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Today I Saw God

Toronto Student Mission Trip

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Editor's Note: This week 25 high school students and fiveleaders traveled to Toronto,Canada to do inner-city mission work. The following are updates from two of the students on the trip.

We were off to the church. Our luggage was squished into the back of our Toyota Highlander. It would be unloaded and then reloaded into the bus that would take us to Toronto. We checked in, said farewells to parents, completed the usual pre-mission trip duties and then we prayed.

While we were standing in a big circle, hands linked with total strangers who I would travel with, I felt God's presence there, ready to help us through the upcoming week of volunteering. The prayer ended, but God's presence lingered, staying with us as we occupied the bus and drove away.

Stops were made, long McDonald's lines were endured, questionable gas stop purchases were made and an absurd amount of soda was drank, but we made it to Canada. It's a really pretty place.

I'm looking forward to the rest of our time in this beautiful country. And I know everyone here will strive to help others and become better and stronger children of God in the process.

Submitted by Jessie Taylor.

Even though my group worked to improve the living space for many homeless women today, I saw God elsewhere.

After our cleaning and organizing, we sang karaoke with the women. I saw God as the women's faces lit up with joy and excitement about our singing. I saw God in everyone who sang and how enthusiastic they all were.

God brought joy to the women in the shelter and our group today in an unexpected way.

Submitted by Craig Benson.

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The Rain Will Come

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It was just a couple of months ago that I remember walking across my lawn thinking how wet the grass had become. With each step taken, I could hear the water squishing under my feet after a very wet spring. The grass, trees and plants were all green and vibrant with color. It seemed that I could almost see the grass growing each week, as I was mowing the lawn more frequently than seemed justifiable. I would come home in the evening, try to get the yard mowed before another band of rain would pass over the area, then repeat this process again later in the week. While I did not enjoy the extra mowing, at least everything was nice and green.

Then the rain stopped. What was once a lush, green lawn slowly turned into a brown yard that looked neglected and thirsty. The squishing that I had heard before was now replaced with a brittle, dry sound that is not pleasant to hear. If grass could talk I am sure this lawn was begging for water to drink. I felt guilty that my yard, trees and plants no longer looked alive and healthy, but neglected and sad. Several times a week I would pull out the water hose and attempt to revive a tired looking lawn. Regardless of my attempts, nothing seemed to work. Then the rain returned, and along with it everything seemed to green up much better and faster than what I alone could accomplish.

This can even apply to our daily lives. There have been times in my life when I have felt like the dry lawn that I described, then when I least expected it, the "rain" would come and through Jesus things were made new again. He hears our prayers, and the comfort this provides allows me to make it through rough times, knowing that my trust is in God to provide in ways I may never imagine, or ever accomplish on my own. As found in Matthew 19:26, "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" Next time you feel tired and thirst for help, know your prayers are being heard and that God reigns over all of us.

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Into the Desert

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The sea has parted forming a wall of water on both sides and a commanding voice booms, "You may paaasss."That's how I have always pictured the scene as the ancient Israelites marched, en mass, through the red sea on their way out of Egypt. I imagine Moses at the helm, smiling triumphantly, exuberantly and perhaps a little relievedly as his magic staff actually accomplished what God had told him it would: Let my people go!

Yet, according to the book of Exodus, the Israelites were none too sure about things, Red Sea parting or not:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and criedout to theLord.They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" – Exodus 11:10-12

"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?"Ironically, this was the phrase that overtook me as I encountered theactualdesert for the first time.The Sahara of North Africa was stark, dry and barren; sand upon sand as far as the eye could see.

I had been looking forward to this family excursion for months. The trip was planned, a guide secured, preparations made, clothing purchased and accommodations booked. All was made ready for our travel to Morocco. This day's journey was the trip's crown jewel: riding camels through the desert to a campsite where we would spend the night in tents under the expanse of a night sky, completely unspoiled by ambient light of any humankind. We would be alone with the stars in the desert. What bliss

But first, the desert. Just mounting my camelwas a bit harrowing as she lurched forward and then backward to achieve her standing, but as the guide led our small family group toward the dunes, I settled into the clippety-clop rhythm of my ride.I even loosened my death grip on the saddle slightly as we started up the first dune.

The setting was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was the purest expression of two complimentary colors: an infinity in grains of carmelized sand piled against an inestimable expanse of sky blue. The line separating them as if a kindergartner had drawn it with a crayon. The scene was miraculous, both breathtakingly beautiful and ominously frightening. Fear and awe all at once.

No greenery. No trees. No water. Only sprigs of dried grasses. Hardly a sign of life of any kind. And we were setting out into it. All I could think was:"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" Those Israelites had a point. Just imagine being led away from everything you ever knew, all supply, all solace and all resources into a promised land that looked anything but promising. My judgment of those Israelites was premature. I forgive them their doubt.

And yet, the awe and beauty was palpable in its simplicity, quiet and tranquility as we upped and downed the dunes. Silent movement. Slow trudging progress towardHow did our guide know which way to go with no landmarks and no visual cues? Everything looked exactly the same to me. The occasional brave pebble rolled downward, displaced by our camels' hooves, but a brief gust of sultry wind would wipe away the footsteps and remove all evidence that we were here.

We had placed our wellbeing in the hands of our guide, a mere teenager. He was a member of a nomadic tribe whose family had lived and loved this land for generations. He didn't speak our language, and we didn't speak his. Still, we let ourselves be guided and came to trust our sturdy ridesup and over, out and around, over and back, side hill and downhillas one does the mule who carries you along the switchbacks overlooking the Grand Canyon."They don't often lose people on these trips," I told myself.

When the campsite came within view, I confess I exhaled a relieved sigh. Light was growing dimmer and all of me could use a rest. It had cooled off from the daytime 105 degrees to an evening "low" in the upper 90s. As evening fell and stars appeared overhead, we trudged up the nearby dune to get a closer look. Laying back and resting on the fine, dry Sahara sand, we looked up at the stars the same ones that overlooked all the earth's inhabitants and the very same that accompanied the ancient Israelites; still they twinkled down at us. I was completely entranced.

The miraculous always astounds me. With reverence, we set off to see and understand and experience on holy ground. Then we come before God in complete awe and he reminds us of his promise to Abraham and his son Isaac, and through them, to us.

"I will surely bless youand make your descendantsas numerous as the stars in the skyand as the sand on the seashore." – Genesis 22:17

Now, it seems odd that the Lord spoke of the sand on the seashore to a people in the desert. Perhaps, he had in mind to part the sea.

This post originally appeared on "The Kinesthetic Christian."

The post Into the Desert appeared first on Today I Saw God.

The Power of People

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There were six rows of benches on either side of the aisle. Each bench sat four people, which meant our United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team took up 25 percent of the space. It was Wednesday evening, and we were at a United Methodist church in Manajanabo in the center of Cuba. It was their midweek service, and it was packed.

There was music, drama, reading from the Bible and songs sung by so many different people. Five small children came up, one playing a ukulele, and sang a song with such joy. A young girl sang and though I didn't understand many of the words, I knew in my heart that she was praising and worshiping God. Even one of our mission team members sang a song. It was a wonderful, joy-filled praise and worship experience. The pastor talked about serving and the importance of serving. She talked about the sacrifice we made to come to Cuba, "leaving their homes and their families to come here."

At the end of the service the pastor invited a family up to the front of the church. It was a mother and her eight children. Apparently their dad had left them. Our UMVIM team leader, Aldo, was invited to pray over them. He did and then he sang too.

I was so struck by the love and nurture I saw in this church. They had such deep love of God and an equally deep love for one another. This small band of Christians was committed to taking care of this family, and in that "one anothering," the love of Christ was palpable.

I saw this deep love of God and of others over and over again all over Cuba. Love for one another. Christian community. The joy of fellowship. Genuine love of God. What I saw in Cuba reminded me of what I read about in Acts 2:42-47. The early church was a close-knit community that took care of one another. The Bible tells us they were "devoted to teaching and to fellowship…They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had needThey broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God."

The church in Cuba is growing, just like the church in the first century grew. Acts tells us that "The Lord added to their number daily." Something is happening in Cuba. Something that the early church knew and something we could learn from. There is power when people come together to love God and love others.

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Perfect Loves Drives Out Fear

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"What does it mean when the Bible says perfect love drives out fear?"

I asked this question to the thoughtful group of Bible study participants as we gathered around the table at The Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individuals where I lead Bible study on Tuesday afternoons. We were studying some of the many places in scripture, which talk about fear and courage. At this point in our discussion, we had landed in 1 John, chapter 4, verse 18.

Where God's love is, there is no fear, because God's perfect love drives out fear.

It was an active group, and many around the table had offered insights and stories about their own journey with fear and their attempts at bravery. When I asked this question about perfect love driving out fear, one of the newer ladies to our company shared these thoughts:

"I was so scared. I had gotten sick and lost everything. I ended up in the hospitalandwhen it was time to leave, I didn't have anywhere to go. One of the people at the hospital told me about The Lamb Center. When I came here, people were so nice. Everyone showed me the love of God. The more I felt the love of God through the people here, the less afraid I felt. I didn't feel alone anymore. Experiencing God's love through this place drove out my fear. That's what it means when it says perfect love drives out fear."

As we continued our discussion, she shared another example:the story of a kind woman on a bus who touched her arm and gave her a little money. Although having the money for bus fare was meaningful, she seemed more grateful for the kind words and the touch on the arm. She believed God sent the lady on the bus to let her know he saw her and was with her. I hope the kind lady on the bus knew how much her simple act of obedience meant to my struggling friend.

My friends at The Lamb Center know first-hand about fear. They know intimately the fear of having no place to go. The fear of sleeping at a bus stop or in the woods. The fear of an approaching hurricane when they have no shelter. The fear of disconnection, judgment, shame and loss. They know the fear of isolation and the fear of losing hope and never finding it again. My friends at The Lamb Center know all about what it means to dig deep for courage when they feel afraid.

Fear and anxiety are part of the human journey. While I am grateful my fears don't include worrying about where I will sleep, I understand the solace of realizing I am not alone in my strugglewhatever that struggle might be. Like so many other topics found in scripture, each of us could relate that day to the need to navigate the difficult paths of fear, worry and anxiety. And we were all grateful that God seems to have some answers for us in his word. Answers that often, it seems, include our ongoing need to live in community.

Earlier in chapter 4, John says these words:

"If we love each other, God lives in us. His love is made perfect in us."

Here are some things we learned that day as we talked:

  • God is love.
  • God sees us when we are afraid, worried or anxious.
  • God's love can heal.
  • God's love finds its fullest expression through us. It matters when we participate.
  • When we love and care for each other without judgment, God's love is made perfect.
  • Isolation contributes to our fear. Incommunity, we feel less afraid and less alone.
  • It is a privilege to be used by God to encourage one another, so we need to pay attention to those nudges from God to reach out to somebody.

God repeatedly reminds us in scripture"Do not fear. For I am with you."God's answer to our fears is his presence. Sometimes, God's presence involves our presence with one another. Perfect love casts out fear. God's love is made perfect when we reach out and love one another.

As the old 70s song says, "They will know we are Christians by our love." It seems simple, but I know I need the reminder sometimes.

The greatest commandment: Love God, Love Each Other. Could love indeed be the antidote to fear?

Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.

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