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"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . ."(Matt 28:19)

16 December, 2016

Too Much!



Recently, I was in a long line of people, all of us waiting our turn. I watched people, some seeming to carry heavy burdens by the way they moved and interacted with others. Snatches of conversations overheard were filled with unkind words. I thought of many things I had recently heard and seen. I felt the weight…

Then, completely unbidden, my eyes began to leak. My heart felt too heavy for breath to come and I thought my knees would buckle. I cried out in my spirit, “O God! The weight of sin is too much. The burden of sin is too much, too much to ask of us to see the sin of others and feel its weight. O
God, help me!”

And it was almost as if Jesus Himself spoke in an audible voice within me, “My daughter. I am come. I already bore the sin of all mankind that you might know freedom and never have to carry that weight. I am the Savior of the world and I am come. I am here.”

Immediately, my spirit cried out in deep gratitude, tears flowing as I soaked in the joy of knowing my Savior, of having Him here, of His being with me. My heart cried out with Mary, mother of Jesus, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for The Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name!” (Luke 1:46, 47, 49-NASB)

I felt released from the weight as suddenly as I had felt it come. I remembered the words of Zacharias as he prophesied over his newborn son, “To grant to us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:74-75-NASB)

I reached my turn of being served, then turned to walk away. It was SUCH A RELIEF, realizing all over again that I need a savior, and He is come! He is present. With me. Always. I have not to carry the burden of sin. I have Him to offer instead.

I still am broken by Love Himself. I still feel the heaviness of sorrow over sin. I still cry with those who cry out for help in their brokenness and/or sin. But I don’t carry the weight. Instead, I offer Jesus. Not some platitude, not some shadow of someone yet to come, but the Real One. Jesus is here. Now. Actively present, He is.

It isn’t heavy. It is a privilege, “to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…” (Luke 1:77-78a-NASB)  I am not John the Baptist, but like him, I have the privilege of offering Jesus to others, serving Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all my days.


Christine


26 November, 2016

Remembering, with Gratitude in My Heart


 Today I cut up a mango. Three of them, actually. And as I did so, I remembered this conversation.

“You live in Africa. Please, tell me the perfect way to cut a mango.” (Said with a friendly smile.)

“Well, I don’t know if there is a perfect way. I just cut them like this because it works for me.” (Laughing.)

“Yes, well, I guess there really isn’t a perfect way for much of anything, is there? Not much perfection this side of heaven.” (Said with a slight sigh as she watched me cut the mango.)

“So true. But one day we will know perfection and it will likely astound us.”

Janette Stoltzfus and daughter Melissa
The friend with whom I shared this conversation, the one looking to find the perfect way to cut up a mango, left for heaven a year ago. She knows perfection. I have no doubt she was initially astounded.

But then again, I doubt she was all that astonished. At least not for long. I mean, I doubt she experienced culture shock in any great degree. She had been practicing the culture of heaven for as long as I have known her, which was not nearly long enough.

My friend, she gave. And gave. And gave some more. And actually she is still giving, for through her generosity others learned to give and as generosity became her culture so it continues in her family and friends and through her community-at-large. She is still somehow giving us all so much.

She loved. And loved. And loved some more. She is still loving, actually, through all she taught her family and her friends, loving in how she established the culture of her home and her life. Yes, she still loves. Love never stops. It just keeps on giving, keeps on living.

She worshiped God. A lot. She worshiped our God and Savior as naturally as she welcomed people into her home. She led us in worship. She showed us living is an act of worship to the God who made us, who died for us, the very one who created heaven for us. She trusted God and served Him with her whole being. I find great joy in knowing she is still worshiping God, wholly and truly and without any hindrance or distraction. I feel eager to do the same one day, where she is, with her, smiling together as we worship our God.

She prayed as she was taught, “Your kingdom come and Your will be done here as it is in heaven.” I heard her. We wept and prayed it together; around the table in her home in Oregon, around the table in our home in Kenya, at church….she prayed, praising God for His faithfulness. And God answered, by the way. His Kingdom is at hand. My friend lived there even as she is now living there.

And so, having lived in the Kingdom of God for most of her life, I know my friend may have been astounded at the first glance of perfection, but then I presume she recognized the Kingdom right away and felt quite at home. I have no doubt it was but a moment before she turned and smiled, ready to welcome the next one in.

I cut a mango today. Three of them, actually. And I dripped a tear or two as I remembered my friend, grateful for her in my life. I remain grateful Janette is still giving and loving and worshiping and praising.

Christine


28 September, 2016

A Season of Flurries

We are in a season of flurries. Flurries of activity are frequent, almost constant some days. This season is marked by lots of people coming and going; travel, trips to the airport, arrangements to be made, and lots of, “hurry-up—let’s-go!” We have the privilege of welcoming people into Uganda, showing people the ministries in which WGM Uganda missionaries serve, hearing testimonies of transformation in lives and communities and hearing how people are being served.

Some days this season is very tiring. Some days we hear heart-breaking stories. Some days the flurry requires traipsing through the mud. Some days, it doesn’t even matter and we don’t even notice the fatigue and our hearts rejoice and we don’t even see the mud.

Worship during Masese AGC service
After a traffic-hassled trip from Kampala to Jinja and a restless night in a noisy town, we experienced our Living God in the worship service at Masese AGC. The music was beautiful, the children adorable, God’s Word was inspiring and the Holy Spirit moved among us. People chose to go deep with Christ, leaving behind the comfort of shore and the safety of shallow commitment. What a joy to pray with them. And joy flowed again as three young people prayed in repentance of sin and acceptance of Christ’s free gift of salvation. We rejoiced with the angels in heaven!

    
Overlooking the Nile River
Before the next flurry we had a bit of Sabbath rest as we paused on the shore of the great River Nile. 

Streams in the path
Tuesday evening it rained, hard. Large drops pelted down, creating streams of flowing water where just a couple of weeks ago the dry and dusty path felt crunchy beneath our feet. Today, the rain eventually slowed and mamas carefully made their way through the mud and filth to hear God’s Word taught in truth and to pray. Missionary mamas joined in, interceding and asking for Truth to be revealed and for Living Water to flow and cleanse. Women found hope in Jesus and a new freedom in His cleansing.


This is a season of flurries, and all of heaven is rejoicing!

10 August, 2016

Reflecting in Gratitude

August 10, 2015, a date etched in my mind. The day of my open heart surgery for aortic valve replacement and repair/replacement of the ascending aortic aneurysm. The first day on my road to recovery from a failing valve and growing aneurysm. I can’t believe it is already August 10 again!
As I reflect on the past 13 months, memories of preparation for surgery, going through surgery, learning to live with limited movement for several weeks, regaining strength, healing from pericarditis and cardiac rehabilitation work all swirl through my mind. And overriding it is the
realization, “All is well.”

My brief time in the hospital for surgery and four nights after surgery was filled with learning…
day 2 post op
how to control nausea caused by the drugs, how to move correctly, how to manage pain, how to rest when I needed it and how to use my "best friend", a heart shaped pillow, which was a necessity for movement in the early days following surgery.

My early days at home were filled with wonder that I could be THAT tired so easily, that I needed to rest THAT much and that I was prayed for by THAT many people. The words of encouragement and assurance of prayer poured in from around the world. Our WGM family, African friends and many others assured us they were traveling the road of recovery with us. Christine and I were strengthened and encouraged.

The onset of fever was an enigma to many, but perseverance in pursuing the cause led to proper treatment for pericarditis, a common occurrence following heart surgery. The right drug brought rapid relief. I was able to work hard in my cardiac rehabilitation classes and my recovery continued on a steady course from there onward.

3 mos post op 
Four months after surgery Christine and I boarded the plane to carry us home to Uganda. We arrived in Kampala December 31, an hour or so before midnight. On our way home from the airport, just as we crested the hill into Kampala, the clock struck midnight and the fireworks went off all over the city. We could see them all around as. Our hearts exclaimed, “All of Kampala is celebrating God’s faithfulness with us, His goodness to see us home to Kampala!”

We continue to proclaim God’s faithfulness. Surely, the Living God is among us! We rejoice in His provision for our return. His healing touch restored me fully. All is well.

Today, August 10, 2016, Christine and I are taking the day as Sabbath rest. Time to reflect, time to praise our God, time to rejoice in God’s faithfulness. We are remembering His provision through His people. Prayer, meals, words of encouragement, cards, text messages, hugs (very gently at first), housing, help at every turn. The Body of Christ ministered to us. All is well.

I am fine. I have no restrictions. I feel good. I play basketball for a couple of hours once a week. I completed my first run/walk 5K. I have no problem walking the hills of Kampala, Uganda. I work hard and I play hard. I am fine. All is well. And I am forever grateful.

Jeff


05 July, 2016

Building an Altar

This was a weekend of milestones. We are carefully considering each one, using the stones to build a mental altar of worship to God as we see how far the Lord has brought us. Throughout the Old Testament we read of stones gathered and altars erected to commemorate God's faithfulness to his people. Here are some stones gathered for our (mental) altar.
 
July 1st marked six months since our return to Uganda following our homeland ministry assignment and medical leave last year. Hooray! Jeff’s health is great. He is not experiencing any heart problem. God’s has faithfully provided for our every need here. This stone we added to the altar.


We mentally picked up another milestone as we remember that one year ago we were waiting for the first appointment with the cardiac surgeon. We were eager to know the plan and timeline for Jeff’s open heart surgery, recovery and our return to Uganda. Admittedly, we were still navigating varying measures of uncertainty as we tried to wrap our heads around the news that Jeff’s heart valve was rapidly failing and he had an aneurysm growing close to a dangerous size.

During that time we had so many thoughts rolling around in our minds, some of them rising and receding like a tide but never leaving completely. “Will we ever get back to Uganda?” “In what ways will our lives change forever because of this condition?” “Should we travel for other surgical opinions?” “What if this is Jeff’s last birthday here on earth?”

But praise God, Sunday we celebrated Jeff’s birthday at our home in Kampala, Uganda! God provided for our every need along the journey of Jeff’s surgery, recovery and return to Uganda. In recent weeks, over and over we have talked of God’s faithfulness. It is still fresh in our minds how God miraculously carried us through all of that. We find it hard to believe that we have been in Uganda six months already.

Celebrating God's Faithfulness
So we had a party on July 3, Jeff’s birthday! Friends gathered with us to celebrate God’s faithfulness and wish Jeff a happy birthday. Our hearts were greatly encouraged as we shared evidence of God’s faithfulness in our lives. We heard of God’s faithfulness in provision, in protection, in comfort and in giving direction. We laughed together, wept, sang and prayed. We are still basking in the blessings of that corporate worship of our God. Another stone piled on the altar.

The third milestone in our mental altar is participation in a 5K fun run/walk here in Kampala. July 4, we joined several of our WGM colleagues and ran/walked a very user-friendly 5-K route in solidarity with a church in Indiana that is also doing a Fourth of July 5-K fun run/walk as a fundraiser. They are raising money for WGM Uganda to provide school scholarships for orphans living on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria.   

Completing the 5-K run/walk
We remember how last year during Jeff’s rehabilitation from surgery we would encourage ourselves by planning to get Jeff’s stamina back to the point where we could participate in a 5-K run/walk. And yesterday we did it, in the hills of Kampala, no less. Jeff was able to run/walk for an average speed of about 12-minute-miles. Hooray! Way to go, Jeff! One more stone gratefully placed in worship of our God.

What milestones are you using to build your mental altar of worship to God? Please share your story so we can rejoice with you.


God is faithful and we praise him!

Jeff and Christine

26 March, 2016

Pondering so many things . . .

"Pondering so many things, so many emotions, so many life events. Remembering the birth of our firstborn and all the joy she is in our lives; melancholy with family in the reality of missing our sister; celebrating the advent of our granddaughter; longing for the reality of heaven; leaning hard into Jesus, knowing he is enough; grateful we are part of the Family of God and appreciating their care in our lives. Pondering so many things…"

The words above were penned on March 26, 2012, a day after our daughter’s birthday, several days after the sudden death of Jeff’s sister, a little over two months before our grandaughter’s birth and in the midst of being overwhelmed with God’s good provision for our transition into Uganda. I was pondering so many things.

And I still am. Dad Stanfield is celebrating Easter in heaven this year. The father of Ugandan friends and colleagues is having his first Easter in heaven also. Will our two fathers ever find out their sons love each other and work together so our Father’s Kingdom is proclaimed here on earth?

 These four years later we celebrate our grandson reaching his one-year birthday. How is it that God has chosen to bless us with these two dear grandchildren? Who am I that I should know such love?

Palm Sunday I joined many Ugandan children and adults waving palm branches and singing praise to our King of Kings, tears dripping from my eyes as we expressed our love in worship of our Lord. My heart was overflowing with God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice for me. Then, as we left the church a few hours later I felt bothered with the heat, annoyed at the bugs and frustrated by the people and animals in the roadways delaying our travel toward home.

Palm Sunday service in Jinja
 I ponder, whom did I love and worship then? Whom was I serving with those attitudes? If I had cried out, “Hosanna!” in those moments, like the fickle crowd in Jerusalem, would I have been seeking a savior to make life easier and more convenient for me? I ponder how my heart can be full of love and worship for Christ alone in one moment and shortly thereafter include self-worship.

And I ponder Love, offering grace, in exactly those moments when my, “Hosanna!” is so broken and my “Hallelujah” so self-serving. The Way, Truth and Life comes to me, extending grace, bringing forgiveness. I fall on my heart knees and I remember the message of the cross.

I ponder again the first four chapters of First Corinthians, where I first discovered that the word of the cross is foolishness in this world but in God’s kingdom it is power. As I read and ponder I realize all over again that I belong to Christ! I do want others to regard me as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. And more than anything, more than wanting ease in travel or comfort for me I want to be a steward that is found trustworthy. I want to reflect Christ accurately. I want God Himself to be able to trust me.

I ponder. I confess and I find forgiveness and grace, wrapped in unending loving kindness. I lean hard into Jesus, experiencing He is enough. I am grateful to be part of the Family of God that helps me follow The Way and The Truth as I ponder and learn.


And today, my “Hallelujah, He is risen!” knows no bounds. My heart is full of gratitude, knowing my very life is dependent on His resurrection power, the power of God.

Christine

08 February, 2016

WHERE CROSS THE CROWDED WAYS OF LIFE

WHERE CROSS THE CROWDED WAYS OF LIFE
Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan,
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear Thy voice, O Son of Man!

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of Thy tears.
O Master, from the mountainside,
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain,
Among these restless throngs abide,
O tread the city's streets again;

Till sons of men shall learn Thy love
And follow were Thy feet have trod;
Till glorious from Thy heav'n above
Shall come the city of our God.
                                           Frank M. North

We live at the intersection where cross the crowded ways of life, near haunts of wretchedness and need, not far from thresholds dark with fears. Oft times we walk the paths where hide the lures of greed (though not well hidden, those lures).
We weep with God and cry out with saints, "Make haste to heal these hearts of pain."
We weep with God and cry out with saints, “Come and among these restless throngs abide.”

We weep for God to tread our city streets, schooling us to learn His love. To purify His Body that we might recognize when glorious from His heav’n above, shall come the city of our God.


Then through our tears we catch a glimpse of Love holding tight the thorns of pain. His tender smile lifts our spirits. Our hearts rise in hope to follow Him, where cross the crowded ways of life.


Jeff and Christine