How Grace Reigns

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20-21

God’s grace is a powerful thing. It is not just some sweet idea we sing about in church. It reigns over death and it births new life. It transforms and it renews. It redeems the shameful, and it lifts heavy burdens. As we walked the sandy trash- filled paths of a squatter camp or slum called Kayasands, we prayed for God to show us whom He wanted us to talk with, and we came into the camp behind the Lord who had gone before us, bearing His light and bringing His grace.

We talked and prayed with 10 people, 4 of which prayed to receive Christ. Statistically, out of those 10, two of them had HIV, and at least one of them will be dead in the next few months. Knowing the reality of this difficult fact, our hearts are so thankful that we were given the opportunity to share Jesus with these 10.

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One man, Paul was sitting in front of a shop that sold sodas and snacks. He had been sitting with his friend and they were drinking beer, a common pastime in the camps for the men who do not have jobs. We began to share with him about Jesus, and we discovered that he actually knew much about the Bible. In fact, he had read from Genesis to Revelation, and he had once thought that he would be a preacher. However, he shared that at some point he had done something that made him think he was no longer able to become a preacher, and when he spoke of this his whole countenance changed.

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We could see the burden of shame upon him, and we told him that being perfect is not a requirement to serve God. We told him the story of the adulterous woman and he was actually very familiar with the story. However, when we got to the end and we asked him, “What did Jesus say to her?” He replied, “Go,” and then he stammered. He couldn’t remember the last part. We reminded him that Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” This man could recall so many details from this story, but yet, he was not able to recall the words, “go and sin no more.” When we explained that he had the ability to repent, to receive forgiveness, and to turn from his sins, he listened intently.

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When we asked him if he wanted to do that, he said, “Tomorrow I will.” He was in the middle of drinking a beer, and he was ashamed. He had been taught that what he was doing was shameful and would not be proper, but we insisted that this could not wait. So we pressed in a bit further, all of us feeling an earnestness about him needing the freedom from sin that Jesus offers. We talked about how Jesus takes away our shame and how there is sweet and beautiful forgiveness to be found in Him. Then, he decided that he did indeed want to be free from those burdens that had been weighing him down. And together, we prayed.

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He confessed his sins before the Lord, and he asked for forgiveness. He told God that he would flee and not return to them, and He asked the Holy Spirit to come. And when the prayer was finished, he looked up at us and smiled. Then he laughed. His whole demeanor had changed. When we asked him what he was going to do with the beer bottle, he poured it out and threw it on the ground. Then, we knew that he was a changed man. This is the power of God’s grace. It takes what was dead and it brings it to life. We know that Paul’s life is forever transformed, and that God can use this man to be a light to others.

God’s grace is no little thing. It holds the power of redemption. It takes a man’s heavy, sorrow-filled and shame-filled heart, and it cleanses, forgives, and frees.

 

 

 

 

Amazing Things

“Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves today for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5

This morning our team discussed the parting of the Jordan River, and how Joshua and the Israelites followed God straight into the rapidly flowing and high Jordan River. God had told Joshua to have the priests take the ark and go stand in it, but Joshua told the people to believe that at the very moment their feet touched the water, it would stop flowing. And sure enough, this is what happened, and the Israelites were able to walk straight into a new land. This is what He asks of us, to follow Him step by step, sometimes into flowing rivers, and to trust Him to do amazing things.

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Today our team was able to walk in that truth as we ministered to so many people. We started our morning by laying hands on one of our own team members who had been very sick. God healed her and then he restored her strength throughout the day. We believed that this was just the beginning of His work through us for the day.

Later we went out with Impact Africa’s Baby Rescue Team. This group of women go out into the community clinics and they tell all the people sitting and waiting in the massive lines about their Baby Safes. These are safe places where moms can leave their babies to be cared for instead of abandoning them in the field, the trash, or the toilet. They also tell them about the dangers of getting abortions. Many traditional healers and witch doctors offer dangerous abortions for an expensive fee. These vulnerable women are left in desperate situations with no way to raise these children. Impact Africa tells them that they can give their child a better life, and they offer them a pathway to do it.

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After the presentation, we handed out flyers to the almost 200 people that waited in line to see the doctors. Then, we gave out baby packs to expecting moms or moms with newborns. These packs have diapers and other goodies to assist them. Then we had an opportunity to talk to them individually and to pray for them.

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They told us their worries and their concerns. Some were afraid of childbirth and some were worried about working afterward. Many of them were foreigners and they were sad at having to give birth to their children away from their homes. We were able to listen, share stories about Mary and Joseph, read them Psalm 139, share our own stories of difficult pregnancies, talk to them about Jesus and pray for them.

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In the afternoon, we walked through the slum area of Deipsloot again. We walked, expecting God to show us who He wanted us to share with. One woman that we talked with was a churchgoer. When we asked her more about how she knows Jesus, it seemed that she really only knew that church was a good place to go, but she didn’t understand that Jesus really was Her Savior and the only way to God. She was eager to understand better and we taught her from the Bible. She decided she wanted to pray to become a Christ-follower, and so we prayed with her. Then, we asked God’s favor upon her and her household. We believe that a true disciple of Jesus was born today right there on her tin porch and that many others would come to understand this truth through her.

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Many more people came to know Jesus today through the work of our team and through Impact Africa staff and interns. Many others were healed. Our eyes beheld miracles of death to life, and we believe even more that amazing things really do happen when you follow Jesus step by step.

 

The Power of Living Hope

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” 1 Peter 1:3

Hope is a powerful thing, and so is hopelessness. Over 12 million people in South Africa live in squatter camps. They are surrounded by rich homes and beautiful landscapes, while they fight to survive in tin shanties and breathe despair. Rich Franzen, the founder of Impact Africa, is passionate about interceding and changing the trajectory of these people’s lives.DSC_0328

He shared with us a story this morning about a man who he met who was drinking and doing many things to put his life and health in danger. The man told him that it really didn’t matter because he would only live to be 30 years old anyway. So, the man figured that he should just have fun until he died. He was living in a hopeless situation, and he is not the only one. Sixty-eight percent of the world’s AIDS population lives in South Africa. Death is an early expectation.DSC_0320

Only thirty-percent of the students who begin first grade will ever graduate from high school. So, their futures are dim. However, Impact Africa is working to change that for many people. Today we visited the squatter camp called Diepsloot. It is a square mile parcel of land that the government has set aside for these low class people. Some of them are South Africans, but many have come here from countries more north in order to find work. Because Rich recognizes that formation for small children is the most effective, they have a preschool right in the squatter camp of Diepsloot. They give the children an education and meals, but more importantly, they break the cycle of hoplessness. They teach them that there is a better way, and that way is Jesus. He alone can redeem them and give them a better future. Impact Africa has three other schools like this and are working on an additional two.DSC_0266

Also, understanding that 9th grade is when most students began to drop out of school, Impact Africa works with the government-run, public schools. They are able to provide a Life Orientation class that teaches many things, such as the effect of drugs on their bodies, and they are also able to share about Jesus. Out of that ministry, they have also started a Bible study where real Christian transformation is taking place and Christian leaders are rising up.DSC_0292

Over the next week, our missions team will be visiting many of the other ministries that they have in these communities. Rich has seen so much fruit from his ministry here that breaks into the darkness and meets people right in their suffering. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus does for us. He walks right into our brokenness and offers us hope. Its what He did on the cross and its what He does every day. And God is using Impact Africa to lead the poor and the hopeless straight to Jesus. Rich believes that right here in Johannesburg, there is such an opportunity to share Christ that the harvest isn’t just ripe, rather its rotting away.DSC_0338

Pray for our team this week as we learn more about the work of Impact Africa and how we can support them well in the future.

 

 

 

 

We Are Their Answered Prayer

A great man once taught me that there is a line in everyone’s life that represents how far they are willing to go for the cause of Christ. Everything on one side is comfortable and convenient and familiar. The other side of the line is unknown, uncomfortable, and not convenient. But, it is when we chose to step over that line in faith to serve Christ that we see Him really work. I shared that with my team this morning, and many of them had already stepped out in faith just by coming on this Living Water trip. But, I encouraged them to not to be afraid of continuing to do uncomfortable things, because we know that when we get to the end of ourselves, that is where God begins.

And, I saw them do just that today, and the result was not just a completed water well with Bible lessons and hygiene lessons taught, but they did things and stepped out in faith in places and in ways that they would never have done otherwise. They loved people in new ways. They prayed together with the community with deep compassion. They laughed with children, played in the water, and they gave heart felt hugs. These people love Jesus with such passion that it cannot help but flow out from them.

As the day ended and we were singing with the children, Angel, our driller from Living Water came to get me. He told me that it was time, and I understood. I walked over to the well site and watched as the men from the community finished pouring the concrete pad over the well site. They took a plaque that had been made with the words “This well was donated by: Parkway Fellowship Church,” and laid it in the concrete. I watched as they finished carefully leveling out the concrete with such care. The men from the community had taken over the work of preparing the well. Our job was complete. But, this plaque will stay at their well so that they can always remember how God provided for them through their brothers and sisters from Parkway Fellowship Church in Texas.

As I stood there, I realized that for just a few days, we had the privilege of being a part of their story, but even after we are gone, they can remember us every time they go to pump water. These people had prayed and waited for years for Living Water to drill a well near them, and in the words of one of the teenage boys, “God sent you to answer our prayers.” Now they will have clean and safe water to drink.

Tomorrow we will celebrate together. I expect it to be a glorious occasion. We will celebrate God’s favor in drilling this well, His provision of clean water, and how He brought so many different people together. The water well has always been a gathering place, and it will be just that tomorrow.

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Our First Water Well

God loves to come close to us. He is not a God that dictates commands from His lofty throne. He is like a loving parent who delights in knowing us. God came close today.

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God has faithfully been showing me step by step how to build Parkway’s Missions Ministry, and He made it obvious to me that drilling water wells for Living Water would be one of those very first steps. So, only weeks into the Missions Ministry at Parkway, I committed our church to drilling two water wells for Living Water. But as He has faithfully been guiding me about what He wants us to do, I have been praying and asking Him for the “who.” Who is going to do be part of the Missions Ministry? Who is going to build it? Well, He has begun to bring together the Who. Today, God sent out the very first adult mission team from Parkway Fellowship.

This morning, this team made up of Michael Roberts, Floyd Spivey, Christy Murphy, Sue Hart, James Isenberger, and me gathered together to pray. We prayed for God to give us the vision to see the people that we were helping in the way that He does. We wanted to be sure to not just provide clean water for this community, but to truly see them as treasured by Jesus Christ.

None of us had ever drilled a water well before, but we were all willing! Thankfully, Living Water had sent us Ed Kriz, a veteran at drilling wells, and he has given us great guidance and is a great addition to our team. As we arrived at the site this morning, we recognized the eagerness of those gathered around the place where this water well would be drilled. The men of the community were there to do their part. They had provided water and dug out pits. They stood by, at the ready to do anything asked of them. Mothers came to watch and the children giggled at our mud-covered faces. We started with mixing mud by hand and began to drill and add pipe. Christy and Sue taught the moms and children about hand washing, germ-transmission, and how Jesus walked on water.

And God came near. As I looked around me at the community so gratefully watching and waiting, and I looked at my team, the one that the Lord put together, and I looked at the drill pipe, and thought about all that Living Water had done to put this one water well in, I knew that God had been orchestrating all of this to bring this moment together. My eyes welled up with tears at the recognition of God’s handiwork and the greatness of this day. There will never be another first day of Parkway’s Missions Ministry Team on their first Living Water Well again. God chose this community for us to love. God chose this location for us to drill. God chose these people to drill it. And I feel like the most blessed person in the world to have been there for it.

What Happens When We Listen

Listening to people has become a lost art. Hearing people’s stories and understanding their experiences teaches us more about the world, and ultimately more about God. Empathy allows us to build bridges of understanding between people from drastically different backgrounds, and ultimately, when we take the time to listen, we realize that most of us really want the same things in life. So, when the women at Parkway Fellowship went to help and share tea with the women at Prestige Learning Institute, I was not surprised that despite their different cultures, they were able to find things in common. The refugee women, many who are Muslim, were open to sharing their stories of loss.

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Jennifer Fields was one woman who went. She shares honestly that she had never been interested in other cultures, and since the beginning of terrorist attacks in America and the heightened awareness of immigration from Middle-Eastern countries, she has been quite closed-minded toward those who don’t speak English and dress differently. Jennifer, like many people, had a lot of fear in regards to Muslim people.

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However, that changed for her when she sat at the table with women from Afghanistan, Guatemala and Bangladesh. She happened to sit next to a woman who began to cry because she was so homesick and knew very little English. Though communication wasn’t easy, they were able to understand each other’s pain. Jennifer lives here in Texas without her family, and so she felt her loneliness. She says, “That moment was the moment my mind changed and I began to see these women as real human beings and not just a statistical news report. “

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Laura Townsend was another woman who went to just simply love on these women who have lost so much. She shared that at first it did seem quite awkward. It was hard to sit and have tea when we didn’t even speak the same language. However, towards the end of tea, one woman and Laura just happened to lock eyes, and the woman headed straight over to Laura. She wanted to share her story. The woman began to tell of how her husband had worked with the American Security Forces in Afghanistan, and it was no longer safe for them there. Her family had to leave, and she, her husband, and her young children were granted asylum in America. However, she has children that were older, and they were not immediately granted the same status here. They have to do their own paperwork. And so the woman began to tell Laura all about her family; how one daughter is about to get married and she will not be able to attend and how another is about to have her first grandchild. This was when those bridges of understanding began to be built. Having children of her own, Laura could sympathize with a woman who was cut off completely from the life of her grown children and soon to be grandchildren.

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Jennifer, Laura and many of the other woman learned that though we seem to be so drastically different, we all long for similar things. A mother desires to see her daughter married. A grandmother longs to hold her grandchild, and being away from home is lonesome. Listening to other people’s stories and understanding their experiences helps us to see the faces behind the statistic or the new article, and instead to see the person that God created them to be.

Speaking Up for The Oppressed

I am proud to be part of a church that cares deeply for the oppressed. The people of Parkway Fellowship were working towards ending human trafficking before I even came along. They have been a tremendous financial supporter of the global organization, Love 146, and they have had a task force for several years that would support the work of Love 146 here in Houston. This shared passion for the trafficked victim has made transitioning into my role as Missions Pastor easier here. Last Saturday, I was honored to be part of our church as we received The Abolitionist Award from Love 146.

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Having earlier handed Matthew Miller, Rob Morris, and Steve Martin of Love 146 a hefty check on behalf of Parkway, I saw the heartfelt appreciation in their faces. These men know where this money will go and what it can do. They have looked into the eyes of girls and boys who have sold their bodies in order to buy food for their families. They have provided hope and a future to children who otherwise would have none. On a week when our sermon series was called, Speak Up, they knew that this money would go to amplifying the voices of these who had previously gone unheard.

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As they presented Mike McGown, our Senior Pastor, with the award, they spoke of Parkway’s value of elaborate generosity. I am so thankful to be amongst people who know how to give. However, we did not only receive the award for the giving of our money, but also for the giving of our time and energy. Just this past January, before the Super Bowl came to town, our hospitality teams visited 32 hotels along the I-10 Interstate. Our dedicated abolitionists understood that the Super Bowl was going to bring in an elevated risk for human trafficking, and so they went out to ask the staff at these hotels to be aware. They left packets of information with red flags to look for, and they left the human trafficking hotline number.

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Bec Blakemore, Jamie Peterson, Michelle Taylor, Katie Braden, Karen Sanders, Troy Hobson and Chesley Combs reported an outstanding outcome! They brought back reports of hotels thanking us and appreciating our work! Katie Braden shared that one hotel manager was so passionate that he was giving her more ideas on how we could have a greater impact. Chesley Combs encountered one hotel manager who said that they had just been talking about needing to train their staff, and all of our teams had hotel staff that asked for more training. Troy Hobson has three daughters who attend Katy ISD schools, and the more he learns about what is happening in our community, the more concerned he becomes.

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Reports of recent arrests during Super Bowl weekend have families in Katy, Richmond, Rosenberg and Fulshear concerned about their children. These hotels right in our area are being used in advertisements as a meeting place. Love 146 is assisting us in being able to provide training for the hotels and their staff. If our work is able to save even one person from becoming a victim of this horrific industry, then it will be well worth it.

Come to Parkway Fellowship this Sunday as we learn how to Speak Up on behalf of those who are trafficked!