Seeing, Feeling, Praying and Acting

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As we prepare to fly to Brazil on 8th August, we begin to feel the reality and magnitude of our decision to go. Many people have asked us why? Why are we going? Many Brazilians struggle to understand why we are going “home” when the country is steeped in a deep crisis and many Brazilians are trying to leave.

The answer to these questions are perhaps found in the following passage from Matthew:

‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness […] these twelve Jesus sent out […]’ (Matthew 9:35 – 10:1,5a – NIV)

There are four things in this passage that jump out. The first is that Jesus saw the crowds. Jesus did not only look, but he saw beyond what met the eyes. Sometimes we look but we are not seeing. When we visited Goiania in 2015, God allowed us to see the people living on the streets. A calling first emerges when we see a need that needs to be met. Jesus saw the crowds, and in the same way we are called to see those around us who need God’s love.

The second thing is that Jesus feels. He has compassion on the crowds. Likewise, when we see the way God sees, God will give us a heart for the people we encounter. This is essential in mission, without an emotional response to human need mission is rarely possible. We need to see but we also need to feel what God feels for those he places around us. God has given us a heart for the people living on the streets of Goiania.

The third thing is: Jesus asks his disciples to pray. When we meet people in a helpless situation we can often feel powerless. Any of our efforts could seem to be nothing more than just a drop in the ocean. That is why Jesus asks us to pray, as a way of recognising that only God can really change lives and helpless situations. Only God can give us the strategy and show us the way forward. When we see and feel, instead of reacting from a place of emotion we are called to pray for God’s way. In our experience, we prayed that God would send others to help the helpless in Goiania, but we were the answer to our prayers.

The fourth thing is that Jesus does not stop at just seeing, feeling and praying. Whilst these are important, when we realise that God can change lives, it demands that we act. Prayer, good wishes and knowledge about a problem, if not coupled with action will never bring change. We often stop at the praying stage… but Jesus’ response is to send people like you and I to meet the need of the helpless. And this is why we are going!

We are going because we saw, we felt, we prayed and these things demanded action. You may not be called to go to a distant country to share the love of God. Maybe God has given you eyes to see, a heart to feel, and knees to pray and a will to act to show love to people at work, in your community, or in your own family. His desire is that we go to those we see who need his love. So we must go!

 

 

#JesusChallege: Day 7

For the past 7 days I have blogged about my daily times with Jesus. It has been a challenging week. Making time to pray and write was not always easy, and I felt pulled in every direction to give up on the challenge. There was temptation too, and at times a sense of real darkness. It goes to show that when we make a decision to spend time with Jesus, the enemy will often try to distract us. I am not one to blame the enemy for everything, but we cannot deny that we are in a battle. This battle is for our devotion. A battle raged by Satan that seeks to take our eyes off Jesus and distract us with other cares.

Today as I prayed I was reminded of the passages in Revelation 2 and 3 about the seven churches. Jesus, through John’s prophecy, commends these churches on their love and work, but also warns them about areas of distraction. The church in Ephesus is warned about returning to their first love. Jesus wants them to go back to the start:

“You have forsaken the your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove you lampstand from its place.”

The church in Pergamum is also called to repent (Rev 2:16), whilst the church in Sardis is challenged to recognised that whilst they have a reputation for being alive, they are in fact dead… Jesus wants them to wake up!

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found you deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent…” (Rev 3:2-3a)

After a more detailed reading of both chapters it is clear that  these are pictures of distraction. Communities and individuals that had initially chosen to follow God and even had a reputation for being passionate, alive and strong and yet had been distracted by ungodly ideas and a lifestyle that did not match with the Gospel they had originally believed in.

I know from personal experience that this can so easily happen. We can so easily get distracted by our desires, our ideas and our lifestyle that we neglect our first love. Our first love being that initial passion or resolve to follow God is then replaced by another kind of love, the love for something else that distracts us from our relationship with God.

The way back is repentance. But I often ask God, what does that even mean? I know repentance is not remorse. It is not feeling bad for a particular thought or action, but it is rather a U-turn that redirects us towards God and away from sin. But this is sometimes harder to make sense of than one may imagine initially. Flowing from yesterday’s reflection on sacrifice… repentance does involve self-denial however, it seems to be more than that. It seems to be about going back to the beginning and realising how much grace we have received.

On the Cross, Jesus pressed the reset button and made a new way for us. He opened the door for the way back. He made us a new creation. But often through our distractions we end up stuck somewhere along the way, travelling in the opposite direction. Repentance then seems to be a resolve to go back to the beginning. I don’t know about you, but I would love that opportunity in many areas of my life. The opportunity to start afresh… to be recreated.

Maybe like me, you are sometimes distracted by all sorts of things… thoughts, action, sins, and busyness. It is sometimes required to stop, reflect and deliberately go back. Stop doing certain things, ending certain relationships and throwing ourselves on God’s grace.

Today I am welcoming that opportunity to press the reset button. To restart. To go back to the beginning. The beginning is the Cross… the start of our journey is death. Death to ourselves and to the old way of being and rebirth through the resurrection of Jesus towards life. Today I am challenged to rid myself of distractions and start afresh, my prayer is that you may do the same.

I will continue to make time for Jesus each day (although I may not publish them pubicly). I will continue to go back to the beginning. As Peter exclaimed: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Where else can we go if hope is only found in Jesus. We better return then. A step at a time.

“Lord forgive me my distractions. Make me new and help me to restart. I need you… where else could I go? Only have the words of eternal life. Help me God. Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 6

Following Jesus is wonderful. He is with us and strengthens us in the darkest times. But following Jesus also requires a level of sacrifice. In the West we have developed a culture of instant gratification where sacrifice has to be avoided at all costs.

However, sacrifice is the very foundation of our faith. Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could have access to the fullness of life he promised. He also said that if we are to follow him we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Matt 16:24), though self-denial is something almost unheard of in our culture and time. Jesus also said that in this life we will have troubles and afflictions, but that he has overcome to the world (John16:33). It is all about perspective.

Elijah was one the greatest prophets of Israel. Through the power of God he performed many signs and wonders but it cost him everything down to his very reputation. Near the end of his ministry he throws his cloak around Elisha, as a sign that his mantle and legacy had been passed on to Elisha. Elisha was a farmer with many responsibilities but he does not waste time. In 1 Kings 20:21 we read this:

“So Elisha left him (Elijah) and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. The he set to follow Elijah and became his attendant.”

When he receives the call to follow he does not come up with a plan b, or a way of keeping his assets as something to fall back on to. He burns his ploughs and leaves his entire life behind to follow a call. Now this must have been very sacrificial for him to do. No plan b meant no ploughs. No trade. No money. Self-denial.

As we embark on this new adventure moving to Brazil, we are aware that sacrifice must be involved, that we need to burn our ploughs and follow. It has been hard, and there is more to burn actually. But we pray it will open the way for God to do miracles in our lives and the lives of others. We have come to believe that it is impossible to experience everything that God has for us without sacrificing and surrendering our all.

I don’t know your context and I know that not everyone is called to do what we are doing. In fact, I know for sure that some people are called to stay exactly where they are to bless people in their work place, university etc. But we are all called to live a sacrificial lifestyle. We are all called to burn our ploughs and follow Jesus with our crosses on our backs. What does that mean for you? What does a sacrificial life look like for you at work, uni or school? How would it change you relationships? How would it change you activities?

The cross of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, led to life. Elisha’s burning of ploughs led to a fruitful ministry. On the other side of sacrifice there is growth, life and promise. Whilst we don’t sacrifice with that in mind, it is encouraging to know that God honours us when we choose self-denial and sacrificial living.

Today I have been reminded that this walk of ours, this journey of faith, includes sacrifice. It includes the pain of sad goodbyes. It includes the smoke of burning ploughs. It is messy and never easy. But I am also reminded that in taking that road we will be honoured and that on the other side there is life and promise. May we all choose to sacrifice that which is precious for the sake of knowing Jesus. The apostle Paul writes:

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

When we choose a sacrificial lifestyle we gain Christ himself. It must be worth it all!

“Lord Jesus, help me to burn my ploughs, to carry my cross and to follow you with abandon. Help me to deny myself for the sake of knowing you more deeply. May you be first in my heart. Amen.”

 

#JesusChallege: Day 5

If I look back on my own journey with God so far I can so clearly see the hand of God in so many moments. There have been many lows. Times when hope was scarce and darkness surrounded. Other times have been times of growth and fullness. At the moment, as we transition from what has been to what will be, there are also ups and downs, with days of certainty and a few of doubt.

However, today as I asked Jesus to speak to me I was aware of his grace. His patience with me, even when I was getting it wrong. His forgiveness when I messed it all up. Today I am reminded of the many second chances I have had. My heart was full of gratitude for what God has done in my life, changing my story and bearing with me. Today, I am thankful.

I would also encourage to take a moment of look back. Identify the times when God’s grace upheld you and when his forgiveness made you whole. Look back… you may find that God’s grace was evident even when you did not notice at the time. The old hymn by Johnson Oatman Jr. sung so many times in my childhood tells us to count our blessings…

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

Today I am learning to remember the times Jesus held on to me, even when I wandered away. Today I am learning that gratitude is a key feature of an abundant life. Today I am reminded to thank God for his grace.

“Jesus, thank you for Grace! Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 4

Today at “House 244” (the CMS community house we are living in here in Oxford) we gathered as a community to share prayer needs and pray for one another. There were about 7 of us there and we each shared what is going on in our lives at the moment, some of the challenges as well as blessings. It was a really special time of prayer. It made me think how important it is for us to have other people to share our journey of faith with. It made me appreciate this season more as well, and the privilege to have a community around us as a family.

It can be really hard sometimes to go through stuff on our own. When I was 17 years old, having moved to the UK, I found myself all alone in big scary London. I attended English classes and worked in central London. Nothing glamorous… I cleared tables at a busy Italian restaurant in Covent Garden and coveted the food leftover in people’s plates. Money was so tight that after I had paid for my weekly rent and bus pass there was very little left (£8.50 to be exact). Sometimes I had to steal potatoes from work as I could not afford dinner.

After eating my microwaved potato with vast amounts of margarine, I would often retreat to my tiny room above a funeral company’s morgue. Quite often I would cry myself to sleep, as cried out to God for hope. In my poverty and loneliness, I was so aware of God being there. However, I did miss having people to journey with. I missed having people to talk to, people who could pray for me. Those were very lonely times.

You know, God is always with us but we also need people to do life with… people with whom we share deeply. People who are allowed into the more vulnerable areas of our lives.

In Luke 24 we read about two disciples who are walking away from Jerusalem. Away from the epicentre of the shocking events that led to the death of Jesus. They were puzzled and bewildered. However, they were together. Here is an extract of that passage:

“13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognising him.”

As they talked to one another. As they shared deeply about their failed hopes and fears, Jesus himself joined them on the road to Emmaus. He walks with them. He talks to them. He makes things clearer. He explains what is going on. He is present in their painful journey. Likewise, as we journey with others and share deeply with them, Jesus will often come and walk along with us.

Today, I was reminded of the importance of having people with whom we can journey. Because when we do so, when we intentionally share about our faith, struggles and blessings, Jesus joins us on the journey.

Who are you journeying with at the moment? You may have many friends and people in your life, but my question is specifically about your faith journey. Who are the people of faith with whom you can deeply share with? If you do not have anyone at the moment maybe you should consider asking someone to be your companion. It will really help. In my own journey I have had people who have walked and still walk with me, even in the most painful moments. Plus, something powerful happens when we journey together with other believers: Jesus is present, even though we may not recognise it straight away!

As Christians we also have a responsibility to walk with those who are lonely. There are many people in your life who are probably really struggling and could so with a friend to journey with. Today I felt challenged to intentionally seek people to journey with, as well as challenged to be aware of those who are lonely.

“Lord Jesus, I thank you that you are always with us. Please, help us to be good companions. To allow people to journey with us and to intentionally choose to journey with those who are lonely. Please help us to recognise your presence with us, even in the most painful moments. Amen.”

 

 

#JesusChallenge: Day 3

#JesusChallenge: Day 3

This challenge to focus on Jesus has been about reminding myself, with God’s help, of why I believe. The reason why is not a thing but a person. As Christians we are called to do seek justice, love others, and try to be a transformative influence for good wherever we go. But we often get caught up in being Christian, going to church, being nice and following a few rules. However, if we lose sight of Jesus. The reason why we believe what we believe and do what we do. It can become mechanical. A lifeless tick list of dos and don’ts. This falls short of the fullness we are called to live and experience.

Why are we Christians? Why do we go to church often? Why do we commit our time, finances and energy being part of the community of those who follow Jesus? If we are honest most who profess a faith in Jesus often forget why. This means many of us, need to be reintroduced to Jesus. The man-God who walked the earth, healed many, raised the dead and himself was raised from the dead. We need to be reacquainted with his power, with the reality that he is ALIVE and has told us that WHOEVER believes will do event greater things than these (John 14:12)!

Today I am challenged by this truth! How would my own life and ministry change if I lived with this reality in the forefront of my thinking? He is alive and he wants to partner with us to bring about his kingdom. Wow! If we believe that than all things are possible for those who believe indeed. The problem is, we often water this truth down. We would never deny it, but we come up with all sorts of rational explanations as to why it’s different for us. But if Jesus is alive today, and if he has a plan and a hope for you and I, than life looks different.

In John 15 we read this:

4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 

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Ok, so it is clear that we need to remain in Jesus. But what does that even mean? You know what? I don’t know… any attempts from me will probably result in the production of a legalistic list of things I need to do. But one thing is also clear, the secret is in Jesus. Staying close to him seems to be the key. What would that look like for you and I? How, when, and where do we feel closest to Jesus? The answers to these questions may give us clues as to what remaining in Jesus means for you and I.

I seem to meet God when I meet people, through conversations and fellowship over the dinner table. For you it may be by going for a walk and admiring nature, or reading a book. Whatever it is… we need to “go do it”! The promise is that if we remain, if we get our nourishment from Jesus, than we will be fruitful. So not doing it means we miss out on fullness!

Maybe like me at times you have felt fruitless. Maybe your life consists of meetings, and forms and an ever increasing to do list. What I am learning is that we need to make time. We need to create room for Jesus in our lives. To return to that place when God seemed so real you could almost touch him.  I am learning that Jesus’ promise is available to me (and you!). That fruitfulness will come when I make room. All our endeavours come to nothing (at least in the sense of true fulfilment) away from him…

“Jesus help us to return to that place (physical or otherwise) where you seemed so real that everything was made new. Help us to live a life that is based on the fact that you are alive! Help us to move away from a Christianity of things we have to do, to a faith based on a personal relationship with you Jesus, not only with the institution that bears your name . Help us to remain in you when things are good or bad. Forgive us when we water you message down to being nice and feeling good. Help us to follow you with a cross on our backs. Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 2

As the challenge to spend time with Jesus continues I have taken myself away from the busyness at home for a walk by the water (the perks of living in Oxford). In my walk as I prayed for Jesus to be the focus I was again reminded about the book of Joel.

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision!” (3:14)

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I was puzzled by what “the valley of decision” means. Having read a little more about it, it refers to the time when God will gather all nations to deal once and for all with the brokenness of the world. In this place God will judge the wickedness of the world. But in that fearful day “the Lord will be a refuge for his people”. (3:16)

What is clear is that God will put an end to wickedness and restore all things back to what he intended them to be. This fills me with hope and gratitude. Because I know that one day all of the sorrows we face will be dealt with by God.

Today someone asked me… what are the Good News we have to share with the world? The Good News is that because of the cross, because of what Jesus has done for us we have hope for tomorrow. But we also have hope for today! Jesus said that he came to give us life and and life in abundance. I believe this is not just for the future, but also for the now.

I feel challenged to live in a state of hope, in the knowledge that God will ultimately have victory over wickedness. I am learning to appropriate myself to a narrative of hope and to reshape my own life according to it. I am learning that good will prevail over bad, and that Jesus’s cross speaks a better word for my life now, and for the future.

Today you may be walking the darkest valley, you may be going through some really difficult stuff… but please remind yourself that God is good that he has your life in his hands.

“Lord, thank you for your promise to deal with our brokenness and with all the atrocities we see in our world. Please give us the faith to live in a state of hope, knowing that you are in control and that we can have hope today and tomorrow. Help us to live abundant lives of generosity and love. Amen.”

#JesusChallenge: Day 1

Today, in the first day of my challenge to spend time with Jesus, I came with a sense of gratitude but also anxiety. This “no-plan-b thing” can be tiring and take its toll on you… particularly  when, like me, trusting does not come naturally. On top of that, my heart (like yours probably) has also been full of sorrow and concern for the state of the world and the nation, the hopelessness affecting so many in less fortunate places, angry elections, and of course the problem of terror.

As I asked God to share with me what was on his heart, I opened my Bible and started reading from the book of Joel. In chapter 1, Joel describes a situation beyond hopeless that affects his nation. Fear, desolation, and despair are in many ways similar to our own experience in our world today.

And like many around the world today, Joel cries out to God to have mercy in a time of utter hopelessness. The image he uses is of locusts devouring fields and pastures leaving little left. From that place he cries out to God for help.

You know… God’s response seems a little odd from a human perspective. He asks his people to fast and pray (2:12). As the prophet Joel puts it:

“Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (2:13) 

Now, I don’t know about you, but when the situation is desperate I sort of really want God to actually do something. To fix the problem… or to help me come up with a solution to the problem. But God for some reason sees right past the issue. He knows our tendency to use things and people only while they are convenient to us. He knows we are prone to wanting quick solutions. So God demands a relationship with us… he wants our hearts.

The ancient people of Israel had the habit to give up their good clothes and put on sackcloth when they fasted. What God says through Joel is that he does not want them to surrender their garments (just what is outside), he wanted them to surrender their hearts! He did not want to provide superficial solutions, he wanted to be in relationship with them.

In Joel chapter 3, God promises that out of that relationship he would repay the years eaten by the locusts.

There is hope when we are connected to the Father. There is a way out. The way out is surrender… the way out is a living relationship with God.

The challenge this week is to spend time with Jesus asking him to share his heart with me. Today I learned that in times of fear and hopelessness God calls his people to be closer to him. The challenge of today is surrendering my heart to God.

“Lord Jesus, help me not to use you for quick fixes. Help me to surrender my heart so that I can be used by you to bring transformation to a broken world. Help me to stay close to you. Amen.”

 

The focus is Jesus…

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Recently, we have been reading a very good and challenging book by Pete Greig entitled ‘Dirty Glory’. In it Pete Greig writes about his journey of faith leading one of the largest Christian movements of our time, 24-7 Prayer. He writes:

“The vision is Jesus. Everything else is secondary – even the mission is less important than the man.” (p 54)

We feel very challenged by this. Often as Christians, and for us as full-time missionaries, the mission and the work become and the focus of what we do. Running programmes and serving in church, helping others, going to conferences, speaking in churches, and doing everything we can to be better Christians, can sometimes distract us from the importance of knowing Jesus in the power of his resurrection in the intimate place.

I must admit that amidst the busyness of moving house, starting missionary training and getting busy with all sorts of things, sometimes Jesus is the last thing on my mind!

Over the years I have developed a habit of creating “to do” lists on my computer. A permanent item for each day is… “pray”. It’s there as a reminder and as a desire. I pray everyday, even if just before bed or as I drive somewhere… but this sort of prayer is not always the sort that leads me closer to Jesus as it can become just an activity. This sort of prayer does not always flow out of a place of desire to get to know God more. It’s often a list of requests and items of thanks, but not as often is it a time where I just want to know what the Father has to share with me. The things that are on his heart.

In reading ‘Dirty Glory’ we have been reminded that Jesus is the focus. The work we are hoping to do in Goiania is secondary to the fact that we are called to be in relationship with the Father. We have been reminded that in order to be effective in what we do, we need to first be. We have been challenged to put Jesus first.

So in the coming days we are going to challenge ourselves to spend time with God. Waiting and listening…. asking him to share his heart with us. This will not be an item on our to do list, but a time to work on our relationship with Jesus. From 5th June we will post here (for a week) how that time is going and, if you feel like it, you can also join us in this challenge. The challenge is spending a few minutes each day talking to Jesus, working on our relationship with him, and listening for his heart (his hopes and dreams) for our lives.

Pete Greig writes:

“The vision is Jesus. Not Christianity. Not prayer, mission and justice. Not worship-leading or church-planting or evangelism. If you love Jesus you’ll do that stuff: you’ll pray and worship and go to church and preach the gospel – but in doing all those things, don’t lose the why, don’t get lost in the crowd.”

If Jesus is the vision… then we need to get to know him more. My prayer is that somehow Jesus will become the complete focus of my life. That I will be unapologetically be obsessed with spending time with him more than working for him. Instead of looking for people to help and introduce to Jesus, we will try to look for Jesus in the people we meet so that in everything we do we do it to be closer to the person in whom ‘live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28)

Challenge accepted!

 

Plan AAA Starts

Plan AAA starts now…

This last Sunday (23/04), we were prayed for by our friends at St Andrew’s Church. It was an emotional time for us, but we felt so loved by everyone. It was a sweet time together over lunch after the morning services. At the end, someone said to us: “There is No Plan B, but there is Plan AAA (triple A)… Access All Areas!” Indeed we would like God to have access to all areas of our lives, so that we too can experience ALL the things he has in store for us in Brazil!

Nicolas had his first day ay his new school on Tuesday. He was so excited he could hardly sleep the night before. As a Christian school they start each day with prayers, and the parents are also invited to a prayer meeting on Tuesdays. We plan on getting to know a few people and to encourage Nicolas to make the most of his time at Emmanuel.

We have moved into House 244!
After many days of packing and letting go, we have arrived in Oxford with our hearts are full of excitement for the weeks to come. Training has started and this week has consisted of many meetings and inductions and  tomorrow we will be shown around Oxford city centre.
We keep looking at each other in complete amazement at what God has done to get us here!
However, to get here we faced many battles in the last days in Wycombe. From health problems relating to Debora’s C-section, to kids getting sick and being taken to A&E, to our bank account being targeted by fraudsters! Through everything we kept reminding ourselves of the fact that God is victor and that we are safe in His hands. We fool ourselves if we think the enemy will stay quiet when we respond to a call of God on our lives… and although it is frustrating at times, we must press on! The prize is worth the cost!
Please pray for:

  • Good health
  • Levi to successfully complete his Master’s Course
  • Debora to cope well with the new routine
  • Nicolas and Olivia to continue to thrive
  • God to be the focus (we can easily get distracted by the transition and lose sight of why we are going).
  • Thank God with us for his provision. We have now reached 80% of our required funds!