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Ruth K'lama

International Women’s Day

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RuthIt is International Women’s Day. A friend of mine blogged a beautiful story at the encouragement other women who believe in the power of story.   She, in her reflection, celebrates the Girl She Is and The Girl She Once Was.

Sharing her story took guts, but reveals the raw beauty she was born with as God paints her face with His fingers. What she’s encouraging women to do is share their stories…and through it, we reveal the ‘otherness’ we are created for…and that gives me courage.

My story:

I was the little Chinese kid with teeth that grew out of every available space in my mouth…glasses. Hair that refused to cooperate with any amount of wrangling…I had tomboy tendencies that would shred lacy anklet socks in 10 minutes flat.

The problem was, my mom wanted me to be a princess. I wanted to be a princess, but really, when you looked at pictures of the princess, she was tall, slender, graceful, blonde and really, really, really, NOT Chinese.

The closest I could come to ‘princess’ was ‘Amazon Warrior’…and so, my princess was Wonder Woman. Her story played fast and loose with Greek and Roman mythology which frustrated me, but as she had strength and played for justice, I could live with a confused identity.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/CC)

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/CC)

I had dark hair, she had dark hair. I was athletic, she could stop cars. Seriously.

Being Wonder Woman was fantasy. She had respect. She could stop the bullets fired her way. That was where the reality crashed into make-believe. I had no one’s respect. Hurtful words hit and sank deep, creating emotional scars I carry to this day. I grew up believing I was ugly and stupid because that’s all I ever heard in connection with who I was, and the disappointment I was to any and all who cared to notice me.

When I noticed myself, I hated looking in the mirror because I didn’t like what I was seeing—I WAS ugly and I believed I deserved the disdain I lived with.

Here’s the thing: I’m also created by God—created for purpose, for beauty, and in His creation, it is good…therefore I am good. I am redeemable…and redeemed.  At 16, I decided to stop obsessing about my outer appearance since I could do nothing about it, and focus on my inner appearance…because that’s what would last. I wanted to be God’s grace when I grew up.

I had seen gracious women in my life and they were towers of strength. They were gentle. They were unstoppable. They were nurturing. They were forces to reckon with if you messed with their families. They were prayer warriors.  They are the beautiful women we see described in every facet of the Bible.

They are the Esther’s of this world, the Deborah’s, the Doris’, the Mary’s and the Martha’s. They are worthy of note because they are beautiful as they reflect God’s character.   They are the women that wear purple, care for their families, run the household and are the ‘grace to do’—part of the royal priesthood.

beautifulwomen

(Photo courtesy Ronne Rock, Orphan Outreach)

Understanding that freed me from the yoke of wanting to be blonde, tall, willowy, not Chinese. I could finally celebrate who I was created to be…and on this International Women’s Day, that is the following:

  • God is who He says He is
  • God can do what He says He can do
  • I am who God says I am
  • I can do all things through Christ
  • God’s Word is alive and living in me.*

Today is about celebrating who we are created to be. Be strong. Be real. Be free, because it’s beautiful.

 

*From Believing God, by Beth Moore

A new Bible translation for West Africa.

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West Africa (IBS) — “It’s like the birth of a baby, and a long awaited one at that,” says Rose Birenge, director of publishing and outreach for Biblica Africa.

She is referring to a new Bible translation in the Yoruba language, recently completed by Biblica translators based in Africa.

The Yoruba language is spoken by up to 30 million people in the West African countries of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. Until now, the one of the few Bibles available was a translation first published in 1868, which many readers found incomprehensible.

Biblica’s Yoruba Bible is a completely new translation, several years in the making. “It has been tough and difficult,” says Ebenezer Boafo, director of translation for Biblica Africa, “but the Lord has been our strength and helper.”

The Yoruba Bible is one of roughly 30 Bible translation and revision projects underway at Biblica. The 200-year-old Bible ministry targets major languages with a million or more speakers, such as Yoruba, in order to maximize impact. “Our carefully trained Bible translators are committed to giving people a text that is both accurate and readable,” says Scott Bolinder, Executive Vice President for Biblica. “We believe people everywhere deserve the very best translation of the Bible in their heart language.”

In West Africa, anticipation is high for an accurate, readable Bible in the Yoruba language. Click here for details on Biblica’s mission.

 

Training workers to leap through the 4/14 Window.

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Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — You’ve heard of the 10/40 Window, as it applies to missions, right? (If not, it refers to regions of the eastern hemisphere, plus the European and African part of the western hemisphere, located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator-places with the highest levels of socioeconomic challenge and the least access to the Gospel.)

What about the 4/14 Window? It represents the golden age of opportunity to transform the world. It’s actually describing kids from age four to fourteen years old, which is the most open and receptive age to every form of spiritual and developmental input.

Yet, this people group has often been overlooked. They are the most vulnerable to upheaval and sometimes, the least protected. Many countries experiencing social upheaval have a very young population that is being impacted by the ideologies surrounding the uncertainties in their countries. Still, with the right focus and resourcing, this enormous and largely ignored people group can become agents of change in God’s Hands.

Every Child Ministries’ Lorella Rouster shares a case in point with a pastor she spoke with in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I talked with a pastor who had received our training from years back, and that training was about how to reach children with the Gospel.”

The first step for this pastor was to raise awareness. The fact that he was working in Kinshasa pointed to an issue dealing with the value of children. “You’d think that the Church, having the Scriptures, would realize the value of children, but that isn’t always the case.”

She goes on to explain, “He ended up in Kinshasa, the capital city, and began gathering a small group of neighborhood children and started a Sunday school for those children, and those kids enjoyed what they were hearing. He began to visit their families and won many of them to Christ.”

Careful cultivation of the relationships with both the kids and their families yielded results. “Today, that effort has grown to an active church of several hundred people”, she says, adding that serves as the model for other work in other countries. “We’re finding that starting a Sunday school for children can be a very effective way to plant new churches.”

You may be wondering how kids are effective evangelists. That’s answered by this question: “Have you ever had your child participate in something he/she really likes? ” It’s singular focus and enthusiasm that drives the Gospel message into the homes of the Sunday school kids. “We’re trying to reach children one by one, but children are attached to families , so when the children come to Christ, typically, they go home and talk about the good things that they’re hearing, and how much they enjoy it.”

According to ECM the average for village Sunday schools seems to be about 80 children. This means ECM training is responsible for about 200,000 children receiving weekly Bible training in Central Africa.

The pastors who utilize the training start with friendship with the families-building relationship and trust within the communities. ECM’s goal is to empower local Bible-believing churches to reach children through any means possible. “Reaching children is a very effective way to building the kingdom of God. People can actually support a person to receive a year of intensive training and reaching children for only $350.” Rouster goes on to explain that $350 is really an investment in one person’s life, “and yet It can result in thousands coming to Christ, not only children, but whole families, and even in churches being planted.” ECM is asking for a little boost to help more trained leaders get through the Window before it closes. Resources are one part of the solution. Prayer is the other. “Pray that those who have been trained will remain true, they will remain faithful to Christ and to the Scriptures.”

Want to help support leadership development in Africa? Click here.

How Mozambikway is next to Indonesia

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Once upon a time, many years ago, when I first started at Mission Network News, I got a call from a listener who was talking to me about what she perceived to be an error in one of our stories.

Essentially, what it boiled down to was my arguing with her over an assertion that the country of ‘Mozambikway’ was next to Indonesia. Our conversation ended abruptly when she hung up on me.   I spent a lot of time ruefully shaking my head at her stubbornness, her refusal to know what the reality was and found myself generally quite puffed up with pride.

Today, our team still jokes about Mozambikway, but now that country has joined a list of misnomers (like Kajikistan) that came from my own lip trips, stumbles and assorted other bloopers where my mouth did not quite cooperate with my brain.

My point is this: sometimes, in the quest for kingdom building, we lose sight of the purpose and get stuck and proud over what we think we know. The Gospel is not about showing off. In fact, anyone who has ever been working as the hands and feet of Christ anywhere around the world knows that the moment you make the Gospel about you, you’ve lost your credibility as a ‘little Christ’.

The first Commandment is ‘No other Gods’, followed by ‘No idols’, and then ‘Don’t misuse My Name’. When we forget our purpose for being here, we forget not only ourselves, but also our message. Pride in our knowledge and pride in our excellence of work becomes the next brick we are making in the pyramids.  It’s so easy to lose sight of who God is, who we are and we get hung up on little arguments that ultimately do not service unity in a world that needs a Savior.  Ouch.

The Shema is a great reminder of who we are: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deut 6:4-9

Yes, at MNN, we strive for excellence, accuracy and Truth. We want to motivate believers to respond to what they’re hearing. We encourage you, our brothers and sisters to pray, give, or go.  Still, there’s Truth, and then there’s truth. Arguing for the sake of being right has no place in the Kingdom. What is true and real will always be so, in God’s creation. What that means is that for some people, Mozambikway is next to Indonesia…which is just south of Kajikistan in the world of mistakes.

I’m not advocating mis-education or ignorance, I’m merely pointing out that perhaps in that argument, I missed the forest for the trees. 15 years later, I realize that I missed her interest in taking Bibles to an island (the Moluccas) off the coast of Indonesia.

If part of the Shema is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”, let’s do that as we search for and share God’s truths with one another. Mission Network News plays a role in this walk for many.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Let’s journey together off the same map…

God’s comfort

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My family still wrestles with what feels like very fresh grief over my dad’s passing last September. There are moments where things hit us and we feel this ache of his absence.

We know that he has gone to be with his Heavenly Father and no longer suffers from the limitations of this mortal coil. It’s just that sometimes, we miss him. It’s at those times when something happens that reminds us of the hope that we have in Christ our Savior, of our purpose here as followers of Christ, as co-laborers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

These reminders serve as encouragement to fight the good fight, keeping our eyes on the prize. I was thinking of my dad today and decided to read some of the devotionals he used to write for the ministry to which he dedicated his remaining years, Transport for Christ. When his health could no longer allow him to serve onsite as a chaplain, he wrote encouragement to the truck drivers and the chaplains in service.

I can hear his voice in these words. There’s great comfort in his reminder. I share his words with you so that you may also take comfort in a greater plan, and in the hope that comes from trusting God is in control:

“Most of the time, when we grieve, we grieve over something that’s happened in our lives. But there are also times when we grieve over something that hasn’t happened or “what might have been.”

Unrealized expectations and dashed hopes can paralyze us with sadness. We mourn for what we could have had, could have done or could have experienced. We live in a fog as we struggle with our unmet goals and dreams.

Are you wrestling with accepting something in your life? Mourning a shattered dream? Instead of focusing on what might have been, try focusing on what is and what could still be. Revising your dreams isn’t bad. It’s realistic. And the sooner you do, the sooner the weight of grief will let go. The fog will lift. Hope will return.”

A chance meeting?

By | egypt, missions, MNN, news, persecution, travel | No Comments

You’ve probably heard someone say ‘There is no such thing as a coincidence’. Usually people nod their heads and murmur agreement, but the real question is “Do you believe it?“

Are people just wishful thinkers, or is God really so intimately involved in our daily lives that He orchestrate events on our behalf? What will a chance meeting turn into later?

The idea of seeds, planting and harvest is a theme resonant throughout Scripture. Aside from the overt nature of sharing the hope of Christ, there are times we don’t recognize an opportunity at the time, but hindsight has a way of revealing it to us.

On my last day in Cairo, I was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for the rest of the team to come down for checkout. I opened my laptop, and began weeding through emails, and getting pictures uploaded for post, and checking through Facebook.

An older gentleman (whom I’d seen at different times all week) came over and said ‘You work too much’. I told him I was just killing time and not really working at all. He began asking me questions about my visit to Cairo.

Given the upset of the country, I was still guarding my words very carefully so as not to endanger people who live and minister in Cairo. He began asking more pointed questions like “What do you think of this revolution?”

Alarm bells were ringing in my head, so I trod very carefully as I answered. I told him that it was a very exciting time in Egypt’s history. Nothing would ever be the same for the country again. To be here during this growth period was both exhilarating and a little scary.

He then asked what my friends thought of the goings on. Now, here I had to be very careful. I asked God for wisdom and told him that depended on who I spoke with. There were some who were very optimistic about the outcome, although they knew there would be a hard period to get there. Others were very pessimistic and a little fearful about what lay ahead for them. Still others were moving forward in confidence.

He nodded a few times as I responded to his question, then said, “You should come to Lebanon.” I responded “I would LOVE to come to Lebanon!” So he handed me his business card and said, “E-mail me when you come.” He wrote his email address on the bottom of the card.

Initially, I was wary about taking some stranger’s e-mail, but I figured I would not necessarily use it and I did not have to respond by giving him my e-mail. We stood, shook hands and parted. I noted that as he left, he entered a diplomat’s vehicle. Only then did I read his business card.

It read “Mahmoud Hammoud, Lebanese Ambassador”. He’s the former Foreign Minister of Lebanon, currently serving as an ambassador. I have no idea why our paths crossed. However, God orchestrated it for some reason. There are no coincidences…just opportunities. I wonder what comes next.

What comes first: chicken or the egg?

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One thing I am noticing here is how different the context of ministry is from country to country.

Ruth on assignment

MNN's Ruth Kramer on assignment.

You can sometimes THINK you understand the concept of the vehicle, like micro-enterprise, but once you hear how things are put into practice, what works and what doesn’t, you begin to see the subtleties emerge.

For example, we met with a partner yesterday who assists community development. They are unashamedly Christian, because the Gospel is part of everything they do…however, they know that dealing with poverty is a ‘must’, as well.

So, which came first, the chicken (community development) or the egg (Gospel)? Can they be done simultaneously and be effective? Do you really just have two eggs or two chickens?

The clear answer on that was: ‘We have an egg, it becomes a chicken’. Folks, that’s the answer to the question of questions. The hope of Christ changes the outlook for the poor in this context.

The other big question was how the community development works in the Egyptian Muslim context in the rural areas. It is in these places where it’s likely opposition will rise up and equate physical attacks. The mindset is quite different.

Micro-enterprise comes up at this point. In some Asian countries, the structure of a micro-enterprise program works like this: church committee sees community member in need (often a believer under the discipleship of the pastor), they provide a loan so this person can start a small business–i.e.—buy a sewing machine to make clothes, or a couple of goats to make cheese and sell milk…from the profits, the person tithes to the church, enabling the support of the pastor…and the person is more able to support him/herself.

However, when I asked about the structure of the micro-enterprise, it can’t work that way in the Egyptian context. There are lots of things that can really be misinterpreted within the social structure (and Islam) and this is one of them.

The set up of the program is similar, but different because it’s tailor-made to fit the need of the people and the mission of the group. That just struck me. I had made an assumption that all micro-enterprise was the same.

I made similar assumptions about vocational training programs, literacy programs, etc (thinking I adjusting for a different context, language, etc). I think it’s kind of a colonialistic thinking that we slip into.

It’s kind of like providing someone a loaf of bread (mission field)…from the grocery store (missionary). They need the food to stay alive, but the plastic around the bread is giving them indigestion. They need to prepare the bread the way they now how and all we need to do is supply the ingredients (resources) and the recipe (training).

Yes, I know you might be thinking ‘well, duh’. It is one thing to say it and to think you might even understand it, it is another thing entirely to actually see it with my own eyes, hear what works and what doesn’t from the guys implementing helps.

By the way, because they do this work well, they have just come under scrutiny. One of this ministry’s main offices was raided by the Egyptian government this week, and the hard drive with the database was taken.

All of their records on every program were on it. Everything is exposed. Their face is an NGO and they are well-known. With the events that have occurred in Egypt over the last month, it’s no surprise they’re looking at all NGO’s.

Please pray for this team. They are careful, and they are smart. Most of all, they want to share the hope of Christ with those they encounter. That love for people permeates everything they touch…including the chickens in the coop…and eggs in the community. Works for me…

The power of prayer unleashed

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Last night, I attended a prayer meeting at a church in downtown Cairo, near Tahrir Square.

MNN in Egypt

MNN in Egypt

The church was gathering to cry out to God in their distress over the recent events in the country, and cry out, they did.

As we sang together, worshiped together, and encouraged one another, I experienced something I have never experienced before. I’m a fairly reserved person and I am even more so in prayer.

It is in times of great distress that I get out of my own way and fall before the Lord prostrate. Last night, although everyone around me was praying in Arabic, I found myself humbled before the Lord and joining in that chorus of crying out.

The pastor was beyond ‘crying out’….he was screaming and sobbing before the Lord, as was much of this nearly 1,000 person gathering. Here they were, in prayer before God, confessing, repenting, requesting and rejoicing…even as tear gas seeped into the courtyard from Tahrir Square.

All of a sudden, I found myself reminding God of His promises, and asking Him to give comfort to His bride in Egypt, to give them hope and wisdom and to be asking with a fierceness I had not ever before encountered…and moments later, the pastor or worship leader would be saying the same thing, or using the same verse, or introducing the song on the same topic…that happened over and over last night.

An immediate confirmation of God’s response left me stunned. Much of what I have heard from Egypt’s Christians that I have encountered has been this is a year of prophecy coming true. There is a GREAT confidence in many of the church leaders and congregations in forging ahead…

The other thing that we’re often hearing is that Egypt’s Church is not ‘persecuted’ so much as it is a church under pressure. The boldness of this family is so encouraging, and such a reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit…especially as they go out with joy to tend to the wounded people coming into the field hospital set up in their courtyard.

The confirmation of God’s answers to prayer gives a great boldness to those on the frontlines of the missional movement in Egypt.

While bombings, riots and general chaos looks really bad in the headlines (and it is happening), fear is not the response of this emboldened Body. Church leaders we have met with all over the city have said the same thing ‘The wall of fear is broken’.

Change is coming. Egypt will have her Revolution…and its face is the Church.

getting ready

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I am making the final preparations for a trip to the Middle East in a few days, and am predictably worried about forgetting something I might need, or not being studied up on the current events of the region.

As I joke about nightmares of forgetting my laptop or some other key piece of equipment, I realize this is a great metaphor for the return of Christ. Unless I live as Christ, eat, drink and breathe Scripture and use every moment to live the hope that is in Him, I will probably find that the time I had here on earth was frittered away.

What it boils down to is living purposefully, so as to not be caught unprepared. My brain immediately went to the parable of the 10 Virgins, in Matthew 25. While I realize this is more about salvation issues, I wound up reflecting on it in a little different context.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This is what is meant to keep vigil. If I’m doing what I should be doing, there won’t be that ‘caught out’ feeling. So, I’ll finish my scramble to get the cords, bits and pieces and batteries together with extra clean socks and deodorant, but keep in my head Paul’s encouragement “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

testing our sanctification

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There are some people in our lives who test our sanctification.  They hide barbs in their conversations, they open their mouths and pour out contempt on you.  Most of the time, smart people will back away from toxic relationships like this, but sometimes you can’t cut off all connections…sometimes you are related by blood.

I have one such person in my life, and every time there is interaction, I wonder what it will cost me later on…I voiced this thought to a friend of mine and she suggested I take a look at Job.

I was wondering what Job had to do with irritating people, but then Alistair Begg connected the dots for me.  He was talking about suffering and the fact that God is Sovereign–which means that He allows suffering but He is not the author of evil.

There’s an interesting distinction there:  He created the world and it was good….but sin entered and it became imperfect.   He gave us choice to love Him freely—and that’s what this whole story is about.  Do good because you love to do good, not just follow the rules.  It’s a choice to obey.  It’s a choice to disobey.  Obedience has great rewards, and disobedience carries natural consequence…but God is not the author of evil.

When we choose to love God in the midst of suffering (especially when it’s at someone else’s hands), we experience love that is more like Christ’s love–it’s richer, deeper and much more fulfilling…it fills your countenance…there are people I know who have born the consequences of someone else’s sin…and they do it wearing the sweet aroma of Christ…it makes a HUGE impact on everyone around them.  You know who I’m talking about, right?  They’re the people who are so sweet, you could never imagine them any other way.  When they share their testimony, you hear about alot of things that would break most people, shatter most families, and yet, here they are, praising God for His hand in their lives….thanking Him for the sorrow.

I’ll admit I was filled with skepticism when I first met a woman like this.  I was unwilling to believe that she was so content with all the stuff that she had experienced.  The longer I knew her, the more I wanted to reflect Christ like she did…and the more I talked with her, the more of Christ she shared with me.   Before she died, she told me ‘Nothing comes easily in this life.  But the struggle is part of the blessing.  It’s the real test of the light of Christ.  The more you succumb to bitterness, the more your heart closes off to the hope that is in Christ.’

Her words came back to me over and over again when I began walking a difficult path seven years ago.  Grace is never cheap.  Suffering gives us the opportunity to experience intimacy with Him, that transformative power of His sufficiency and His presence that can only come when we love Him and trust Him in all circumstances.

It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.  Pain is like black paint in a Vermeer painting.  It’s dark, but it highlights the Light–these are opportunities He uses to draw us into Christ-likeness.   These people who test your sanctification?  Let them.  Let God.  Bring it!