed stripped and her clothes bundled into plastic bags. The nurse on the floor confirmed my sad supposition: my fragile friend had died on Sunday, exactly one month from our first visit. Catherine was forever safe in the arms of her Good Shepherd, a fallen sparrow seen and cared for by her Heavenly Father. What if I hadn’t popped the question…?

Who in your life needs to experience the life-changing, hope-giving salvation Jesus offers? Who needs you to pop the question?

Photo credit

growth

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a story of life-change from Sarah and her shamrock!

My grandmother gave me a shamrock plant. She took sprouts from my great grandmother’s plant, re-potted them, and gave the plant to me a couple birthdays ago. She took care nurturing it so that when it was given to me, there were tons of thick stemmed sprouts that were tall and had deep green, healthy leaves. There were always little white flower blossoms where new sprouts were forming.

Shamrocks need the right amount of light and appropriate temperature; they need to be rotated every so often to ensure the whole plant is receiving an efficient amount of sun exposure; withered stems need to be plucked, and sometimes stems need to be untangled; and the plant should not be over- or under-watered. Oddly enough though, the plant is resilient. It could be nearing its death and final sprout, but be brought back to full health in a few weeks.

The plant was doing well under my care for quite some time until it started to slowly wither. Instead of a plethora of new sprouts and blossoms at a time, I would maybe have one new sprout that would grow a third of the height of a full, healthy stature and then turn pink and deteriorate. The plant looked awful and I kept trying to change up my care for it, but nothing was working. I asked my grandmother for her advice and she told me to do three things: add potting soil to it so that the roots had room to grow deeper and strengthen the stems, steep a tea bag and spread the grounds from the bag on the soil, and move it away from the window so it wouldn’t be chilled. I had every intention to do as she had told me, but out of laziness and the tolerance of the plant’s condition (it wasn’t completely dead!), I did not. I didn’t move it away from the window because it would be in the way in the middle of my kitchen table. I did not buy tea or soil, items that were never on my grocery list. Several months of neglect passed and the plant maintained its unhealthy condition.

Then one day things came together. My father brought me a small bag of potting soil. I was given a couple tea pouches in a grab bag from a house party. So I steeped the teabag and spread the herbs from the bag in the plant, added soil on top, adjusted my table arrangement in order to move the plant away from the window to the center of the table, and added a little water. I did nothing except obey the orders given to me and have faith that it would work.

In just a matter of a day or two, I had multiple sprouts and blossoms on the plant. Over time the stems that grew were thicker and more durable and did not bend as much or at all. The sprouts grew tall and the leaves did not turn pink-just a deep, healthy green. I was so pleased to see the plant doing well!

I wanted to show my grandmother how well the plant was doing. I went to go visit her and something very special happened. Now, I don’t know who reading this believes in the gift of speaking in tongues, but my grandmother has this gift. She is a prayer warrior and intercessor. I was talking to her about my family members and other chit chat and all of a sudden remembered my plant. The only words I got out were “Oh, grandma, I wanted to show you…” and she finishes my sentence… “your plant?” In that instant, the Holy Spirit came on her very strongly and she began to speak in tongues. I could only sit there, close my eyes, and soak it in. I sat there in amazement of how she knew what I was going to say and how powerfuly the presence in the room just shifted from light conversation. Towards the end, she just stated that there are things that are going to happen in God’s timing and not how I expect them to.

I am always blown away at how God meets us where we are/where our mind is. He used this plant to mirror my faith. For so long, years, I was spiritually starving. I have grown up with my faith and accepted Christ as my Savior when I was a child, but over the past several years, I have not been nurturing my spirit and so I was not growing or moving forward. I was surviving, but felt stagnant. I had attended Browncroft for several years, but had made no connections outside the friends who had originally invited me to the church. I wanted to do more and feel more and be filled and serve something greater than myself, but I was living in fear. I was afraid of committing to giving of myself past what I felt was comfortable. Fear of giving up control and experiencing full submission. Fear of committing to one thing and a certain lifestyle, that I would have to miss out on other things and different lifestyles. Fear of not wanting the life God had planned for me. Fear of letting go of things I wanted and not seeing God’s promises occur in my life. The most ironic piece, though, is that doing what I wanted resulted in a lot of pain. Fear of isolation and ending up alone because of my beliefs. Fear of being alone if I embraced my true self and that my true self was not worth the love of others. Fear of showing weakness. Fear of failure. Fear of God punishing me for making mistakes. Living in fear so intensely was absolutely exhausting.

The exhaustion and frustration of feeling stagnant led me to baby steps and meeting one person through another that eventually lead me to committing to be a senior high small group leader. It was not how I imagined I would be serving and connecting to others at Browncroft. I felt that God led me to it, though, and I made a decision to be obedient. From the time I committed to leading, I cannot count the number of blossoms. From no effort of my own, God began to heal a number of relationships damaged by years of pain. I have a renewed satisfaction of purpose and meaning. I have adapted better financial habits even. I have a new found security and freedom in embracing who God created me to be, which has resulted in connecting to others on a deeper level. I have a strengthened understanding of God’s goodness and refreshed faith in his promises. I have met a number of people who pour into me and encourage me—I do not feel alone. The only thing I did was be obedient. Showing up to youth group was a choice, and one I had to make every week for quite some time. I was out of my comfort zone. After a while of just choosing to show up, I eventually looked forward to going. I missed seeing my students throughout the week. I love spending time with them and respect the beautiful young women I have connected with.

Prior to leading, I was desperate for change. The changes I wanted were tangible. I wanted to be in love and be married and have a family and a house and financial freedom and the perfect career. These things were my goals in order to find happiness. None of these things were bad, but I had started to make them idols. The most amazing piece of all of this and submitting to God’s will is that I have new life through no effort of my own. I have experienced change, but not from anything listed above. God changed my heart and my perspective. I have a new-found, exhilarating joy without any major circumstantial changes. I have a refreshed strength that does not allow pain and circumstances to ruin my day and dent my faith with doubt. Instead I have come to learn how to find comfort from my Savior. I don’t want to even have to be comforted. I just want to be used to show others how possible, accessible, powerful and amazing complete transformation through Christ is. God is GOOD and faithful and there is no reason for us to be afraid.

 Romans 12:1-2 has been somewhat of an anthem to me over the past year:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

As Sarah knows, life-change happens as we give our lives in obedience to God. Are you ready for a fresh start this spring? Let’s pray together about where you can express your desire to follow Jesus at Browncroft. Contact me here.

disciple

What a privilege today for me to share with you David’s story of life-change in Jesus!

I retired in November, 2014, as Deputy Chief for United States Probation and Parole after serving 23 years. Following a blessed career in criminal justice, I was sensing a shift in heart towards social justice. Human trafficking, missions, and the injustice of poverty were at the forefront of my thoughts. While I felt professionally invested in those areas, nothing directly hit my heart. My constant prayer during this time was a desire to be where the heart of Jesus was and for my heart to break for what breaks His. I am a living example of Psalm 34:7: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He answered the desires of my heart. It breaks daily now (in a good way).  I never saw it coming. This is my story of God’s goodness and how openness and obedience to Him has changed my life.

A few experiences led to my heart’s shift. About a year ago, I was exposed to the Rochester International Academy, a Rochester city  school whose students are almost entirely refugees. My son, Sam, is a middle school ESOL teacher at the school, and I spent a few days observing his class. His students come from literally all over the world, and have varying (and often contrasting) cultures and beliefs. Yet I was struck by how much love he showed them and how much they grew to love not only him, but each other, too. That connection touched my heart. Around the same time, I took the Perspectives missions course and Susan Patt instructed one of the sessions. Her discussion on her intentionality in meeting Muslims and inviting them into a relationship struck a chord with me, although I did not know why. I became involved with our fledgling Browncroft refugee team, trying to figure out a way to reach Rochester’s refugee community. I also read books which pointed me in a certain direction: Possible and Seeking Refuge by Stephan Bauman, and The Justice Calling by Hoang and Johnson. In all of these endeavors, God was planting the seeds and moving me to a course of action. 

Although I heard the call, I was nervous about how far it would stretch me. In June, 2016, my wife and I attended one of the town hall meetings that Pastor Rob was holding that preceded The Reach Initiative.  At the end of the meeting, Pastor Rob encouraged each person to write on a card the area they were being challenged by God to commit to. The lone yet powerful desire in my heart at that time was to be a bridge between Browncroft and the refugee community. I really had no idea why I wrote that, nor any idea how that was going to happen. Pastor Rob then asked people to read their statements aloud. An inept and fearful feeling crept upon my brain when around the room people were committing to deep spiritual connections, and I had this statement that was so different and seemingly unknown. When it came my time to read, I barely even mumbled what I had wrote. The facilitator asked me say it again in a louder voice. Talk about embarrassment! 

That same week, my wife, Adele, took a new job on Long Island. After much thought and prayer between us, she’d be moving six hours east for a professional opportunity that matched her strengths. For the first time in more than twenty years, we’d have to live apart during the week. While she had my full support to pursue her next venture, my life had changed dramatically. Without Adele physically there, I had to find what was next for me.  I knew it was the time to listen to God’s call in my heart. I perused the Catholic Family Center website for volunteer possibilities in the refugee community when I saw an opening for a part-time outreach worker. My initial thought was that this post could be an easy transition for me — “dipping my toes into the water,” so to speak. I applied, and within the next week, I accepted the position. While I thought it would start innocuously, God had other plans. Life has not been the same since

This has been the hardest work I have ever done. It’s also the most rewarding. My job entails taking the refugees to various appointments: Social Services, Social Security, various medical appointments, school registration, etc. While those duties may seem tedious and mundane, it couldn’t be any more powerful. While spending time together, my new friends share stories of loss that truly break my heart. When you are confronted with lives that have been forever altered by the death of loved ones, including deaths of parents in front of their children, deaths of children in front of their parents, being displaced from the country where they grew up, leaving loved ones behind and not knowing their survival, trying to live in a foreign country alone when some of them are barely adults — not to mention the heartbreak of special needs children including CP, Downs Syndrome and paralysis. How can than not change you?

My first couple of weeks on the job, I would come home and weep after my work with families. I would not be able to sleep as I grappled with the pain, suffering, and loss my friends endured. Through these encounters, God was transforming my heart — slashing away the complacency and replacing it with a mercy and compassion that I have never experienced. Their stories are written on my heart. 

Over the past several months I have developed personal relationships with a number of individuals. My three “adopted sons” shared our family celebration of Thanksgiving in our home. I ran into them today at the Catholic Family Center Office and they hugged me tight, calling me “Papa,” and wanting to know how “Mama” was doing. I have several Afghani friends who are going to teach me how to cook some cultural dishes. One of my true heroes is a 19-year-old Somali young man named H. He is here with his 16-year-old brother, who has cerebral palsy; 13-year-old sister who has Downs Syndrome; and 6-year-old brother, who is paralyzed. H. has always carried the youngest one everywhere since they never had a wheelchair. I spent half a day with this family and fell in love with all of them. The next time I stopped at their house was the day of our first snow storm. The oldest had never seen or experienced snow, but there he was with huge smile on his face was out shoveling the driveway. My son and I share several friends as he has students of the families I serve. There are so many relationships with these truly amazing people for which I’m grateful.

As I reflect back on my brief journey into the refugee world, I think back to a phrase that my wife and I often talk about. St Frances of Assisi, near his death, prayed for his friars: “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours.” Our collective and individual prayer has been, “ what is mine to do?” Being obedient to what is on your heart is one way God teaches us what is ours to do. Our hearts are made to notice, to care, to move toward certain people and certain needs. When their needs are met, our hearts are satisfied. When they aren’t, our hearts hurt and break with their hearts. Yet when we meet the needs of people who are ours to help we increase not only their joy, but ours as well. It is very hard to adequately describe my daily encounter with God during this stage of my life. Each day, when I am with the people assigned to me, I pray for them and their transition to our country. I also pray that their hearts would be open to seeing a loving God in a way that they have never experienced.  I am clearly aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me. My heart beats faster than normal and I have an incredible peace and joy that exudes in my countenance. I have begun to understand that I am actually in communion with God. Natural ministry comes from living from the inside out. I was recently asked by a Somali family and a Congolese family why I am so happy. I told them I have the love of Jesus in my heart and He wants me to be here with your family. The Somalis (Muslims) started laughing and clapping. The Congolese were beaming with radiant smiles and clicks of their tongues. Being themselves Christian, they were there with me.

As Christians we often say and repeat the phrase, “God is good.” I have said that many times and believed it. Now for the first time I am living it every day. When God truly answers the desires of your heart, the goodness of our Father overflows into your life and touches the others around you. I believe the Holy Spirit reaffirms the wonder and beauty of our perfectly good Father. The work that he is doing in all of us is about deepening the connection to the Father, who brings us identity, purpose, and an awareness of the resources to accomplish our purpose in life. When the Holy Spirit is able to do his work in us, our connection to all that is good and made clear. God is good.

Dallas Willard is an author and theologian I greatly respect. He says “The greater issue facing the world today, with all the heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as Christians will become disciples, students, apprentices, practitioners of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” I think back to being obedient to what was on my heart and nervously scrawling those words on that card at the Reach meeting. Many years ago, I believed that God gave me a word about my purpose in life. Isaiah 61:1 says ” The Lord God has put his Spirit in me because the Lord has appointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts are broken, to tell the captives they are free and tell the prisoners they are released.” I believed at the time, and still do, that this was pointing me in a direction where His purpose for me would be fulfilled. This is now more evident in my life than ever before. I also know the lyrics of the song “In Over My Head” are so true: “Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free, I’m going under, I’m over my head, that’s where you want me to be, I’m going under, I’m in over my head, whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.” I’m in over my head, but I’ve never been so alive.

At Browncroft we are devoted to being Jesus’ disciples, and embrace with joy the life-change that his love brings! To learn more about refugee ministry at Browncroft, contact us in the office.

Imagination

Last week, our READ 365  Bible reading program launched a new year in a new style. We as a congregation look to the Word of God as the most basic way He speaks to us, and we strive as Browncrofters to make reading or listening to it an important part of every single day.

Peter Englert, our Belong Director, shared that week a story of personal life-change as a way to describe one of this year’s practices, Imagination. Here’s the transcript of that talk.

Today is Saturday, January 7, and the practice for Read 365 today is Imagination.

When I met my wife Robyn, she taught me this tradition for the new year: She said, you need to pick a word for the year.  And so we’ve been doing that ever since we’ve been dating. This past year I picked the word “humility.” I’d love to say it was my first choice and I wanted to do it, but I just felt that that was the word I needed.

During the year I went through conflicts and situations, and I came up to my pride. I looked in the mirror and I came face to face with this horrible issue of pride, which is the opposite of humility. What I began to find was this: I wasn’t always willing to ask for help. I thought I had the answers. I thought I could make things happen.  And God in his graciousness allowed me to walk through situations where I had to see it from a different perspective. I had to learn how to listen.

When we talk about imagination, we are talking about spiritual growth—for you to see your life a year from now growing in Jesus Christ, experiencing life-change.  Maybe, like me, you want to pick a word.  And you refocus and you come back to that word, and you see how God is growing you. You see, part of what we miss in following Jesus is this: we see all the things we can’t do. But the part about the gospel that wakes me up in the morning is that God actually calls us to see ourselves in the future, to have an imagination of what he is doing. If you look no farther than the Beatitudes, “blessed are the merciful,” how would our lives grow and what would they look like if we had mercy?

In today’s passage, in the last verse, Paul says to Timothy, “watch your life.” You see, in having the practice of imagination, you’re watching your life for growth, you’re seeing and asking God: God, where will my life be in the next couple weeks or months, even year ahead? Where do you want to transform my heart? Maybe it’s humility. Maybe it’s compassion. Maybe it’s love and maybe it’s joy. Take some time and figure out what word God has for you, what steps of growth he’s calling you to take and focus on this year.  And don’t forget to practice imagination.

If you’d like to talk to Peter more about spiritual growth and practices, or sign up for READ 365, l’d be glad to connect you! To listen to the original video, click here.

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.