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

Our Journey To GEM

It is crazy to think that in less than 50 days Hannah and I will be sitting in training alongside the other missionaries of GEM! Our journey to Global Education Ministries was one that we never could’ve imagined but one that our Heavenly Father ordained from the very beginning.

Well before we knew one another, our desire for missions was growing and intensifying. For Hannah, it began in high school as she had been given the opportunity to serve on several domestic missions trips and a few international trips as well. She knew that God was growing in her a passion to live radically for Him whatever that might look like. Hannah chose to pursue teaching so she could meet a practical need while also focusing her heart on being in full-time ministry. Little did she know she was taking steps towards GEM.

For myself, it began during the summer after my Freshman year of college. I had the privilege to serve as a camp counselor at a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. It was there that I listened to several missionaries share their experiences and the ways that they saw God move. After that summer I decided to start learning more and begin participating firsthand. During my Sophomore and Junior years, I was able to experience urban church planting in several different cities as well as attend a mission trip to serve the local shoe shiners of Bolivia. Little did I know I was taking steps towards GEM.

When Hannah and I began dating we had conversations about our desire to serve in ministry and more specifically in international missions. As we continued to date and near marriage, the conversations took on a more practical tone and we began to speak with different organizations about serving overseas. We didn’t know where we would go or who we would serve with but we continued to pursue the calling we knew God had placed on our lives. After our wedding in May of 2019, the conversations became more and more serious. Hannah and I decided that we would forgo “making our home” like so many newlyweds do. Instead, we felt that now more than ever the Lord was preparing for us to go and we wanted to be ready. Little did we know we were taking steps towards GEM.

In the Fall of 2019, we applied and interviewed for teaching jobs in South America. We could not be more excited as everything was so promising. To our surprise, the opportunities that we thought were promising ended suddenly and we were left not knowing what to do or where to go. We were heartbroken. We decided that after Hannah finished school we would move closer to family. Little did we know we were taking steps towards GEM.

But God had other plans.

Through a dear friend, we were connected with Global Education Ministries. We didn’t carry any expectations into our first conversation with GEM as we thought that we had already made the decision to move closer to family. We were blown away after hearing more about GEM. It was evident that they loved one another, cared for the people that they were serving, and were propelled to action by the Gospel. There was something so different about GEM and our hearts were drawn because of it. We took a while to pray about serving with GEM as we didn’t want to make a decision on a whim or jump ahead of where God might want us. God gave us great peace as we accepted the missionary positions. In February of 2020, our journey to GEM officially began!

As followers of Jesus, we are not of this world and do not live according to it (Romans 12). We live according to the Kingdom of God and the way of Jesus. We have been radically changed by the free grace that we have been shown, therefore, we cannot live as we once did. We are propelled by the Gospel to live radically for the Kingdom of God and to make the Gospel message known. It was clear from the first conversation that GEM was made up of people choosing to live in that faith. They were saturated in the Gospel both in the ways that they lived and in how they served others.

Over the last several months Hannah and I have continued to take steps towards serving in Puerto Escondido with GEM. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we were encouraged by another GEM missionary. She shared that despite the unknown that we faced, none of it was a surprise to God. We have continued to learn more about who God is as we have seen him continually provide and encourage us through others and through his word.

Our journey to GEM was one that we never could’ve imagined but one that our Heavenly Father ordained from the very beginning. In the same way that God has done far more abundantly than we could have ever asked or imagined along this journey, we are confident that he will continue to do so as we move to Mexico. See you soon, Puerto!


– James Shank, GEM Missionary

Longing For Home

I’ve reached the end of my 1 1/2 year contract and reflecting back, I am left in awe and amazement about all that God has done in my life. This truly has been the most difficult year and a half but the richest in my walk with Jesus. Never have I experienced such depth in relationships quite like the ones here as well as my relationship with the Lord. As hard and painful the journey has been, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything because of how I know and love Jesus in the ways I do now.  I’ll be honest, when I first moved here, I didn’t know how I would make it to June 2020. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t stay longer than that.. I was so bitter and resentful because of shattered expectations, struggling with my mental health, and missing friends and family.

But God…

God began a WORK in my heart. Leading up to summer 2019, I counted down the days and seconds to fly back to the United States, longing for comfort, rest, and a break.  I couldn’t wait.  During that summer, God began to soften my heart for Mexico and my community in Puerto.  He gave me such a deep desire and longing to be back.  He began to grow my heart where I felt this heavy burden for the people here to come to know Jesus.  When my plane flew back into Puerto in August, I was overcome with tremendous peace that could have only come from God.  I knew this wouldn’t be my last year. I began praying in August about what this upcoming summer would look like in preparation for who knows how long God will keep me here in Mexico.

When I first came back to Mexico, I lived with a family for a short time due to having so many struggles my first semester here. It was a sweet and needed season that allowed me to feel safe, secure, and back on my feet again.  God allowed it to where He opened up a tiny little house next to my friends just in the time I needed and was ready to have my own place.  On my first night by myself in my new home, I opened up my book called “Every Moment Holy” and prayed a prayer over this house. That God would dwell within this place. That he would be present at this table and present as I rise and lay down at the beginning and end of each day.  That this home would be a place of shared tears and laughter, a place of meaningful conversations, a place of creating and reflecting, and a place to serve and welcome in others.

Over the past 6 years, I’ve moved around quite a bit. I’ve never actually lived in the same place for more than 9 months at a time. I lived out of suitcases and boxes and storage bins while expecting to pack up and switch dorms or houses shortly after I would begin to feel settled.  Now that I am in this house, I don’t have a time frame for when I need to move on to the next place. I can just “be.” For the first time in 6 years, this is the longest place I’ve lived in and it has been such a gift from the Lord. I’m able to be more intentional and welcoming towards people within this space.  It has served as a “harbor of anchorage and refuge, and a haven from which I journey forth” in order to carry out the Great Commission. And as I continue on, my roots are beginning to grow deeper and deeper within this community that I am growing to love more and more each day.

So leading into what this summer will look like for me. God has made it so clear that I’m not supposed to come back and visit the states until December. It was sad and hard at first to have to cancel plans I was looking forward to and realizing I won’t see my family for a year. But as my roots grow deeper and deeper into this community, there is only so much I can communicate and understand with my limited Spanish.  I am SO excited for what is next. I’m not moving back to the States. God knows that timeline, I don’t. However, over the summer, I am going to be living in a small town 30 minutes outside of Puerto with a sweet Mexican family to study and learn Spanish at a school there. I start school on June 22 and I end on August 7th. After school, I will start preparing for the next school year at Manantial teaching 4th grade again.

God did more than I could ever imagine in my life this year and especially within these past 6 months. I am so excited for what’s ahead. What the enemy intended for evil, God used it for good (Genesis 50:20). No matter how long God may have me planted here, I am praying that “my days lived within these temporary walls would serve to awaken a restless longing for my truer Home in heaven” (Every Moment Holy).


-Shelby Davis, GEM Missionary

Who is God and Who am I?

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”‭‭ Lamentations‬ ‭3:22-25

Wow, these words. I was cut to the core this morning. To be quite honest, any sort of praise or recognition of God’s goodness has been far from my lips. I hadn’t even realized how hard my heart had become until I started reading different passages like this and realized how little faith I had in them. 

I don’t know about you, but lately I have found it much easier to focus on the hardships, hurdles, and things going wrong in my life. I have been spending way too much time complaining to God about everything around me, crying out about the evil that continues to infect our world, and growing bitterness in my heart for all of the ‘unfairness’ I see. In my flesh, my heart says ‘God is not good and He is definitely not Faithful because if He were, He would do this or that… or ‘how could God be silent in times like these?’… but oh how incredibly wrong this is, how much farther from the truth could this be!

Number one, who am I to think such things about God? How could I (mere dust) point my finger at THE living God and say, ‘this is unfair, you don’t know what is good, you need to change things’? 

Psalm 24 tells us, 

“The earth is the Lord ‘s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” – ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭24:1-3‬ ‭

Psalm 33 reads,

 “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host… Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm… The counsel of the LORD stands forever” – v. 6, 8-9 & 11.

Who am I in comparison to YAHWEH?! God is the Holy, Perfect, and Just Creator of the Universe. He is the One in charge.

Number two. After reflecting on God being the Sovereign, Powerful Author of all things, Lamentations 3:22-25 (above) reminded me that God is also overflowing in mercy… without condition. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” – Lam. 3:22. God has never stopped pouring out his love and mercy on us, ever. Even after accusing God and having an ungrateful heart, He has not ceased to bless me every single day with both the gift of salvation and the physical gifts that I take for granted, e.g. food, safety, clothing, etc. Jesus laid his life down for the sheep. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Need I say more? The LORD has loved each of us beyond what we can ever comprehend, He is indeed The Good Shepherd; the very definition of Faithful love. 

And Lastly, the third thing. Psalm 33 showed me what my heart’s response should be to God. “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” – v. 1-5

He is more than worthy of praise. Truly. After reading verses this and pondering all of the other scriptures mentioned, my heart was totally changed. God made Psalm 33 the song of my heart. You know how? I looked upward instead of to myself for the answers. This is how amazing and wonderful God is!  The moment we give ourselves over to Him and realize His love, he begins to shape our hearts and take out all of the darkness and untruth. When we begin to believe we are in charge, that is when things fall apart. When we stop trusting God for who He is. 

Cry out to God in faith and He WILL respond. He saved me from my bitter heart! Before reading Psalm 33, I was filled with discouragement and sadness. After being exhorted to praise, for the rest of the day I couldn’t get praise songs out of my head! It just started flowing out of me! So Let us constantly consider – Who is God? And who am I? The Lord loves you and He will show you His love if you seek Him… “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” Lam. 3:25.


Natalia Saint Clair, GEM volunteer

1 Peter 4:19

“Fight fire with fire.” “Always look out for #1.” Our culture is replete with sayings that demonstrate our belief that we are to give back the harm that has been done to us. As humans, we don’t enjoy suffering. We resent being treated unfairly. We cannot endure slander. When we are wronged the impulse to respond in kind doesn’t even have to rush to be there, its already there. We surge with anger and indignation and yearn for the chance to be able to pay it back.

1 Peter 4:19 says, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” This is what God, through the apostle Peter, prescribes His people to do when they are treated wrongly. God does not counsel those that have been born again into living hope to slander those who slander, to curse those who curse, and to be angry with those who are vexing. “..continue to do GOOD,” God says.

Commit yourself to the Creator. To commit oneself is to PLEDGE yourself to the course or policy of another. God’s people are to commit themselves to Him. He is our creator. He made us. He knows us. He cares for us like none other. He loves us with an affection and tenderness greater than any other power in the universe. It does not escape His notice when His children are mistreated. He is not indifferent to the suffering of His family. He is faithful. He is Just. He will ultimately do what is right in every sense and He CAN be trusted. When we are wronged, slandered, annoyed, made fun of, opposed, maligned, mistreated, overlooked or cursed because of our allegiance to the Savior we are not to respond in like manner. Rather, we are to imitate Him who, , “….endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3. We are to follow the footsteps of Jesus who “when insults were hurled at him He did not retaliate; when He suffered He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23.

Continue to do good. “Keep up doing the good that you were doing that brought the mistreatment upon you in the first place,” God says. “Don’t stop. You’re mine. Nothing can be done against you that I have not ordained. Nothing will come against you that I won’t ultimately save you from. I am the One whose opinion matters. Live to do MY will. Live to please ME, not men,” He patiently and tenderly tells us.

Thank you, God the Father for not giving us creatures back what we had done to you. Thank you that you did not choose to “fight fire with fire” with us. If you had done so Lord, who among us could survive? Thank you, God the Son that you went to the cross for those who hated you. Who killed and tortured you. Thank you God ,the Spirit that you come and dwell with those who hated your presence. Thank you that you patiently, persistently and tenderly change those who, with stubbornness untold, hold on to the old ways of the flesh. Help us to be more like the Savior and less like ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


-Jason Faircloth, Director of Mission Advancement

FIESTA

F I E S T A .

If you were to ask me to describe Mexico in one word, it would be “fiesta”. Mexicans love to have an excuse to throw a party, and everyone is always invited.

I remember the first time we moved into our house in Puerto, our neighbors had a “fiesta” for their dad, who turned 93 at the time. This party had a full band, tons of food (good authentic Mexican food), drinks, and dancing. This party must have started around 7 and lasted until about midnight. Parties like this happened over and over as our neighbors celebrated their families lives.

On the other end of the spectrum, our other neighbor celebrated the birthday of their two-year-old daughter. This party started around 6 pm and lasted well past midnight. Again, there was music, food, and plenty of dancing to celebrate the birthday of their two-year-old (who most definitely didn’t stay up for the whole thing).

I mention both of these things because I think it is amazing. I believe that this shows the heart of God. As Christians, we should be the most celebratory people in the world celebrating all that God has done. We should take the time to slow down and celebrate those around us.

In his book called “A Meal with Jesus”, Tim Chester said, “Jesus spent his time eating and drinking—a lot of his time. He was a party animal. His mission strategy was a long meal, stretching into the evening. He did evangelism and discipleship around a table with some grilled fish, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher of wine.”

Jesus spent much of his ministry around a meal. He spent so much of his time eating and drinking that he was called a glutton and a drunk.  He used the meal as to build relationships with others (sinners and tax collectors). How much more should we, the body of Christ, get to know others around a meal at a party?

May we learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters and learn to throw good parties celebrating all that God is doing in those around us. Let us use this as an example for us while looking to Jesus who is our greatest example.


-Daniel McDonald, GEM Missionary 
If you’d like to support Daniel and his wife, Kristen as they serve with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact them directly to talk further about what it means to be on their support team and find out how you can be praying for them!

My Journey to Mexico

God has led me to the country of Mexico after college, but why? Why am I going? How did He “lead me” there?


Over the past year (at least), the Lord has been ordering my steps so that I would be going to Mexico in August. It is crazy to think about how intentional God is, but I am so thankful He works in ways that I could never comprehend.
 
My story starts about a year ago when I was in South Africa with a college ministry. At that time, I believed I would have been going on staff with that ministry when I graduated in May of 2018. However, the Lord made it abundantly clear through that trip and a few months afterward that He was not calling me to go on staff with this college ministry. I went through a season where I mourned the loss of this dream. I had no idea what I would be doing after school.
 
While I was studying Elementary Education, I really did not want to teach. When the door closed to the college ministry, I could not even begin to imagine what I would do after graduation. However, in God’s kindness and love, He began to grow my love of teaching. I found a joy while I was teaching that was not experienced outside of it. I knew that God was leading me to be a teacher. I was overjoyed. My family was excited. I finally knew what I was going to do! I knew I would be teaching in the Greensboro, NC area after I graduated.
 
In addition to this, I was seriously dating a guy and had just joined a Church in the area where I was beginning to experience an incredible community. I was thrilled to finally be finishing my college career and beginning to start planting roots somewhere.
 
Oh how often I try to plan what I think my life should look like and how it should go.

Proverbs 16:9

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

The guy that I was dating and I broke up at the beginning of my spring semester of senior year. My family started to fall apart, literally, and I was beginning student teaching. Needless to say, that semester was going to be a constant fight for joy and hope in the Lord. However, the Lord was so incredibly kind in what He was doing in my life.
 
Little did I know, He was setting the stage for me to get connected to Global Education Ministries (GEM).

Global Education Ministries 

They are a ministry that is based out of Wilmington, NC that believes that education is an incredible tool to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ into communities that do not have access to Him. They plant schools with teachers and staff who are passionate about making much of Jesus through their work. Their first, and largest, school is located in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. It houses almost 200 students that are in Pre-K through 9th grade.
 
So how do I fit into this?
God so graciously has called me to be a 2nd-grade teacher at Centro Educativo el Manantial for the next two years.
I get to partner with a community of people that want to make Jesus known through their work, and I have the chance to take part in it. I get to be a very small part of what God is doing throughout the world in a country that is not my own. It is a privilege to know God because of Jesus’ work on the cross, as He took the punishment I deserved so that I could be made right before a perfect and holy God. It is humbling and exciting to be joining this team.
 
If I would have had it my way, I would be doing something far different than this, but luckily, God had established my steps, not me. I will strive to faithfully walk in the way that He has called me to walk, as I seek to know more of God and make Him known.
 
God is so kind to His people.

-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!