Birthday Becomes Ministry

This week I had a house guest—an American missionary serving in Romania.  Sandy didn’t come so much to see Milan as to just take some time off and relax.  And it’s a good thing, since everything worth seeing in Milan can be seen in a day, two at most.  So while she did do some sight-seeing, she didn’t wear herself out going from place to place.  I had only been back a day when she arrived, and as the weekend approached, I realized that it would be Pastor Fabio’s birthday on Sunday.  So I asked Sandy if she would like to go with me, since Pastor Fabio lives up in the mountains a couple of hours from here.  She said yes.  So we made arrangements and caught a train.

On the train, Sandy confided to me that it was also her birthday, and that she was delighted to spend it up in the mountains of northern Italy.  But she asked me to keep her birthday a secret.  “I don’t want to take any attention away from Pastor Fabio, since it’s his birthday.”

One thing I thought that Sandy would be interested in seeing was the church’s ministry house, La Casa.  The ministry house is open as a refuge for marginalized people, particularly homeless people with alcohol and/or drug dependency issues.  Since Sandy works with gypsies, I thought she would find the ministry interesting and encouraging.

My involvement with La Casa began while it was still a dream in Carlo’s mind.  Pastor Fabio had sent Carlo to meet me at the train station a couple of years ago.  I hadn’t known Carlo except to see him at church whenever I went up there.  As soon as I got settled into the car, Carlo began talking to me about his idea for La Casa.

Little did I know, but he and his wife, Concetta, had agreed with Pastor Fabio that La Casa was to be a carefully guarded secret between the three of them until God gave further instructions.  Carlo had wanted me involved because of my prayer ministry.  As Carlo poured out the whole idea to me in the car, Concetta was in the backseat wondering if he had lost his mind, blathering their secret like that.  My spirit’s instant and strong response told me that this was definitely a God thing, so I immediately began praying for Carlo and his family, and for La Casa.

So I called Pastor Fabio to tell him that we were coming. When I told him that Sandy was a missionary in Romania, he contacted Carlo.  Normally I stay with others of the church, often with Pastor Fabio and his wife.  The reason he arranged for us to stay at La Casa was because there are two Romanian families currently staying at La Casa.

Most Italians are deeply prejudiced against Romanians.  They consider all Romanians gypsies, and therefore thieves who come to Italy to live off of hard-working Italians.  Part of the problem is in the name: the Italian word Rom (gypsy) sounds like a diminutive for Rumeno (Romanian).  There is a political party in Italy that advocates the immediate expulsion of all foreigners from Italy (not just Romanians, but also yours truly).  Of course it is as ridiculous to think that all Romanians are gypsies as it is to think that all gypsies are thieves or that foreigners are the source of Italy’s problems, but that’s the trouble with prejudices—they are pre-judgments before knowing the facts.

Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and since Italy is close, and since Italian is most similar to Romanian, Romanians often leave their country to come to Italy and look for work.  The Romanians I know are honest, hard-working people who simply cannot earn a living wage in Romania.  Because of the prejudice against Romanians, they do not receive a warm welcome when they arrive in Italy.

So, Pastor Fabio arranged for us to stay at La Casa.  I was thrilled because I had wanted Sandy to see La Casa and to meet Carlo and Concetta.  When Pastor Fabio told me about the Romanians staying there, I knew that this was the right place to stay.

Concetta picked us up from the train station and took us to La Casa.  It was different than I had remembered—bigger.  It turns out that it’s a different house, though in many aspects similar to the other.  Now, that’s really something amazing because that day when Carlo and Concetta met me at the train station two years ago they had been a family of four living in a pickup truck style camper for a year.  They had practically no possessions, and certainly were not wealthy.  Their dream at the time seemed as unreachable as the moon on a stepladder.  But prayer works, and prayer together with a God-given dream is unstoppable.

Within just a matter of months, donations came pouring in and Carlo and Concetta had gotten the house for practically nothing.  Now they were in a second (and bigger) house, and Concetta told me that they have their eyes on a third house: one exclusively for women and children.

We met the two Romanian families: Steffy, a young woman with her two children and mother, and a young couple with their daughter.  Steffy and her mother were gypsies.  She had left her abusive husband (who was not a gypsy).  He had brought the family to Italy, where his abusive behavior had increased.  Steffy now has a good job and will soon be able to support her family.  For now they live at La Casa.

The young couple, Miriam and Lino, had also come to Italy in search of a better life.  Miriam had succumbed to the thinking of many ex-pat Romanians: that Romania was a place to be hated, never to return again.  No doubt the Italian prejudice against Romanians plus the terrible poverty of Romania has a lot to do with the ex-pat hatred of their homeland.  But after coming to La Casa and also to faith in Jesus, Miriam has done a complete turnaround.  Now she and Lino look forward to returning to Romania as missionaries.

All the Romanians were delighted to meet Sandy, and Sandy was delighted to minister encouragement to them in their native language.  Sandy also played with the children until we were all called to lunch.  Later, while Sandy was resting after lunch, I spilled the beans.  I told them that it was Sandy’s birthday.  They had already been planning on making a cake from the donated apples that were in super-abundant supply.  Instead of making one cake, they made three: an applesauce cake, an apple-chocolate marble cake, and an apple upside-down cake.  In the meanwhile, they called Carlo with the news of Sandy’s birthday, and he picked up a beautiful scarf to give her as a gift.

When dinner was ready, Sandy came and took her place at the table beside me, her Italian translator, never even suspecting that a birthday dinner was in the works.  We enjoyed a lovely fish dinner donated by a local restaurant, and then out came the 3 cakes, one with a candle in the top.  Sandy turned to me in shock.  I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m not so good at keeping this kind of secret.”

Over her shoulder I saw Lino, who suddenly had tears welling-up in his eyes.  Steffy explained to me in Italian that Lino was feeling emotional because Sandy reminded him of his mother.  When I translated this to Sandy, she stood up and went to Lino, who stood up, too.  She wrapped him in a hug that made all the eyes around the table well-up.  Miriam told me that in Sandy she had rediscovered both “mother-in-law” and mother.  Sandy gave Miriam a big hug, too, as Lino wiped away tears.

Although her work in Romania is administrative, it became abundantly clear that Sandy has a mother anointing.  Playing with children is one thing, and I play with children because I feel like a child more than an adult most of the time.  But Sandy’s mother anointing is quite another thing.

I was once again struck by how God had arranged all this.  My ministry of encouragements is often like this instance—encouragement happens, but not because I go with the intention of doing something to encourage missionaries.  No, it happens because I follow where Jesus leads me, and encouragement naturally just seems to flow.  This whole thing made me realize that my desire for Sandy to see La Casa had been from God, and it had been confirmed by Pastor Fabio.  It is humbling to realize that it all had very little to do with me or anything I am able to do.  The biggest thing I did—the only thing I really ever had to do—was to let go of the controls and go where God leads me.  He does all the work, and my work doesn’t feel like work so much as just fun, play, and enjoying friendships.  What a life!  God is good, so good!

What do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas?  A new car?  A tablet?  A big screen TV?  A better job?  Phenomenal weight loss?  A billion dollars?  A whole new life?  Or perhaps something more universally beneficial like world peace?

People want all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.  And sometimes they think of God as a big, cosmic Santa, ready to fulfill all their needs and desires.  God is good, and His goodness is being emphasized by many Christians these days.  But God is not a trained poodle, and He’s not your Heavenly winning lotto ticket, either.  Your comfort, entertainment, security, and well-being are not very high on God’s list of priorities—especially if God’s will isn’t at the very top of your own list of priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, God wants what is best for you.  But like any parent-child relationship, sometimes yucky Brussel sprouts is what the child gets instead of the candy she wants and asks for.  God wants to give us Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  And most Christians will say that they want all these things, too.  But first, they want those other things, and focus their prayers on their own desires—if they even pray at all.

TV’s, tablets, phones, etc. are not bad things, but the enemy has used them to distract us from God’s priorities.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming, (2 Peter 3:10-12, emphasis mine).

Jesus is coming—and soon!  What are you supposed to be doing to speed the coming of God’s Kingdom?  What are your excuses for not doing it?  Your job?  Your spouse/kids?  Or do you think that things will keep going like they’ve always gone.

Here’s what I want: I want to see the Body of Christ functioning in all the Spiritual Gifts—I want to see healings, miracles, signs and wonders.  We were promised all these things, but we got tired, overworked, lazy, and distracted by our own desires and the cares of life.  We’ve left our First Love for things that don’t even last.

What I’m doing right here, right now, today is what I am supposed to be doing.  When I’m in Europe I do missionary support and encouragement through Prayer, Hospitality, and Collaboration.  While I’m in the US, I speak to as many churches and church groups as I can about Europe as a mission field, and about GoMissions.  Today I am traveling to Texas to speak to churches, individuals, and groups.  There are also some missionaries I will be meeting with while I’m there, encouraging them while they are home on furlough.  And in both places I write about it all.

Now, do I always feel like jumping in the car (or on a plane or train)?  No.  There are times when I just want to hibernate and rest.  It’s two full days of driving to Texas from North Carolina, and frankly, it’s not convenient for me to go.  I’m tired.  But my love for God and for His missionaries is so strong that I simply can’t say no to Him.

God is good, and I want to share His goodness with the world.  God wants to give everyone in the world Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  Those things will come eventually, but I want to do all I can to speed up the process and bring Jesus back.  I repeat, God is good!

20 Ways to Refresh the Hearts of the Missionary Saints on Furlough

The following is re-blogged from The Gospel Coalition‘s blogsite, guest blogger: Jason Carter–enjoy!

In my own experience, church members often appreciate missionaries, admire their sacrifice for the Gospel and think highly of their ministries. Yet it’s hard to understand that returning for furlough to one’s “home” country can be a highly exhausting and stressful experience for many missionary families. Between the tension-filled task of an international move, setting up a new place to live, a frenzied travel schedule and finding one’s missionary budget stretched to the limit, a missionary faces a multitude of challenges during furlough.

Many missionaries that I know get reprimanded by their mission leaders to physically rest, spiritually recharge, invest in their marriages and reflect on ministry practices during furlough. These are formidable challenges amidst busy schedules. To borrow a phrase from Henry Nouwen, many missionaries come home on furlough as “wounded healers” who desperately need the body of Christ during their home assignment.

Recently, Jason Helopoulos challenged us to be like Philemon in encouraging the hearts of the Lord’s people. The apostle Paul commended Philemon as embodying traits which refreshed the body of Christ: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 1:7).
What would it look like for the body of Christ to refresh the hearts of missionaries on furlough? Here are a few practical ways that you can serve those who serve:

• If you are part of a bible study or small group, adopt a missionary family from the supported missionaries of your church. Pray for them regularly. Send care packages, birthday cards and encouraging letters.

• Buy a kindle for a missionary. Tell them to make a long list of books they want to read. Regularly buy kindle books for them when they return overseas.

• If you are a dentist, offer free or discounted dental work. If you are a lawyer, offer to update their last will and testament. If you are a counselor, offer free marital counseling (i.e. a marriage tune-up). Use your vocational gifts to bless the missionary body of Christ.

• Offer to host a dinner party where the missionary can share about the ministry. If there are financial needs, share those needs with the group so the missionary doesn’t have to.

• Offer to keep in storage some of their earthly belongings while they are serving overseas.

• Send a missionary to a Christian conference or spiritual retreat where they will be equipped and refreshed for the ministry.

• Purchase return plane tickets for the missionary’s family. Two overseas trips in a short time frame (to the States & back to their field of service) are extremely expensive for most missionary budgets.

• Offer to give the missionary couple a date night every week or two. Instead of inviting the whole family to dinner, offer to take the kids for a night.

• Own a condo or time-share? Gift a week (and spending money) to a missionary family.

• Nominate yourself as Chairperson of their Furlough Committee. You might be a committee of one, but you can scout out housing in advance of their furlough, equip the place with some furniture and leave a Fruit Basket (or Krispy Kreme donuts) on their front step when they arrive from overseas.

• Loan (or give) a car to a missionary family to use during their furlough, and find a couple car seats for their children.

• Tell the missionary all the ways you have diligently prayed specifically for them.

• If the missionary family homeschools, offer to buy some curriculum or books for the missionary kids.

• Have your own kids adopt a missionary family. When the family returns overseas, encourage your kids to pray for the missionary kids’ international or home schooling, friendships with national kids, foreign language learning, good health, and that the kids will come to love and serve Jesus Christ.

• Ask to see the pictures. All of them. Via photos, see their adopted clan, meet their missionary colleagues and get a feel for their ministry context. It´s cathartic for missionaries when people are interested in their life and ministry.

• Ask the missionary family for a list of movies they want to watch during their next term overseas. Purchase 25 DVD movies so that the missionaries can enjoy a “movie night” during their next term of service. Netflix and quality DVD movies (gasp!) still are not available in many countries.

• Set up a home office for their furlough: desk, chair, computer and printer.

• Encourage your kids to invite the missionary kids over for playdates, play on their soccer teams and take them to youth group. Remember, while the parents may enjoy long-lasting friendships with members of their home church, missionary kids often experience all these new people as strangers.

• Let them know you are filled with joy at their service and sacrifice for the Gospel.

• Tell them all the ways you will be praying for them during their next missionary term.

One of least-helpful things people often say to missionaries on furlough is this: “Let me know how I can help.” That places the missionary in a difficult spot – is this person just saying that to be kind? Do they really want to hear about our deepest frustrations and concerns right now? Are they asking to be on our support team?

A better idea would be to choose 1-2 practical ways to refresh the hearts of the missionary saints among you. Pray for them. Invest in their ministry. Become personally invested in their lives and in their ministry. Take the challenge: dare to be a Philemon to a missionary. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Why Am I Studying Hebrew?

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;

to search out a matter is the glory of kings, (Proverbs 25:2).

I admit, I have wondered why people would go to all the trouble of studying Hebrew—especially given the very few opportunities that most people ever get to actually speak Hebrew.  I have been interested for a long time in the original language of the Bible, but that alone didn’t motivate me to study Hebrew.  So what changed?  Why am I now signed up for online Hebrew classes?  Let me take you step-by-step in taking my initial interest to the next level, which is a quantum leap.

In 2010 I became a full-time missionary, and read The Mysterious Bible Codes by Grant R. Jeffrey.  In the book, Jeffrey explains how he learned about the Bible Codes in which hidden words are found throughout the original Hebrew text of the Bible that relate to people, places, events and other items all through history up to the present time.  These words were encoded in a pattern called equidistant letter sequence (ELS).  Discovering these ELS patterns would have been practically impossible before the age of computers because some of the patterns are found at as much as 100 letter intervals.  Using the ELS code, for example, the Hebrew phrase for equidistant letter sequence, shalav a’ot, is found in the Hebrew text of each book of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

There are other Bible code books: The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin (who has followed up with several other Bible code books), Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover, and Yeshua by Yacov Rambsel.

Then I heard a sermon on YouTube in which the plan of salvation is encoded in the names of the first ten generations of men: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah.  Adam means man in Hebrew.  Seth means appointed; Enosh means mortal, frail, or miserable; Kenan means sorrow, dirge, or mournful poem; Mahalalel means Blessed God; Jared means shall come down; Enoch means teaching; Methuselah means his death shall bring; Lamech means lament or despairing; and Noah means relief or comfort.

Adam              =          Man

Seth                 =          Appointed

Enosh              =          Mortal

Kenan              =          Sorrow

Mahalalel         =          The Blessed God

Jared                =          Shall come down

Enoch              =          Teaching

Methuselah      =          His death shall bring

Lamech           =          The Despairing

Noah               =          Rest, or comfort.

Put it all together and you get: Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the Blessed God shall come down teaching (that) His death shall bring (the) despairing rest.  Very cool stuff!

I also learned that each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and that numbers have specific meanings in the Bible.  For example, the number 7 is the number of perfection, and 6 is the number of man (who falls short of perfection), and the number 666 is the number of man repeated 3 times, which emphasizes that the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:18) is indicative of humanism.

I heard another sermon in which the preacher explained about the sign Pilate wrote to hang over Jesus’ head at His crucifixion: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.  It was written in three languages: Hebrew, Latin, and either Greek or more likely Aramaic.  Some churches show that sign with the letters INRI, which is an abbreviation for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).  I had always wondered why just the letters, but the preacher said that they wrote signs like that: just the initial letters.  And that by taking just the initial letters in Hebrew, you come up with The Tetragrammaton, the four letters representing the unpronounceable Name of God: Yodh, He, Waw, He.  That was why the Jewish leaders were so insistent that Pilate rewrite the sign.  But, of course, he refused.

But the most intriguing thing, and the one that won me over is that each Hebrew letter also represents a word.  For example a friend of mine who is a student of Hebrew told me that the Hebrew letters of the Name of God have this meaning: The first letter, Yodh, means hand.  He means behold.  Waw means nail.  And when you put all that together, it’s exactly what resurrected Jesus told Thomas: The hand, behold!  The nail, behold!  Or as John put it in his Gospel, “See My hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into My side,” (verse 20:27).  And Thomas, knowing the four letters representing the Name of God, dropped to his knees, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

So I investigated Hebrew classes, and the more I looked into it, the more excited I became.  Next thing I knew, I was signed up.  The online classroom can accommodate my busy travel schedule, which is a really good thing.  So, classes start the first week in December, and go for nine months.  They say that by the end of classes, I’ll be able to read the Bible in Hebrew.  Woo-HOO!  God is good!

True Faith Sees It!

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (emphasis mine)

The Lord has been showing me a lot about faith lately.  It all boils down to this: true faith sees the thing.  You ask God for anything: healing, wisdom, a financial miracle, etc., and then you see it.  Visualization of that prayer request granted.

Many Christians shy away from ideas like visualization because of New Age implications.  But as with so many other good things (God things!), visualization has also been copied by the enemy.  The enemy copies all the best things and corrupts them because he is incapable of inventing or creating anything, himself.  When we use something like visualization (or meditation or dance or filmmaking or music or anything that the enemy has corrupted), we simply do it God’s way, and with a holy focus.  If we do it this way, we won’t go wrong.

So ask God for healing, for example healing from a fever, then see (visualize) the healing: the person is out of bed and joyfully functioning normally.

Ask God for wisdom, then see yourself making good choices with good results.

Ask God for a financial miracle (be specific about the amount that you need), then see the money and the thing the money is intended for (a bag of groceries, a car, a house).

When praying for a financial miracle you must be sure that your priorities are right.  If you’re not already honoring God with tithes and offerings (that is a minimum of ten percent of your income), then don’t expect God to bless you financially.  And don’t ask God for money to fulfill a desire of your flesh.  He won’t give you the money to have a TV in every room of your house, and seven cars for a family of three.  Financial blessing will not come until you are fully submitted to God’s will.  One person I met recently said that she and her husband are praying for financial blessings so that they can tithe 90 percent to God, and live off the remaining 10 percent.  Imagine the good that God’s people could do if we all prayed and sowed into the Kingdom that way!  That is the kind of giving heart that God will bless generously.

When you pray and back it up with visualization, another amazing thing will happen: you won’t rob yourself of the thing asked for by the things you say.  I want to scream every time I pray for someone and as soon as we say, “Amen,” they sigh and say, “Well, I hope so!”  This is not about hope.  By saying you hope so, you’ve just shown how little faith you have, and God will not answer prayers that are based on no faith.  So when you say, “Amen,” start immediately to see your prayer answered—and see it in a specific way.

The Bible says: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV, emphasis mine).  See it, and have it.  Faith is substance—something you can see and touch.

God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did,” (Romans 4:17, NKJV, emphasis mine).  In this, God is modeling faith for us: see it and speak about it as if it is already done.

Another method I heard about lately is stepping into Heaven, taking what you’ve asked for, and then releasing it here on earth.  You stand praying, for an opportunity to talk to someone important, for example.  Next you take a step forward after prayer and say, “I step into Heaven and take the keys that open the door for this opportunity,” and you take hold of them with your hand, seeing them in your mind’s eye.  Then you take a step backwards again and say, “and I open the door for this opportunity here on earth,” while unlocking a door with those keys (always seeing both the door and the keys in your imagination).  Then watch and see the Lord give you time and place, and the undivided attention of that important person.

You can also step into Heaven and take healing, step back and release that healing into the life of the person you’re praying for.  Really, this is just a way of boosting your visualization by adding action to it.  Like God, you’re calling those things that don’t exist as though they did, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Remember, the satanic visualization techniques are cheap copies of real and powerful faith.

How did you receive salvation?  By faith!  Are you in Heaven yet?  No, not if you’re reading this.  So how do you know that you’re saved?  Faith!  It’s the same with anything else that you pray for: receive it by faith.  It might not be substance right now, but it will be.  Just as surely as your welcome in Heaven, the thing you pray for in faith (seeing it) will be given to you.

Are you ready for the coolest part?  Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12, emphasis mine).

That phrase, “very truly,” means that He wants us to really understand the truth of what He is telling us.

“Whoever believes in Me,” is universally inclusive of all believers.

“They will do even greater things than these,” means that Jesus’ miracles are like a miracles starter kit to what we will do.

The only thing holding us back is the meat between our ears—our own mind.  We don’t see other people doing Jesus’ miracles, so we don’t think that we can do them, never mind greater works.  But that is walking by sight—what our physical eyes see, which is the opposite of walking by faith—what our spiritual eyes see (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Faith is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit—one of the things that every believer is given at conversion, though it must be developed into full maturity, just like a small, green fruit on the tree needs to develop into a large, luscious red apple.

Faith is also one of the nine gifts of the Spirit, which are supernaturally enhanced by the Holy Spirit.  How do you get supernatural faith?  The same way you got ordinary faith.  The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).  If you want more faith, get into God’s Word.  And even better is hearing God’s Word.

I have an audio Bible on my MP3 player, along with Christian music that I’ve collected over the years.  I recently discovered that when I select “play all” and put the player on shuffle, it plays a random chapter of the Bible or a random song.  And God has used this to speak to me in some surprising and encouraging ways.  I also like to play a game with myself.  I guess which book of the Bible is being read.  Some parts are very easy and obvious, like Genesis and the Gospels, and some parts are very challenging, like the Minor Prophets or some of the books of the law.

Pardon me for that little rabbit trail, but the point is that however you do it, you’ll have more faith according to how much of God’s Word you get into your heart—but it gets there through your ears.  Imagine listening to the audio Bible on the way to work instead of some filth-spewing shock jock.  You’re sitting in traffic just the same, but this way your faith grows.  And when you arrive at work, you’re not stressed, but blessed instead.

So visualize, step into Heaven and take hold of whatever it is that you need.  And above all, develop your faith.  God is good!

Best Moments at Tabernacles

Bjorni worship

Greetings from the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in Poland!

It has been a whirlwind week of late nights and wee-hours worship, early mornings and midday meetings, and all that adds up to little sleep.  Twenty-four hour worship over seven days is both challenging and wonderful.  I always say that I can sleep after Tabernacles, but I hate to miss a moment while I’m here.  I can’t believe that it is almost at the end now!

Last night a group of us got together in the hotel restaurant for some friend time after the church’s coffee shop had closed.  Someone asked the question: what has been your best moment here at Tabernacles?  The answers were as personal and varied as we were.  Some people experienced miraculous healings, while others experienced God’s presence and help in a moment of their own inability.  But for each of us the best moments were intimately personal God encounter moments.

My friend, Guy, had a miraculous healing.  The day before coming to Tabernacles, he hurt his back.  The pain got worse and worse, so that he couldn’t even carry his guitar.  Max went to his house and brought Guy, his luggage, and his guitar back to my apartment for the night.  In this way we were able to wake up together as a group (four of the five members of Team Albania) for our early morning trip to the airport.  Of course, we prayed for healing, believing that God would touch him.  But at first the pain got worse and worse.  It broke my heart to see Guy walking slowly and carefully—an old man’s shuffle on a young man.  Then one night Guy and Max were worshiping together in their room—with Guy laid-out flat on his back.  Then Max said that Guy’s eyes shut and began to flutter.  So Max went to bed, but was using his phone, so there was a little bit of light in the room.  Then from around the corner, Max saw someone jump into his line of sight, and the jump became a victory dance: Guy was healed!

For me the best moment was a surprise invitation and welcome to the home of friends who I had barely known before.  I had gone to the train station with Joseph, the church leader assigned to facilitate transportation and lodging.  I was there to buy tickets for the Italian team’s return trip to the airport.  We arrived at the train station at 3:39 in the afternoon on Saturday.  Joseph hadn’t known the ticket office’s schedule, but only knew that the hours on Saturdays were shortened.  As I stood in line, Joseph pointed out the posted hours for the ticket office: closing on Saturday is at 3:40 in the afternoon.  I could feel God smiling on me.

Once I had their tickets, Joseph said that we were also there to pick up Boris, who was coming in from Ukraine.  In the car, Joseph asked me if I was in a hurry to get back to the church.  I said, “No, and probably Boris is tired from his trip.  Let’s get him settled first.”  So he took Boris to a house in a new development just outside of town.  Boris went into the house, and Kasia came running out.  She said something to Joseph, and Joseph asked me, “Would you like to go inside for a cup of coffee or something?”  Of course, I said yes.

Inside was the entire team from Russia and their children, plus Kasia and Andrey’s children.  I was ushered to a chair among the couches and chairs that encircled the square coffee table.  The coffee table was hardly visible underneath mounds of goodies.  Kasia had baked two different kinds of cake, cookies, candies, pretzels, coffee mugs, tea cups, napkins, a stack of clean plates and utensils, and as if that wasn’t already enough, Kasia had the children bring in cups of ice cream with strawberry syrup for everybody.  I regretted that I was still full from lunch.  I didn’t want it to seem like I was unimpressed with her hospitality, when the truth was that I wished to have such a hospitable gift for my own guests’ sake.  So I accepted an ice cream and a cup of tea.

But more than a heaping tableful of delicious welcome treats, the thing that made me feel most loved and welcomed was the fact that everybody in the room immediately switched to English for my sake—even when they were in conversation with each other.  I was the only native speaker of English present, and some of them spoke it with difficulty, so the effort on their part was very kind, and it’s something that I will never forget.

Then Joseph announced that he had to go pick up his daughter.  He asked to be excused, and was concerned that I might feel abandoned.  Instead, I was very glad not to have to cut my visit short, since he had stayed only about half an hour.  Then Andrey asked me if I wanted to see his garden.  So we went outside, where he has made several tree grafts.  He has a gardening business, and he had grafted exotic trees onto stronger base trees for a hardier result.  He pulled off dead leaves with such a practiced hand that it was obvious to me that he has that green thumb so necessary to gardening.  This is a gift that I admire because I have the opposite effect on plants.  It’s almost as if plants see me as the Grim Reaper and give up without a fight.  I told Andrey that his grafts are scriptural because we (Christians) are the wild olive that has been grafted into the olive tree.  Plus, mankind’s first job was taking care of the garden.  I can imagine Andrey would be very at home in the Garden of Eden.

Then the children came out with a soccer ball and began kicking it around.  They made some obviously invitational passes to one of the adult men, who happily complied.  Soon the boys of all ages were kicking the ball to each other.  One man, a pastor from Russia, had his tablet and was watching a video on it, but that didn’t stop him from kicking the ball every time it came in his direction.  I was enjoying the show.  One by one, both men and boys began to get tired and thirsty, and drifted away from the game.  One boy seemed never to tire, and relentlessly chased the ball down wherever it flew.  He was engaged in play with the last man standing.  I remarked, “I believe he’s not going to stop until it’s too dark or his mommy calls him in.”  The man laughed and agreed.  And right on cue, Mommy called her little soccer player inside, and the game ended.

A new round of treats and drinks was set out for us, and then we gathered around to pray for our hosts.  I was glad that we took the time to pray for them because it had been on my heart not to leave this house without praying for them.  Each person prayed for them in English—much to my surprise.  Although I am fluent in Italian, I still struggle to pray in Italian.  I think it’s just because I am so used to speaking to God in English.  The only time God has ever spoken to me in Italian was when He had a specific word for an Italian-speaker, and I think He wanted to save me the trouble of translation.

This visit and the warm welcome that I had received (not only from our hosts, but from everybody there) had really brought home the message that I am loved.  In a powerful way, I understood that I am loved.

Of course, being here in my capacity as midwife to bring new worship teams to Tabernacles is the best overall aspect of Tabernacles.  I have said again and again that I don’t feel like I really did anything.  All this was birthed from my determination to bring Italian worship to Tabernacles last year—even if that was only me alone.  Then God put Team Italy together for me.

This year the Italian team contacted me, saying that they are coming to Tabernacles, but that they don’t need me on their team.  I was overjoyed: the baby had been successfully born and is now walking.  But I did wonder what I could do for Tabernacles.  And almost as soon as I wondered about it, the phone rang, and it was Max.  He said, “I hear that you bring teams to the Feast of Tabernacles in Poland.  I want to go.”  So, Team Albania came together from a group of worshiping friends and it looks like this: Max, who is Albanian; Guy, Ivorian; Sally, British; and Allegra and me, Americans.  We are from four different countries and three continents, and we all met just a year and a half ago in Milan.

Friends who only see me once a year at Tabernacles have asked if I’ve moved to Albania, and how it is that I’ve brought an Albanian team this year.  I tell them: “The short answer is God.”  God is good!

The Matchless Gift of Presence

Greetings from Latina, Italy!

When I was in my early twenties, I passed up an opportunity to attend a close friend’s wedding because of the cost of getting there, buying a new dress (and probably new shoes, too), and the time to travel there, etc.  Then a few years later, my friend was killed in a highway accident.  I had passed-up my friend’s biggest life event—and the last.  What I didn’t pass-up was my friend’s funeral, and by then I lived even farther away.

The funeral was a sorry substitute for a wedding that I should have been there to celebrate.  But I learned from this experience, and I have tried to make it a priority to celebrate life events with those I love.

That decision turned out to be an important part of my ministry of encouragement.  When I show up for a surprise birthday party (as I did in August) or a wedding (as today), the surprise and joy at seeing me is priceless.  Likewise, my presence at a friend’s funeral or at the funeral of a friend’s close relative (mother, sister, or child) gives comfort that words never could.  In fact, in those sad moments, silence and a loving presence is far better than ten million eloquent words.  Although I missed the funeral by a couple of days, I went to be with friends after the death of their baby (see Come Now Let us Reason Together).  In each case, my presence was not only welcomed, but actually celebrated.

I am reminded of Job’s friends.  They had probably celebrated his wedding and the weddings of each of his seven sons and three daughters, so they also came to be with him in his time of loss.  They sat with him in silence for seven days and nights as he sat in misery and loss, scraping himself with a shard of pottery (Job 2:13).  That kind of friendship has all but disappeared from the world.

Tomorrow I am going to Poland to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).  There we will celebrate with 24 hour worship over the entire 7 days of the Feast.  The thing that keeps me returning to this little town in Poland year after year, and the thing I long for more than anything is God’s presence.  This will be my fourth year at Tabernacles in Poland, and each year God shows up in a marvelous and completely new and unexpected way.  God is good!