It was an otherwise ordinary Monday. Our community group was coming over for our weekly gathering. Snacks were on the table, coffee brewing, and folks were trickling in to catch up with friends after another busy week. Hugs all around the room, it was great to be together again.
Often we rotate facilitation of our discussions. This week, our friends who have a passion for international ministry were teaching. Heavily involved in teaching the Perspectives Course, they shared specific data that gave a bird’s-eye view of the state of religion in the world.
I’m not one who has felt called to become a missionary across the globe. I do however, feel called to participate in the great commission to reach my world. After listening to my friends that night, it became much less intimidating to view the world from a global perspective. It was quite astonishing.
What I didn’t know was frightening! The numbers and statistics were mind-boggling, yet easy to grasp. The most amazing fact is that we have a mission field right here on our LSU Campus! With more than 1,600 students from more than 110 countries, we have an incredible opportunity to reach “the world” by reaching out to these students. They are far from home, missing their families, and longing to make lasting friendships. Many are very lonely and feel isolated.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Whosoever could be in a tribe somewhere we’ve never even heard of. Whosoever could be your neighbor. Whosoever could be a grad student at LSU coming here to get an education to take back home. Whosoever could be the cashier, mail carrier or teacher.
In 2017, let’s be laser focused on the ‘whosoevers’ we come in contact with every day. Then, reach out to someone new – find someone and be their answered prayer. Step out of your comfort zone. Pray for and expect divine appointments. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples!” He didn’t say wait until they knock on your door.
Jesus died for all of us. God so loved the world that He did the unthinkable, taking on the punishment we so deserved. If that is good news to you, then share it. Others need that same knowledge of a Savior – a King to save the day and save a soul.
For God so loved the world that He sent Jesus. He also sends you and me to love the world in such a way that they know Jesus is very much alive. After all, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus! Whether you reach around the corner or across the globe, share Christ with others. There is no better gift.
Currently, there are no treatments or disease-modifying medications on the market to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention (IDRP) at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is working to change that. Home to cutting-edge brain research, Pennington Biomedical’s IDRP is working to find ways to treat and manage Alzheimer’s disease. The newest mission of the IDRP? Scientists hope to find a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia from occurring, but they need the community’s help.
By 2050, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease in America will have ballooned from 5 million to as many as 16 million, at a cost of $1.1 trillion annually.
“Enrolling in a research study – even if you have no signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia – is the best way you can help us in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Jeff Keller, director of Pennington Biomedical’s IDRP.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Right now more than 5 million people in our country are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is only expected to grow. By 2050, the cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementias could rise to as much as $1 trillion, so the need is urgent for people to join us in the fight against these chronic diseases,” Keller said.
In addition to their studies for people who already have a dementia diagnosis, Pennington Biomedical is looking for people with normal brain function who are concerned about their memory. The hope is that by learning more about the brain as it ages, researchers will be able to better understand what triggers Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and will be able to target treatments that delay dementia or stop it altogether.
By joining a research study, participants are eligible to receive insightful information about their body’s health and their brain’s health from state-of-the-art technology that they can then share with their physicians. Plus, people who participate in a research study may receive study-related medication and consultations at no cost, along with compensation for their time.
Pennington Biomedical’s IDRP is the only Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study site between Houston and Birmingham. That ranking puts it among top research institutions such as Harvard, Yale and the Mayo Clinic, making Pennington Biomedical’s IDRP an invaluable resource for the community.
The world in which we live is so strongly dictated by visual media that the line separating truth and perception is easily blurred. We see, read, and hear about international disputes, global poverty and worldwide persecution. Yet, because of the constant stream of information surging across our news feeds, we often become desensitized to major issues. By absorbing information almost exclusively through the glow of an electronic screen, it is hard to feel and truly comprehend the difference between the global refugee crisis and an episode of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Millennials are better able to positively impact life on Earth than any preceding generation. We are savvy, empathetic and easily engaged. But, it can be difficult to figure out where to start making a difference. That being said, when all the distractions are cleared away, the answer is simple: having a global impact is as easy as being conscious of the bigger picture.
Gabrielle May is a millennial who spends a great deal of time thinking about her place in the broader universal scheme. She has dedicated herself to domestic and international missions, and in the process, discovered the beauty in taking time to give back to her fellow man.
She is the daughter of a kindergarten teacher and an engineer, born and raised in Baton Rouge. May has spent the last four years studying animal science at LSU and Louisiana Tech, and she will graduate from the latter at the end of this term. She works as a swim instructor when she’s not in class and tries to make time for her friends whenever possible. May seems like a typical millennial, but beneath the façade of her personal achievements stirs the spirit of a woman genuinely concerned with bettering the global good.
May first became involved with mission work in middle school, through her youth group at Broadmoor United Methodist. They participated in annual goodwill service projects around the United States. After a few trips, May developed a genuine enthusiasm for helping families in need. “I really loved serving others,” she said.
However, mission opportunities began to dwindle once May entered college. So, after healthy doses of introspection and prayer, she decided to spearhead an expedition designed to engage millennials in international aid. “I looked into some stuff, talked to a few of my church friends and my parents, and I decided to lead a mission trip to Belize,” she said.
Belize is a small county perched between Mexico and Guatemala on the western rim of the Caribbean Sea. It was a British territory until 1981, and since its independence, has experienced relatively slow economic growth. In fact, according to borgenproject.org, 41 percent of Belize’s population remains impoverished.
For two consecutive years, May has led groups into the country’s tropical interior. The objective behind her yearly trip is to meet some of the Belizean people’s most basic needs while simultaneously spreading the Gospel. And, based on the overwhelming expressions of local gratitude, her team’s work has had an encouraging impact on the lives of the poor.
Belize is a popular vacation destination for many Americans. It is known for its network of coral reefs, interwoven mangrove forests and glittering seascapes. However, May’s mission team worked primarily with inland indigenous peoples, many of whom are Yucatec Maya and Belizean Mestizos.
May’s outreach gives millennials a chance to serve outside the United States and provides them with a better understanding of the life-altering power of Christian goodwill. Twelve people joined her the first year she led the expedition, and this past summer, the number of volunteers swelled by 25 percent. “Most were aged eighteen to twenty-five, and two or three older adults also came,” she said.
In the beginning, the trip was a new experience for May, who up to that point, had primarily served as a missionary in the United States. It was also her first time leading a trip by herself. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” May said. But, despite some trepidation, she moved forward with her planning.
The villagers – from the area where May volunteered – live primitively by developed standards, and they are afforded few prospects for economic mobility. She and her team split their time between providing charitable aid and catering to people’s spiritual needs. “We did VBS in the mornings, and in the afternoons, we were able to hang out with the kids and do food deliveries,” she said.
In between Bible studies and distributing supplies, they built bunk beds for the village children. May also taught a group of local youth how to swim after hearing about an increase in drownings – she wanted to leave the people a little more comfortable and better prepared than when she arrived.
May is primarily drawn to the humanitarian side of mission work. She strives to demonstrate the inexhaustible compassion and authentic love of Jesus Christ through practical means. May’s experiences in the field have had a heavy influence on her perspective. The time she has spent ministering abroad has helped her realize the potency of her faith. “I’ve become more grounded in what I believe and why I believe it,” she said.
It is true that not all of us are called to the mission field, but that doesn’t mean we cannot be of service to the global community in other ways. Each of us is capable of fostering positive change in the lives of our fellow man. Sometimes, it is as easy as making a simple purchase. May said, “I love shopping at places where they give back when you buy something. That way you’re still giving to people when you buy something you really need.”
Donating supplies to a church or a reputable mission organization is also a great way to have a worldwide impact. Much of the global population lacks easy access to fundamental goods and services. School supplies, bars of soap, clothes, toys, food, money, or anything else you might feel inclined to give can help transform the international social landscape.
For anyone who feels compelled to give directly to May’s annual mission to Belize, contact Broadmoor United Methodist Church. You can make a donation online, or send a physical contribution to the church office with a memo stipulating that your gift should be allocated to the church’s Belize ministry. May said, “Even a few dollars really help and make it possible for us to go on the mission field.”
Whichever way you decide to contribute, remember to be open to the subtle guidance of the Holy Spirit. You might not be called to join May on the field or to even make a physical donation. Instead, the Lord may be directing you to pray for the worldwide network of missionaries, international affairs, the global economy, etc. The key is to follow your heart and do whatever it is you feel led to do.
Like most millennials, May does not know what the future has in store. Yet, she remains optimistic about her prospects and leans heavily on her faith. May said, “Faith, for me, since college, has been really tough. I know God will guide me to where I’m supposed to go, but it isn’t easy to keep that in mind on a daily basis. I keep thinking, ‘What am I going to do and where am I going to go?’ But, I have to have faith that, even though I might mess up, I will end up where I’m meant to be.”
It is important to take the time to look beyond our devices, past the steady trickle of information permeating our lives. The Earth is vast, and people just like you and me populate it. We are all called to play a part, and now is the best time to take the initiative to serve the global community. Like May says, “You’re never too young or too old to change the world.”
Friendship Paves the Way for Conversations About Christ
by Susan Brown
Imagine you are far from home, navigating a new world without family or friends. Everything is unfamiliar: the city, the culture and perhaps even the language. The stakes are high in your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, American friends come along, offering practical advice and giving shape to the rapid, quirky pattern of life in the U.S. The cross-cultural experience can be mutually transformative.
Some call connecting with internationals in Baton Rouge our best, missed opportunity. “Our prayer is not for a program, but a movement across the city to love them, accept them and learn about their culture,” said Valerie Gastinel of First Presbyterian Church.
“Three billion people don’t have access to the gospel yet, and many of them are coming here to study,” said Steve Elworth, International Outreach director for The Chapel on the Campus. “These students are the best, the brightest, the richest, the most well-connected. And they are going to go back to their countries and lead. So, it’s incredibly strategic to be involved.”
“Around 50 percent of internationals in the U.S. are from unreached people groups,” Gastinel explained. At LSU alone, there are students and visiting scholars from China, India, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Brazil, Ukraine and Cameroon – to name a few. There are many immigrants establishing a new life. There are refugees in survival mode after leaving a home country disrupted by conflict or natural disaster.
“There was a young Nepalese from a caste of farmers – very gifted. He came to the U.S. after the earthquake. He is Hindu and prays an hour before his many gods,” Gastinel said. His parents worried about his safety and ability to handle life outside their family-oriented culture. Gradually, a relationship developed with the Gastinel family who nicknamed him “Charlie.”
Then came the August flood and the loss of her sister-in-law’s home. “He had gone through the earthquake in Nepal and was so moved by the loss here,” Gastinel said. Charlie joined the family in gutting and cleaning the home. For Nepalese Father’s Day they received gifts and a request for their prayers of blessing.
“The number one need in my opinion, and what internationals crave the most, is friendship. It’s that simple,” said the Rev. Rick Wright, pastor of the Church of the Nations and Minister of Missions for University Baptist Church. “Just hang out with them and invite them to your home. That’s the number one, most powerful thing you can do.”
Conversation over coffee led to a strong friendship between Elworth and a man from the Middle East. When the Elworths moved to a new home, their new friend followed their trailer packed with furniture and boxes. Along the way, he noticed a flat tire on the trailer, but efforts to signal the Elworths were unsuccessful as the trailer bounced along the road. Concerned that their belongings were damaged, they opened the trailer to find only one box of books had fallen over. On top was an Arabic Bible.
“I asked if he’d be interested in reading it,” Elworth said. “He asked how I knew he wanted to read the Bible. I said I didn’t but clearly God did because he just threw an Arabic Bible at you.” He began to read the book of John. The next week, they met at Coffee Call.
“With tears in his eyes he was just talking, recounting the gospel as he read it in the book of John. He said, ‘At the end, I saw that Jesus was willing to die for me and it made me realize that there’s nothing I shouldn’t be willing to give to him.’ A couple of weeks later, he decided to give his life to Jesus,” Elworth said. “I got a chance to study the Bible over the last couple of years with him. I love that story because it just shows that God doesn’t need us and he can do whatever he wants. He’s always looking for people that are willing to step into it.”
Some Americans are hesitant to relate to internationals, for fear that their own lack of cultural knowledge or religious traditions will offend someone. “Just be willing to learn and to say ‘sorry’ quickly,” said Gastinel. “It’s surprising how easy it is for them to open up.”
“One of my personal rules is not to blast any other religion,” Wright explained. “Generally speaking, I don’t edit myself. I make it very clear that this is the Christian faith, this is what the New Testament says.”
Americans also fail to understand the need for intergenerational friendships. “They miss their parents,” Gastinel said. “Many Muslim women are used to living in a hierarchy with an older woman. They feel protected. They are very honored to have an older woman as a friend.”
“A lot of it is plant seeds, open doors, start a process. Not infrequently, we minister with someone for six months, a year, two years and they leave, but later, they become a Christian,” Wright said. “Occasionally it’s, ‘I believe, I want to be a Christian, but I cannot say so openly.’”
In 2010, Rev. Wright visited China to reconnect personally with former international students and scholars. “I met with 79 people. And that’s a large fraction of all the Chinese people we knew when they were here.” To his surprise, the visit brought an opportunity to make new friends and connect people with each other. “Sometimes the results are larger and more subtle than we ourselves recognize,” he said.
“One of our driving motivators is to be mobilizers, making ‘world Christians,’” said Jim Barker, a member of The Chapel. “By that I mean helping others understand the big picture that God is moving through history to establish his name and glory to the ends of the earth, and that we are all invited to be participants with Him in that journey, which I believe is the central theme of scripture.” While volunteering with ESL classes, the Barkers partner with others who are spreading the gospel abroad. For 26 years, they have supported a couple working with Wycliffe Bible Translators who recently published the New Testament and Genesis in the heart language of a people group in Senegal, North Africa.
But it doesn’t end there. The Barkers have opened their home to a mother and child from Bolivia while the child underwent treatment for Spina Bifida. When they learned of an exchange student from Ukraine who needed a new place to live, they became her surrogate family.
“It was only two or three years after the Soviet Union had fallen. Everything faith-based was very new for her because it was forbidden in Communist times,” said Jim Barker.
“We got to share the gospel with her and share our lives with her,” Cindy Barker said. “After she got home we got a lovely letter from her mother saying all of this had been lost in her country and thanking us for sharing something about God with her daughter.”
“Almost everything that is important and effective and purposeful in ministering with internationals applies very neatly to ministry with Americans,” Wright said. “Slow down, speak simply. Come to my house for lunch. Let’s be friends.”
“Our job is to equip them to go home to their own culture – one friendship at a time,” Gastinel said. “I stand in awe of what God is doing.”
What is the Bible? That might be a strange question to start off asking in an article written by a pastor. However, the answer to this question determines how we live our lives as Christians, and how we do church. From what I have seen, there are two general ways to answer this question. The Bible is either a book about me, or a book about God. One way to approach the Bible is to come looking for me and me alone, answers to my questions and problems, for comfort, for guidance, for the next steps for my life. This first way uses the Bible like a map, seeking clear and tangible landmarks, turns, mountains and valleys in my life, and trying to follow the path laid out for me to find the ‘X.’ There are very few people who would say the Bible is a book about them, but actions speak louder than words.
The other way to approach the Bible is to come looking for God. Who is He? What is He doing? How can I join Him? This is looking at the Bible like a compass, not asking for each step, but rather a direction. Looking at the Bible this way still gives us answers for our lives, but those answers are grounded ultimately in him and his eternal purposes. This is the way most Christians would say they approach the Bible, but do they know where the compass is pointing? If the Bible points to God’s eternal purposes, do we know what those purposes are? Do we know how our short lives fit into his grand story? My desire and prayer is that every church and every person would not only know where the compass of God’s Word points, but also how to navigate his or her life by it.
Steve Hawthorne, editor of the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course, once wrote: “The story of God accomplishing His mission is the plot of the entire Bible. God’s mission is the backbone upon which the Bible is built and is best understood. Therefore, God’s mission is the reason there is a Bible at all.” The mission he speaks of, as we will see, is God’s plan to be worshipped by all the peoples of the world. That quote might come as a shock. Mission is often something we see as, “one of the ministries of the church,” that certain people are “called” into. It all comes down to how we really view the Bible. The Bible is clear that God is on a mission, and His mission encompasses the whole world. If we view the Bible like map, the obvious question that arises is, “is God’s mission on my map?” “Is God’s mission something I’m supposed to do?” as if there is a yes or no answer. But, if the Bible is a compass, only two questions follow: where does it point, and how can I follow?
A thorough study through the Bible will reveal the missional thrust of all that God does, plans and proclaims. Space will not allow such a survey, but two examples will make our point. Both are stories many are familiar with: the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus, and the story of David and Goliath.
A Quick Journey Through the Bible
A first time reader of the book of Genesis will readily encounter the drama, intrigue and action of the patriarchs of our faith. Experiencing Abraham’s belief that God would cause him to become a great nation, and that faith counted to him as righteousness; watching that promise passing onto Isaac, then to Jacob, whose sons sold Joseph into slavery; seeing Joseph end up in leadership in Egypt to ultimately save the very brothers who sold him – these are the makings of a great Hollywood story. But the beginning of Exodus introduces us to a new king in Egypt, one that does not know Joseph and his family, and one that enslaves all his descendants. That first-time reader must be wondering, “What will God do for his chosen people? Surely he will act; surely he will make a way.” And after 400 years of slavery, God does act. With all the power in the universe, God sends 10 plagues upon the land, and we cheer, watching the classic animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. As we follow the story, we celebrate, seeing that finally God has acted for his chosen people … or at least that’s how we often read it. Looking to the text itself, however, we see something slightly different. God gives us the reason for acting in such a way in Exodus 9:16, as God speaks to Pharaoh,“But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Often, we interpret this story to say that God destroys the Hebrews’ enemies and finally sets his people free, showing how much he loves them. But what the Scriptures portray is not a God who is acting just for his people, but a God who is acting through his people, for all people. This is a story not primarily about God’s blessing of a people, but of God’s reputation among all peoples. The focus is on God, not on people. Reading the Bible as if it’s a map beckons us to draw the conclusion that God will always rescue me because he loves me, and he will always act on my behalf. But a reading of this story as a compass shows us that although God does act for those he loves, he works through his people for all people, and ultimately, for his namesake. He blesses his people in order to bless the world. The compass points toward God, not toward me.
Fast forward through the story of Israel. Read the great stories of wandering through the wilderness, taking possession of the land of promise, and the tumultuous times of the Judges. See God establish a king in Israel, despite his desire to govern his people. And see the little shepherd boy and future king, David. Many of us will recall the Sunday School stories of the courage and faith of David as he confronts Goliath. We celebrate as children and adults alike as David fells the giant with one smooth stone from his sling. We thank God for an example that if we will only have faith like little David, God will fell the giants in our lives. Looking at this story through the lens of a map would call us to apply this story in just that way. And of course, God is able to topple any giant at any time. But as we read the Bible as a compass, we see the reason the Scripture itself gives for this encounter. David himself exclaims in 1 Samuel 17:46: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel …”
Again, the compass points to God’s ultimate purpose. Yes, he will save those that trust in him. Yes, he will act on behalf of the little guy. Yes, there is no giant that he cannot conquer, but it doesn’t end there. God blesses David with strength to defeat the giant SO THAT the whole world would know of this God. God blesses His people SO THAT the whole world would be blessed. These are not two isolated incidents, but part of a grand story of God’s plan to bring his message everywhere in the world for his name to be worshiped.
Lay Down Your Map – Follow God’s Compass
The Bible as a compass is a worldview that will radically change every Christian, every family and every church. God does not exist for me. I am not the center of the story. God is not working to give me the best life possible. God is not doling out blessings just so that we can enjoy them. God is, and has always been, working for his glory in every corner of the globe. We are blessed to be a blessing. The goal is not for us just to live an acceptable Christian life and enjoy our blessings in the process; it’s to join God in his mission to be loved and worshipped by all peoples. This does not mean that God does not love us and delight in us. He has come to offer life and life abundant, but that is only half of the story. He wants us to live a joyful Christian life so that I can be used for his glory, to be part of his story to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
This worldview changes the way we pray – for God and his glory rather than for me and mine. This lens changes the way we give – sacrificially, because we’ve been blessed to bless others rather than trying to squeeze more enjoyment out of our blessings. This compass gives direction to every aspect of our lives showing us what God is up to and inviting us to join him. The best way to find our place in this world is not to look within ourselves and what we want and desire, but rather to look at God and his Word to find out what he wants and what he desires. So pick up your Bible, find the true north of God’s compass, and follow it wherever he leads you.
One of the most famous Christmas carols, “O Holy Night,” was written on a train ride – an answer to a request – some 173 years ago. French poet Placide Chappeau had made a name for himself in literature but was not known for his work in religious realms. However, the parish priest at his native Roquemaure in southern France asked him to write a poem to celebrate the renovation of its church organ.
Chappeau said that he penned the words between Macon and Dijon. The French title was “Minuit Chretien” translated to mean, “Midnight Christian.” Surely, Chappeau was divinely inspired and possibly saw the “stars brightly shining.” He had no earthly idea that four years later the words would be set to music; the hymn would become an international favorite reflecting on the light and love of Jesus Christ, and of humanity redeemed.
Light is always equated with love and Christianity. Another example is “Silent Night”’ when we sing “all is calm, all is bright.” Yet another is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Composer Adolph Adam of Paris wrote for opera, and was renowned for his scores for the ballet, “Giselle.” He called the music “le Marseillais religeuse,” (the religious Marseilles), reflecting the republic and secular nature of the original poem. Opera singer Emily Laurey presented the hymn on Christmas Eve in 1847 in Roquemaure.
As with many nineteenth century hymns, the English translation came later. A minister and Harvard Divinity School graduate serving in the Unitarian church, John Sullivan Dwugg, wrote the lyrics in 1865. He edited “Dwight’s Journal of Music.”
The words we sing today are very different from the literal English translation, yet the meaning is the same. When we sing the opening lines of “O Holy Night,” contrasted with the beginning words in the French, “Midnight Christmas is the solemn hour, when God and man descended unto us,” we see it is the words that spell out what makes the night holy.
The translated English is powerful and synonymous, throughout. The literal English poem says: “For all of us He is born. He suffers and dies/ People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance. Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer/ Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer.”
And we conclude, “Let all within us praise His holy name /Christ is the Lord. Oh praise his name forever/ His power and glory evermore proclaim. His power and glory evermore proclaim.”
The course of Chappeau’s life shifted as his circumstances changed, resulting in diversity and opportunities. He was the son of a cooper i.e., a repairman for large barrels and containers. He was destined to go into the cooperage business with his father. However, when he was 8 years old, a boyhood friend accidentally shot him in the hand, and it had to be amputated. The boy’s father was financially able to help pay Chappeau’s tuition to a town school. He was accepted into the College Royal d’Avignon, where, in spite of his disability, he was awarded first prize in drawing in 1825. He loved academics, especially literature, and his poetry writing commenced, along with high honors
He received a degree in literature from Nimes, and then studied law in Paris and was awarded a license to practice law in 1831. A man of many capabilities, he had several occupations, and at one time, following in his father’s footsteps, he was a merchant of winemaking and spirits.
In his 69 years of varied success, he gave us lasting lyrics for a Christmas carol for all ages.
Throughout the years, many famous singers including Mariah Carey, Bing Crosby, Whitney Houston, Cher, Celine Dion and Andy Williams have been drawn to the beautiful carol, performing it at various venues and making recordings. Though the words may be simple, the message of hope and light in the lyrics repeated each Christmas season is everlasting— Oh night, oh, night divine!
Reflections contributed by members of the ministry team including: bill mcmahan, mark lubbock, johnny leblanc, therese and elmo winters.
photos provided by br ministry team
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”— I Cor. 2:9 (KJV)
When the topic comes up about traveling to Israel or going to the Holy Land, most believers immediately express their desires to go. Those who have already made the journey usually reminisce about their blessed experiences while there. A Baton Rouge team of five ministers, distinctively chosen by God, took part in a trip to Israel that can best be described as a unique experience with the Messianic Jewish community. From September 5-14, team leader Bill McMahan of God’s Peace Ministry; Mark Lubbock, of Gulf South Men; Johnny Leblanc, of Child Evangelism Fellowship; and Elmo and Therese Winters, of the Kingdom Group International, participated in the 2016 Promise Keepers “One in Messiah” Israel tour and event. Each was touched in a special way as they were ministered to daily by the organizers of the trip.
Promise Keepers men’s ministry has been active in encouraging men toward action for about 25 years. Mostly, it has been known for rallies of men in sports venues, and now, continues in several ministry areas from daily devotions to inspirational messages. The Israel connection was started by Coach Bill McCartney and Dr. Raleigh Washington more than 5 years ago. They organized and coordinated two “One in Messiah” trips, one in 2014 and the second this year. This year’s tour was led by Dr. Washington and included a group of approximately 140 Americans from all walks of life.
Pastor Bill McMahan explained that this was his second trip to Israel, and as such, it gave him an opportunity to revisit some places to better appreciate and absorb the culture. Since Promise Keepers coordinated this trip, it was unique in that it had the dual purpose of touring the traditional biblical sites and establishing relationships with Messianic pastors ministering and living in Israel. “There were about 50 pastors from the U.S. on the trip, and we teamed [up] with 21 Jewish pastors with the goal of [creating] lifelong relationships between us,” McMahan said. This required much prayer and commitment.
Pastor McMahan was blessed to be paired with pastor Leon Mazin of the Return to Zion congregation in Haifa, Israel. (To learn more about the multifaceted ministry of this active fellowship, visit www.shaveitzion.org, and check out “Return to Zion” on social media.) McMahan counts it a blessing to now be a part of this Christian ministry, and plans to fulfill his commitment with the help of modern communications and social media. The Return to Zion congregation ministers with its soup kitchen, Olim (immigrant help), a pilgrim’s outreach program, a Holocaust survivor’s service, media communications, a theological institute, a music school and in many other ways. They network with two humanitarian ministries in Israel, the Joseph Project and the Joseph Storehouse, to provide help for refugees who frequently arrive with little but the clothes on their backs. Although the Messianic Jews in Israel comprise less than .5 percent of the Jewish population, they are very active and involved in serving their communities. Pastor McMahan said it is an honor to serve in his role and to come alongside them in ministry.
Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) minister Johnny Leblanc’s views of the trip to Israel were summed up with him saying, “If I had to pick one word to describe Israel it would be ‘transformation.’” Traveling the land from Jerusalem (~2,400 feet above sea level) all the way to the Dead Sea (1,400 feet below sea level) is much the same. It is brown, dry, desolate and harsh land.
“This is exactly what God said would happen when his children refused to obey his commandments,” Leblanc added. When all the evidence points to hopelessness and despair then comes a, “but God said,” experience. Ezekiel, chapter 47 prophecies of a day that is coming when living water will flow from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, all the way down to the Dead Sea, and will give life to everything on both sides, and it says that there will be an abundance of trees, food and fish. Only God can do this.
In God’s mercy and grace, He gives what is not deserved. This is happening now in Israel. While in the Holy Land, the Baton Rouge native saw a great sense from everyone of God calling and bringing his people back to Israel just as the prophet Ezekiel wrote in Ezekiel 37:21-22: “Then say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.”
Child Evangelism Fellowship’s mission is to reach every child, every nation, every day. Leblanc currently serves on the State Board for CEF of Louisiana, so it was a great opportunity for him to connect with Child Evangelism Fellowship’s National Director of Israel, Fadi Ramadan. It was a divine appointment. CEF of Israel is ministering to about 500 children a day across the nation.
What surprised LeBlanc, however, was the fact that it is illegal to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Jewish children. Subsequently, this Jewish ministry works with non-Jewish children and prays that the gospel will penetrate these man-made barriers. The CEF of Louisiana State Board has adopted CEF of Israel as a ministry partner, based on Genesis 12:3, where God tells Abraham that he will bless those who bless you [Israel]. It is the ministry’s prayer that it will, in some way, be part of God’s plan to transform Israel by imparting the grace of Jesus through children. Besides, why not tell all of Israel, it was a Jew who saved my life, and His name is Yeshua (Jesus).
A trip to Israel for a pastor offers the excitement of walking in the footsteps of Jesus, with the hope that it would transform future conversations about our Lord, Mark Lubbock remarked. He remembered that many of his friends returned from Israel sharing with joy the deep spiritual and emotional impact they experienced during the trip. It was important to him to have his own experience; thus he went without any preconception.
Some of the many sites that were visited offered mountain-top experiences. Standing in the temple where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah impacted Lubbock strongly. Yet, what he considered the most meaningful part of the trip was a surprise. It was not a biblical site nor venue. For him, the most significant part of this trip was coming away with a much deeper understanding of God’s people in God’s nation. Talking with many of the Israeli residents helped the pastor to see the ‘living land’ vs. dead history. What made it so fascinating was the way that the locals accepted biblical scripture as their ‘personal’ history. He came away from Israel seeing the nation as a still-living biblical narrative.
Most of the Israelis have a fierce pride in their nation and are extremely patriotic. However, it was astonishing to learn that 41 percent of the nation is secular. According to the Israel Bureau of Statistics 2014 Report roughly 12 percent of Israeli Jews are defined as haredim (ultra-orthodox religious); an additional 9 percent are “religious;” 35 percent consider themselves “traditionalists” (not strictly adhering to Jewish religious law), and 43 percent are “secular” (termed hiloni). An even greater surprise was that almost 9 percent of the Arabs in Israel are Christian, while fewer than 2 percent of the Jews are Christian.
Lubbock further explained that his takeaway from this wonderful experience was that there is a rich opportunity to share Jesus with the secular Jews, and perhaps the best approach is to empower locals whom God has raised in the nation as Messianic or Christian Jewish pastors.
He was paired with a young and dynamic pastor who emigrated with his family from Ukraine. Pastor Sergey Mazhuga graduated from Hillsong, and together with his wife, Natasha, led the ICF Tel Aviv Church (www.icf-telaviv.co.il.) Believing that God selected this pastor and his wife to reach the Jewish people, Lubbock’s goal is to offer resources, spiritual strength and support in his tremendous mission. Jewish Christians are making a significant sacrifice in the country they love, for the people they love, in favor of the one true Lord God whom they love and serve — Jesus Christ.
Elmo and Therese Winters saw this journey to Israel as a new door opening for reaching souls for Christ. Like their team, they approached it as a mission trip, rather than an opportunity to see the historical sites in the Holy Land. Thus, God started connecting them with Messianic Jewish believers before they even left Baton Rouge. The Winters initiated a relationship with Michael and Patricia Brian months before their trip. The Brians, originally from Louisiana, are ministers now serving in Israel. While in Jerusalem, the two families met and spent time together in fellowship, encouraging each other.
The highlight of the trip for Elmo and Therese was the partnership they established with pastor Jonathan Moore and the Ahavat Yeshua (Jesus’ Love) congregation in Jerusalem. After sharing some quality time together and touring the ministry’s sanctuary, it was obvious that this is truly a connection made in Heaven. Plans are to support the church in many ways, including annual visits to work and worship with this loving group of Jewish believers.
With such a powerful experience shared by the Baton Rouge group of ministers, plans are already being discussed about returning to the Holy Land in 2017. There is much work to be done in this precious harvest field, and the team has committed its support by visiting often. This is the greatest form of encouragement to the Messianic community in Israel.
Are you so stuck in the traditional ventures of the church, that you can’t appreciate a nice dress, as Adam and Eve were naked? Are you so impressed by the things possessed by others that you’re willing to sell your soul to acquire them? Have you become so religious that you’re unable to accept change? There’s a thin line between being “religious” and being judgmental, as spirituality is the key ingredient.
Now I’m not demeaning anyone’s beliefs, just merely stating the facts and how I see it. I often wonder why in a world of hurting folks, people are not running to the church. It’s often because some church folks are the biggest actors, and some of the pastors are award-winning directors facilitating scenes without the presence of the Holy Trinity.
The church is a building used for Christian activities, particularly worship services, but the holyBible explains to us that the church is really the people that make up the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Nowyouarethe bodyof Christ,andeach of you isa member of it.”And with that being said I’ll ask, “What does your church signify?” I’m not referring to the building that you attend on Sundays, but the person you’ve become, with the understanding that the church is what you possess on the inside of you. If there were no choir, no band or pastor, would you still able to worship in the midst of your personal church, in the midst of the hellish turmoil in your life? Have you mastered the art of worship without the lights, cameras and all the action? Here’s an important announcement: the church building doesn’t equal God’s presence!
We’ve lost our focus! We should be focused on the spiritual hearts and lives of others, but all we can seem to focus on is people’s personal lives in a negative light. That is not what the church was originally designed for. The shining bright light of Jesus should dwell in your church every time the doors open, because you possess the light. God has given us every tool to shine bright like a diamond, but we are too lax to read our Bibles and figure out how to use it to our advantage.
In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I amthewayandthetruthandthelife.No onecomestothe Father except throughMe.” Jesus was in fact declaring Himself as, “the Great I Am, the Holy One.” So ultimately, the path to heaven, the true measure of righteousness, isn’t in the amount of church services you attend – it is in the amount of truthfulness you bring to your spiritual church, your heart, and your actions. Jesus is the source, and the church building, choirs, band and pastors are all just resources.
Jesus provides a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death, and allows you a life of freedom in eternity through your personal church!
Fifteen years ago, Albert and Adraine White were at a crossroads in their lives. They were involved in a church going through major changes, and their future was uncertain. They decided to attend a T.D. Jakes conference in Dallas, which had attracted a crowd of about 10,000 people.
“As I sat there, I heard a voice tell me to go up to the altar,” said Apostle Albert White. “I tried to ignore it, but it kept happening. I even whispered to my wife, ‘I know this is God … you’ve got to go up there with me.’ But she said no. I finally told God, ‘Either release me from hearing this voice or release my wife, because I’m not going up there alone.’ And my wife finally agreed.”
In the middle of Bishop Jakes’ introduction, the Whites arose and approached the altar with their heads down. As they clung to the altar, Bishop Jakes stopped mid-sentence and informed the congregation that the Lord had changed his message. The message had real significance for the Whites, who realized at that moment that God was moving them from their past ministry and mentors to start their own church. When they lifted their heads, they saw hundreds of other audience members had followed them to the altar.
Abounding Love Ministries (ALM) opened its doors in 2001 with about 20 members. Since its inception, it has become a landmark of the community and has grown to serve and impact the lives of thousands of men, women and children, both locally and worldwide. Today, members of ALM gather each week to worship and to live out the church’s mission — building up the people of God in every area of their lives, so they may abound in love and every good work toward others.
Rebuilding has been a focus of the church, following the August flooding, which caused serious damage to the ALM campus. Apostle Albert reminds the congregation that they are the church and their work must continue, as they rebuild with the help of neighbors, friends and their sister church, First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge.
Building the community one person at a time
Abounding Love boasts a long list of community programs and events, including the S.T.A.R.S. program and the Running Reverend Race.
S.T.A.R.S., or Students That Are Reaching Success, allows the church to directly affect the youth of the community by hosting summer camps, after-school tutoring and other special events geared to build and empower children ranging from kindergarten through high school. It also helps parents by offering them resources to support the growth and success of their children. The program recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Among the alumni are students who went on to study business, education and medicine at schools such as University of Louisiana – Lafayette, Xavier University in New Orleans, and Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. Over the years, S.T.A.R.S. has partnered with local groups such as BREC, the EBRP school system, the YMCA and others to encourage children to follow their dreams, work hard and trust God.
“We help students by providing education, enrichment, recreation and spirituality,” Apostle Albert said. “By helping one child at a time, we can really make a difference.”
Another ALM event that has made a profound impact on the community is The Running Reverend program, which serves as a fundraiser for S.T.A.R.S. What started as a one-person event, meant to strengthen Apostle Albert’s physical and spiritual health, attracted the attention of community leaders who noted his passion, joy and enthusiasm. The Running Reverend race is now an annual downtown event that includes a 5K run and a one-mile walk. “My goal is to see every church in America with a ‘running reverend.’ That’s how important physical fitness is to our overall good health,” he said.
Building the community through relationships
One of the couple’s deepest commitments is to improving race relations within the community. ALM has partnered with First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge and Pastor Gerrit Dawson to bring black and white families together through a special program called 50 on 50.
“It’s really simple,” said Pastor Adraine. “We match 50 white families with 50 African American families, and instead of just attending church together, we want to really do life together. It’s a way to build friendships and get to know each other as people. We may start by meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant, but eventually, we will do things together in each other’s homes and with our families.”
In his October newsletter, Dawson mentioned the five-week period in which the congregation of Abounding Love attended services at First Presbyterian because their own building was damaged. He described it as a time when energy and love were palpable. “For the first time in 190 years, a black woman preached the Word strongly from our pulpit,” he wrote. “For the first time I know of, an African American pastor broke the bread and poured the wine before we partook together in communion. I believe these relationships are a Spirit ‘foothold’ for the churches of Baton Rouge to cling together when racial tensions threaten the shalom of our city.”
“Another way to look at it,” Dawson says, “is to put a face to the race. Instead of looking at someone and immediately seeing their ‘race,’ we should focus on their ‘face,’ the person, the individual.”
Apostle Albert agrees. “If we can break the back of racism in our community, we can do it on a global level, too,” he said.
Building a global community
Abounding Love is involved with worldwide missions through a local ministerial fellowship, M.O.V.E., and a global church planting ministry, Victory Churches International. Through the years, the Whites and members of ALM have traveled extensively throughout Africa and India. Mirroring their work here in the United States, they have volunteered their time and efforts with schools, safe houses, orphans, the homeless and other groups.
In Egypt, Abounding Love joins with First Presbyterian in a summer sports camp program for hundreds of children, allowing them to participate in sporting events and character training. “There are many great things that we can make happen right here in our own city,” said Apostle Albert. “And if we can do those things here, we can do them throughout the world.”
Abounding Love Ministries is located at 7076 Hooper Road in Baton Rouge. For more information, visit the website at aboundinginhim.org, or call (225) 356-4441
When Warner Brothers released the film “JESUS” in 1979, it wasn’t well received. In fact, it lost about $2 million. Although Christian audiences praised its attention to detail (closely following the Gospel of Luke), critics panned it as dull and unimaginative.
Who would have guessed that it would one day be translated into 1,466 languages and be associated with the establishment of 750,000 churches worldwide? Who could have imagined its power … that people from villages in the farthest corners of the world would walk for miles to watch the story of Jesus unfold, then give their lives to Christ?
Sherri M. does not have to imagine it. She has seen it firsthand. She is one of many Christians whose career has been dedicated to (the) Jesus Film Project®, a ministry based on the film. For 15 years, Sherri has worked in communications, marketing and recruitment for the group’s short-term mission trips, which are open to anyone. Sherri herself has gone on 12 trips to four continents.
One of her earliest trips was to Tanzania to show the film in the Hehe language, and she recalls that nearly 1,000 people dedicated their lives to Christ after watching the film. It is an extraordinary memory. “One of the locals thanked us for not forgetting them. It was humbling to be a part of it, and I remember feeling that it was worth all the effort and resources to get the film translated into their language.”
The story of Jesus is overwhelming to people who have never heard it before, Sherri says. Audiences are swept up in the experience as they focus on the film — touched by Jesus’ goodness, awed by his miracles, devastated by his suffering and death, and joyful in his resurrection. The fact that they are able to hear Jesus speak to them in their native language makes the experience even more meaningful. When people see Jesus’ life unfold before them, they understand the gospel. They get it.
Sherri’s career began at a publishing company where she worked as a graphic designer. “Although I was doing work that fit in with my gifts, I felt that God was calling me to do more to help others come to know him,” she said. Then her parents, devout Christians themselves, took her to a conference for donors of JFP, where she heard amazing stories about how the film was changing lives around the world. Something clicked, and Sherri knew she wanted to join in the work God was doing.
Tim M., Sherri’s husband of two years, is also involved with JFP. When the couple began dating, Tim says he was searching for a higher purpose in his own life. Sherri was working at the JFP headquarters in Orlando, and Tim worked at an engineering firm in Baton Rouge.
“When I met Sherri, a door opened,” he said. “I was really intrigued by the work she did, and I visited the JFP headquarters several times. I prayed about how God could best use me. Every time I went, another door opened and another question was answered. Things just started to fall into place.”
As part of Tim’s future role in JFP, he will travel overseas as a photographer and writer, capturing the stories of people touched by the JESUS film. He is excited about the challenge of learning new skills and the experiences that await him. “I’m willing now to go wherever I’m needed,” Tim said. “This has become a calling for me.”
For now, the couple are based in Baton Rouge, but only temporarily. They are developing a team of partners who will support their ministry through prayer and finances. After they are fully funded, they will move to Orlando and begin working in their roles at JFP.
“I really believe God has chosen to use this film to spread the gospel,” Sherri said. “Several people have claimed that a few days before watching the film, a man spoke to them in a dream. When they see Jesus first come onscreen in the film, they recognize him as the man in their dream.”
Every day, throughout the world, JFP spreads God’s message. It continues to translate the film into new languages and develop new tools for evangelism and discipleship, which are also used by many partner organizations. The free Jesus Film app makes all these tools accessible on any device, anywhere in the world. And every day, more hearts are touched and more lives are changed.
Tim and Sherri’s mission is to share Jesus with everyone, everywhere, in their own language. Their ministry is made possible by the prayer and financial support of individuals and churches who have a heart for reaching the lost around the world. To learn more about how you can partner with them, go to give.cru.org/0673356. You may also contact them directly at (225) 806-1433. If you are interested in the organization’s mission trips, go to jesusfilmmissiontrips.org.
*(Sherri and Tim’s last names have been omitted for security purposes.)
Claire Hutchinson uses her camera as a catalyst for change
by Lisa Tramontana
If anyone has a global perspective on the world, it’s Claire Hutchinson. A professional photographer and filmmaker based in Baton Rouge, she has traveled extensively, taking stunning photos and creating films that galvanize people to make a difference in the world.
Hutchinson graduated from LSU with a degree in photography, then started her own business shooting weddings in Louisiana and throughout the South. But her passion went deeper than just creating a solid career for herself. A trip to Haiti in 2013 became the turning point in her life.
“It was during a trip to Port au Prince that God changed my heart,” she said. “I began to see photography and filmmaking as a way to create a desire in others to help, not just physically, but to share the only hope that transcends suffering — the hope we have in Jesus Christ.”
As a result, Hutchinson has worked on five continents for numerous organizations who spread love and compassion in the world — Mission to the World (Atlanta), Hand Up Global Goods (Haiti), Noonday Collection (Rwanda), and Hope Ministries (USA), among others. Just this year, she has visited 10 countries, including Cuba, Ireland, Canada and Germany.
Most of her work is done with Mission to the World as a filmmaker. In documentary style, she works alongside the missionaries in whatever the cultural context and challenges might be, and highlights what God is doing in those communities and how he is at work through suffering and through displays of redemption and mercy.
She recalls an Iraqi gentleman (in Germany) asking her why Americans have such a negative view of his culture. “It’s because they don’t know you personally and they don’t know your story,” she said. “All they see or hear about is numbers. Tell me your story and I will help them better understand. The gentleman then told me about his family’s flight and what they went through. With my camera, I could show his face, show his suffering. And you can hear his story in his own voice. Film is very powerful and captivating. It inserts the viewer into the culture of the person being filmed. It lets you understand the story at a deeper level.”
Her experiences abroad have affected her faith, of course. “I wouldn’t be human if I saw some of the things I’ve seen and didn’t wonder, ‘What kind of God is this that allows such suffering?’ but I keep coming back to the stories of God’s redemption in every single place I’ve been. For example, a boy in Haiti who lived in literally a hole in the ground with his mother and sister is now about to receive a home from donors who saw photos and heard his story.”
Her work has shaped her personality as well. “I’ve become more flexible, especially in day to day things. In the field, there is no predicting what comes up, so I have learned to be okay with having less control. I’m also motivated now to speak up in situations where I wouldn’t have before. I think there is a certain boldness that comes with seeing injustice and suffering, and wanting others to know it’s happening and care about it too.”
Hutchinson says she experiences a bit of culture shock each time she returns from her travels and gets back to her wedding photography. It is, after all, quite a contrast. And so, in keeping with her desire to spread hope, she donates 5 percent of every wedding fee to one of the groups she works with. In this way, every couple she photographs shares in her mission and touches the lives of others across the world — whether they intended to or not.
“I also love to share my photos and films with people here,” she said. “I like to visit churches and encourage and motivate others to do what they can … to ‘pray, to give, or to go’ – as I like to say. We are all called to do different things in different ways.”
For more information on Hutchinson’s work, or to request a visit with your church or organization, go to claireelyse.com. You can also call her at (225) 715-7229.