You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

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Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

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Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

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VBS: It’s not just for the kids

As we belted out the lyrics to a great Chris Tomlin song and learned the motions choreographed to go along with it, I heard the message for the first time. The closed-captioned words popped on the screen as the kids watched the singers and followed their motions…and I just stood there reading the song that I’d sung dozens of times before.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Huh…our strength will increase while we’re waiting on God. Lemme ponder that a bit.
I watched Connie, our 78 year old volunteer, dance just as enthusiastically as her second grade counterparts. I admired the excitement that flashed in her eyes. She saw me and said, ‘I love it!’ At her veteran place in life, she was learning new moves and new praises to God.
Other class leaders, moms-returned-to-full-time-work, were using the bond of VBS to spend with their own children because their new schedule limited the customary family time.
One grandad was helping in the snack area because his wife, one of our usual snack helpers, had a stomach virus. He had an opportunity to serve kids, his wife, and his God.
The classrooms were pleasantly stocked with youth helpers, cutting, pasting, tying, wiping, shushing, leading…finding their own niches in service.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Each adult present in VBS has had his/her fair share of waiting times. Waiting for a loved one to come through surgery, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting to find housing, waiting for a job interview, waiting for the check to come in the mail so bills can be paid…the waiting can be so long and weigh so heavily on us. But according to this inspiring praise chorus, which reflects Scripture, our waiting is what develops our spiritual muscles. Just like our physical body improves its tone with strength training, so does our spiritual self.
My dear dancing Connie has waited for health, family, housing, security…and it has brought her to a place of laughter and love to share with VBS kids.
The working moms have worked waited for interviews, financial stability, growth of children…and it has brought them to their knees in service to the kids of VBS.
The grandad has,no doubt, waited on his wife, his children, his grandchildren…and it has brought him back to waiting tables, doling out cheeseballs and lemonade, in the name of Jesus.
The youth have waited to grow up, to find their paths, to be independent…and it has brought them to church, in the summer, to serve little ones half their age.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
If we are confident of the one we are waiting on, we can doing the waiting. If we look back at what he has done, in our lives, in the lives of others, in the Bible… we know that the waiting is worth it. He is faithful. He will not faint, he won’t grow weary…so neither should we. I admire my VBS colleagues and each of the stages of life they represent. They have waited…and will continue to wait…but they know that the waiting isn’t really so bad when you consider what strength is being built…
Isaiah 40:31
They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
The will mount up with wings as eagles.
They will run and not be weary;
they will walk and not faint.

Update: Mueller-ed

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In a post on March 28 entitled Mueller-ed, I wrote about our church including a mission project each year when we host an Easter egg hunt. This year we were going to be stuffing ‘Socks of Love’ with personal hygiene items to be distributed at our local soup kitchen. I wrote about the need we had for socks…and its sudden fulfillment, similar to the prayers that were answered in missionary George Mueller’s life. (Read about George Mueller here!!) At the end of the entry about getting Mueller-ed, I said I’d give an update on the sock stuffing at the egg hunt.

 We had about 60 children in attendance that Saturday, plus their parents/grandparents, probably giving us a total near 100 participants.  We stuffed 75 socks with travel size shampoos/conditioners/deodorants/toothpastes/soaps and a toothbrush. (We opted out of small bottles of mouthwash, as we discovered that the alcohol-based ones were misused for drinking purposes last time we made such distributions. ) The kids enjoyed stuffing the socks and racing to put their completed bundle in the big plastic bin we had set aside for collection.

On Easter Sunday, in Sunday school, we tied yarn on the socks and included cards of encouragement for the recipients. We repacked the Socks of Love in the collection bin and pushed them to the church office for pickup by the soup kitchen crew. All 75 Socks of Love were distributed to needy families the week after Easter Sunday, as that was spring break and more patrons were present at the food kitchen.

Though we will never know who received these gifts, we know that they were blessed. Whether the health care items helped keep families clean, prepare an individual for a job interview, or aid an adolescent in feeling more hygienically comfortable around peers, we know that the Spirit of God was with them.

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Matthew 25:34-40

34‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Project Sundays

On the first Sunday of each month, our preschoolers through second graders at church combine Sunday school classes  to work on a mission project. I jokingly call it ‘Sweatshop Sunday’ because we usually form an assembly line to get a lot accomplished in a little time. The kids love that Sunday for various reasons…the creativity, the ACTIVE-ity, the charity, the variety. The notion was an off-shoot of our VBS program last summer, wherein we didn’t do as many cutesy crafts to take home, but we focused more on whole group crafts to benefit greater causes (local pediatric ward, animal shelter, soup kitchen). We wanted to carry the message of mission on past the week-long blast of VBS, so we started Project Sunday the first week of each month. After we share a lesson from the Bible that goes with our project, we explain who we are going to help and how. We say a prayer for the people receiving our gifts, and then, we get to work!

August— Goody bags of THANKS for the teachers in our church

(Each lunch bag contained a Tea bag, H2o (water) bottle, Apple, Napkin, Kiss (chocolate), and Scripture verses to keep in their purse/desk…the contents spell out THANKS. We gave these out on the Sunday before school started, which was also our Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday.)

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September–Decorations for our church’s intergenerational prom

(The kids cut out and decorated stars that were put on the tables for the dinner/dance to which all church members were invited. It was fun to see the tables decorated with the kids own work…and it was fun to see our Sunday-serious church members cuttin’ a rug right beside the kiddos! What a bonding time!)

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October–School supply collection for the teachers at the local alternative-education school 

(Knowing that many of the students in this school do not have the money or motivation to provide their own school supplies, we partner with the teachers to keep them stocked with basics. Our church members bought the items, and our Sunday school children separated them into two piles…one for the beginning of the year, and one to restock the teachers mid-year. They also added cards of encouragement for the teachers.)

November–Fall posters for the homebound members of the church

(Using a mess-free painting idea from Pinterest (top picture), we made fall tree posters with the Bible verse ‘The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever.’ Isaiah 40:8)

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December–Advent wreaths and daily Bible readings for each child

(We had millions lots of toilet paper rolls left over from VBS crafts, so we used them, along with styrofoam plates, to make Advent wreaths. Prior to this Sunday, I cut out the 5 holes around the styrofoam plates into which the candles would be inserted throughout the  month. I stapled another plate under the top one for support. The first Sunday of December, we added green leaves and made the first candle. The kids took them home that day, with a list of Advent scripture readings. The following Sundays, we made the candles and sent them home for the children to add to their wreaths. )

(picture from Pinterest, but very similar to ours)

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January–we took a break : )

February–Bags of Love for our local battered women’s shelter

(When thinking of people that needed a showing of love in February, I thought of the women who had no one to show them love. We decorated white lunch bags and added soap, washcloth, candy, gum, and a colorful card with Bible verses about God being a refuge.)

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In March, we were eager for some signs of spring so we made our own! Using a Pinterest idea, we painted flowers for our sick or homebound friends who needed some cheer. This was a great painting activity because the kids used plastic forks and didn’t get their hands messy…well, too much. (Of course, MY daughter was the one wearing the WHITE dress that day…*Sigh*) A fun way to bring a smile to someone’s dreary day!!

 

 

 

 

I love Project Sunday, and I love that the kids love it too. We’ve been doing it for half a year, and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. I’ll tweak some things for next year, and perhaps ditch some projects all together and find new ones. But we will continue with it because it’s teaching the kids that our relationship with God reaches beyond Sunday and beyond the church.

Share your ideas of ways your church has helped others! I’d love to hear them!

Mueller-ed

To understand this post more richly, you might want to read the previous post about George Mueller, a pillar of faith in God.

Here’s some backstory too:
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On the day of our church’s annual Easter egg hunt, we engage in a mission project of some type. Before releasing the children to hunt eggs, we work together on a project to help others. Then, we share the Biblical story of Easter…how the selfless sacrifice of Jesus saves us from our selfish sins. After these two events, we turn ’em loose to hunt eggs and play outside.We started this itinerary about three years ago.

The first year, we spray-bottle painted onesies and shirts for the youth to take on their summer mission trip. It was a great IDEA but messy to execute in an small enclosed space with over-zealous, candy-craving children. The picture here was my experimental attempt…I didn’t take pictures the day of the egg hunt/spray painting bonanza because…well, there were 50 kids trying to spray paint. (It was a good idea…just not for this function…here’s the pinterest link.)

The next year, we collected health care items (combs, brushes, travel size shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste/toothbrushes/

deodorant/soaps and washcloths) for a few weeks prior to the egg hunt. On the day of the hunt, we had parents and kids move through an assembly line to drop one of each item into a gallon-size ziploc bag. These health care kits were given out during our youth group’s two mission trips that summer. This activity was MUCH more suited to the event…families worked together, it was quicker, not as messy…much less stIMG_0023ress!

This year, we are planning to stuff Socks of Love. We have collected health care items again, and the plan is to stuff a man-sized sock with shampoo/conditioner/soap/toothbrush/toothpaste/deodorant and roll the matching sock up and stuff it inside too. We’ll tie them off with a bit of ribbon or yarn and presto! A sock of love for the visitors at our local food kitchen.

So here’s how we got Muellered (unexpectedly blessed at our point of need):

I met Wednesday with our youth minister Jason to go over the schedule for the upcoming egg hunt. We have collected lots of hygiene items, but very few socks. We were saying, somewhat disappointedly,  that we’d have to go out and buy them, as they were of primary importance. When I went to church Thursday morning to sort out the hygiene items for our assembly-line next week, I discovered 55 pairs of socks! Jason had not purchased them…he had not mentioned the need to anyone else, nor had I. But there they were 55 pairs of lovely, clean, wonderful socks…awaiting their higher calling. IMG_0022

The first year, we painted 101 shirts and onesies for distribution in the Dominican Republic. Last year, we assembled over 75 health care bags (more were assembled after the egg hunt day, so I’m not sure of the total) for needy people in our state’s capital and in the Dominican Republic. This year, we will be able to hand out, at a minimum, 55 socks of love.

I love my church, our mission projects, the faith it builds in me, and the amazingness that is my God.

Stay tuned for an update after the egg hunt!!!

Be the one

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I don’t know how it happened…truly. I was startled when I saw it…so abnormal, so awkward, so wrong. A beautiful crepe myrtle tree uprooted and listing. Around it, a swamp of breath-taking lotuses (lotii???), floating serenely, simply, correctly. I stopped at the little park to take some pictures of the lotus flowers because I had never seen them before, but I was more impressed by the tree. I wondered how it had happened and what would become of the tree. Could a strong wind blow it back down? Could it still siphon enough water to survive? Would it, in all it’s growth and grandeur, die?

My daughter and I stayed at the park for a while, taking pictures, smelling things, resisting temptation to touch the endangered lotuses…but I was still a little fixated on the tree. Several other families came and went, commenting on the tree and the flowers. And then a couple drove up in their simple sedan and got out in their simple clothes and the man looked at the tree and simply said, ‘Well, that’s not right.’ Then, he went over to it, cautiously stepping on the tilting marshy soil and simply pushed it back down. Just. Like. That. 

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He was not Thor or Hercules or Superman. He was just a normal guy, observing an abnormal thing, and wanting to make it right. And. He. Did.

Abnormalities surround us. Things that make us say, ‘Well, that’s not right.’ Hunger, illiteracy, injustice, hate, poverty, anger. Do we believe that we can do something about them?

Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, says of Hermia, ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’. We are little in comparison to the world’s enormous afflictions, but we can be fiercely determined to right the wrong. And didn’t we learn that little song that says ‘we are weak, but he is strong’? Don’t we believe that  greater is he that is in us than the that is in the world?

A normal man, in normal clothes, in a normal park righted a wrong. Will you be the one to do the same?