Wednesday, April 29, 2009

imbedded and engraved. . .

My heart is fixed on You, oh Lord. The salve of your Holy Spirit lubricates my sorrowful soul through Your Word, making its way into all the hidden crevisces, restoring hope and repairing wounds caused by the storms of life that sweep over me like sea billows. You are awesome. You are just. You are not only righteousness, but You are my righteousness.

You have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of your children on the palm of each of Your hands (Isaiah 49:15 and engraved us in Your compassionate and loving heart. We are that valuable in Your sight; in fact, we are priceless. Priceless because You and the Godhead agreed in eternity past to crucify Your own Son so that we could spend eternity with You.

And for those times we cannot understand; for those times that are past finding out, You state "Who is among you who reverently fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His Servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendor in his heart? Let him rely on and be confident in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God. Isaiah 50:10.

If you, Father, allowed Your Son, the Darling of heaven "to become an object of horror and many were astonished at Him for His face and His whole appearance were marred more than any man's, and His form beyond that of the sons of men. . ." for us, Lord. You allowed that horror to shroud Him for us. Then we have no other recourse than to trust You.

We await the day when we will join the many angels on every side of the throne as well as the living creatures and the elders who number ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, saying in a loud voice,

Deserving is the Lamb, Who was sacrificed, to receive all the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and majesty, glory, splendor and blessings! Rev 5:11,12

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Only 4 days 'til Laban dinner event

. Laban is hosting an informal gathering

. Thursday, 6 p.m.

. Crystal Gardens

. 16703 Fort Street, Southgate MI

. $25 per person or $200 for a group of ten

. Jack Smith, Music Minister at Gilead Baptist of Taylor, MI, along with his wife,
Molly, and Mariah Humphries, also of Gilead, will provide music

. Jim and Nancy Smith, founders and directors of Laban Ministries Int., will provide
fresh updates from their recent trip to Congo just this past Feb, Mar, and Apr,

. Lovely sit down family-style dinner

. Informal dress

. Free will love offering

. Contact Molly Smith at 734 775 8125

Saturday, April 25, 2009

yet another loss. . .

The new arrival would be a Thanksgiving baby. Names had been narrowed down to favorites. There would be a brand spanking new baby to hold and cuddle at Christmas by all the family on both sides. Would this little one look like Summer or Luke? How comforting it was to think of this new life. Such welcome news Nicol gave us while we were still in Congo. Our hearts lept for joy. Summer would have a sibling she could touch and stroke and love and be big sister to. Greg announced it on his blog, not only because he was bursting with joy, but because he valued the prayers of blog readers. Hope revisited. New beginnings.

Then, without warning, something went terribly wrong. Baby Sponberg due in November will not make his or her appearance, not yet, not now, not on this earth. We've lost yet another baby. Gut-wrenching sorrow. Reasons, past finding out. No explanation. Overwhelming grief once again. Words aren't good enough. Please pray for Greg, Nicol, and Summer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the heavier and the lighter side of things. . .

I sit here amazed and flabbergasted by the recent two-month stay in Congo. It was so full of God. Tears stream down my face as I remember Him showing up time after time. It was more than His shadow, although that would have been all right. He is the boss. We must allow Him to call the shots, whether they be like piercing arrows that penetrate the darkness and visibly--even right in our face--win battles we cannot deny and provide in such a way we sense His delight. Or, whether it be struggling to rest in His wisdom and grace though we see the storm clouds gathering and even surrounding us, and we--like a weaned child--in that storm opt to cease from fretting because He doesn't feel near, even though our ears recollect that He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Either way, we in those moments do best when we allow Him to be God. There is great freedom as He hedges us in when we decide to "be still and let be", rather than fretting which only leads to sin.

Today I miss our dear, dear partners in ministry, partners in death (they lose so many of their babies as well), partners in faith (they as well as my husband are giants in the faith), partners in plain old living--the good, the bad, and the ugly, partners in love (they drop everything and come running when we need them), partners in joyful exultation of our Lord Jesus Christ ) one never has to be hesitant to share the latest praise, whether it be the tasty crumbs falling from the table or jaw-dropping delicious accounts of His divine orchestration), partners in the pursuit of souls (they are fervent in their pursuit), partners in crime (especially Pastor Gary Kapinga who has imbibed our sense of humor and much of our culture) which oftentimes results in laughing from the gut together, and just the all around unity we have with most of our staff. With many there has been a history now of more than 30 years, and we are not just like family; we are family in a most wonderful way.

Today I am loving them from afar emotionally through what I feel for them. I will love them through my prayers, and I will love them through my efforts to fulfill my mission which in part is spelled out in Proverbs 31:8 and 9. . . "Open your mouth for those who are unable to speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are left desolate and defenseless; open your mouth, judge righteously, and administer justice for the poor and needy."

On April 30 we will gather with old and new friends at Crystal Gardens in Southgate, MI to update and encourage, rejoice and marvel together at God's amazing sustaining faithfulness of Laban Ministries. My head swirls as I think of what must take place between now and then to make that night a reality. Lord, please put it together. We are so frail and inadequate, but You can really make something of the evening. Please, God, strengthen what you have wrought for us. . .

However, in the meantime, I want to share with you the amazing phone call I had with Jim, my husband, yesterday, Easter Sunday. It was a delightful day here in Nashville. In fact, so balmy, I rocked with 3 of my beautiful grandchildren and son and daughter-in-law in the porch swing. Just before that, Jim called from Congo. The tone of his voice told me he was up to something fun and exciting. We do have fun in Congo, you know. It isn't all serious, life-threatening, tear jerking stuff.

Well, it seems they went on a hunt. But it was a hunt only to look. You know, like window shopping--just to look, not to buy. I say just to look because he owns no guns anymore. They were all stolen during the pillage of '97, even his big 300 savage was taken. He was so proud of that gun because with it he downed a hippo which had killed a missionary at Vanga in the mid 90's. Many of his childhood memories take him back to thrilling hunts with his marksman father, who brought home meat to put on not only his table, but on the tables of his national staff as well. Jim loves hunting, but without a gun, what can you do? Just look, I guess.

So after he and 5 of our staff evangelized at Mpene Nseke (about 18 miles from our home) they decided to do something fun and frivilous like. . . look for bambis or antelope. Off they went. The first phone call was to tell me they were really stuck. The second phone call reported they were unstuck. The third phone call is the best. They went to those same old naustalgic hunting grounds and guess what? They found lion tracks!!!

Yeah, that's right. A lion had wandered probably hundreds of miles from where they normally hang out into a farmer's plot of ground. His paw prints were so large and deeply imbedded in the soil that Jim guesses he must have weighed in excess of 400 lb. Now that's big for Congo. He had captured a goat for dinner and carried it off to enjoy the morsel, and the farmer thinks he will come back for more. They heard the roar. The hair on the back of my neck is standing up straight right now.

And then--of all things--they spotted a bambi. I wonder if that is where the name for the movie came from because that is the kituba word for antelope. How did Disney know? No bows and arrows. No guns. Just the sheer delight of actually seeing one again after so many years, as Todd said, gave Dad "his fire back."

Of all the things I think that could have topped this unique trip off like frosting on the cake, is the goose-bumping, thrill of adventuring, man thing in Congo to do of tromping out in the sheer, raw nature of Africa, so close to it as to hear the roar of a real live lion just like he did so many times in the night at Kajiji attending school as a young boy. That, back to back with spotting a bambi in the nseke or plains of Africa--well, what more could this incredible man ask for?

Lord, I just love it when you show your Hand in ways unique to us--our past, our personalities, our likes, even our whims. You have our names engraved in your heart and hands. You have the hairs of our heads numbered. You keep our tears in your book and in a bottle. You are writing a book of memories we have made together, keeping track of the praises we offer like incense to you. You know us with Psalm 139 knowing. I see your great sense of humor and delight in us and with us in ways that continue to amaze me and make me love you more cause you care about everything in our lives. I love you so much, Lord. I cannot tell you how much it makes me delight in You when I see you so intricately involved in our footsteps. Why does that always surprise me? When will I know you? Looking so forward to that day when I will truly know you even as I am known.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Armed police visit Nkara

Today is very memorable in our minds. Six police armed with big guns came walking on the mission campus of Nkara this morning. Immediately, thoughts went to the 2007 invasion by two nearby hostile villages. Jim's life was at stake then. What could they possibly want? Everything has been running exceptionally well. Could satan possibly have sneaked a foot in the door during these last few weeks of Jim's stay in Congo?

Were these demon-rocked villages of Mibiere and Mpene making new threats to invade Nkara one more time? Did they want some of Jim's blood? Were they here to hassle our people? Jim? Why did they bring guns of this size with them? What were they going to try to impose on Jim? It was no joke, Jim knew.

They opened their mouths; they imposed a plea.

They showed desperation.

Their eyes displayed longing.

Their faces presented deep yearning.

Weary from the 60 mile walk, they were fading with exhaustion.

What was driving them to walk so far?. . . to walk so far to Nkara of all places?

They began to speak. Unbelievable peace and utter amazement followed.

They spoke with urgency.

"Please, please Mr Jim, give us a Bible. We are starving for God's Word. We must have it. To show you how earnest we are, we

have walked these many miles in hopes that you will give us each one a Bible. Please. We must have one. We are hearing how

it changes lives. We want our lives changed."

Jim led 3 of them to the Lord. They walked away with the great treasure they sought.

God, you are amazing.

Your word and Your Name you place above everything else? These men likewise have given you and Scripture high priority.

Would to God we would too!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The miracle of Radio Glory

In the middle of nowhere bush country (only in our eyes, not in God's) stands a 300' tower reaching towards the heavens in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. In the day time pilots who fly close enough to our mission campus can see its splendor and are amazed that it is even there, let alone that it actually functions. Despite the fact that it stands so tall (30 ten-foot sections), it has never once been struck by lightning. Much of this we are sure is due to the amazing ingenuity and engineering of Jim Hulse, Founder and Director of Towers for Jesus, who along with Connie, his wife, Cayla, his daughter, and their sons, Cory and Christopher have erected radio towers all over the world.

But it goes even further than that. The mighty arm of our Lord Himself has restrained the force of lightning from hitting Radio Nkembo or Radio Glory as it is known in English. How amazing that the pure pleasure of God allows the air waves to be filled with His praises as far away as Kinshasa (420 land miles from us), even dipping into parts of Angola.

Just before leaving Congo, our staff told us that Radio Glory had been named the most listened to radio station in all of Bandundu. I am not sure who compiles the statistics. But I do know that some of the judging is based on letters, phone calls, and general information making their way to the government. Who would have thought that the hills and valleys nestled into the territory we call the Nkara Collectivite or Center (government name) once steeped in witchcraft, coated in darkness, full of superstition and the occult, and fought over for decades not only by nationals but some missionaries as well, would become such a lighthouse not only through the Laban Bible Institute, but also through intensive Gospel preaching, Bible teaching, Christian music, and Christian Family Living programming done by smart, humble, loving, dedicated men and women who comprise part of the Laban staff in Africa.

A total of 8 people work hard to keep Radio Glory alive and well, two of whom are women. They are called journalists in Congo, and we are so proud and honored to have them on the team. They walk approximately 1.5 miles everyday uphill to keep the programming going, frequently walking on rainy soil from September through the middle of May, daylight or no light bravely facing the possibility of snakes on the path, working 7 days a week because 8 people are just not enough to do all the programming and engineering both morning and evening. (This is Congo, you know)

I asked them how many more people would be needed so that they could have weekends off, and they said four would be a great help and maybe even sufficient to give them more time with their families. They also asked for 2 motorcycles to help get them to their work place, boots to ward off possible snake bites, rain coats, and an increase in salary, as most of them have not had a raise for more than three years.

Their requests hit me and Jim right in the face. These were not outrageous demands. They were given with hesitancy, waiting to see our reaction as we sat in a circle around our living room, and told "As you see fit, as you are able, as God opens the door, as He makes a way. . ., will you please hear us and do what you can.?" Jim and I had to tell them that the economy in America is at a critical level and we could not promise any increase in salary, which must have washed over them in sorrowful waves. We did promise them more rain coats and boots, warmer clothes for days with lower temps than 68 degrees which give them shivers, and we would see what could be done about motorcycles.

They were happy that we listened to them and thanked us for our time. We felt grateful for their uncondeming spirits but helplessly, almost sickeningly sad that we could not give them more.

So I am bringing these very basic requests to you, asking you to pray for 6 raincoats, some warm sweaters, 5 pair of boots, sweats to wear at night when the wet grass hits their legs and makes broadcasting in wet pants or wet hems of dresses uncomfortable, and 2 motorcycles to get them to the station quicker and with much less effort. They are such small needs, really. Our God is big enough, surely, for these amenities which would make such a difference in the lives of these men and women. About the need for increased salaries, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could take them each an additional gift when we return to Congo later on this year, and tell them that because of the generosity of God's people in America, they can enjoy a few more dollars to provide for the educational needs of their children, provide a few more cans of sardines for dinner, and make life just a little less stressful?

What price tag can one put on whole villages being freed from the bondage of depression because of the hope of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ being preached? How much is a soul worth, or thousands and thousands who are being transformed by God's Word through the preaching heard on Radio Glory each morning and evening? How much is a reconciled marriage worth in the heart of Congo, where little is known about interpersonal relationships, and professional counseling is unheard of, but because of Radio Glory's messages, hope is renewed and attempts are made to try bringing their lives as a couple before God so that He can be the one they run to with their problems instead of to a witch doctor or running off to mama?

There is no way to measure the value of these amazing things that are taking place in our area and beyond, but I know it is surely worth more than the cost of the requested items. Please pray. Our God is not a pauper. Would to God we could supply these things and much more! Amen!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Unleashed Gospel Dynamite

Today. . .

Today I leave Congo, with my husband remaining behind because he just had to squeeze a world more of living into the two weeks remaining until he must return to the States for our spring dinner event. He just stepped out the door to travel to the airport and board an MAF plane piloted by Dan Carlson, a second generation missionary, whose family is like our own. We love them dearly. I miss Jim already.

Today I am reminiscing. . .

about our whirlwind two months here, how that God packed more into that period of time than we could ever have dreamed of, how He showed up time after time, how He revealed His mighty right arm of righteousness at every turn of the way, and Congo can be full of sharp turns, often thrown in by the evil one. But he cannot throw the Lord any curves. The Lord makes our crooked paths straight once again.

The cannibalistic village comes to mind that I recently wrote of, and Romans 1 shouts into my being. . . " I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE. ." ALL--no exclusions. Even those who murdered this innocent victim, He chooses to love. Even those who cut up the bodies of babies in the small forest near our home after placing them on hot coals, and hearing them scream so that they would arouse ancestral spirits to bless their crops. I don't begin to understand that kind of love--so boundless, so unconditional, so all encompassing. That only emanates from a God WHO IS LOVE.

The seventy men from Mpene and Mibiere who sought to escape their self-inflicted attack from warriors from two other nearby villages come to mind. They walked into the lake on our mission campus, thinking they could wade across it, not knowing the lake was more than 15 feet deep in spots because it was hidden by tall elephant grass. None of them could swim. They all died in the 1920's. Lake Ewa became their burial site because of a property issue. Nkara has been fought over for decades, long before the Smiths ever set foot there.

Remembering Mapungu, a reprobate pastor. whose beaming smile welcomed us in '78, only to find out later this "pastor". who was also principle of the state-operated school, forced high school girls to sleep with him on Saturday night and then got up and preached in church on Sunday mornings. He was an instrument, a would be ministry deterent for years and years until the national church defrocked him. The power of the blood of Christ kept him at bay and diffused his plans. He eventually fell in the pit he dug for us.

Thinking of the day in 1980 when Jim took a few nationals up to east hill and prayed for a radio station right there in the middle of the bush. That dream came true in 2003, but as far as the Lord was concerned it already was before it ever existed.

A sea of faces comes to mind. Men and women who have been washed in the blood of Christ, cleansed totally from witchcraft and all kinds of forms of demonism, darkness, ignorance, and unshackled by the power of that blood. Pastor Mbuku says there is no way of knowing how many there are. God knows.

Our four children come to mind. I see them playing, studying, running outside to welcome the cool breezes from the stirrings of a tropical storm, returning home bearing the prize of their hunts on their arms, baking bread in the kitchen with flour everywhere, preparing the wood stove to bake their product, cooking glowing orange palm nuts with salt, savoring every bite, reading endlessly--well some of them enjoyed reading--creating their own fun, making houses out of cereal boxes and clothes for Nicol's monke, T. D. (Teddy Roosevelt's namesake), sitting around our beautiful ebony dining room table that Jim made with his own hands, while Jim read Scripture to them and taught them God's Word. Their girlish and boyis faces with toothless smiles and the wonder of childhood bring tears to my eyes. I miss those bygone days.

Back to the present. The clock tells me it is time to get ready to be taken to Njili Airport by Congo Travel Service. My head is swimming with too many memories to share right now. I feel so very blessed to have walked this soil, rubbed shoulders with giants of the faith, reared our children here for enough time to really impact us as a family, and as a married couple to have seen the Lord Jesus Christ part our red sea time after time, and produce incredible results by the power of his gospel. I owe you big time, Lord!