Monday, December 15, 2008

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful as a. . . ?

The year was 1982. Our first term in DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) was winding down with only a month to spare. We made it! Three and a half years were behind us instead of looming in front of us. Language barriers, culture shock, feeling like aliens on Mars, daunting loneliness, and fear of losing my baby in the bush of Africa had been exchanged for speaking Kituba and actually being understood (the kids had no problem whatsoever), acclimating to a new culture, settling in to ways that were not quite so foreign and finding some of them actually delightful, finding refuge in the Ancient of Days whose sustainability covered me in the loneliness, and watching Jack, our baby, grow and thrive in spite of malaria, boils, severe diarrhea, and playing with a snake on our front porch. The Great I Am had once more proven his grace is sufficient for every need for everyone, not sufficient for just some needs he chooses to shell out to only a few.

We LOVED having visitors from the States. One such visiting pastor had joined us for about 10 days earlier that year. His name was Dr. Bobby Douglas, and he was a Southern Baptist minister. Bobby didn't know us personally. He heard about our work on the radio through a mission agency, AMG International, headquartered in Chattanooga, TN. How incredible that the Spirit of God drew him to our remote mission station of Nkara located 400 miles due east of Kinshasa in the middle of no where to missionaries who were not members of the Southern Baptist denomination, 8500 miles from his residence.

We loved Bobby right away--all of us. He was genuine, concerned, God loving, fun, joyful, and soon took on a burden for our work. Nicol was 11 at the time, and she gave up her room for Bobby. He stayed with us for about 10 days. We hated to see him leave.

Todd, 8, and Jack, 3, were totally immersed in life in Congo, and they couldn't have cared less that furlough was fast approaching. A furlough is a period of designated time missionaries leave their field of work to return to the States to regroup and hopefully rest? while visiting their supporting churches and individuals, and recruiting new partners in ministry to assure sustaining funding when the time comes to return to the foreign service location for their next term of 3 to 4 years usually.

As we drew nearer to our departure date, I gazed at my little self-made make-shift calendar I made as a survival tool for eking life out in Africa, at least to begin with. Shortly after our arrival at Nkara, I counted the years in days that we would be there, framing each day in by square lines. Our term was 3 years and 5 months, so that gave us 1221 days in Africa. Each day I lasted was a major victory simply because I didn't leave. I didn't leave physically, and God's grace kept me from checking out mentally and emotionally. A huge turning point occurred after 812 days had gone by or about 2/3 of our term. The daily crying stopped; I was communicating with our staff; frequent spurts of joy surprised and delighted me. Was this obedience yielding the peaceable fruits of righteousness?

Now with only approximately 30 days left, Shawn, 14, and I had a major problem. We were home schooling, and many assignments were due. We needed to send them to Pensacola, Florida for evaluation. The major problem was we had run out of paper. No paper? No Rite Aids. No Walgreens. No Walmart. What to do?

We prayed. .. and prayed. . . and prayed. No worry. God is the Way Maker.

Receiving packages in Congo overwhelmed us with sheer delight. And one day a package came from Bobby Douglas. He wrote on the enclosed note how sorry he was that he didn't bring small toys for the children; that he didn't know we couldn't even get gum there; that he wished so he had brought candy and other goodies for our family. Out of a heart of love he packed a box of goodies that made our eyes pop out of our heads. We read the note, tore the box open, and what do you think was on top? PAPER!

Bobby never knew our desperate need for paper. We did not mention it one time. I find it amazing that out of all the things children might find appealing, of which he sent many, notebook paper may not show up on the radar, but it was at the top. The voice of God shouted through the paper. "Before you call I will answer.. . . I told you I would provide every need according to my riches in glory. . . I wouldn't let your work suffer because of a lack of something so basic as paper. . . We cried with joy.

After experiencing long-awaited sugar highs (candy never tasted so good), perusing and stroking all the wonderful gifts he sent for our pleasure which God does to us for His pleasure, and allowing the feeling of being lavished on to wash over our souls, Shawn and I settled down to tackle her school work in our master bedroom late that afternoon.

As she gingerly gathered her prized ream of notebook paper in her hands, she looked up at me and said, "Mom, have you ever seen anything as beautiful as a clean sheet of paper?"

It still brings tears to my eyes today when I choose to remember that moment forever photographed in my mind, and I can't help but think of these beautiful words in Scripture: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when it is fulfilled, it is a tree of life. Thank you, my Mighty King, for busying yourself with our every step. You are amazing, and I love you so.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feed your soul - Feed a family in Congo

Are you having fun yet? The joys of Christmas include a lot of hustle and bustle as we search for just the right gift for our families and friends. We anticipate the look on their faces as they open each treasure under the tree prepared and packaged especially for them. Far greater than any earthly treasure we could ever buy for the special people in our lives is THE GIFT of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

What an unfathomable act of humility it was for Christ to become an embryo and nestle in the womb of Mary, a woman He Himself created. What must it have been like for Jesus to limit Himself to that seclusion for nine months after leaving the glory and majesty of heaven?! He,"Who being in the very nature God, did not consider His equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself of no reputation taking upon Himself the form of a servant". . . The Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah "had to be made like His brothers in every way in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people." To you, Lord, Who earnestly remembered us in our low estate and imprinted us on your heart and engraved us in your hand, for your mercy and loving kindness which endure forever, we give You great praise!

Recently, two major evangelism thrusts took place in the Congo. Poverty drives people to their knees. Abject poverty in Congo keeps these dear ones in that position and sometimes in a completely prone one. The bent knee and heart are precious in God's sight, and many, many hundreds turned to Christ during these crusades. The updates via cell phone are priceless. Pastor Mbuku, Dean of Evangelism, is amazingly focused on the implementation of rescuing souls from hell.

We love our staff in Congo from the leadership of Gary, our National Director, Kapem, Vice National Director and Dean of Academics at Laban Bible Institute, Iwungu, Mboma, Director of Radio Glory, and Assistant National Director to our masons, carpenters, mechanics, women professors, male professors, Mama Marie, Director of the Literacy Center, nurses, radio announcers, evangelists, and students to our general foremen, and general work staff. Some never finished high school; others have degrees. They love to laugh. They love their wives, husbands, and children. THEY LOVE GOD. From time to time they pray all night for you and for us. They are rich in faith, moving mountains in their prayers. Many live the fruit of the Spirit. They have nothing, yet they have everything.. They are real people! They feel deeply. They are emotionally rich, intelligent, and brilliant men and women who serve God day in and day out.

Every Christmas we try earnestly to provide a Dream Package for as many of these precious families as funds allow. This enables them to buy cloth for their wives, shoes for their husbands and perhaps a shirt and belt, a little dress or shirt and pants for their girls or boys, a Christmas dinner consisting of dried fish, rice, bread, a coke for each family member, fresh beef, fruit, and a special toy for each child. For $300 you can furnish one of our overseas families with a feast and a wonderful gift day, as well as enabling them to go to bed with a full stomach for the average 12-member family. Your Dream Package will go a long way to lift the hearts of wonderful staff members who serve the Lord in Laban Ministries. The Lord bless you as you contemplate making a huge difference in the life of a servant of Christ in Congo, Africa. To donate go to:

Click here to make a donation.

Your act of kindness will feed your soul, and someday in Glory they will thank you for reaching out 8500 miles to them, a people you most likely will never meet. Go ahead, lend to the Lord and watch him return your investment. (Proverbs 19:17) Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where God dwells

Our Mighty God fills the earth with His presence, not only the earth, but Psalm 139 ponders, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. . . "But there is another very personal place that God inhabits. "I dwell in the high and holy place, but with him also who is of a thoroughly penitent and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the thoroughly penitent--bruised with sorrow for sin." Isaiah 57:15

This verse leaped out at me the other day. Immediately words came to mind like brokenness, contrition, lowly in spirit, and meekness. But the word bruised clutched my heartstrings and locked itself into my spirit and brain for several days. It's still lodged there.

I've been asking myself, "Am I bruised over my sins?" Sometimes. I find it very comforting to know that God is moved by those who are bruised with sorrow for sin. He chooses to dwell or pitch His tent with the lowly of heart, with the humble, with the broken, with the contrite. If He chooses to encamp with them, it must mean that He is totally at home with them. This idea amazes me.

On the other hand, God hates pride. It is one of the seven things listed as an abomination to the Lord in Proverbs 6. He despises that "proud look (the spirit that makes one overestimate himself and underestimate others). He distances Himself from the proud but gives grace to the humble. In fact, God the Father is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. That's why the Son and Holy Spirit intercede and translate our prayers with groans that cannot even be uttered. Our Great High Priest, Jesus, during his earthly life "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of his reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek."

Are you struck as I am with his having to learn obedience? His humanity did. He passed, of course, with flying colors, but can you hear Him crying out in desperation for the cup to be passed and then relinquishing with all that was in Him to the Father His will for the Father's will, and then taking the cup back lovingly for your sake and mine? What was contained in the cup? The worst thing about the cup had to be the separation Jesus would suffer from His beloved Father. Another was the act of dying--the Perfect Darling of heaven, giver of life, allowing His own life to be poured out for you and me. How foreign it had to have been to Him! And what about becoming sin for us WHO KNEW NO SIN? What was it like to bear the evil encapsulated in that sin? How ugly? How dark? How downright wicked was the sin of the WORLD!? Can you even begin to imagine the bruising of His heart over the magnitude of that sin--the weight of the sin of the universe--every man, woman, and child ever born, having been born, and to be born--on his shoulders? I'm speechless. Without His willingness to bear the cup, Jesus would not have become our high priest. "For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God. . ."

Although the Godhead decided from before the foundation of the world that mankind would need a savior and made every provision for our salvation, the reality of the fact is, it cost the Saviour plenty of heart bruising, plenty of humility, plenty of contrition, and plenty of brokenness because He considered His deity something that He didn't need to grasp at. "Though He was in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." "Yet it pleased the Father to bruise Him,"

Philippians also prompts us to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." That is, the mindset that enables us to think more highly of other people than of ourselves. The mindset that decides to serve instead of exalting self. The mindset that doesn't freak out because someone else got the credit for something that originated with us. The mindset that allows for bruising.

Not bruising that results in my being paralyzed with guilt over my sin so that I become warped and am rendered powerless by remaining in the pit, but a bruising that causes me to see how sin hurts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A bruising that makes me turn from my sin to confession and cleansing. A bruising that leads me to the Rock that is higher than I and causes me to rejoice over the fact that Jesus is bigger than my sin. That even before I confess that sin, He is waiting with outstretched arms to hug me back into the fold, that I can climb into His lap washed by the blood, purer than a freshly bathed toddler, and that He sends me on my way accepted in the Beloved, resting in Him instead of wrestling in my sinful state, and sending me on my way once again to serve him energized by the realization that I have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and am whiter than the driven snow.

And beyond the bruising for our own sin, what if we were to allow ourselves to be bruised for the sin-sick nation we call America? The "In God we no longer trust" nation. The nation that kills multiplied thousands of innocent babies each year and calls it pro choice. The nation that has disavowed God by taking the right to take prayer out of its schools and has no room for the Bible in its classes or "teaching." That's what Proverbs 30 describes as futility--education without the Bible as its core or center of its curricula. It reads, "Surely I am too brutish and stupid to be called a man, and I have not the understanding of a man, for all my secular learning is as nothing. I have not learned skillful and godly Wisdom, that I should have the knowledge or burden of the Holy One." Again in Psalm 119:89,96-99 God's eternal word is esteemed above all. "Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven; it stands as firm as the heavens. I have seen that everything human has its limits and end no matter how extensive, noble, and excellent, but your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits into eternity. . . You, through your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies, for your words are ever before me. I have better understanding and deeper insight than all my teachers because your testimonies are my meditation." Does Psalm 82:5 sound like a modern day commentary of American government? "The magistrates and judges know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in the darkness of complacent satisfaction; all the foundations. . . (the fundamental principles upon which rests the administration of justice) are shaking."

Daniel dared to stand alone and prayed three times a day . . . for the sake of uncompromising obedience to the God he loved. Was his influence enlarged and his position empowered or dwarfed by his stand? He forever has as the sought-after epitaph, "esteemed by God." Wow! Joseph's suffering, sterling character, and commitment to the great I AM resulted in the salvation of Egypt and surrounding countries through an intense famine and ultimately restoration with his dimwit brothers. God hemmed him in and then "brought him forth also into a large place."
Abraham believed God when promised his descendants would be more in number that the stars in heaven--though he would never see its reality--and his faith was counted for righteousness, all the while living in a tent.

Surely, we can ask God to bruise our hearts for this country so far fallen from its moorings of being founded on the Word of God, can't we? Is God lying when he says, "If my people--his people, not the unsaved--who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land."? Of course not.

Could it be that there may be one more great revival before Jesus comes to get us? He can't revive a person who has never been alive. This can only come as we believers humble ourselves and become sin sick and repent. Unbelievers are dead to God. They're dead. We who are alive in Christ are the key to revival!

Wake us up Lord to prayer, to humility, to seeking your face, to turning from our sins, to requiring you to be our vital necessity, to being desperate for you. We plead for America, the greatest nation in the world. Please God be merciful to us for the sins we have committed corporately--for not honoring you as our true God, for spitting on your eternal Word, for mocking you through abortion, and for taking you out of our public schools, for laughing at your law, for losing our awe and fear of you, and for worshiping things that will pass away instead of worshiping you. We repent in sackcloth and ashes and beg your forgiveness.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My sister

Thank you all who have prayed for Gerry, my sister. On Thursday of last week we spoke of very serious, dire consequences that could follow her condition as she lay so still in her hospital bed. I came home from the hospital in a cloud of sorrow. It seemed her life was ebbing.

My niece and nephew tenderly bent over her bed to soothe her tired body, pat her arm, talk sweetly in her ear, tell her what a fighter she was, how brave she was, and how much they loved her. My nephew, Mark, called her "mama" and gently loved her through his kisses to her forehead, his stroking of her hair, his tears at the multiple tubes going into her body and contemplating where her status may lead. His TLC tore my heart out of my chest. I am positive bits and pieces of his life flashed before him from his childhood on up, and special memories filled his mind of growing up with a mom like Gerry. Perhaps he was wondering if they would have another shot at memory making as she lay there unable to do anything for herself.

Terri who has been at her side for the past two months has been a rock to the whole family. Thursday night she asked me, "What do you do without a mom? I call my mom everyday, sometimes more than once a day." We both teared up and hugged each other. I was so touched by their tenderness and profound love for my sweet sister.

I told Gerry as Terri, Mark, and I stood over her bed peering into her face, "Please come back to us. You can't go now. We all love you and need you. You deserve some pain-free years. . . " with tears streaming down our faces. Somberly, we left the room and eventually all went our separate ways with heavy hearts.

Friday was a turning point, and tonight I am so happy to report to you that she no longer has a breathing tube! She recognized faces again today, waved,and mouthed "I love you." The Lord has resurrected her from the dead. I asked one of her nurses on Friday what the difference was between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack. Of course, with a cardiac arrest, the heart just stops, so Gerry did die. They shocked her back to life with the paddles. Thank you so much for praying. She still has some woods to truck through, but wow! what a contrast to the first four dark days of post cardiac arrest, lower right lobe lung blood clot, collapsed left lobe of her lung, infection, low-grade fever, and intubation for this, that, and the other thing.

Please don't stop praying, and thank you for asking about her and interceding for her. I am so grateful, and so is her family.

Lord, we do not take anything for granted, especially life. We can't take a breath without your permission. You are the giver, sustainer, and taker of life. We owe you big time. Just a breath from your mouth or a look in our direction can breathe and regenerate new life into us. You are awesome. Someday EVERY knee will bow to you, of things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth. We choose to do some of that bowing now so that, when we join your angels who fall before your throne 24 hours a day in Glory to worship you right now, bowing our knee will not be a foreign exercise of worship. Thank you Lord. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The brevity of life

My sweet, kind, loving, and nonjudgmental sister lies in critical condition in a hospital bed. On Sunday, she suffered a cardiac arrest and developed a blood clot back to back after having had surgery the previous week. Tears flow as my mind's eye transports me back to our younger years together. She is ten years my senior. I can so remember wanting to be just like her as a child.

Gerry married Paul when she was 18, and they soon moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he served in the military. I missed her so much and devoured her letters. The news of his honorable discharge 4 long years later was music to my ears.

My sister had endometriosis before it was diagnosed as such. Six years into their marriage, her doctor performed an experimental endoscopic surgery, excising pie-shaped wedges out of her ovaries. Ten and a half months later, a beautiful little girl was born to her and Paul, and they named her Terri. Almost three years later Terri's little brother was born. They were the darlings of our family.

I spent many weekends in their home which was right near a lake. We water skied and had picnics on the beach. Summers were glorious. I loved babysitting and just being with them. They have always been good people to be around.

While we were living in Africa, Gerry was the one who took care of Mom and Dad. Eventually, their aging caused them to depend on her even more. She was always there for them. When Mom could no longer care for herself, Gerry and I flew to Florida and staged their winter home to sell. We had days together to talk and work. I realized once again how much I loved her and how happy it made me to get a long block of time to spend with her.

She is so loved by her husband and adored by Terri and Mark. For the past two days her frail body has been unresponsive which has caused concern, but today she followed Terri's movements with her eyes and seemed more aware of her surroundings. Imagine surviving a blood clot and cardiac arrest! She's a tough little cookie.

Pondering her condition makes me painfully aware of the futility of my subconscious idea that nothing would ever happen to her. That life would always include her. That she is only a phone call away, and reminiscing over lunch is something we can look forward to. Not so. Not right now anyway.

For the past six years she has been in intense back pain. Couldn't stand, walk, sit, or lie down without it making her feel miserable. Yet I rarely heard her complain. Nothing worked: not the treatments, not the injections, not the therapy, and not chiropractic. Now after corrective surgery to strengthen her weakened and deteriorating spine, she lies listless. I want her back, Lord. Her grown children and husband want her back. Her darling grandchild, Katie, wants her back. Please, Father, give her some more time with all of us. Give her some pain free years. Restore what the locusts have eaten.

You all have hurts of your own. Disappointments. Heartaches. Shocking turns of events. Sorrows. Tragedies. The shroud of death may be encompassing your life. I pray these scriptures will soothe your soul as they have mine this week.

"Our" times are in your Hands Psalm 31:15

In your light do we see light Psalm 37:8

The reverent fear and worship of the Lord is your treasure and His Isaiah 33:6

Like a twittering swallow or a crane, so do I chirp and chatter. I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary and dim with looking upward, O Lord. I am oppressed; take my
side and be my security Isaiah 38:14

He gives power to the faint and weary, and to Him who has no might He increases
strength, (causing it to multiply and making it to abound) Isaiah 40:29

For I the Lord hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not. I
will help you! Isaiah 41:13

. . . In returning to Me and resting in Me you shall be saved; in quietness and in
trusting confidence shall be your strength Isaiah 30:15

The Lord of hosts--regard Him as holy and honor His holy name by regarding Him as your
only hope of safety. And let Him be your fear and let Him be your dread, lest
you offend Him by your fear of man and distrust of Him
And He shall be a sanctuary (a sacred and indestructible asylum to those who
reverently fear and trust in Him Isaiah 8:13, 14

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my Invincible Army. He makes my
feet like hinds' feet, and will make me walk (not stand still in terror) but to
walk and make spiritual progress upon my HIGH PLACES of trouble, suffering, or

May God add His blessing to the reading of His unfailing Word.

Friday, November 7, 2008

From 8500 miles away - Kikwit

Pastor Mboma Nicolas writes:

Greetings brothers and sisters in America! I am very happy to be sending you this message. I am Pastor Mboma Nicolas of the Laban staff in Congo, Africa, presently in Kikwit picking up salaries at Western Union on behalf of the 130 workers of Laban at Nkara, Iwungu, and Gombe.

We want to give you first of all warm hellos in the Mighty Name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Thanks to all of you who attended the recent anniversary benefit on October 23 and the benefit concert on October 12 as well. It is because of your sacrificial gifts that we are able to keep our children in school and university, buy food and clothing, and continue to minister in Bandundu, the largest province in all of Congo. We do this through Radio Glory, of which I am director, evangelism, Laban Bible Institutes, our dispensary, the Women's Literacy Center, and now we are just beginning to build a hospital. Hundreds of thousands of people in our area have to walk 2 1/2 days to get medical attention.

We thank Selah for the large love gift you presented to Tata and Mama Smith. Thank you for helping with all of the ministries here and for your vision for fresh water wells and Bibles for every hut in Bandundu. Thank you to Shawn, Greg and Nicol, Todd and Angie, and Jack and Molly and thanks to everyone else for your part in bringing people together to praise the Lord and help with the work here. We are praying often for you in America as you face the future. We especially are praying also for Todd and Angie and Nicol and Greg in the loss of your little babies. Bantima na beto ikele mawa mpenza. (Our hearts are deeply saddened). We mourn with you.

Next week the truck will travel from Nkara to Kikwit, where we are presently staying. to pick up fuel for the radio broadcasting, work, and evangelism. We estimate that 8 million people are hearing Radio Glory because of the letters we are receiving from listeners. Since there is no post office in the bush, the letters are hand delivered by people walking, riding their bikes, and through visitors passing by on MAF. (Mission Aviation Fellowship). Villages are experiencing less depression because of the hope of God's Word they are hearing each day on the radio. Marriages are being put back together. Souls are being saved through radio and evangelism crusades. As many as 1100 recently made professions of faith in villages and towns where our evangelism team preached and showed The Jesus Film.

We want you to know you are making a huge difference with your gifts for the Kingdom of God. We rejoice with you because of this, and we thank you for remembering us from so far away. God bless you all. Pastor Mboma Nicolas

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Could it have been Shekinah glory?

On October 23, 2008 our family gathered along with about 1400 other people at the First Church of the Nazarene in Northville MI to lift our Jesus high, to do our part to make Him famous, and to create hope for the Congo. Everything about this 70/30 anniversary benefit from the get go seemed blessed by God. After weeks of preparation, an incredible spirit of cooperation and blessing on the part of First Church, prayer, hard work by many, especially Claudia Marsh and Deb Baxter, some stress, the unrelenting roar of the evil one countered by faith and much anticipation as we asked God to strengthen what He had wrought for us, the evening was upon us.

The crowd made its way to their seats. Don Aupperle, station manager of WUFL Family Life Radio of Sterling Heights, opened in prayer. A holy hush fell over the audience as they listened to our son Jack, his wife Molly, and their friend Mariah open the evening. They were the perfect opening act. Shawn Lantz, our oldest daughter, offered a historical power point, introducing her Grampa Laban and Gramma Marcella, brave missionary pioneers who plowed fertile ground in the Belgian Congo and saw his diary plea entry of August 31, 1939 fulfilled before their very eyes during their 15-year career in Africa. His plea was an exchange of the 10,000 dental patients he had in Grosse Pointe, MI before leaving for the Congo for 10,000 souls in the Bandundu Province of Congo. It read like this, "Lord, I have covenanted for 10,000 of these precious people. I thank you for the fire you have kindled in my heart. May it never go out." This incredible legacy he left to his son, Jim, who remembers sitting in a dugout canoe watching 1,200 of the 10,000 converts being baptized two years after they made their commitment. There were at least 4 such baptisms just at Nkara alone. Shawn's presentation was stirring.

Then Selah made their way to the stage--vibrant, engaging, energized--and they were totally embraced by all. Their renditions moved us to tears. We all felt the pain and void left by Audrey's death along with warm hugs of shared suffering in the atmosphere as they sang song after song with a profound richness of depth that comes after burying a child.

Todd invited all of the family including grandchildren on the stage to sing, "Yesu Azali Awa", and Jim led "In the Garden." Some of the grandkids were totally comfortable with a mic. I wonder why. . . and you know, there is something special about an entire family praising the Lord in song. Unforgettable in our minds it will remain.

Our beloved and courageous son-in-law, Greg Sponberg, bared his soul relating the horrific loss of Baby Luke on May 27, as he passed into the arms of Jesus at the age of 71 days. His words were heartrending, hopeful, gut wrenching, uplifting, profound, relinquishing to the will of God, honoring to our Lord Jesus, depicting of a deepening relationship that chooses sweet surrender rather than a bitter clenching of the fists, demanding answers from an infinite God whose plan we will never grasp here on earth. He spoke of appreciating how many had helped Nicol and he bear their burden of grief. They could actually feel that burden bearing. His words were sheathed in grace, and his wounds have been amazingly coated by the salve of the Holy Spirit. Greg as the spiritual leader of their family has chosen to tenaciously hold on to the promises of God and his God-honoring message moved us all.

Todd interviewed Jim and me. We spoke of the hospital, Women's Literacy Center, and evangelism. That's what we love to do. . . talk about heroes of the faith with whom we rub elbows in the Congo. . . those who possess the real wealth. Their wealth is their faith--faith that can move mountains. That's what turns God's head. Here on earth, the Congolese are often the last--the last to be taken care of, the last to be noticed, the last if ever to be reported about on the evening news, the last to receive recognition of any kind--most of whom are birthed and deathed in obscurity--but over there on the other side of eternity, THEY WILL BE FIRST.

A brand new DVD was shown produced by Echo Media which depicts how hope for the Congo can be created through individual financial investment. That along with our new anniversary booklet designed by JCI Design were well received.

Robin Sullivan, of WMUZ Christian radio, was next. She gave a challenging invitation to partner with Laban Ministries, and partner you did who attended! My oh my, what an awesome love offering you gave. Detroit, we are so proud and amazed at your generous hearts! It astounds us and just grabs the heart of God I know that, in such a time as this, you reached down so deep and gave so hilariously that you outranked yourselves. You gave the largest offering at any one event Laban has ever hosted. Including pledges, one time gifts, purchases of Christmas ornaments for the Women's Literacy Center, monthly investments, and cash you gave a total of $38,000.

As astonishing as that is, there was more to come. After intermission Todd invited us back on stage, at which time he, Amy Perry, and Allan Hall (Selah) presented Laban Ministries with a check for $60,000! This money came through Selah concert attenders who gave to the facet of their choice on the Laban Mission Campus over the past two years, such as evangelism, fresh water wells, fuel for the radio ministry, supporting the 130 nationals on staff in Congo, and the daunting goal of Bibles for every hut in the Bandundu Province of Congo. They absolutely knocked our socks off by this stupendous gift! We had no idea Selah had been collecting these funds. How in the world can Dad and I even find words to thank you? We are so grateful.

Selah continued to sing their guts out. They gave everything they had. The Lord was so honored and so real.

Nicol was next. From deep, deep within her soul, she poured her heart out in word and song. Resurrection and Hold On made us lift our hands in praise to God Almighty for the sustaining strength and power evidenced and lavished on Nicol as she sang and on us as we listened. Greg comforted Nicol as she shed tears and testified that the Lord has been there every turn of the way. I held Angie in my arms as the pathos of Nicol's voice enveloped all of us and caused us to weep for loss of Luke and Audrey, for grace to sustain that loss, for victory over giving up, for heaven growing sweeter each day, for hope that the best is yet to come, for family unity, for healing, for the resurrection, and for Christ's soon coming triumphal entry and sweeping us away to be ever present with the Lord.

Nicol and Todd sang together. Selah returned again. The glory of the Lord filled the place. No one seemed in a hurry. No one seemed bothered by the fact that the program lasted almost three hours. We all gathered as a unit. It was as though God chose those who came, and it was very apparent that many who came were seeking his face. They came expecting to hear from the Lord. They came to glorify Jesus. They came to empathize with our family. They came with generous spirits and enlarged hearts for the kingdom of God. They came with burdens of their own. They came seeking healing for themselves and for us. They came. And God did an amazing thing. He showed up big time.

In the Old Testament, "the Shekinah was a luminous cloud that rested above the altar in the place of worship and lit up the room." Oh did His Presence light up the room that night and put our hearts ablaze with love and caused us to worship in spirit and in truth.

Thank you Lord for making yourself so real, for lavishing your love and peace on us, for bidding us to come and rest in your arms, for healing, for unending grace, for an outpour of love, for making us feel safe, cherished, delighted in, and loved beyond measure. We love you with all of our hearts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 23rd Anniversary Benefit

Sunday night was a wonderful outreach for Laban Ministries. Thank you to all who prayed for that night. We are so grateful for your input.

On Thursday, October 23, at 7 p.m. The First Church of the Nazarene is hosting an anniversary celebration for Laban. Our oldest daughter, Shawn Lantz, author of Congo Vignettes, will be sharing and selling her signed books. Jack and Molly, our youngest son and daughter-in-law and Mariah Humphries will be opening for Selah. Selah will perform a benefit concert for Laban, Greg and Nicol Sponberg, our son-in-law and daughter, will be there--Greg to share from his heart, and Nicol to sing, plus Angie, Todd's wife and blogger of Bring the Rain, and all of our grandchildren!

So, may we ask you once again to bathe the 23rd in prayer? Oh, that the evening would be filled with praises to the spotless Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world! He has redeemed us by his blood of great price poured out willingly for you and me to save our souls and free us from life's prisons and entanglements! To give us joy unspeakable and communion uncomparible. He delights in us, walks with us, makes our lives count, and enables us to dream big for the Kingdom of God. He is the lifter up of our head, the accountant of our hair volume, our lawyer, our paraclete, our Rock, Defender, Hiding Place, Hope, Confidant, Intercessor, Comforter, Daddy, mother hen, Strong Tower, Great Lover of our souls, Rock, Redeemer, Keeper of our tears, Way Maker, and, and, and . . . Have you blood-bought believers stopped to think today that you are on your way to Heaven? No condemnation awaits you. No fear of Hell can capture you. No one or no anything can separate you from His love or pluck you out of his Hand. We are engraved on His Hands and written in His Heart. Oh Jesus! that we like David would allow praise to come tumbling from our lips 7 times a day!

We want to do our part to make Jesus famous on the 23rd. We want to lift our voices in adoration and gratitude. We want to thank you for your involvement in our lives, especially your prayers and caring hearts since the deaths of Audrey and Luke. We want to give back to you. We want to fellowship with you. We want to show you just a tad of what the Lord is doing in Congo. We want our people in Congo to be taken care of financially.

Please, please pray with us as you read this blog. We are so encouraged by the response to prayer for last Sunday night, Oct 12. If you prefer, email us at to let us know you are praying. Visit our website to get details of the event.
God bless you as you partner with us to reach souls for Jesus Christ in Congo.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Create Hope for the Congo

This weekend could be a milestone for Laban Ministries. Todd Smith, my son,--the one who got sooo much camera coverage at the debate at Belmont this week--along with Allan Hall and Amy Perry of Selah are putting on a benefit concert for our ministry Sunday night, October 12, at 6 p.m. in Zeeland Michigan, at the Community Reformed Church, 10376 Felch St., 616 772 4907. We are very excited thinking about all the hope that could be created for the Congo through this evening of lifting our hearts to the Lord in praise through song, spoken word, and worship.

For the past 30 years, we have seen God supply unbelievable needs in Africa for dedicated pastors, 3 Bible institutes, nurses, dispensary, cooks who labor over hot fires to provide 3 meals a day for our students, radio ministry, evangelism, professors, building supplies, transportation, vehicles, fuel, medicines, ourselves, and myriads of other areas. We stand amazed and grateful that we are still in existence. In fact, the ministry is exploding with the growth of over 500 pastors establishing and ministering each weekend in over 300 churches we know of; there are more, we just can't get to them because they are so remote. So much yet to do. . . a hospital, wells for clean water, and a Bible in every hut in the Bandundu Province of Congo, which is the size of the state of Michigan. On any given Sunday 57,000 people gather to worship the King of Kings at these 300 churches alone. GOD IS MOVING IN CONGO.

This weekend, our National Director, Pastor Gary Kapinga will hold all night prayer meetings starting tonight for this benefit concert. Because our Congolese staff of 130 know the power, benefit, blessing, and outcome of fervent prayer, they will dive into interceding for Selah, for the audience, for hearts to respond when the offering is taken, and for the Lord Jesus Christ to be lifted high. They will ask Him to come sit with us, to walk before us, to hover over us, and to pour out His richest blessing on us all. Prayer for them is as natural as breathing. Prayer sustains them. Often times, it is their meat and drink, literally, because they may only be able to have one meal that day or days, depending how funding goes here.

Jim and I are pumped about Sunday. In addition to being with Selah, we can't wait to see our grand babies, Ellie, Abby, and Sarah Kate and kiss their sweet faces. We get to hug our Todd and Angie and live life with them, though it will be a packed evening. Still. . . just being with them will be awesome. We so want to meet some of the people who have prayed fervently for our family. We feel those prayers. They have and continue to sustain us. There are those of you who have humbly asked God to allow you to bear some of the burdens of losing two babies seven weeks apart. And you know what?. . . you have lifted the load. We can sense the days heaven's gates are being stormed by your prayers. Thank you so much for sharing the load, crying the tears, feeling our limp, as Greg calls it, and bending your knees to the God of refuge and hope. We say along with David, we will praise the Lord 7 times a day and continue to hope in God no matter what. Your prayers have given courage, peace, and joy. Thank you for your unselfish desire to "kabisa bampasi na beto," or divide up our sorrows among yourselves.

Will you come to our rescue again by joining our Congolese brothers and sisters in prayer for Sunday night? During the hours of 6 to 8 p.m., let's all storm the gates again as one mighty army, asking God to fill the place with His Shekinah glory! The Lord inhabits the prayers of His people. Souls are waiting to be saved in Congo. Help us create hope for the Congo by placing this evening in His Hands. Then it will be safe. It won't be ours. It will be His. Glory!

P. S. Will you let us know that you either are praying or have prayed between 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday night by making a comment on this blog either before or after Oct 12? Blessings. Nancy

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Signal or no signal?

Today I went to my Beth Moore Study, "A Woman's Heart", with which I am enraptured. Beth is the real deal. She speaks truth into my soul, and I am moved to tears and belief, sitting there nodding my head in agreement and Amening her all over the place.

For those of you who have attended her studies, you know how connected she is--to the Lord and to her audience. I started pondering the importance of being connected--to my God to my husband, to my family, to my friends. You and I know well how sometimes that connection falls through the cracks, maybe because the busyness of living the life that is right in front of us leaves little or no time to keep that level of connectedness we like to maintain. Or, we are so squeezed out and wrung dry at the end of the day, there is little energy to make the effort to keep the communication lines flowing freely.

As far as maintaining a consistent free flow with the Lord, it's better if we do that when the day is still before us. I am sure that is why David said, "Early will I seek you." All too soon, if He is not the first objective of the day after we put our feet on the floor, other demands storm into our lives and the hours slip away without having soaked in His presence, allowing that time to transform us, renew our minds, and enable us to walk away in His refuge for the remainder of that day. Bypassing Him at the start of the day means we are taking risks. We can walk in the flesh. We can fail to be open to His presence. We can miss hearing the voice that says, "This is the way; walk in it." The day then is left in our own hands and is not really His to command. We can forfeit the blessings He so wanted to bring into our path. We can lose our signal.

Digressing now. . . the Laban Mission Campus in Congo is located 450 miles due east of the capital city of Kinshasa, in what is commonly referred to as the "bush." We are out in the boonies surrounded by savannah, small forests, some jungle, rolling hills, and plains; in other words, it's Hicksville. The location of the bush does not mean that we are isolated from people. Thousands of people live there. However, there is definite isolation from technology. Few technical perks are to be had by living in the bush. I'm thinking hard right now to come up with any. For instance, there is no electricity unless you have your own diesel or gas generator. (Talk about signals!) There is no running water provided unless you are the provider. And worst of all, there is NO INTERNET!, at least not where we are. So, living for the average national is similar to Little House on the Prairie days.

BUT, BUT, BUT, we have this incredible 300' RADIO TOWER AND STUDIO that the Lord provided through wonderful Christians in America. The tower was erected by our great friends and fellow colleagues in Indiana, Towers for Jesus. Each day, up to 8 million people (not including their children; children don't pay taxes in Congo, so they are not counted in any census) can tune in Radio Glory at 89.0 on the FM dial and hear Bible teaching, Christian music, hygiene, Christian Family Living, anyone of the books of the Bible being read, questions and answers about the Christian faith, team teaching between pastors, noted American authors and pastors (tapes we have taken over there, of course), announcements, and local church services who boast amazing musical chorales.

You might be thinking, "Where in the world do they get radios from?" They can either buy them in the city of Kikwit, 60 miles away or in Kinshasa. Those who do own radios set them outside (battery operated, mind you) in their village in the mornings, and people gather around who may not own one to listen to Selah opening the day in song and the Word of God being preached and taught. It is an awesome sight to behold. The broadcasts start at 5 a.m. and run until 10, and they resume at 4:30 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m., provided there is fuel. Our radio station comes alive only when it is connected to a generator.

Since its inception, Radio Glory has gone through some tough times. The first transmitter was defective, sent back to the U. S., driven all the way to Texas by Jim and Connie Hulse of Towers for Jesus, repaired, and taken back to Congo by Jim Hulse. He lovingly and tediously hand packed the transmitter so it could make the 16 hour trip on Air France without a hitch. But in France the trunk containing the transmitter was broken into, and parts were slashed and pounded and ruined. A new transmitter was provided by generous souls in America in 2006.

During the time when we had either transmitter or generator problems of various sorts, the radio lost its signal. The people had no connection with this life-giving source of hope. That meant that millions of people who looked to Radio Glory each day for spiritual sustenance because Bibles are not plentiful in Congo, or perhaps they had no church to attend in their village, or maybe they were not gifted with a pastor, returned to what they had before--hopelessness, despair, and depression. The Lord's blessing and presence was so real through Radio Glory, and they missed the broadcasts so much, that they began to cry out after 3 days, "What has happened to our mama? We are sick without our mama. When will she return?" I am happy to tell you, the signal is back and free-flowing encouragement fills the air waves 7 days a week from Radio Glory these days. Mama's soothing voice is going strong! Praise God!

Being connected makes all the difference in the world. The Lord makes that ability to be connected so possible through His Word. The Holy Spirit runs on the railroad tracks of the Bible. We have these eternal, vibrant, breathing words of God that have been preserved for more than 2000 years at our disposal. Scripture has everything profitable for life in it! When we avail ourselves to The Book, the signal is strong. The potential is unlimited. The power in our lives can be awakened and explode because the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead is ours!

Conversely, when we avoid making God's Word a part of everyday living, we begin to die spiritually. We dry up. We wither on the vine. Joy flees. The signal is gone.

It's our choice. Remember Malachi 3:16. At the end of the day, it is not our check list of finite "things to do" that the Lord necessarily takes note of . It's our passion for Him, our putting Him on top of our list of priorities. It's our effort to keep the signal connected between Him and us, to have a free flow of communication. It's the sacrifice of praise (cause we just don't wanna give Him praise sometimes) that causes Him to inhabit those praises, turn our mindset from ourselves and our woes to his wonder, fill us with awe, and walk with a lighter step.

Have you checked your signal lately?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Hiding Place

After 44 years in the ministry, I often look back on our lives and stand amazed at the many, many times the Lord has literally hidden us from impending danger, especially in Africa. How often that protective hiding has kept me alive. Not only can we find refuge in Him for the demands of daily life and renewal that only He can give, but He has the ability to overshadow us in such a way that nothing and no one can penetrate that shadow with which He clothes us. Danger can surround us, and we can remain totally oblivious to it. One such experience occurred on a rainy night in tropical Congo.

We returned to our home at Nkara, our mission station, to find the place in need of much cleaning and repair that is inevitable after being unoccupied for months at a time. That is, we live in the States part time and in Africa part time. Much time in the States has to be spent in fund raising and exposing the ministry to keep up with the needs and demands of our growing work in Congo. Soon after our return, our National Director, Pastor Gary Kapinga, pointed out defective plumbing in the downstairs bathroom. Jim removed the old pipes and replaced them with new ones in a different location on the wall, leaving a gaping hole where the old pipe had been located. He covered the hole with mud because it was the easiest and quickest process. Mud is readily available in Congo, and there are always a hundred things needing our attention RIGHT NOW upon our return. He had every intention of using cement to seal the opening.

Several days passed, and Gary said, "You had better cover that hole with cement. On a rainy night, the mud will be easily washed away, and a snake will find the opening and crawl inside to get out of the rain." We agreed. We forgot.

Sure enough, one night the tropical rains exploded out of the sky with vengeance. Our big diesel generator was out of commission, so we used a very small gas generator. The flip of an electrical switch in the bush of Congo does nothing unless the wiring is connected to and powered by a generator. Because of the heavy showers, we placed the little generator on the wonderful screened-in porch just outside our bedroom. Dusk was approaching. We had the option of using the generator to give us a light, not lights, but a light, or we could choose to watch a video. We opted for the video.

In entertainment-starved Congo, we often find ourselves settling for things like opening ads from a Target-purchased video and actually watching the ads if they are decent until we come to the main feature. This is what you do when you are 450 miles from the capital city, and your video library is rather limited to what was packed for this trip. Even though each time we return more videos are taken, the cockroaches and other insects may find the videos left on the shelf in Congo from a previous trip a delectable tidbit in our absence.

I told Jim I would be right back and so, with the hum of the machine only feet away, he began watching the preshow features. I went into Shawn's old bedroom (our oldest daughter) in search of my toothbrush. As I pointed the flashlight on the floor and then all around her room, bingo! There it was. Time to make my way to the bathroom and brush my teeth before settling down in bed to watch the show. When darkness falls in Congo, you cannot see your hand in front of you unless there is a full moon. Black skies prevailed on this evening. So, again, I pointed my flashlight in the direction of the bathroom, glancing down at the floor beneath my feet, when to my horror, I saw a snake. He had the same idea I had and was headed for my destination. I gladly acquiesced.

I remembered that a snake doesn't necessarily attack its prey on the basis of its eyesight, (in this case the prey would be my bare feet). Rather, he responds to objects by their vibrations. So I froze, screaming out to Jim to come to my rescue. Of course, the rumbling of the generator drowned out my cries. So I screamed again and again until he heard me. By this time, that slimy creature had made its way up the shower stall.

Jim yelled, "Yeah?" I said, "There's a snake. Go get your gun." He said, "Oh, great, I'll get the video camera!" I said, "Video camera nothing! Get your gun and shoot this thing." Jim ran down the stairs. I felt like Lot's wife who turned into a pillar of salt--too scared to move and almost too scared to breathe. He bound up the stairs with both! We stood there together and took note of the snake's next move. He had already climbed up one side of the shower stall and down, then up again on the other side. He traversed the wall next to the shower and decided to slither down into the tub. My heart was almost pounding out of my chest as I stood in disbelief. Was this something out of a horror movie?

Jim waited, aimed, and viola! The creature was history. He instructed me never to pick up a dead snake by its tail because her young may be there (who's brave enough to check the gender--just assume it's a female for crying out loud), and they can come out biting. No convincing necessary; I'm a believer! So he played with the snake, poked at it to make sure it was dead, removed its head and scooped it up with his machete. We strung it out on the floor. It measured almost six feet. He then cut the tail off. No babies. He took his precious videos. I joined in, filming him so we would have actual documentation. Excitement mounted. This was the closest I had even gotten to this cursed creation.

Sleep didn't come easily that night. As I lay in bed I asked the Lord in total awe, "Oh, Father, how many times have you done that before? How many snakes have you NOT allowed to come into this house? How many have never come near me because you diverted them? How many narrow escapes has our family experienced without our ever being aware of your Mighty Right Hand of Righteousness being raised against whatever foe was threatening us?"

My mind's eye is now replaying that night as I sit here at my computer. I am filled with wonder at the One who sees every sparrow fall, as my husband says, "He attends every sparrow's funeral." A sense of gratitude overwhelms me. I ask forgiveness for letting the level of wonder and awe slip to a lower intensity than it should be. It is remembering Your incredible acts of deliverance that surges my thermometer of gratitude once again. No wonder you tell us over and over in Scripture to REMEMBER. How soon I forget, Lord. How soon I allow the present circumstances to be a gauge of the decibels of praise I give You. Forgive me for taking my eyes off you long enough to be sucked into the stresses and woes of this life. I so desire to . . . continually offer the sacrifice of praise to You, that is, the fruit of my lips giving thanks to Your Name. Hebrews 13:15

The next day, we called several of the seniors attending Laban Bible Institute on the mission campus to come to our house. Jim pulled the snake out of seclusion. Their eyes danced. Their mouths watered. "He's yours," Jim told them. "By the way, guys, what is he?" They said, "Oh he's an egg eater. He was probably looking for a way to get into your attic and search for eggs." "Is he poisonous?" I asked. "Well, he probably wouldn't take your life, but his venom can make you real sick." This almost six-foot-long disdained piece of flesh would provide dinner for them that Sunday.

It's all what you are used to, right? In a country where stark poverty prevails, where it is a way of life for most, and where it causes many go to bed hungry night after night, the snake was a welcomed entree. They weren't about to turn up their noses at this delicacy.

These men had paid great sacrifices to attend Bible school. They left their families, jobs, and familiar surroundings. Why? Because they in their heart of hearts believed the experience of studying God's Word and learning to use it as a tool in their hands to draw men and women to Christ was more than worth any temporary luxury this world offers. Most had come with only the shirts on their backs, perhaps one pair of flip flops, and no money, not even soap or paper or pencils. But they were foolish enough to believe the Lord would provide for them just as He did daily for those trudging through the wilderness after the big exodus from Egypt. They tenaciously clung to the hope that God would lavish upon them all their needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.

They counted it a privilege to walk 50 miles one way to share the Word of God with the demon possessed, with the person struggling with despair, with cannibals (yes, they are still present in Congo), and with the one who has strayed and needs to be loved back to the Savior. They were part of a crowd that when a prayer meeting is called, everything is dropped, and they come running to see what God has done, what we are asking Him to do, and confidently trust Him for what He says He will do. They're the ones that James heralds in his book. You know, about being as poor as a church mouse, but soooooo rich in faith, they move the heart of God.

We are the privileged ones to work with people of their caliber, people who carry the sunshine of heaven in their countenances because they have a real grip on life. They know what true wealth and riches are and their meat and drink is the Lord. They have taught me more than I can ever teach them.

We took it all in--the unbelievable pleasure and satisfaction they got out of life evidenced on their faces. We joined in their merriment, wished them bon appetite, and watched them trailing down the hill praising God, and I am sure discussing the best way to serve their God-given provision.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

I remember the first time I went to church as a five-year-old with the little girl and her mom who lived across the street from us. My family did not attend church, ever. A giant of a man stood before our large class and said something like, "If you go to movies, you are going to go to hell." These many years later I do not truly believe that is all that came out of his mouth, but for some reason that line has stuck with me for years. I had just seen the movie, Bambi and went home very worried about the consequences of my "sin." The concern caused me to share his declaration with my mom, who just about went through the roof. I was never allowed to attend that church again.

Seven summers later, at the age of 12, I invited my best friend over to share a Spam sandwich. Spam was big during World War II and has remained on grocery store shelves since then. Many people are not familiar with this "poor man's ham" as it was called. Because it needs no refrigeration until opened and is convenient to pack, we always take Spam to the Congo. Funny how good it tastes there. We never go near it here in America. Judy and I saw each other almost every week day that summer, taking turns riding our bikes to each other's home. Our lunch always consisted of fried Spam, white bread, and Miracle Whip. Life was great.

One day Judy opened her Bible and asked me if I were a Christian, to which I replied, "What is that?" She explained Christ's death for me on the cross, the need to recognize I was a sinner, forgiving for the asking, and the response I needed to make in faith, believing that by His power, He would really save me. This is the first time I can ever remember hearing the Gospel. It was definitely the first time I totally understood what the Gospel meant. I discerned at that young age that anyone would be a fool to let that offer slip through one's fingers, so I immediately bowed my head and invited Jesus into my life.

Wonderful as my parents were, they did not understand my decision, and for many, many years we were spiritually estranged. Judy and I parted ways that fall. She started 7th grade at a private school. I attended the neighborhood junior high school. We have seen each other only once since then and conversed a few times on the phone. I am eternally grateful to Judy's knowledge of the Scriptures and her concern to win me into the kingdom of God at such a tender age. Thank you, Judy, from the bottom of my heart. You introduced me to my wonderful Jesus and He changed the course of my life!

Ecclesiastes says that God puts eternity in our hearts. I so believe this. I can remember winning a Bible by memorizing verses which I recited in a Sunday School class at about the age of 10 or 11. What a treasure that became in time. But before I really understood much of it, I would pick out a book of the Old Testament, select a chapter at random, and try very hard to understand its meaning. I remember lying in bed at night knowing I should pray, but not knowing how to, and so I just started blessing all my relatives from A to Z before peacefully dropping off to sleep. As Philippians states, "It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Even this act was prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Entering 10th grade meant attending Pontiac Central High School. I was so excited to move on up in the world. That year another girlfriend asked me to join the youth group at her church. What a foundation was laid there for me. It was one of the happiest times of my adolescence, as I discovered this whole new world of people who actually believed in and lived by God's Word. They walked to a different drummer. They loved me and guided me into truths that forever molded and changed my thinking. The church became my new home--Sunday School, Sunday morning services, Sunday afternoon youth group, Sunday nights services, Tuesday night choir practices where I played the piano, mid-week prayer services on Wednesdays, and Saturday night socials with the youth group. I loved every minute of it.

My poor mom, on the other hand, did not understand what was happening. In her frustration one day she asked me why I didn't just move my bed to the church and live there all the time. I met a young man at the church and eventually we became engaged. However, in my heart of hearts I knew we should not marry. When I broke off the engagement to attend Bible college, again my mom threw her hands up in the air. She just didn't know what to do with me. My father, on the other hand, was so embarrassed at my applying at Detroit Bible College, he told people at work that I was going to barber school instead of Bible school. The estrangement continued. We lived in two different worlds.

It was at that College that I met Jim. The first time I saw him I knew he was God's man. He was the man! His commitment to and knowledge of the Scriptures blew me away, and his voice stirred my soul, but there was one small complication. He was engaged. When he returned from Christmas, however, the news spread all over the small student body that he was a free man again. Sorry for her, but goody goody for me.

At the time we were both in the chorale at college. Jim was often called upon to sing solos, and I as many times accompanied him. We fell in love. I put out a fleece before the Lord, and what I asked of Him, He made happen. We were married the next fall. Again, my parents wondered if I had both oars in the water because I chose to marry a minister. The pay was not great, and they didn't know how to act around a "preacher." Eventually, they grew to love him, but we were still in some ways estranged. We lived our lives, and they lived theirs.

In time, we had children and left the church where we had been so involved in the music ministry, youth ministry, evangelism outreach, teaching Sunday School, running the bus ministry, and living life with people we dearly loved. After 13 years, the Lord moved us on. We moved up north of Muskegon, Michigan on 10 acres of land in dutch country. We knew no one. The farm house we purchased was 85 years old, quaint, (needed a ton of work), but 4 hours from my parents. My father and mother drove up one time. Jim was just getting started in music evangelism, having cut 3 albums with Singcord, a division of Zondervan. Life was challenging. Money was tight, and when six-year-old Nicol asked the blessing on our meal and thanked God that her Daddy brought home enough money for not only one house payment but two house payments from a recent trip to West Virginia, my father almost broke down and cried. Our surroundings were not life as he had pictured it for us. He left mumbling something about it being a God-forsaken place.

After fire destroyed our home, we sensed the Lord was calling us to the Congo. I remember phoning my mom to tell her that our home had gone up in smoke in less than 20 minutes. She said to me, "Nan, what else is going to happen to you?" The "what else" I dreaded telling her turned out to be our going to Congo. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. In their own way, Mom and Dad tried to put their foot down. It didn't stop us. They again didn't understand, were hurt beyond description, perplexed, dismayed, and I am sure resented greatly having to give up three of their grandchildren to the "far flung battle fields of the world." Four hours' separation no longer seemed that big a deal. The estrangement became intense.

Our first term in Congo was three and a half years. I look back now and am saddened that my parents missed out on that much time with their grand kids. That period of time brings a lot of change in a child's life. My mom by now had made a profession of faith. Because she continued not to have any church background, she did not understand even the basics of missions. My dad just thought we were nuts.

We stayed 16 months in America, and then it was time to return to Zaire (before it became Congo again). It was so hard to say good bye to everyone, especially my mom and dad. They weren't getting any younger. At this stage of life I can so identify with what must have been their fear and dread in seeing us go. Our fourth child, Jack, was only four.

Mom was faithful in writing us, but neither one ever came to visit. They could have. They should have. It would have opened their eyes to another world and expanded their horizons beyond imagination. Before our second term was up, Dad had to have emergency cancer surgery, and Mom had a stroke. I flew home to be with them. They were definitely aging. The estrangement followed us even in these hard times.

After the second term in Congo, which was cut short by another bout with cancer for my dad and a bus accident that could have taken Shawn's and Nicol's lives here in the States, we asked the Lord if we could set up a stateside base for our ministry in Detroit as well as carry on the work He had called us to do in Africa. We longed to be with our maturing children, one of whom was now entering college, but did not want to walk away from His incredible Hand of blessing overseas. We wanted the best of two worlds. In His mercy, He granted our hearts' desires.

As my parents continued to live to ripe old ages, they were able to enjoy their grandchildren once again. We both resided in Michigan; they in Waterford, we in Detroit. My father still refused to accept the gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ. He would rather get to heaven on his own merit. Then something happened that made him see the light. Mom died. As Mom grew older, she grew softer, and I believe came to the conclusion that maybe we had something going after all as far as choosing ministry for a career both here in the States and abroad.

When my mother died, it broke my father's heart. He lost his reason for living. He recognized the fact that he really was a needy person, that it was okay to be needy, that recognizing his human frailty was a good thing. He was not created to be an island. He didn't have to live like the Lone Ranger any longer. He was devastated. In his growing state of weakness and fragility, he was drawn to--of all people--my husband. In fact, when Dad had to move to an assisted living facility and could no longer fully take care of himself, he wanted Jim to come and spend his days with him. What? Are you kidding? Amazing, isn't it, how the Lord can brings things back full circle.

One morning Jim said to me, "Nancy, today is the day your dad is going to get saved." I just looked at him in astonishment. We drove to Dad's apartment, and as I was washing dishes, Jim said, "Dad, don't you want to see Mom again?" At that point, my father cried like a baby and said, "Oh yes, I do." I turned around to see my wonderful husband lead my father from death to life in his living room. I had prayed for my father's conversion for 44 years. The estrangement ended.

Six months after he confessed Christ, he was in full-blown Alzheimer's. He went to be with the Lord one year later, embracing the Savior just in time at the age of 88!

When I see my parents again, there will be no trace of estrangement, distancing, awkwardness. We will understand each other perfectly because "we will know even as we are known." My parents will fully understand why I made that life-changing decision at the age of 12. They will totally see why the Lord put Jim and me together, why we chose ministry as a vocation, and why we were committed to fulfilling His call to Africa. I will be able to look into their hearts and appreciate how pained they were, how weird it all seemed to them, and the hole we left in their lives during those 8 years we were gone.

Maybe some of you have experienced the "sword" of division Jesus brings into family relationships because you have paid the price of being willing to follow hard after Jesus. You may be going through the same painful reality of being the first one in your family to embrace Him. You may be feeling the sting of isolation because you have changed your life course. You may be lying on your bed at night weeping because you fear that your beloved mom or dad or your siblings may continue to reject him and spend eternity in Hell.

I'm here to testify that God is doing amazing things behind the scenes. His Spirit is striving with your family. They are watching you with an eagle eye and are taking in the bent and flow of your life. The effectual, fervent prayer of a woman or man who is in Christ avails much! Some day they will see their need. Life may be looking real good for them right now. They may have their health, their wealth, and their independence. But that won't always be the case. The day will come when they will have to face the fact that they are mostly a spiritual being dwelling in a physical body instead of the other way around. They are created in God's image, and they will not be able to get away from that.

So take heart, dear one. and lean hard on Jesus, who never fails, who never forsakes, who treats your tears like a precious commodity, bottling them up and writing them in His Book! He is weeping too. He loves them far more than you do, and He is orchestrating everything in their lives to cause them to turn to Him. He will not forget your labor of love with them. Be patient. Only the Holy Spirit can bring them around. One day they will wake up. You may be privileged to lead them to the Lord, and you will have all of eternity to make up for the heartache and lost time you experienced because of their spiritual blindness. God's promise in Acts 16:31 is for your whole household to be saved.

Allow me to share the lyrics of a song by Jesse Dixon that has ministered to me so many times when I was on the brink of despair:

If you feel today that you can't make it
Keep holdin' on, cause you can take it
If you hold on a little while longer
Hold on a little while longer
Hold on a little while longer
Hold on
Hold on

If you feel it's raining all in your life
And day by day, there's nothin'
Nothin' going right
Just hold on a little while longer
Hold on a little while longer
Hole on a little while longer
Hold on
Hold on

You gotta hold to His hand
God's unchanging hand
You gotta hold to His hand
God's unchanging hand
You gotta build your hopes on things eternal
My God will never let you down

Weeping may endure for the night
But if you trust in Jesus
Everything's gonna be all right
Just hold on a little while longer
Hold on a little while longer
Hole on a little while longer
Hold on
Hold on

Amen and Amen!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Scrapbooking, anyone?

One thing I absolutely LOVE about Scripture is that each time I read it, there is the probability that something new and fresh will jump out at me from its sacred pages. Some years ago now, my daughter, Shawn, recommended the Amplified Bible. As I read through Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament, to see what this version said about "robbing God", I came across two verses that have become two of my very favorites. They are found in chapter 3. Dip in with me at verse 16.

"Then those who feared the Lord talked often one to another; and the Lord listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who reverenced and worshipfully feared the Lord and who thought on His name." These words gripped my soul.

The background here is that Malachi was given a hard job to do as the last minor prophet in the Old Testament. He was commissioned by God to tell His people to clean up their act. It was still a good 420 years before Christ would come on the scene. The church was in a deplorable state. Not only did the priests stray far away from God's Word, not venerating it as something to be acknowledged and followed, but they were accepting maimed, diseased, and defiled animal sacrifices from their congregation, which resulted in defaming, and polluting the table of God and profaning and despising His Name. He suggests that they offer such "gifts" to their governor to see how he would like them.

Chapter two grinds the men to pieces who have left the wives of their youth in lust to marry foreign wives who worshiped foreign gods and left their first wives sobbing at the altar because of being abandoned. These same men came crying at the altar as well--not because of their penitent hearts--but because the Lord would no longer accept their contemptible sacrifices. Amazing isn't it how sin blinds us. In verse 16 of this same chapter He speaks of this behavior as an act of great aggression. ". . . I hate divorce and marital separation and him who covers his garment (his wife) with violence. What an intimate description of our relationship to our husbands. We are their garment.

One sin leads to another when we do not guard our hearts, out of which every issue of life proceeds. I love this next warning: "Therefore, keep a watch upon your spirit that it may be controlled by My Spirit."

Chapter 3 speaks of impending judgment from The Judge who does all things right. However, God's heart cry is that they will turn rather than burn. Part of the returning to Him requires that they stop withholding their tithes and offerings, and consequently they are cursed for robbing the God of the universe. We've all been there I think. You know, thinking that we can handle our finances better than our Creator can! Giving God what's left over instead of the first fruits, or maybe nothing at all because there's more month left than there is money. It's painful to hear, but God just doesn't see it that way. He calls us thieves and frauds.

They were not much different from today's society, really. But remember God's eyes always roaming the earth in search for those who are fully committed to Him? This is where verse 16 comes in. I believe in addition to the Book of Life where our name is recorded once we become a child of God through the blood of Jesus Christ alone, there is a book of memories. This is where the scrap booking comes in.

It says here that the Lord actually opened up His ears and took it all in when he saw some who feared Him and talked about Him, and thought on His Name. He is so stirred when we respect Him enough to follow Him in awe and talk about Him, and take the time to meditate and allow our minds to be full of thoughts of Him, that He makes sure that those thoughts and words are recorded in a special book.

My God is impressed with what I occupy my mind; and, when it is filled with Him, when my mouth speaks His praises, and when healthy fear causes me to worship Him, He makes a note of it! I am suggesting that we can scrapbook with the Lord each day. We can make a memory with Him, for Him, about Him. We can determine in our hearts not to forget to set aside some time to store up memories with Him for the future. What will my scrapbook look like? When I lay my head on my pillow at the end of the day, will I have made sure that I took the time to extol, esteem, and honor my God? How thick will my scrapbook be? Won't it be fun to look back with the Lord and see how we looked when we first came to know Him as Savior? And what about the next decade after that all important choice of becoming accepted in the Beloved--what will those years look like? What about the breakthroughs, the lights coming on in our spirits during prayer, and the times we determined we were going to wait on Him instead of running ahead impulsively?

It's all for the taking. We can make a difference for all of eternity by what we choose to do today. Why wouldn't we want to remember the One who has the hairs of our heads numbered and who considers our tears valuable enough to bottle them up and put them in a book as well? Psalm 56:8 And, oh, such delight He takes in us. Look at verse 17 of chapter 3. They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I publicly recognize and openly declare them to be My jewels, My special possession, My peculiar treasure. . . ". Wow! He's going to put us on display!

"I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth, recount and tell aloud all Your marvelous works and wonderful deeds. I will rejoice in You and be in high spirits; I will sing praise to Your Name, O Most High! Psalm 9:1,2

Happy scrap booking.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Number One Hero

Everyone has a hero, at least one. Through the years, I have admired many people in the ministry here in the States. Congo has its heroes too. These soldiers of the cross have impacted my life in a myriad of ways for the past 30 years. They have my greatest respect.

But the person who has influenced me most in my day-to-day living, my walk with Christ, my faith, my spiritual aspirations as far as goals and outreach, my attitude toward Scripture, and my making decisions now that will affect me for eternity, among other things, is my husband, Jim. He is my number one hero.

Here is a man whose greatest spiritual gift is faith. Here is a man with larger-than-life vision. Here is a man who has faced hardships and experiences we would call tragedies beginning with his childhood that would send most people to the funny farm.

So this blog is a tribute to my man, my best friend, my life partner, and my constant companion because we have been together 44 years together. Thirty-four of those years we have shared the same space because he did not have an office to go to in Congo where he stayed 8 hours a day, as he had at the local church we ministered in before Africa; nor does he have an office now. We both work out of our home. He is the person with whom I have had the most intimate relationship here on earth. What a blessing after all these years together not to have to resort to living separate lives under the same roof because we have become bored with one another. No one living with Jim could ever be bored, believe me!

He is the son of missionaries, Dr. Laban and Marcella Smith. I never met my father-in-law, but I know from what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard from not only my husband, but from our Congolese family, that they were valiant warriors. Their hand-dug trenches carved out a remarkable pioneer career, leaving a legacy which was totally embraced by their son. They did this by the sweat and toil of their hands, a mindset that was fixed like a flint, a prayer life like Daniel, and hearts of purity and purpose. They are a remarkable replica of Romans 12:1, totally offering up their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. They did it! Big time!

This man, Laban, whom my husband absolutely adored and imbibed growing up in Congo, "tragically" died from a fall when Jim was only 10 years old. Marcella was never the same again. How could she be? They were such a team. He was her heartbeat, and she was his soul. Together they opened 90 villages in the then Belgian Congo, and they personally saw 10,000 Bayanzis come to Christ and be baptized in the late forties and early fifties.

So when you grow up with that kind of heritage and that big a God, you are a blessed person. Jim was blessed to be an eye witness to remarkable and humanly speaking incomparable events that left indelible impressions on his young mind.

After his father died, he, his mom, and his older brother, Jack, came back to the States to try to take a breather after a 7-year term in Congo. I'm not sure how much they allowed themselves to really grieve. In those days, for the most part, the reaction to death was to push it under, stuff it behind. A wonderful lady invited them to share what she had, which wasn't much. They all three slept in the same bedroom for several weeks to begin with, and then Jim and Jack moved out onto the couch, which was their "bedroom" for the next two years. Marcella, so burdened for the work in Africa, left and, for the next 12 months, provided support and direction to the Congolese people. Jack and Jim went to live in a home for missionary children in Wheaton, IL. Life was hard. Funds were extremely limited, but everyone survived.

Jim's father's death was the second one suffered by his family. His little brother, Gareth, died at the age of 14 months from the inefficiency of vital organs that were dwarfed. They never grew to full capacity. He didn't speak or walk or sit up, ever. That occurred during the first and only furlough the Smiths took before their return to Congo and before the great Bayanzi awakening from 1947 to 1953, when Laban died.

Five years after Laban died at the height of their ministry, in 1958, Jim and Jack were camping out for the second night under a rock bluff in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Marcella was now dorm mother for the Baptist Institute of the Ozarks, the high school both boys attended. Jack had fallen asleep, and Jim was chopping wood right by him. The air was pierced with a loud cracking sensation. Jim shook Jack and yelled, "Jack, get up!" Jack responded with, "Huh?" Jim said, "Jack, get up! The roof of the cave is caving in!" Jim then grabbed Jack by the shoulder and tried to rouse him as he lay sleeping on his stomach. Jack could sleep through anything. Jim thought he was rising, when right before his eyes, ten ton of rock fell, splitting in midair. Five tons hit Jack from his waist up and five tons from his waist down. Every bone in his eighteen-year-old body was broken.

Jim and Marcella were left alone with their thoughts, their grief, and their life without Jack, Jim's best friend. They couldn't even pass in the hallway as brothers without slapping or making some kind of contact. They counseled each other. They hunted together. They grew up together. They experienced Congo together. They were inseparable until Jack left. He had prayed that very night as they sat around the campfire. "Lord, we pray for your safety tonight, but how wonderful it would be to see you and also to see Dad." The Lord granted his request.

Jim finished high school and at the age of 19, he was invited by Pastor Robert Armstrong to come to Warrendale Community Church in Dearborn to direct the music first of all and then the youth. That was in 1961. We met in 1963 at Detroit Bible College which became William Tyndale College, from which we both graduated in 1966 and 1967 respectively. The next 10 years were spent intensively, developing youth, music, teaching Sunday School, holding Evangelism Explosion sessions three times a week, and overseeing the bus ministry until Jim became Co-Pastor of Warrendale. We were blessed with 3 beautiful children, Shawn, Nicol, and Todd.

Jim became a private pilot which came in handy when we went into Music Evangelism in 1974, and we partnered with two other individuals to buy a plane. He never forgot how long it took to get his dad to the hospital in Kikwit. Nine hours. It was only 60 miles away from Nkara. Laban died one hour later. So in the back of his mind was this great desire to fly.

I shared with you that fire took our home in 1977, and then we stepped into the great adventure of returning to Africa as missionaries one year later. Our baby, Jack, was born in 1978, and I so loved taking care of him. It kept me from going insane. I felt like I was in another world. Jim was so patient and understanding. I cried for the first 2 years, and he kept telling me that I would someday make a great missionary, as he lingered many times in front of our bedroom window, asking the Lord what he had done to his family by bringing them all the way to Africa. I didn't want to necessarily be told that I would make a great missionary. Personally I would have preferred the rapture to have taken place. That would be an honorable way to get out of that wilderness I found myself in, which was supposed to be what God had prepared me for all of my life. However, God has a remarkable sense of humor, and He kept me alive.

We were met by tremendous opposition from a national "pastor" who turned out to be a reprobate in sheep's clothing. Talk about standing still and seeing the salvation of God. We were helpless. Prayer became our constant mainstay. Mapungu was finally ousted by the national church, and we saw God move in marvelous ways.

The work was going well. The big area of gray, however, during our second term there was sending our children away to school. We both languish over this, even today. Did we do the right thing? Did we have a choice? Our wonderful kids and we have had many discussions about this. I don't know how many times we have had to leave it at the foot of the cross. The remarkable thing is that Shawn, Nicol, and Todd have not run from God because of this. In fact, they and their awesome spouses follow close and seek hard after Him. Thank you so much Jesus for that!!! Jack and Molly are God chasers too. Jack was too young to go away to school in case you are wondering why I did not include him.

In 1989, after escorting his cousins to the checkpoint just outside of Kinshasa, Jim said good bye to them. The cousins would drive all night into the bush until they arrived at Nkara. Jim planned to fly the little Texas tail dragger we had been given on furlough up to the mission station the next day. Details are unknown to this day, but it is thought that the flatbed of a hauler, a huge truck with a flatbed attached, pulled out in front of Jim and another missionary by the name of Tim Downs, who was driving the Isuzu Trooper that was transporting them back to where Jim was to stay that night.

Without warning at a speed of 60 miles an hour, they hit that flatbed and slid under it, which should have caused decapitation. Remarkably, Tim suffered only a concussion. Jim suffered a closed head injury. Three weeks in a makeshift "hospital" in Kinshasa with urine saturated privacy curtains, unkempt surroundings, contracting hepatitis B from contaminated needles, spending 5 days in a coma, experiencing a totally disoriented and alarmed state of mind, being medivaced on Swiss Air, 3 weeks in Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, and another 6 weeks of rehab brought about adjustments we had to make to survive. Jim was another person.

It took four hours for the only crane in the city, which happened to be working at the time, to remove his body from the crushed trooper, the top of which was peeled back like a banana. While Jim lay on the pavement unconscious before being rushed to the hospital, he was stripped of everything but his underwear and his glasses. His watch, money, wallet, camera and all personal belongings were stolen. Everyone thought he was dead.

During this horrible aftermath of the accident that almost claimed his life, I saw in Jim a determination not to let this bludgeoning trauma break his spirit and ruin his life. He fought depression every single day, but decided he would not turn into a bitter old man. We had always prayed since we were first married that we would not become bitter old people. At 47, that was a ways off. Nonetheless, it could have been the beginning of the end. The grace of God is ALWAYS SUFFICIENT. He would not forget that. Ever.

Emotionally, closed head injured victims go through the scary experience of growing up all over again. Jim can remember when he felt as if he were Jack's age, then a teenager, and then coming back into adulthood. It was a nightmare. Our sacred marriage vows were put to the test. The neurologist gave him 5 years to return to his baseline but could not guarantee anything. Jim was flying again in less than 2 years. He was remarkably healed but not without a few scars. His left leg constantly tingles as if it is asleep as a result of nerve damage. Thus, it is difficult for him to get up quickly from a sitting position. But I will take that any day as opposed to the fallout I saw in other patients suffering from an injury to the head. They were no longer able to walk, or talk, or even think.

We have had a glorious life together, enriched by pain and spiritual gain. They have been so interwoven in all of our years together. I love you, Jim. I thank God for you all of the time. I honestly don't know what my life would have been like had the Lord not brought you to me. I don't even want to think about it. Thank you for your undying devotion to me, for your eternal optimism, for your fresh approach to life each day as we begin it together, for your profound love of the Lord and driven desire to see as many souls come to Christ as possible in your lifetime, for the exemplary, devoted father you have been to our children, for the countless prayers for all of us and now for our sweet grand babies as well, for helping me walk this road of sorrow over the loss of Audrey and Lukey, of staying true to me all of these years. I love you with all of my heart. You are my heart, dear Jim.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Be on the lookout for wells

The Lord reminded me today of Hagar and Ishmael. I asked him to help me see the wells around me.

Remember Hagar, Abraham's Egyptian concubine? After spending most of their lives childless, Sarah was fed up with the promises of God to make their descendants more numerous than the stars. She decided to take things into her own hands (ever done that?), and gave her hand maiden over to Abraham to help speed the process along after decades and decades of waiting to become a mom. As you recall in Genesis 21, she and Abraham celebrated Isaac's 3 years of life. Ishmael put a real damper on the festivities. Sarah became very upset and told Abraham to tell Hagar and Ishmael to hit the road, literally. By now, Ishmael was about 17. Of course, Abraham loved this son very much. He was distraught and told the Lord about his messy dilemma. However, the Lord told Abraham to let them go, to allow Sara's desires to be fulfilled. So Hagar and Ishmael departed on foot with little provision.

Think of it, a single mom with her teenage son trudging off to who knows where with a jug of water and a loaf of bread! Well, all too soon, the enormity of their wilderness surroundings encompassed them and most likely sent them into paralyzing fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the blazing sun that would literally dry them out. Fear of starvation. Fear of the new "life" or death awaiting them. Perhaps they were in shock, never thinking the consequences of Ishmael's ill behavior toward Isaac at his celebration would amount to such tantamount proportions. But much more was involved. In reality, it was the consistent, taunting, upper-handed, negative influence Ishmael was exerting over Isaac that bothered Sarah so much that she told Abraham to get rid of them. Ishmael was introducing behavior into Isaac's young life that would eventually lead him astray in the area of his moral purity, his pursuit of faith, and his concept of killing and death. Potentially, he could have been robbed of his innocence and any future holiness (Rabbi Daniel Lapin). Sarah could tolerate it no longer. The rotten apple had to go.

So here they were wandering in the wilderness. The water and bread were gone. They were feeling the heat. Hagar, thinking that the only recourse was to wait for the end to come, settled Ishmael down under a shade tree while she went off a bow shot away (approximately 1500 feet), not only to leave him to die, but to face her own death. Why in the world did she do this? How could she walk away from her teenage boy and let him die alone? Where was her nurturing motherhood side that would never abandon her son in his and her worst hour?

Nevertheless, she did abandon him. Interestingly enough, it is not the cries of Hagar the Lord acknowledges, but those of Ishmael. Are you impressed with that? I am. The young man's cries went right into God's ears. After all, his name actually given by God Himself, means heard quickly by God, and the Lord responded. I am impressed with God's faithfulness to fulfilling the meaning of Ishmael's name. However, he did not show Ishmael where to go for water. He showed Hagar.

Hagar chose to be swallowed up in the circumstances around her rather than lift her heart to the one who gave her Ishmael in the first place. It appears that Hagar was so upset and blinded by her tears that she never saw the well and probably walked right by it. I am putting myself in her shoes now and seeing that her attitude was undoubtedly one of doom and gloom. She panicked and freaked out. She allowed fear to overwhelm her. Where was her God? Where was the God she had watched Abraham bow the knee to? Did she even know God? Well, if not, now is a good time to get acquainted! So in her state of understandable hysteria or total exhaustion, and/or lack of faith, the well goes unnoticed.

Why didn't the horror of a parched throat and aching stomach drive her to search for the Lord's Hand like one searches for the treasures of darkness in hidden places, which are only discovered when our eyes are trying to find Him? When we seek His face with all of our hearts? When He is acknowledged as our vital necessity as the Amplified calls it. When we admit our brokenness and come-lately dawning of our need for Him. When we come to the end of ourselves, knowing that He is our only hope. When we so long to be highly esteemed by God as Daniel was that we swallow our pride and admit that we are like a wild beast as far as our tainted, limited understanding is, Psalm 73:22. It was after she cried, and after the Lord acknowledged Ishmael's cries, that her eyes were opened to the well that was there all the time.

Then the mercies of God stare her in the face. What a defining moment that must have been when she discovers the life-giving water. With your mind's eye, watch her excitedly fill the skin with the now abundant resource of water. Her hands shake with the realization that there is plenty more where that came from. Water spills all over that skin. She runs to Ishmael. They are not going to die! Their dehydrated bodies are restored to life by the water from the well that was there all the time.

I truly believe there are wells all around us. They spring with eternal hope, signs from the Lord that He is crazy about us. That He is a God of detail and constancy. That He is the resource we need for that particular moment of drought, disbelief, discontent, sin, depression, doom and gloom mentality, negativity, a complaining spirit, brokenness, and the ailment of being human (we're only dust) which quenches our faith, of seeing things only through our eyes, of putting God in a box and believing that 2 and 2 make 4, of looking at the logical outcome, of failing to realize our desperate need of a renewed mind.

Looking for wells requires that we unwire our natural tendencies. Praying that He will help us remember where His blessings have fallen around us. Remembering to recognize those blessings we so easily take for granted. Asking for strength to lift our hearts to the Giver instead of being so caught up with the gift. Opting to WORSHIP Him instead of concentrating on serving Him. Recognizing the barrenness of a busy life. Remembering who God is--He's Majesty, He's royalty--and healthy lifestyle is one of fearing Him. Being open to the fact that He is more interested in what He is doing TO me and IN me rather than through me. Esteeming His opinion of me more than other people's opinion of me or my opinion of myself. Believing what His Word says about how He feels about me. Realizing in Jesus' Name I can renounce and walk away from fear and dread. Deciding to wait on Him instead of manipulating, and trying to fix, and masterplan, and even micromanage my life. Determining not to move before I hear His voice, even at the risk of looking lazy or sluggish or unambitious in the eyes of those around me. Waiting on the Lord is an active state; it is not slackness or laxity. It is a state of expectancy; it takes work to determine to remain in that state or to get back in that state. It is proclaiming my oh so little faith and jumping on in after He has given direction, instead of worrying about looking like a fool and relinquishing the safe route.

I promise you there is not just one well of life-giving water around us that will more than slake our parched souls and cottony-dry throats, resulting from trudging through the desert of stress and toil of life in which we find ourselves. The wells are everywhere. We just need to ask the Lord where they are and be on the lookout for them. I love Psalm 27:14. "Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout (have a heart as big and strong as a tub). Yes, wait for and hope for and EXPECT the Lord." God bless us all as we look ambitiously and expectantly for the wells, drink the life-restoring water they contain, and remember Who they come from.