Dogs and Ducks

As our family has been back in North Carolina now for about a month, dozens of things continue to arise each day that make me think “wow, this is so different than life in Mexico.” One of those small “wow” moments being my daily runs.

In Puerto, I would never venture out for a run without my sidekick in hand- a nice big ‘ol rock. Street dogs in Mexico are everywhere and can’t be trusted. So, as all the locals do, you grab a rock and use it when necessary. Even with my sidekick in grip, I would still be on the lookout, watching my back, just to make sure one wasn’t looming around the corner.

As I laced up my running shoes in Wilmington and hit the road, I was certain that dogs were behind me. For the first few runs, I constantly turned down my music, confident that I heard loud barking and they were out to get me (a little paranoid, I know!)

In the middle of one run, I jumped because I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Lo and behold, it wasn’t a gnarly street dog, but instead a group of cute little ducklings huddled together trying to cross the street. I think because this sight was so different than what I was used to over the last 7 years, I slowed down and lingered longer, watching them.

My very first thought was, where was their Mama? Six little ducklings huddled together, looking a little scared, with no mama or daddy duck in sight. But as I glanced around, across the street, there they stood, with eyes completely locked on their babies. I sensed that if I were to run at their little ones, they would do whatever it took to defend them. They stood tall and confident, almost proud, with eyes never leaving their childrens’ sight.

As I watched them for a few more seconds before jogging on by, I couldn’t help but think how this scene reminded me of our caring and ever-present Father.

So often, we are faced with new or different life seasons or situations that make us a little (or a lot) uncomfortable. Life can be really challenging, in a variety of ways, for many different reasons. Sometimes, God does give us more than we can handle and we feel at the end of ourselves. Yet, He is always near. He is always present. His eyes are forever locked on His children. He will do whatever it takes to defend his precious ones. He will not let the enemy harm them.

As I finished up my run, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude. The current daily struggles and challenges that I’m facing are still there, but I was reminded once again through some sweet little ducklings, that our faithful Father sees us, watches us, and will forever protect His own.

-Megan Herring, GEM Co-founder

Looking At Our Weak Spots

On war planes, like the ones used in WWI, experts studied planes that made it home to learn how to better defend them in the future.  For many years this is the way planes had been inspected and improved, but finally, one day, one of the experts asked a very important question. Why were they looking where the planes had survived being hit, instead of looking at the spots where the enemy had missed?
These spots were probably the weak spots because if planes that made it home hadn’t been hit there, maybe the planes that didn’t make it home had been. So they started making note of places planes had not been hit and they decided to focus on improving those spots. What a simple solution that probably saved lives. I think there is something to be learned in that.
Are we armoring ourselves in the spots where we’ve been hit and survived? Or are we focusing on the areas we know we are weakest in? As adult Christians, are we equipping our younger brothers and sisters in the areas we know they will learn from and will survive? Or are we considering the hits we’ve seen friends, loved ones, or maybe even ourselves take and had crippling damages from? So often I think we want to put on the armor of God but we forget some parts. We pick and choose the parts we want to have and leave behind to the others. Since we are not perfect, we try and put on the armor we think we will need, rather than what God tells us we need. I know I personally am so, so guilty of doing this.
I often ignore the areas I am weak because I don’t want to admit to weakness. I struggle with so many simple things and I’m sometimes too ashamed to ask for help. I go through stages where I’ll read my Bible every day and love it and I’ll do devotions or read from a book daily, listen to podcasts and sermons a few times a week. Then I’ll suddenly go through a stage where I don’t do any of those things like I should, and instead of seeing that this is an area where I’m weak I will focus my attention back on an area where I am strong. Rather than deal with my imperfection, I focus on a strength. God doesn’t want us to do this! We will never be perfect, so in the midst of my imperfection I should turn my eyes to His perfection.
Where are we putting on our armor? Are we focusing on the hits we’ve survived in the past or are we turning our attention to problems that make it hard for us to make it home?
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the Breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Ephesians 6:10-18

-Heather Wrench, GEM Missionary

Staying Steady In The Seasons

I’m smiling as I write this, just reflecting with a full heart on the goodness of God and how He brought me to the GEM family. My connection with GEM started when I traveled to Puerto Escondido in 2018. I started out as a volunteer in our Manantial school, teaching art during the spring semester. I was so impacted by the community of Manantial that I knew I’d be back as soon as possible after my initial time abroad.

The following year, I boarded the plane to Puerto for Round 2 in Mexico with Bible classes in addition to art classes as part of my teaching responsibilities. I also had the privilege that semester of living with one of our student’s families and having the opportunity to be a part of their lives while learning the language and culture of Puerto Escondido. During that year, I really felt the Lord impress upon me His desire for me to pursue a more permanent connection with GEM.

This past spring, I returned to Mexico for the third time and learned about the new office to be opened in North Carolina. After interviewing, I was offered a position working with the new state-side team as Director of Student Sponsorship. I can’t express how thankful I am for the opportunity to be connected with GEM in a deeper way and to be part of the work God is doing in and through us. Being in community with our staff has inspired me to grow in faith and prayer; to be expectant of what God can and will do and to work with the confidence that comes from knowing we serve a God who does no small thing!

Looking back on the steps that brought me to this place, I’ve seen more than ever the seasonal nature of prayer. This year has carried with it many moments in which I’ve been reminded of specific prayers I had prayed years ago. I am now, in this season, seeing the unfolding of God’s will; His answers, the harvest of those prayers. I’m reminded of the example of the persistent widow in Luke 18 who continued faithfully in her request for justice. At the beginning of this passage, we see Jesus teaching us this parable with the specific purpose of encouraging us in prayer.

Luke 18:1-8: And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Like the widow, may we be persistent in our petitions.

May we learn to pray without doubting, knowing intimately the One to whom we pray.

May we remember the unchanging character of the God to whom we pray; that He is a benevolent Father who is for us and not against us.

May we be diligent in prayer in the season of sowing; the season in which we cannot immediately see what is to come.

May we be faithful in tending our prayer life in the season of growth, however small the beginnings may seem.

Finally, may we trust God and rest in the assurance of the finished work of Christ as we await the season of harvest.

Mallory Knight, GEM Missionary

Creating a Culture

Over the past four years, one of my favorite aspects of our life in Mexico is the relationship that I have with the high school students. I have had the privilege to teach them, spend time with them, and see some of them come to faith in Jesus. It gives me so much energy and joy to be around them. 

One thing that I have noticed over the past four years is how important creating a culture is for them.  But what is culture? 

“Culture is an integrated system of learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society.  Culture is the total way of life of particular groups of people.  It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does and makes — its systems, attitudes and feelings.  Culture is learned and transmitted from generation to generation.” –Robert Kohl’s

Everyone in the world has a different ways of thinking because of the “group” or “family” that they have grown up in. I love what Mike Green says in his book, Creating a Discipleship Culture , “We are creating a culture, even if it’s unintentional. The question is, do we like the culture we are creating?”

I think of this question often as I spend time with my students and people in general. What kind of culture am I creating and how are people being formed to think and act?

As always, Jesus is our best example so we must look at how He lived. Jesus often created a culture not only by teaching people, but asking questions to those whom He spent time with.  In the Gospels alone, He asked 339 questions. He asked questions to engage with others (John 4:7-9), to help others think deeper (Luke 6:32-36), to help people see what’s inside their heart (Genesis 3:9, John 1:35-37), helping people see what they really want (Mark 10:35-38), and many others. Jesus created culture with questions. 

The best thing that I can do with my students is to build a culture of listening well and asking good questions. They will benefit greatly from knowing they are listened to and understood. They will respond to questions that get to the root of what may be going on their own lives.  My point is this: If we desire to follow the example of Jesus, we will learn to listen well and ask questions to know people more fully. This simple practice will transform us and those we interact with as we desire to be the vessel in which Christ flows. 

Theologian Francis Schaefer once said, “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.”

The culture that we are making in and around us will form people, and we must be careful to form them in the ways of Jesus. We are all creating a culture of something; but do we like the culture that we are creating? 

-Daniel McDonald, GEM Missionary

Don’t Be Afraid

I hope that everyone is doing well during this troubling time in our world. So much has changed so fast. People have lost their jobs, their money; many have lost relationships or at least access to certain relationships. Businesses are struggling to get by or are being forced to close down. It appears the world we live in is far less stable than we thought.

When everything changes and our plans are not turning out as we hoped, many thoughts start to creep into our heads. Worry, anxiety, and fear can be all consuming. I have been constantly battling these thoughts and feelings. I have been constantly having remind myself of what is true.

Just recently I remembered a command from God that has been so comforting. You might be thinking, “How is a command comforting? I’m afraid and someone is telling me what to do?” Well it has been said that this command can be found 365 times in scripture! That’s a lot! We should probably pay attention to this command. So are you ready for it? Here it goes, the command is…..

“Don’t be afraid.”

That’s it! Don’t be afraid! Or in some translations, “Fear not!” Here are a few well known places we find this command in scripture. It appears in both the Old and New Testament:

Deuteronomy 31:8  

He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 43:1 

Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.

Matthew 10:31

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 14:27

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Mark 5:36

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

John 6:20

But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

These are just a few of the places where this command shows up. Often times this command is accompanied by God reminding his people who He is. When we realize who God is, we have no need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know where I will be living in the next few months, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what my job will be, I don’t need to be afraid.

When an infectious virus is spreading all over the world, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what will happen to the ministry I’m a part of, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I see my friends struggling in their marriage, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know who or what to trust, I don’t need to be afraid, and I need to remember that I can trust the one true living God.

He sustains me, he guides me, he provides for me, he cares for me, and above all else, he loves me.

And guess what 1 John 4:18 says,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”

God loves us, and we do not have to be afraid. He is God. We might not know what the future holds, but we know the one that holds the future.

Don’t be afraid my friends. Walk in love.

Brett Balsley, GEM Missionary

Into The Unknown

My everyday looks a little different nowadays. Just a few short months ago my everyday meant waking early in the morning, catching a bus with one of the my school families and going to school together. After arriving at school, I was met with many hugs and smiles from my co-workers, students and the students’ families. My everyday meant speaking constantly to my students and singing with them at the top of my lungs about Jesus’ love for us until my voice was practically gone. My everyday was full of movement, running around and endless laughter with my students and the community at my school. There was not a day that went by that i didn’t hear students calling my name, “Miss Andress!”

Now, my everyday is completely different. Instead of being greeted with a great big hug and kiss by my students, I get a sweet message on my computer or phone. Now, my former constant crazy and busy schedule of running around to see my students or meet with families at the beach looks more like FaceTime calls. Now, my everyday means staying home and being intentional with my community from my home. 

My everyday is completely different than what it was. Teaching now takes on a whole new meaning for me as I do it to the best of my ability virtually. I have learned many things about myself in this season of uncertainty, but the thing I learned the most was my desire for control.

I think it’s safe to say, as human beings, we like to have as much knowledge as we can about things or situations. For instance, in the workplace, we need to know exactly what we are doing and how we can do it well. As a teacher, I found so much comfort in knowing what my basic day-to-day schedule would look like. I knew exactly what time I needed to be at the school. I knew the time of arrival of my students and what it is I would be teaching them daily. Granted, there were many things that were uncertain but I did have a general routine and understanding of what my days would look like.

It is not a bad thing to have the desire to know or understand. But here’s the thing, we are not all knowing beings and were never designed to be. We are in a time now of complete uncertainty. I don’t know the next time I will step foot in my classroom. I don’t know when I will be able to wrap my arms around my students neck. I don’t know when I will be able to play volleyball on the beach with my students and their families. I don’t know if I will be able to ride the bus to school again. I don’t know if I will be able to see all of my students for the last time before the school year is over. There are so many unknowns, but that is alright. I am learning that I don’t know what is next and maybe that is the way God has intended it. Maybe the Lord has allowed all of us to go through this season of uncertainty to lean in and trust Him, the all knowing, the one who knows our first and last. 

While this season of unknown has been very challenging and even isolating at times, it has also been refreshing to be still; to rest and know that He is God and He knows. He has a path and a way set before me; I need only to step aside and release my desire to be in control so that He can continue to work in and through me.

– Philem Andress, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Philem as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!



Fighting the Flesh

Acts 17:24-27 reminds us that we are born in need, and our desires are from God Himself. However, during the craziness of Covid-19, and the long hours at home in quarantine, I have been tempted to forget the One who gives and fulfills all of our desires.

Idleness and boredom are never a good combination. God purposely designed us for work before the fall. In this time at home, and an increase in free time, I have found that it is so easy for my desires to be flesh-driven instead of spirit-driven. I am shocked and dismayed how easy it is for me to forget the joys that are only found in Christ. Despite my sin, and my temptation to forget the goodness of Christ, God is still a good and gracious Father whose mercies are new every morning! Here is one thing I have learned as I’ve strived to fight my flesh and cling to Christ. 

Christ is our ultimate source of joy. 

The apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians that ultimate joy is found in Jesus. Paul had all of the qualifications of a “good life” during his time. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the most blameless, and the most zealous. Yet, Paul suffered an insane amount of pain and sorrow, yet his joy was always anchored in Christ. He writes whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8) When Paul found the treasure hidden in the fields of Scripture, all the other treasure  had suddenly faded in importance.  He wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Paul’s life has been a reminder in this season where I’m prone to grow weary and restless, that Christ is the ultimate treasure. 

Push Through

Even though fighting our flesh, especially during a time of increased time on our hands, seems daunting, we have a greater hope. Romans 8:12-13 says:  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Those words pierced through to my heart as I wage war against and choose to spend time focusing on the goodness of the Lord and the every-present joy found in him Be encouraged with this: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I hope and pray that this gives you some ounce of encouragement as we push on during this season where life seems like it’s on pause. 

– Kayla Sumile, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Kayla as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!

This Strange Season

As the nightly routine was winding down, I went to check on my kiddos, who had just showered and were climbing into bed oh so nicely and quietly (anyone who is a parent knows this isn’t true 😉). I went to kiss my 5 year old goodnight and when giggles erupted, I knew that something was up. I untucked her sheet and saw her dressed from head to toe in her school uniform (backpack and all). When asked why, she simply said “I know Mama, but I just miss school and this outfit so much!”

For a 5 year old, not seeing her teachers and friends for the last few weeks is hard. Knowing that most likely she won’t be able to finish her Kindergarten year is even harder. And while these things are difficult in her little world, the reality is that this pales in comparison to how most peoples’ lives have been turned upside down. Jobs lost, weddings cancelled, family members sick, businesses closing, schedules destroyed and the list goes on and on.

It’s easy, at least for me, to live in this place of “when this is all over.”  When this is all over, we’ll get back to normal. When this is all over, routines will start and kids will be in school. When this is all over, life will be be more exciting again and peace will come easier. Yet, as I’m slowly learning day by day, this isn’t what God has for us in this midst of this unique season.

As John Piper stated, “God not only comprehends the coronavirus; he has purposes for it. God does nothing, and permits nothing, without wise purposes. Nothing just happens. Everything flows from the eternal counsels of God (Ephesians 1:11). All of it is wisdom. All of it is purposeful. For those who trust Jesus Christ, all of it is kindness.”

ALL of this is PURPOSEFUL. ALL of this is KINDNESS. For those who trust Jesus, none of this time is wasted. Not to say, there’s not room for grief or sadness. There’s plenty of room to cry out to God when our lives are uprooted and change is drastic. Yet, it’s what we do afterwards and how we move forward that shows we trust our good Father.

When we say, Lord you are RICH in wisdom, it shows we believe His purposes are greater than we could comprehend. When we choose joy amidst the monotony, it shows our gladness comes in Him alone and not our circumstances. When we live faithfully one day at a time, it shows that we believe He daily carries our burdens.

I have so much to learn during this time. Over the past few weeks, I’ve said my fair shares of “Im sorry” and “please forgive me” as we continue to learn how to navigate life in this new and different season. Yet, I don’t want to look back and see that I lived these months in a spirit of “when this is all over.”’ Instead I want to look back and think, yes it was hard, but as I daily kept my eyes fixed on Him, He filled me with joy, peace, and grace even GREATER.

-Megan Herring, GEM Co-founder

Fear, Anxiety, Stress, oh my

In these uncertain times, God has been teaching me what it looks like to live surrendered and filled with His peace alone. 

Everyday I am faced with a war from the enemy who tries to sneak fear, anxiety, and or stress into my heart and my life. These things attempt to wipe out any feeling of stability and peace that I have in Christ Jesus. I take my focus off of King Jesus and before I know it, I am stuck in the “King of Me” mentality. 

What I am learning is that fear, anxiety and stress aren’t written across my forehead. When I look into the mirror, the symptoms of these sins aren’t always showing. Of course, there are times that they are, but daily, these things can sneak in and hide so quietly. 

When I am faced with situations or circumstances, the symptoms flare up and these sins will show their true destruction in my heart and life. Fear, anxiety and stress are parasitic. They slowly creep in and wreck havoc in our lives and relationships that is always beyond our own repair. 

As believers, we have the ultimate healing, cleansing and peace that is the only remedy to any type of parasitic destruction that our hearts are facing. That remedy is Jesus Christ alone. 

There has never been a better time than now to continue trusting and resting in the peace that we have in Jesus, alone. The world says “freak out, be anxious, be afraid,” God says, “be still.” 

Jesus tells us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” 

I am learning to live in the peace that has been given to me. When I am faced with a situation or circumstance, I can ask Jesus to be my peace. No matter what I am faced with in this life, I can live and love others in peace. I am a child of God. He won’t leave me nor forsake me. And the same is true for you when you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

-Kayla Miller, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Kayla as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!

Creation Worships

With everything going on in our world, there are so many things swirling around in my head. It may seem random, but one thing that I cannot seem to shake is the reality that creation worships. It is a simple thought, but whether I am in Puerto Escondido or back in the United States, my heart continues to be drawn to this idea that creation worships. 

Recently, I was sitting outside and simply watching what was going on around me, and I noticed the ways that creation was dancing and singing before it’s Creator. The trees and grass dance in the wind. The birds sing joyous songs, and the bees buzz along with the birds’ songs. The sun spins around the world each day. Creatures run, jump, fly, and move with joy as they simply live as God has created them. Each night, the sun and clouds paint this beautiful display of God’s glory in the sky, and every morning flowers bloom proudly as they show off their splendor. The ocean bows as it crashes into the shore, wave after wave. Creation puts on this glorious display of worship each day. 

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.’”

Psalm 66:1-4

While our lives may be on pause because of COVID-19 right now and all of the uncertainty, creation has not stopped in what they were created to do. Creation continues to worship, and we are invited to be a part of this beautiful song and dance before our maker as well.

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” 

Psalm 145:10-13

Even though life looks differently now and many things feel uncertain and unknown, I know that I am still called to worship. Whether I am working from home, making bread, doing my laundry, going on a run, or chatting with a friend, I am able to worship my Maker. It looks different than it did a few weeks ago, but our God has not changed despite our quickly changing world. While you are at home during this season, find ways to worship. He is worthy of our time and praise, and honestly, now we have an abundance of time and energy to give to our God. Let us shift our focus from our worries and uncertainties to our God, and let us worship Him today along with the rest of creation. 

“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!”

Psalm 150

-Rachel Hill, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Rachel as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!