reasons

IMG_4520It’s too expensive.

It takes too long to get there.

You have to use translators.

The money would be better spent on helping orphans than sending you to travel there for a week.

You name it, I’ve heard it regarding the reasons NOT to travel to Russia, and spend time with our kids over the last 10 years. And yes, it’s been that long, insane…I know.

But what happens when the discernment of calling, self-examination through prayer and the need of the kids to have a physical presence far outweigh the price tag?

You cannot put a price on relationship.

You cannot put a price on encouragement.

You cannot put a price on a hug.

You cannot put a price on giving a child hope because someone is supporting them and choosing to believe in their future.

You cannot put a price on family.

The orphans in Russia are put into a category that places a stigma on them as worthless and inferior to all other Russians. Simply because their parents either got in trouble with the law, abandoned them or died. They are told that they deserve to be in that orphanage by their culture…because no one wanted them.

They are considered broken.

It’s not fair, and it ignites God’s sense of justice in me.

It puts innocent kids in situations they are not equipped to navigate. It creates a mistrust of everything and everyone in each of those kids. It makes them feel alone, and unloved. How can anyone expect them to trust a loving God they cannot see when each person around them has broken their concept of love and trust?

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That it not God’s heart for them…and it is wrong, very wrong.

I have had the privilege of a front row seat for the change in the kids as they grow closer to their American friends. I’ve grown those relationships myself with two incredible gentlemen. I’ve experienced the change in them as they are poured into by someone who genuinely cares for them and wants nothing in return. I’ve seen students push themselves harder in school while encouraged by the love of another. I’ve seen them develop a sense of family with someone who is thousands of miles away.

I’ve seen God ignite a passion for his children in so many people that choose to make a difference in the lives of some phenomenal kids.

Mission is about God’s heart for the world. It is about righting the wrongs of this world, and believing that each of the wrongs that get righted moves us closer to God’s Kingdom.

I passionately believe God has called each one of us to a specific purpose, and within that purpose we find ourselves as the best we can humanly be in his image.

Some God has called to their neighbors. Some God is calling to the urban core. Others God calls to disaster areas. And yet others are called to the crazy world of global mission. We don’t choose our calling…but we get to choose to live it.

Many times over the last 10 years I have found myself examining my heart for the orphans of Russia. It is expensive. It is far away. The language is hard. It is a completely back-ass-ward country.

Yet every time I return to God and ask, ‘Still?’ the answer is consistently a resounding ‘Yes!’ with an aside of ‘Please stop asking!’

I’ve learned over time  it’s not worth it to argue with God…therefore I choose to live in my calling, and choose to love and support kids that are stronger because of God’s love  flowing through his people.

*If you feel pulled to help me live in my calling, consider checking out my photography at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. I am currently fundraising for the next opportunity to serve God in Russia this November.*

never have i found

I was a freshman in college when I had a significant identity crisis. A friend died. I had some issues with depression. I fought with my parents constantly…from 3 hours away. And I realized I’d been hiding behind, and projecting that image, of who other people wanted me to be. My most common phrase was ‘I just need to find myself.’ Cheesy, right? Yeah…well that was also what I like to call…my B.C.

Before Christ.

Here’s the thing, though, I knew without a doubt that I was missing something. Literally. Missing. Something.

By the grace of God I found it, and that part of the story isn’t pertinent here…and actually is in a former post, I think. What is on my brain at the moment is once I found what I was looking for in Christ…no one could ever convince me there was a better faith, object, path…or mission to devote your life to in our world.

All of the things I hated, absolutely hated, about myself all of a sudden became beautiful. The things I wrongly loved about myself…manipulation, lying, selfishness…the focus shifted, and I changed, because I found what made me complete.

Josh Garrels has a phenomenal song that makes me think of this every time I hear it.

‘But never have I found, another one like Jesus.’ [Josh Garrels, “Never Have I Found”]

I looked…at a lot of other things to fill the complete lack of identity that I had, but there was a reason none of those things filled that massive hole I felt inside me. We were created by God to be in relationship with him, and when we are not…everything is out of whack.

When you read the Bible, look at the character of Christ. He is kind. He talks to people ‘society’ didn’t want him to engage. He gets angry when people disrespect his Father. And when he talked to people…he wasn’t screaming at people to believe, he gave them honest words and let them choose. He took an interest…people followed him because he listened, and answered questions. Though, generally it was a weird parable…but where in God’s word do you see it say Jesus wasn’t compassionate.

And the stories could just be stories…until you look at Old Testament then every single piece of Christ’s life was predicted. He fulfilled every single prophecy that had been written. Including…wait for it…dying on a cross for OUR sin, and then…rising again three days later. RISING AGAIN…no other ‘God’ even attempted to claim that feat.

This year for lent, I decided I was going to strip down my mission verbiage and relearn. I felt I needed to better articulate the ‘why’ of mission…God’s mission. Among the various things I have clung to…the ‘why’ of God’s mission is to work toward His Kingdom being renewed, reclaimed, perfected once again…but the ‘how’ is in the character of Jesus.

And, friends, never have I found another one like Jesus.

inspiration from a friend

If you are around the Woods Chapel Student Ministry long enough…then you know that God is doing something very cool within the hearts of these students. There is a reason why the biggest resurgence in our youth group is after a mission trip. One of our seniors wrote this and said to me last weekend, ‘Do you want to put this up somewhere around here?’ Well, I couldn’t resist sharing…so I’m putting it up here, because I want all of you to know that God is alive and active in the hearts and lives of our students in very significant ways.

Now, I would like to introduce to you one of the most wise, kind and compassionate young men I’ve known in awhile. I was privileged to work beside him last summer in Cleveland, Ohio on the mission trip. I have known him since he was in junior high, and he will actually tell you a hilarious story about me not remembering his name…which I argue is wholly inaccurate. I am continually stunned by his heart for God. I am excited to see what God has in store for him as he heads off to college next year. We will miss him, as well as his positive, encouraging influence on others. Without further ado…

‘Missional’ by Ryan McFall

Once you’ve ran one mile, run one more.
Once you’ve given one smile, give two more.
Once you’ve made a commitment to fight the trials, make three more.
Once you’ve touched the heart of someone worth-while, touch four more.
So go the extra mile, and see what’s in store.
Look for broken hearts you can restore.
Go the extra mile, to do one more.
I assure you’ll not be the person you were before.

Forever changed.

‘Another blog’ you say? Why yes, another…but different, because you see, God is in action, swirling and moving…the Holy Spirit is stirring in amazing ways…abnormal? No. But there is a large part of me that thinks, we don’t look for the ways God is moving around us as much as we should. I am committing to start looking at what God is doing around me more closely…expectantly…and what you’ll soon see is that there is this concept of living for Christ that is merged with our everyday lives just waiting to be in action as a part of God’s mission in our world.

This week…I am watching a group of young friends move into their college lives. Thirteen years ago (eik!) I was doing the same thing, though my young friends have a few more things together than I did. You see, Jesus knew me…but I didn’t know him.

It was divine intervention that I was put into a dorm room with an amazing young woman who had grown up in church, on a dorm floor with ladies who truly loved Jesus, and on a campus that housed a group of friends that forever changed my life…

We churched hopped. We went to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship together. We met for Bible Study once a week. We prayed together. We ate together. We worked together. We went to class together. We stayed up until all hours of the night, sometimes studying…pulling all nighters together over a shared pot of coffee. We shared in each other’s lives, as only you can on a college campus. And somewhere in the middle of all of it…I chose Jesus.

Honestly, I had no idea the adventure I was signing up for or the mistakes or missteps or the family I was gaining. Had it not been for that group of friends, on that college campus, on those specific years…who knows where I would be now. Certainly not praying for my friends who find themselves at the beginning of an amazing adventure. And most certainly not working at a church.

I would have never known how to discern God’s call on my life, or have found myself amidst a changing time in our culture where most people in America want nothing to do with ‘church.’ It is time for the followers of Jesus to go cross-cultural in their own country. Why do we expect people in our culture to come to us when our customs, services and lingo are abnormal to them? We must be real, acknowledge our sin and be willing to cross into uncomfortable situations to love people with the rebellious love Christ loves us with. And our new college students will play a huge part.

I am evidence that college campuses are primed for those that know Jesus. To share your life vividly enough that there is no hiding the Christ you serve. No Bible thumping…just life lived openly through relationships.

I find myself in a place where mission is not something you do. Mission is who you are. To your very soul…how you think, how you respond and how you move forward. Mission has been a part of us since God created us, but sometimes we set that part aside and pretend it is not there. Mission is Biblical, but mission as relationship is not muddled by Christianese or verbal theology. It is the dirty reality of everyday life. It is Jesus talking with prostitutes. It is Jesus sharing a meal with tax collectors. It is touching a leper. It is stories. It is life shared across generational, economical or cultural lines.

Mission is extreme love and great risk merged as one. It is dangerous…who wants to open their heart…their life to that possibility of pain, joy and sacrifice. Mission is getting dirty and messy in the love for Jesus. Many of those I have hugged, and sent off this week are jumping in with both feet. Would you care to join us?

\\Stephanie\\

St. Louis City Lights Mission Project in 2001