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Ellie and Enrique Goolkasian Lugo in Mexico: Quantum Rehab

Although she wrote it in a novel, author Lisa Unger succinctly explained a difficult concept.

 “Quantum physics tells us that life is a series of possibilities existing side by side in any given moment; it is our choices that create our reality.”

Nothing has made that clearer to me than seeing men in rehab. The choice to use drugs or alcohol results in a person totally different than the one who emerges as that choice is changed.

Mancillas and José

Mancillas and José

Mancillas, now sixty-two, started drinking and smoking when he was twelve. At fourteen he added heroin to the mix and was its slave for forty years!

“My mom would hit me when I came home drunk so I ran away. I lived in the streets, in one rehab after another and back to the streets.”

“How many rehab centers have you been in?”

He thought long.

“El Shaddai, San Diego, The Crash (not kidding on the name), Strong Tower, SIDAD, Solo Por Hoy (“Only for Today.” Who the heck would name a rehab center that?), four months in jail, La Esperanza, Pan de Vida, El Sembrador, El Shaddai, Tijuana, Edificando Para Cristo, plus six suicide attempts.”

 “I never really opened my heart to God until now. In Esperanza we went to chapel three times a day but there were too many people. My mind was always elsewhere.”

“And now?”

“Here, God’s finally reached me. I pray and fast every morning and read the Bible; no going back - I like it here. Enrique’s a good pastor and I’m ready for a new life!”

“When I read about people wandering through the desert in the Bible, I think of forty years injecting myself. That was my desert!”

I turned to José, a twenty-four year old recovering from crystal meth addiction.

“Hear that, José? Forty years and ten different rehabs! Don’t you do that!”

He shook his head.

“No way! This is my first and last rehab.”

He began with marijuana, beer, and occasional cocaine. At twenty-one, he was working far from home and missing his wife and son. Some co-workers had an apartment and he moved in. They all used crystal.

“I started using meth to fill the emptiness I felt.”

“How’d that work for you?”

We both laughed.

“For a short while, better, then way worse.”

“Did you ever try to stop?”

“A hundred times! The best I did was five to seven days. Every other drug I could handle, like marijuana. My father always told me I was stupid, worthless, good for nothing. When I smoked pot his insults went in one ear and out the other. But on crystal I lost control. It lost its pleasure but I couldn’t stop. In desperation I started reading the Bible, listening to Christian music, and going to A.A. and N.A., but even after I believed in God, things would improve briefly but I kept going back and using.”

“At twelve I tried to kill myself. My father had a gun under his bed. I held it up to my temple (demonstrated using his finger as a pistol.) Then I thought, that’ll hurt. So I switched it to here (moving his finger to middle of his forehead.) But I thought, that’ll hurt, too! I remembered in movies they put it inside their mouth so I did that.”

 He opened his mouth and inserted his forefinger pointing upwards toward the roof.

“That’s when I heard a voice, like an echo, in my left ear.

“No, don’t! You’re going to be intelligent!”

“It was the exact opposite of what my father always said and I knew it was God. I dropped the gun.”

“The key is prayer,” José said of his current success. “I pray a lot now. It feels good, like God is present and changing me. I’m learning new things and I know that’s what God meant when He told me I was going to be intelligent.”

José with his sons

José with his sons

Not everyone is a poster child poster child. Luis and his older brother, Macrino, both suffered horrible abuse by their father.

“He beat us, yelled all the time and insulted us!” Luis told Enrique. “He never showed us love!”

The troubled man only started drinking heavily in recent months but his social skills were barely human. He slept on the floor, rarely bathed, and shunned friendships and romance.

Yet Macrino told us, “I was worse than him until Jesus changed me!”

The caring older brother convinced Luis to enter rehab and we quickly grew to love him. He was humble, pleasant, and worked without ceasing. But after two weeks, he told Enrique, “I’ll be leaving soon. I’m done with drinking and to be honest, I feel uncomfortable here!”

What he said next was hard to fathom.

“Pastor, you’ve been very good to me, but I don’t feel comfortable eating good food or sleeping in a bed!” (Enrique found him early one morning sound asleep on the ground outside where he’d spent the night.)

“I’m not interested in the things of God and I don’t like being hugged or having people say nice things to me or celebrating someone’s birthday. Ya me voy!” (I’m out of here!)

            Next day, Luis left and took a piece of everyone’s heart with him. The man simply has no idea how lovable he is! However, he did show up to our Sunday morning prayer service, lifting his hands with what only could be described as adoration on his face. We keep him in our prayers.

Ernesto with family

Ernesto with family

            Finally, Ernesto, the oldest of the men at seventy-one, was a severe alcoholic for many years. His sons asked him to accept help, and to please them, he agreed to fourteen days. Sullen and stone-faced in church, he wore the same tattered clothes for days and constantly begged for Tequila.

            Then, one day, it was like God touched him with a magic wand and a new Ernesto appeared! He smiled a lot, chatted with others, and took over as chef of the center. In short, he’d opened his heart to God!

            “I want to stay,” he told his family when they visited.

““Keep him here as long as he wants!” the sons told Enrique. “He looks great!”

In a quantum world, the wave of all possibilities collapses into a single point of reality as we choose an action. Yet the Bible tells us, “With God, all things are possible.” Always. So, could it be, that whenever we choose to obey God, to submit our will to His, to choose to live in Him, that when we do that, the wave of human possibilities collapses and we enter a new reality, where, with God, new and divine things are possible?

Abraham, called upon by God to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, could have responded in myriad ways. At the moment he was about to plunge his knife into the boy’s heart out of love for God, God made him the Father of our faith. Here’s what He said:

“…because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b]all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”

That kind of blessing, or the person whom Abraham became, were simply not in the human wave of possibilities.

I don’t mean to get ooey-gooey on you. All I’m saying is that the possibilities of who we can be change when we choose life in God. It blesses Enrique and me every day to see these men, once slaves to drugs, now people who were never possible until they chose eternal life.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

                               (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

 

 

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Don and Martha Wehmeyer in the Yucatan

These good looking gentlemen were in my class at San Pablo Seminary this past month. We studied aesthetics together and had a blast.

Several of the men are pastors, two are philosophy students and the rest are enrolled in the seminary’s Christian formation master’s program. We studied aesthetics from a Christian world view and as part of their work they created videos or power points on different topics. The master’s classes are taught in January and July of each year.

Another development is the little church in Sitpatch, Yucatan has asked me to be their stated supply for the next year.  The picture is a bit deceptive as their property is very long. Behind this entry there is a basketball court, Sunday school rooms and the beginnings of what they hope will be a Christian elementary school.

We are very pleased that they are already involved in the AMO program directed by The Antioch Partners' missionaries Chris and Francelia Chavez McReynolds, so that is a great fit for all of us.

Just now, Martha and I are going to Valdivia, Chile to teach in the Evangelical Bible Seminary there for a week. Please keep us in your prayers.

 

Written by Don Wehmeyer

Written by Don Wehmeyer

 

 

 

 

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Zondra Tyre in Ethiopia: A "WOW, GOD" Moment...

Sarah proclaiming "As soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:44

Sarah proclaiming "As soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:44

(Some names have been changed)

Ethiopia celebrates Christmas on January 6th or 7th. This Christmas service the children at Project Mercy were singing and taking turns reciting Christmas verses. Sarah, one of the youngest House Kids came out of the choir and confidently, matter-of-factly proclaimed:

“As soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)

Sarah’s backstory:

Elizabeth had passed the 8th grade exam, but her village didn’t have a high school.  So, when the new school year began, her parents found a family for her to live with so she could attend high school. Her parents put her on a bus, and off she went, dreaming of her bright, exciting future…though a bit apprehensive about all the new unknowns.

The bus broke down, it started getting dark, and the other riders drifted away into the night. The girl was unsure what to do, but a man said “follow me, I’ll help”. He led her into the woods and raped her…  Nine months later Sarah was born.

Elizabeth heard about Project Mercy and a lady named Marta. She came into the compound wanting to leave Sarah with Marta. That was not okay, but Marta said the young woman could live in the compound, go to school, and get help with raising her little girl. The guard at the gate was told the mother could not leave the compound without her daughter. 

For a while the arrangement seemed to be working. However, very early one morning Elizabeth and Sarah left. But Sarah didn’t get far. On the outside of the 54-acre compound, they walked to the far end where there were no buildings, no people, and her mom pushed her little girl through the thorny hedge/wall and walked away. Sarah stood frozen and started screaming. She screamed for almost an hour before someone found her. Her mom has not been back…

Sarah Now!

The first couple of years were especially hard for this little girl.  But Sarah has been loved, and has grown, and is blossoming…

It is by the glory, provision and gift of God that this particular little girl, with her particular history, was assigned to memorize THIS verse from God’s Word -as old and pregnant Elizabeth responds to young and newly pregnant Mary:

“As soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)

Although no one leapt for joy when her mom found out she was pregnant with Sarah, we can thank God for Sarah’s life. We thank God for her learning and proclaiming God’s truth and love for her and for us. Praise God that in tragedy, there is hope!

Written by Zondra Tyre

Written by Zondra Tyre

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Beisswengers in Cobán, Guatemala: Looking Back at 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017

Philip, Bacilia, Manuel, Estefana & Matthew (kids left to right)

Philip, Bacilia, Manuel, Estefana & Matthew (kids left to right)

As our family glances back at 2016, we notice with gratitude how God’s hand has guided us along the way. The Book of Acts comes to mind, & the story of the Antioch church. Started by refugees from Saul’s persecution in Jerusalem, it was a pioneer in embracing both Jewish & Gentile believers. Christ’s light shone in their dynamic discipleship & vibrant growth. Later on, Saul showed up in Antioch, this time as a fellow believer. Before long he spearheaded Antioch’s efforts to spread the Gospel, and their church model, in places far & wide. Out in the mission field, Saul became known as the Apostle Paul.

Antioch Presbyterian Church

Antioch Presbyterian Church

Antioch Presbyterian Church: Almost 2½ years ago, a worshipping community began in our carport in Cobán. By God’s grace, it was chartered as a church on Nov. 3. Members chose to call it “Antioch,” claiming that historic vision of ethnic inclusion & boundless mission. There’s an average of 80 worshipers, with active youth & women’s societies, prayer groups & Bible study. The session has 2 male & 2 female elders, 4 deaconesses (including Bacilia) & Philip as pastor. Thanks, God, for all who’ve supported the raising of this congregation!

Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex: Thru 2016, progress continued on the multi-purpose building, with a hand from 6 U.S. teams. On Nov. 11, the Centro de Ministerio Norte “La Trinidad” was dedicated in honor of 2 key partners—Cincinnati’s Northminster PC & Trinity PC, Fairhope, AL (see photo). Along with the church, the center hosts seminary classes, dormitory, dining hall, water system, & is hub for 8 Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. Next up, a sorely-needed indigenous training center & guest house.

Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex

Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex

Guatemala's Presbyterian Seminary

Guatemala's Presbyterian Seminary

Diplomas were awarded in Cobán by Guatemala´s Presbyterian Seminary on Nov. 10 to 42 mostly Q’eqchi’ graduates. While the program has focused so far on pastors, next year will include new courses for lay leaders. While coordinating this, Philip also taught classes on church history, pastoral leadership, & New Testament.

Guatemala/USA partnerships have been a rich means of grace this year. For example: scholarship programs by Williamsburg PC in Chajul, Middle TN in the Peten, & Trinity PC; building efforts by Cincinnati’s Sycamore PC amongst the Q’anjob’al; neighborhood bhy Kingsport FPC; a Cobán water system by Denver Presbytery; & exchanges between women & youth.

As for our family, Bacilia just finished a 2nd year of nursing studies, with 1½ to go. School let out in Oct. for our kids. In Jan., Matthew starts 9th grade, Manny 6th, & Stefi 4th. Their live are also filled with soccer tournaments, ballet classes & music rehearsals.

The Antioch Partners: We’re so glad to serve with this Presbyterian missionary-sending agency, as well as the Outreach Foundation & other Presbyterian partners. It was great to visit some of you in the States earlier this year, and we hope for more visits in 2017. Paul wrote, “we are co-workers in God’s service” (1 Cor. 3:9). God calls us all to combine our talents & resources, & to uphold one another in Christ’s mission. Our work in Guatemala relies upon a network of “co-workers” for which we’re deeply grateful. We pray every blessing upon you as we honor Jesus’ birth, & look forward to the New Year as partners in Christ.

Written by the Beisswengers

Blog: pbpres.wordpress.com      Bio: https://www.theantiochpartners.org/beisswenger

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Christmas is coming...

   

 

 

by Carol Friesen, TAP Member Care Coordinator

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” (Luke 2:2-5)

Christmas conjures up different images and memories often depending upon where you lived as a child.  For me, growing up in New England, I remember snow covered streets, trips to Boston to see the big window displays at Jordan Marsh, the well worn manger scene coming out for display and the fun of the family gathering and opening presents!  Amidst the feasting and gift giving, I easily lost sight of the starkness of that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and there Mary giving birth without the comforts of home and the support of extended family. 

In 1984 Paul and I spent our first Christmas “away from home” in Bangkok.  I was very pregnant with our second child and Hannah was just two years old.  With our growing, but very imperfect Thai language skills (we were still in language school), we experienced the meaning of Christmas in new ways that year.  As we gathered with our Thai brothers and sisters to worship on Christmas Day, we learned that worshiping on December 25th whether or not it happens to fall on a Sunday is a common practice around the world.  We discovered, too, that our own tradition of gift giving (family and friends had sent us lots of packages from the States) was a bit “over the top” in comparison with our colleagues from Europe and other countries.  And, most importantly, we realized that living as strangers in a strange land was perhaps a more accurate portrait of the first Christmas than what we had experienced previously. As missionaries, we embraced an incarnational model and sought to adapt our lifestyle and our message to the culture in which we lived.  In subsequent years, that would mean our family Christmas tree would be relegated to the most private of spaces to correct any prevailing misconceptions.  (No, Christians don’t worship the Christmas tree!)  Gathering with other believers would become the cornerstone of our Christmas celebration.

Paul and I no longer live as “strangers in a strange land.” (Or do we? Texas is not much like New England!)  On a more serious note, as American Christians continue to experience the waning of Christendom (the religious culture that has dominated the western world since the 4th century), we as followers of Jesus Christ are increasingly being called to live counterculturally.  In doing so, we face the challenge of discerning what it means to follow Christ as a people living in exile. What traditions should we foster to celebrate Christmas even as we anticipate Jesus coming again?  How can we reach out in love to the strangers in our midst to share the love of the One whose incarnation we celebrate? Advent is a wonderful time to ponder these questions even as we remember Christmases past and joyfully anticipate the One to come.

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Member Care Workshop at Forest Hills Pres, Audry Arndt’s home church, September 2014

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Member Care Workshop at Forest Hills Pres, Audry Arndt’s home church, September 2014

by Anne Wheeler-Waddell

The end of September we had the privilege of joining with Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Martinsville, VA, to encourage and equip church members to extend their body-of-Christ-care to Audrey and Chase Arndt. The Arndts, TAP Partners, are now in Kenya learning the Maa language and awaiting the arrival of their team members, Fred Foy and Cecily Strang, also TAP Partners.

Saturday we spent several hours with the group sharing the biblical basis for caring for people in mission and talking about what caring for the whole person looks like. The Arndts and Strangs shared some of their journey and anticipated needs as they begin their new work. We ended with sharing some practical ways of extending care for Chase and Audry from VA to Kenya.

Sunday morning Fred Foy brought a message of challenge that going or staying we all are called to participate with God’s people around the world and then a wonderful commissioning was celebrated as the Arndts and Strangs answer their calls to participate in what God is doing among the Maasai in East Africa.

The feedback to this training in how to be a community of care was encouraging:

I am not able to say enough about how encouraging and enriching the Missionary Care Workshop was, not only for the congregation but for me as a pastor. It was such a great blessing to be able to think intentionally about how we, as a community of faith and as individuals, can support the missionaries we are sending to Kenya. So much of what was covered in the workshop fit in so well with how we interact with other people, not just those who are missionaries. It was also amazing to realize the many different areas of life that we can take for granted, which cannot be disregarded in other parts of the world. This was an extremely useful, practical and Spirit-filled event for our congregation, especially in helping us feel more connected with The Antioch Partners and the missionaries being sent by TAP.
— Rev. Bradley Long,
Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, Martinsville, VA
sending church of Audrey and Chase Arndt
The workshop was so good for my heart and spirit. We learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that the senders are just as much a part of the mission as the ‘sendees’. The senders are also in a holy place and are missionaries as much as the ones who are sent! Thank you all for coming…
— Marcy Heffinger DCE,
Forest Hills Presbyterian Church Martinsville, VA

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Baptism of New Believers

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Baptism of New Believers

by Austin House

A few months ago I was able to visit a church plant in Hskay village that we’ve been serving for about four years. It takes 10 hours of driving and two days of walking through the jungle along the Thailand-Burma border to get there. But every time I make the trip, it’s worth it! This time was no different.

During our walk we rendezvoused with an evangelist we had trained and sent to Hskay village. He had just been in the refugee camp with his pregnant wife and daughter and heard we were headed to Hskay so he quickly caught up with us. The next day we walked all day before we reached Hskay where we stayed with one of the Christian families. All of the believers in this village are new in their faith; the oldest in his faith has only known Christ for five years.

The first night I met with a new believer by the name of Pupu Daeng “Grandfather Red” who shared his story with us. He had been seeking God for over 60+ years and had even been a Buddhist monk at one time. Later on his son had become a monk, something which any Buddhist parent would be very proud of, as well as earn the family merit. But as for him, he found no satisfaction in Buddhism. After giving up on Buddhism he spent many years worshipping the spirits. To him the spirits only took and never returned anything back. He shared with me rather disdainfully “The spirits are useless!” One day Pupu Daeng became very sick while at his bamboo hut, all alone. His only possessions of worth were his cows that he watched over, but after his pain became too great he passed out. When he awoke he found that his cows were gone.

He decided to pray to the one God he had heard about from Christians. When he opened his eyes his cows were all miraculously standing in front of his house as if they had never left. When he felt better he went to see his grandson, Hsi Htoo, to learn more about the God who brought his cows back. Hsi Htoo graciously shared the gospel not only in word through the Bible, but also by taking his sick grandfather into his home to care for him. Grandfather Daeng also shared with me that whenever he becomes sick he is comforted by the prayers he and others offer to God.

The next day two new believers and I had a day of training and discussion about Jesus Christ. After talking with the church we all decided that these two and Pupu Daeng were ready for baptism so we headed down to the stream. The three individuals being baptized were very different; ranging from a teenage girl to an elderly man, but they were all there for one purpose. As we walked into the water a crowd of new believers surrounded us and our Lord was there too. I truly believe He rejoiced as three believers were welcomed into those baptismal waters.

We hope you too can rejoice in the baptism of these three including Pupu Daeng. We also trust that you’ll continue to pray and seek God in your own life. Maybe it won’t be cows that come back to you, but we have faith that our God can do miracles in your life too.

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Plant. Water. Grow.

by Chase Arndt

My perception of mission work was drastically altered the first time I set foot in Kenya. Somehow I had the skewed vision of being the enlightened crusader on foreign soil out to share the gospel in a dark land where there was no Light.   However, I quickly learned that this was not the case. When I first went to Kenya I saw evidence of His work everywhere, ranging from a local entrepreneur giving up the corrugated tin to fix his own leaky roof, to the love and kindness of Maasai women inviting us into their homes to share a cup of chai, God was already there! I was left with my shaken view of missions and the question “Lord, what am I here for?” There are 60% of the Maasai that have not been reached with the gospel, but I was struggling to share with them. Was there a way I could be more effective in this diverse culture and language? In college I had been studying sustainable growth and development, focused primarily on agriculture. It was during this time, with sustainability on my mind, and my feet in Africa, I began to think about how I could most effectively be used to further the gospel.

The main issue I encountered while in Kenya, besides reaching the un-reached, was that of a distorted gospel. Most people were not able to study the Bible for themselves, whether that was an issue of language, reading ability, or knowledge of how to study something inductively. Therefore, many of these people were easily lead astray by false teachers or those in search of making a quick shilling (dollar). If we could train leaders in the community to combat this plague of false teaching, that were already more fluent in the language and culture than I could ever hope to become, we could reach people and places that I could never reach in quite the same way. In this way it seemed to me that discipleship was a more effective path than evangelism, that as in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, and Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” I was only a part of God’s work, and once these methods were taught and absorbed, for it to be truly sustainable, I would someday be working myself out of a job, for success without a successor is no success at all.

This is our vision in Kimana, Kenya. To establish a pastoral training and community development center that will be focused on meeting the needs of the whole person while teaching them to study the Word for themselves. So that, in this way, they, as James says, “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We hope to be able to establish a place where local community members may come for any need they may have and that it will sustain itself within that community, long after we are gone so that we are not creating a dependency that will cause this mission to fall when we leave. Local pastors and leaders will pick up the torch and continue to let God do the growing.

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Seven

The last page of the 2012 calendar has turned – and a visitor to Cambodia in the early months of 2013 would delight in this country’s most temperate weather:  comfortably warm days, clear skies, light breezes and almost no rain.  The harvesting of rice, a staple crop, is well underway, marking the completion of a full planting and growing cycle since Sheila’s arrival to work here in January 2012.  We have followed the unfolding of her days much as we might watch the flowering of a seedling transplanted from a greenhouse into a field for harvest.

As Sheila reflects on her year’s experiences in Cambodia, the surprises have mostly been positive ones:  a strong sense of feeling “at home,” the easy formation of uncomplicated relationships, and numerous mental snapshots capturing the simple gestures of family love.  Yet even the hard surprises have ultimately reaped growth and perseverance instead of despair.  Now, when Sheila receives constructive criticism, so uncharacteristic in the reserved Cambodian culture, she recognizes it as a sign of inclusion and acceptance.  On an even more personal level, the revelation of professional limitations and the pressing need for greater business experience has taught Sheila how to adapt with faith and courage rather than yield to defeat.

Sheila once identified “seed planting” as her main purpose for being in Cambodia as a worker in a productive business.  She sees clearly that her work is “only the context of the real work that is going on in the unseen world.  Seeds get planted with a nod, a smile, a word of encouragement or a demand for accountability.”  She has learned that her joy rests in her confidence that God has interwoven her life with that of the people she serves in a way which will ultimately honor Him and bring Him glory.

A person who desires to establish or function as part of a business ultimately designed to glorify God is one who anticipates a day-to-day life filled with confidence in God’s guiding hand.  Knowing that Sheila herself has full assurance of the Lord’s perfect timing for “revealing the course precisely as needed” and that she is dedicated to running the race well, we conclude this series with the words from Psalm 1:3. “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Six

Nearly a year has now elapsed since Sheila first began working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Reminders of her original questions and doubts about her suitability for what lay ahead brings a subsequent surprise that successes and failures alike have curiously led to a sense of the fruitful sowing of seeds. With the passage of time constantly updating her perspective, she has reached a milestone from which to meaningfully reflect on the holistic nurturing God has provided – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

In a physical sense, there have been practical adjustments required of Sheila in order to attune herself to life in a foreign culture.  Something as previously simple as getting exercise through a vigorous outdoor walk is what she misses most.  Between dodging traffic, avoiding walkway obstructions, and contending with oppressive heat, her daily walk can be uncomfortable and even dangerous.  Conversely, another physical adaptation has been surprisingly easy: since Sheila lacks many modern kitchen conveniences and thus maintains a very simple diet, she finds food preparation to be pleasantly limited and easy.

The Lord has also provided rich emotional nourishment whenever needed.  The personality that pre-disposed Sheila to seek this kind of lifestyle in the first place has been tested and enlarged in observable ways.  She lists optimism, flexibility, and honest self-reflection as invaluable tools for successful adaptation.  She has been challenged to continually look for silver linings, to find alternate ways to reach a goal, and to remember “how I got here and why I came.”

Finally, Sheila recognizes and finds joyful strength in the spiritual vitality that comes from corporate worship.  Unwilling to remove herself in any way from the body of believers, she sought out and regularly participates in the worship services of a small international English-speaking Anglican congregation.  In addition, she also hosts a weekly Bible study in her home, a time for a small and diverse group of women to examine universal questions of faith together.

In her beautiful novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”  I wonder how Sheila would classify the year 2012 in this comparative kind of context?  And even more intriguing, what will 2013 bring?...

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Five

Sunrise over a “wretched shanty town of poor construction workers and the stagnant backflow of the Tonle Sap River.”  How is it that Sheila could describe this familiar Phnom Penh sight as one of the most beautiful places on earth?  Perhaps the answer lies in the wisdom found in Proverbs 8:34: “Blessed is the woman who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day’s work.” She recognized right from the start that her job at Beyond Interiors was a small part of a much bigger picture.

Not surprisingly, Sheila remembers intense need for an extra dose of courage in the early days of her new job.  The almost immediate departure of Bronwyn, the business owner, for a period of market research in San Francisco left Sheila essentially in charge, although God’s faithfulness to her needs was clear in the efficient expertise and work ethic of the 25-person staff.  Constantly buoyed up by the Spirit, she set about bringing order to the Human Resources department with attention to labor issues and organizational structure.   She oversees finance, production, design services and project management work, adding that “problem solving, pinch hitting and redirecting resources where needed” fills her days.  Sheila’s high regard for Bronwyn’s capabilities and experience has brought the extra blessing of a growing interdependence and trust to their working relationship.

Many a new step taken in faith brings one to a point of asking the question, “What exactly am I doing here, anyway?!”  Like the blind beggar who beseeched Jesus, “Rabbi, I want to see,” Sheila needed fresh answers to this question.  She learned to look for them in the everyday opportunities for having conversations about Jesus, often resulting from difficult adventures.  Even more soul-expanding was the realization that she was involved in a deep exchange of universal heartaches, fears, and frustrations with the local people.  And best of all, just at the point where novelty typically fades away and harsh reality steps in, a visit from a team of workers from home created a serendipity moment between cultures, opening Sheila’s eyes to see God’s snapshot of what unity among all his peoples might look like.  Could new fruit be flowering?...

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Four

Take a moment to reflect back on January of 2012.  Whether or not you made a list of resolutions to modify your lifestyle, you may still have felt a sense of renewal, a fresh start with your uncluttered new calendar.  Sheila’s fresh start was radical, as she relocated from Seattle to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to undertake a new job as General Manager of Beyond Interiors.  Producing and marketing furniture and other home accessories, this small business drew upon Sheila’s longtime acquaintance with interior design while challenging her to adjust at the same time to a vastly altered lifestyle.  If you had been Sheila, what questions might you have asked at the outset?

Where will I live?  Most helpfully, the Australian owner of Beyond Interiors arranged for Sheila to set up housekeeping in a safe and comfortable flat within a gated compound near her workplace, good restaurants, and other conveniences.

How will I communicate?  Having visited Cambodia twice in recent months, Sheila already knew that while Khmer is the country’s official language, both English and French are also widely spoken in Phnom Penh.  However, she wisely understood that learning the local language would prove to be a personal benefit while also honoring the culture of those with whom she now would be living and working.  Even though most of the staff speak English, she says that a lack of language facility also “limits my ability to minister and serve the people here in matters of the heart.” One of her resolutions would soon form into a determination to study the Khmer language.

How does one adopt or assimilate an entirely different culture?  Fortunately, Sheila had faced her most challenging adjustment to the Cambodian culture decades earlier when sponsoring and housing Cambodian refugees in the United States.  While constantly confronted with their different values and perceptions, she’d also been deeply moved “by the resilience, strength and beauty of these people.”  She’d bonded with their culture years before and was gifted by God with a rare and critically important cross-cultural understanding and acceptance.

Settling in the best she could, Sheila’s next challenge would lie in the fulfillment of her role as General Manager of the business.  What did that really mean, anyway?...

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Three

An invitation to adventure.  Burgeoning hope.  Tantalizing questions.  Moments of unavoidable trepidation.  These were the companions of Sheila’s heart as she arrived in Cambodia to explore how God was working there and what she could do to serve Him.  She’d come in response to the Spirit’s urging that she reopen communication with a recent acquaintance, a woman who owned an interior design business in Phnom Penh.  To Sheila’s surprise, the connection led almost immediately to a job offer as General Manager of the business, a contract to commence as early as January 2012.

Feeling the compelling invitation of Jesus to join in His work in Cambodia, Sheila nevertheless knew she needed to discuss the decision with her daughters, her family, and her faithful supporters back home.  She returned to the States to find that the decision-making process unexpectedly reawakened deep grief that had only recently begun to ease; a move to Cambodia would mean physical separation from her daughters at a precarious emotional time for them all.  The transition would also require her to say goodbye to cherished friends and to let go of the family home, a tangible symbol of so many blessings she’d enjoyed there.

Isn’t it true that just when the pruned vine begins to demonstrate vigorous regrowth, the wise Gardener once again applies the shears in order to allow space for sun-drenched fruit to multiply tenfold?  Sheila grappled for days with the certainty of the sacrifices required of her and those she loved, but ultimately reached a place of confidence that God had opened this path for her to follow.

Although letting go was heart-wrenching, Sheila still assertively states, “It was essential to moving on into a new life of purpose and abundance.  What lay ahead was also beautiful.”  She eagerly embraced the invitation to a simpler lifestyle based completely on trust that “the Lord had it all covered.”  Did she wonder where she might be living?  Did she wrestle with fears of loneliness?  Was she skeptical about language and cultural barriers or concerned about her professional suitability for the job?  Perhaps, but God knew all of that, too...

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part Two

It was the fall season of 2009.  If you had knocked on the door of Sheila’s home, as many did, you’d have been welcomed by a family who knew fully the meaning of contentment, fulfillment, good health, and mutual regard.  Along with her husband and two grown daughters, Sheila knew well how to balance work and play, while honoring God in the midst of all of it.  They had absorbed the lessons of John 15, understanding their role as branches that must remain firmly attached to the Real Vine as they strove to yield fruit for the Lord.  Life in their greenhouse looked as close to idyllic as any of us could wish.

But the Gardener understands the need for pruning a productive branch down to just a few inches of the main vine.  For a time, the pruned branch appears injured, dead and useless, but is actually fully surrounded by the parent vine, being nurtured for future growth and resplendent renewal of fruitfulness.

And so it was for Sheila.  The sudden unexpected death of her husband brought desperate, excruciating grief to Sheila and her daughters, along with confusion, anger, and a stunned sense of helplessness.  Loneliness became a constant companion, despite Sheila’s valiant efforts to maintain meaningful relationships.  It was a close friend who finally asked Sheila a simple question that changed her life:  “Have you talked with Jesus about all of this?”  The subsequent conversation between Sheila and her Lord was the first of many, many more when she says, “I not only talked, but listened carefully to what He had to say.  And He had much to say.”

Having already explored and rejected the idea of fulfilling a longtime pipe dream of returning to Cambodia to start a furniture business, Sheila now sensed a different question from the Lord: “Yes, you have been there and looked to see what you might do there, but now I want you to go and see what I am doing there.”  Not without reluctance, Sheila packed her bags for the trip...

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Blooming Beyond the Greenhouse - Part One

This is the first in an upcoming series of short articles chronicling the thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears and preparations of one woman who desired to live her life fully abandoned to God’s calling, even if that meant using her career skills in a foreign country.  Meet Sheila...

Imagine you are an immature seedling, planted in the protective shelter of a greenhouse, growing daily stronger under carefully regulated conditions of light, warmth and nourishment.  Under the Gardener’s care, your lush greenery gives way to fresh, luminous flowers which delight all who come to visit and enjoy.  But you can see there is a world outside the glass, a place of immense possibility and promise.  What if you could bloom outside this greenhouse?

Sheila’s personal “greenhouse” may look somewhat like your own or like that of someone you know.  She grew up in the U.S. Northwest, graduating from Washington State University in the late ‘70s with a BA degree in Interior Design and working in that field after graduation.  The unfolding years included marriage and relocation near Seattle, Washington, where Sheila and her husband became actively affiliated with University Presbyterian Church.

Faint stirrings of what still lay decades ahead for Sheila began to occur at UPC when she and her husband became part of a team of compassionate believers who befriended dozens of Cambodian refugees in the ‘80s;   in Sheila’s own words, “Many of those friendships endure to today and I have a deep heart connection with the people and culture of Cambodia, with much of my early compassion and cross-cultural sensitivity aroused by the stories of their suffering and traumatic history.”

The couple’s love of adventure and other peoples led them to live in Southeast Asia for six years in the ‘90s, where they adopted both of their daughters, finally returning to Seattle to work and raise their family.  And there Sheila remained planted for most of the next two decades, living life fully and blooming beautifully in God’s greenhouse.  But there was pruning to be done...

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