Christmas Presence

20 12 2016

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Hey, friends! Guess what? Christmas is only FIVE DAYS AWAY!

 

Maybe you’re one of those museum-worthy souls whose ducks are not only all in a row, they’re wearing Santa hats and singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” in perfect four-part harmony. I’m (sort of) happy for you.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us who live in the midst of all kinds of messy?

Today I’m over at The Consilium with GOOD NEWS: The messiness of life is the point of Christmas! Here’s a little glimpse.

“Jesus’ entire public ministry consisted of living into our messy. He tasted poverty instead of privilege, weariness instead of wealth. He gave instead of receiving. He served instead of being served. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and dancing to the lame. And He laid down His life instead of refusing the cup of God’s wrath because that’s exactly what He came to do.”

I hope you’ll take a few moments to join me over there.

Whether your perfectly ordered ducks have now finished singing carols and are performing The Nutcracker Ballet, or you haven’t even started your shopping, you can still celebrate Immanuel — the God who is with us. Merriest Christmas, friends. And may He light the coming year with His peace.

Love, Jeanne





When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

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To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

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One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

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The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

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Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

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He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

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He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





The Anatomy of an Ann Voskamp Book Signing (because this is what you need on election day)

8 11 2016

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Best-selling and much beloved author, Ann Voskamp, just completed a ten-day, seven-city book tour, during which she appeared at ten different bookstores to sign copies of her new book, The Broken Way. When she wasn’t being fully engaged with the hundreds who showed up for the signings, in her spare time (aka, the few remaining hours between catching flights or snagging a quick meal or squeezing in a brief sleep), she also sat for numerous interviews with every imaginable form of media, from major network TV to whatever is at the opposite end of the media spectrum.

This pace and publicity would exhaust even the most attention-starved extrovert. But Ann isn’t hungry for attention. And she’s an introvert. So, why does she do it?

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It’s hard to know what to say about Ann. Not because I can’t think of a hundred beautiful things I’d love to say, but because I know she would prefer people not focus on her at all. She knows we are created to be worshipers, not to be worshiped. To be givers, not takers. I’ve said this before, but she’s like the character Lucia in Max Lucado’s, You Are Special. While all the other Wemmicks are preoccupied with earning and assigning dots (criticism) and stars (praises), the stickers won’t stick to Lucia. Because her worth is fully realized in her Maker.

You won’t find dots or stars on Ann.

We caught up with Ann at signing number nine out of ten — her third and final event in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I knew she was exhausted. That she’d not only been pouring out for days, she’d also taken to heart the stories she’d been hearing all along the way — people who felt safe to share their brokenness because she’d trusted them with hers. People who wanted to say thank you for the life-changing ways God had met them in her words.

So, even in her bone-weariness, this is the anatomy of an Ann Voskamp book signing.

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I don’t have to tell Ann my story of brokenness. She already knows it. Before either of us say a single word, she pulls me into this hug. There’s nothing shy about Ann’s hug. It’s like a wordless expression of all the compassion in her wide-open heart.

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Then she recognizes Jacob. Look at her face. George and I look like the ones who’ve been wrung out for days. This is the face of un-self-conscious, genuine love.

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Then she begins to sign. I have eight copies, six with post-it notes explaining to whom they will be given and a few words about each person. I watch as, book after book, she writes to complete strangers personalized messages that are encouraging, specific, and at times stunning in their application. We may be standing on no-frills commercial carpet at Books-a-Million, but this is holy ground.

And, of course, I had her sign a book for us, too.

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Finally, because I was on the launch team for The Broken Way, Zondervan’s Tom Dean took our picture together. And then I moved on.

But Ann remained. Hugging, signing books, smiling for photos, being fully present. And listening.

Story after story, she listened. Story after story, she let her heart break. And this is her secret.

Ann doesn’t have a career plan. She has a Redeemer. And she wants everyone else to have Him, too. So, after counting her thousands of gifts, the next step became clear.

Become the gift. Live broken and given, like the bread at the Last Supper. Because Jesus gave thanks, and then He gave — not only the physical bread, but His own body. And from His brokenness, we all receive life.

Tonight, Ann will return home at last — back to the farm and the strong arms of her Farmer, to her seven children and the happy chaos of ordinary family life. Tonight, the USA will elect a new president. And I can’t help but think, with all that’s going on in the world, it’s no coincidence that this invitation to the church comes right now.

To whom much is given, much is required. And we have been given so much in Christ. We have peace in a world full of tribulation. We have light where darkness presses hard. We have hope where fear shouts the loudest.

So let’s be the gift. For such a time as this.

 

 





The Broken Way

1 10 2016

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I know a teacher probably shouldn’t have favorites.

But the eager light in his eyes. That disarming smile. His quick mind and the way he asked the best questions. His presence in the classroom set a tone that infected everyone in the best way. Including me.

And he was only nine years old.

When he was no longer my student, our paths occasionally crossed, and he always acted as though nothing mattered more in that moment than talking to me and catching up on life.

Brilliant, kind, thoughtful, and extravagantly gifted, he grew up to become an accomplished musician and film editor. An artist with a tender and sensitive soul.

This week I found out that he took his own life.

He was twenty-seven.

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I’m sitting in this ache. Thinking of him. Thinking of his parents. Of their loss. He was their only child.

Who can carry grief this heavy?

We are broken. All of us. And we spend much of our time, energy, money, and prayer on trying to get ourselves fixed. We look to doctors, preachers, politicians, plastic surgeons — and yes, even God — begging to be made well, worthy, safe, beautiful.

We spend our lives grasping for wholeness and come away empty handed. But maybe we’re so busy trying to mend away or pretend away our own brokenness, we’re missing the point?

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, which releases October 25. I signed up to be on her launch team — partly because I love Ann and want to help spread the word about this amazing book, but mostly because I didn’t want to wait until the end of October to get my hands on it. And can we just be real? Helping launch a book by Ann is like helping launch the sun into the morning sky. The book is going to soar, not because a team of advance readers successfully launched it. It’s going to soar, because it is desperately needed truth for right this minute.

Brokenness is crushing people. Broken hearts. Broken minds. Broken bodies. People like my former student — who may look great on the outside, but inside they’re dying. And I’m afraid, in too many cases, the church is distracted by lesser things.

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“By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” That’s 1 John 3:16.

And in John 13, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

We see this pattern repeated again and again. What Jesus did, we are also called to do. But somewhere along the way, a whole lot of our western-culture theology became about “me.” My comfort. My peace. My purpose. My best life, and I want it now.

Jesus was always only about His Father’s will. He came for one reason. To be broken for us.

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“How do you live with your one broken heart?” Ann asks.

And God answers. “You give it away.”

So maybe it’s time to stop grasping for personal wholeness and embrace the truth that the only way others can see His light in me is through the cracks?

Maybe it is only in my brokenness that I am qualified to enter yours?

The Broken Way is the account of what happened when Ann said yes to God’s second dare.

The first dare? To count His One Thousand Gifts — to find Him in everything, and to let her perspective and her whole life be transformed by living fully aware and fully grateful. But gratitude is a beginning, not an end. At the Last Supper, Jesus didn’t stop with giving thanks for the bread. He broke it. And He gave. Then He told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do this. Break as I am broken. And your brokenness will be made into abundance.

The second dare? Lay down your one life — the handful of moments granted you — and pour them out as an offering to Him.

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This book is a masterpiece painted with words — a stunning depiction of the upside-down, sacramental life my soul craves when I let the Spirit speak louder than the magazine headlines. I’m only four chapters in, and it has already spoken to the deeps in seismic fashion. Don’t be surprised if I have a lot more to say about it in the days ahead, but meanwhile, you can learn more and pre-order at TheBrokenWay.com.

How will you live with your one broken heart?

There’s a way to fullness of meaning, fullness of purpose, and fullness of joy. It’s the way Christ chose for Himself and the one He beckons us to follow.

Here’s my hand. Let’s go together.

 

 





This Many

10 09 2016

img_6416Yesterday I used the “I’m this many” photo above to announce my fifty-ninth birthday on social media. The responses were fun, enthusiastic, and appreciated. But there’s no getting past a simple fact. That’s a whole lot of fingers.

Have you noticed that a year is only twelve months, and a month is only a handful of weeks, and a week lasts about five minutes? At least it feels that way. Like I’m not just over the hill, but this hill is getting steeper by the second, and the brakes on my little red wagon gave out long ago.

The older I get, the more I can identify with those scriptures that say we are like grass, springing up in the morning, and mown down in the evening. The green is fading, and I can hear the mower engine cranking up in the distance.

Life is short.

img_6470This aging thing is getting a little too real, but I have to say, yesterday was a good day right out of the gate. First I was greeted by these flowers and this commonest of birthday phrases, whimsically lettered by a hand that holds my heart in the most un-commonest of loves.

This is one of the best gifts, and one that only time can buy. It’s the knowing that comes with overcoming together again and again — choosing against all odds to believe that broken things can be restored, that pain is purposeful, and that love is a battlefield worth defending. It’s hundreds of forgiven hurts and thousands of shared joys and a belonging that no amount of wrinkles or gray hairs can threaten.

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It started with the flowers. Then he took me to lunch at a French bistro. Lobster bisque, and warm goat-cheese salad with walnut vinaigrette, followed by a delicious fluffy-mousse-with-fruity-drizzle complimentary dessert from our waiter, which we’d mostly devoured before we remembered to take a picture.

But the best part of the lunch was the conversation.

“So, I’m fifty-nine,” I said. “Got any advice to offer from the other side of sixty?”

I was sort of joking/not joking, but he paused and then answered seriously. “Actually, to be honest, turning sixty kinda messed with my head. There’s no stopping this train, and there’s no going back.”

And then, almost in unison, we expressed the same thought — the same sense of urgency to make the most of this gift of time, redeeming the moments, filling them with meaningful, eternal pursuits. Let’s be fully present, we said. Fully engaged, fully aware — embodying the hope we’ve been given, the goodness we’ve tasted and seen, the gospel we believe.

While we have breath, let us praise Him with our words and our lives.

Even the best French cuisine can’t compete with that.

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Then, after lunch, a visit from grandchildren, with hand-drawn birthday cards, and sweetly sung birthday songs, and — later by text because they forgot but meant to — recordings of angelic voices lisping birthday prayers for Emzee. Early faith, fresh in the bud, sure to be tested, God’s to keep and mine to pray for, to love, to listen, and to speak into, when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up.

Grandchildren. Another gift that only time can give. A treasured jewel in the crown of “this many.”

In the evening we walked across the street to my father’s house — the place where we spend most of our evenings, sharing a meal, telling stories, watching tv. Tonight George has planned a special dinner, and I’m not allowed in the kitchen to help.

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It’s pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, grilled butternut squash, and buttery dark-grain toast, followed by FaceTime fun with far-flung beloveds, opening cards and presents, blowing out candles under the loving gaze of the tenderest daddy on the planet, and then a thick slice of ridiculously rich chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. And I honestly want to know. What could be better than this?

I may be edging my way past middle age, but I have no inclination to mourn my youth and no need to resist the relentless march of time.

I’m this many. This many years of experience. This many memories of grace. This many songs sung, friendships grown, adventures shared, roads journeyed, and fears conquered.

This many selfish ambitions let go, simple gifts received, and dreams refined.

This many assurances that all things work for good, all things serve His plan, and all things will be made new.

I’m small, fading like the grass, seen, known, and so very deeply loved. My little red wagon may be flying down the hill, but the wind is in my face, and I know the One who sets its course and knows the way I take.

Happy Birthday to me, fifty-nine fingers and counting. Thank you, friends, for all the ways you’ve made this journey amazing. You’re a beautiful part of “this many.”

 

 





Aroma of Peace

20 06 2016

Today is World Refugee Day — the perfect opportunity to share about a beautiful project I’ve been involved in for a while. This powerful video was created by Joshua Smith of Visual Peace Media for Seek the Peace, a non-profit working with refugees in Dallas, Texas.

Please take five minutes and watch?

To say it’s an honor to be a part of this falls far too short. Being friends with Safia and Hema, hearing their stories, loving on their children, and working side by side to create something beautiful? I’m forever changed.

Thank you, Seek the Peace, for entrusting this priceless gift to me.

And thank you, friends, for watching and for all you’re doing to welcome strangers and love your neighbors, no matter how vulnerable it may make you feel.

We get one life and one shot at love. Let’s get it right.


If you’d like to buy a candle handmade by
Safia, Hema, and me,
visit Seek the Peace’s shop.
Thanks!

 





Kocho, Part II

16 06 2016


One of my all-time favorite stories is the account of Joseph’s life, beginning in Genesis 37 when he was seventeen years old, and ending with his death in Genesis 50. The subtitles alone give an intriguing glimpse of the drama, conflict, betrayal, injustice, cunning, and ultimate triumph of his remarkable life. Check it out (with my mini synopses):

  • Joseph’s Dreams (in which he foolishly brags to his brothers about his dreams of future greatness)
  • Joseph Sold by His Brothers (in which their jealousy gets the best of them, Joseph is sold as a slave, and he gets his first taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (in which he determines to be the best slave ever, gains favor and trust with his master only to be thrown in prison for the very thing he refuses to do, and gets his second taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Two Prisoners’ Dreams (in which he determines to be the best prisoner ever, gains favor and trust with the warden, gives good news to one of Pharaoh’s servants and asks for a returned favor, is forgotten for two more years, and gets his third, all-too-familiar taste of betrayal and injustice)
  • Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dreams (in which thirteen years after he was first sold as a slave, he stands before the most powerful man in the world, calmly gives God credit for his gifts, interprets cosmically important dreams, and hatches a plan to save the known world from starvation)
  • Joseph Rises to Power (in which he gains favor and trust with Pharaoh and basically runs Egypt; no biggie)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt (in which his brothers come to buy food and don’t recognize him, so he messes with them a little bit)
  • Joseph’s Brothers Return to Egypt (in which they come back for more food and he messes with them again)
  • Joseph Tests His Brothers (in which the brothers humble themselves, and Judah confesses their sins and offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin)
  • Joseph Provides for His Brothers and Family (in which Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and says, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” BOOM!)
  • Joseph Brings His Family to Egypt (and then . . .)
  • Jacob and Joseph Reunited (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Family Settles in Goshen (and then . . .)
  • Joseph and the Famine (in which he exchanges grain for land and buys the whole world for Pharaoh, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (aka, Joseph’s sons, and then . . .)
  • Jacob Blesses His Sons (and then . . .)
  • Jacob’s Death and Burial (and then . . .)
  • God’s Good Purposes (“. . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” MEMORIZE THAT and then . . .)
  • The Death of Joseph. (The End.)

Only not The End, really. Because there are ripples through history and will be until Jesus comes back again.

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And all that to say . . . Kocho. When I think about Kocho, I think of Joseph. How sometimes life doesn’t seem to make sense, and injustice is real. And in those times, we have a choice. We can whine, complain, and give up. Or we can believe that the God who sent Joseph to Egypt and meant it for good is the same God at work in our lives today.

Last October I shared Kocho’s story. (You can read it here if you missed it.) Kocho is from the Nuba Mountains, lives in a refugee camp in Doro, South Sudan, and works as a nurse assistant for Doctor’s Without Borders — both to help others and to try to save money to pay his way through school. And it seems like every single step he tries to take into his future dreams is met with roadblocks, setbacks, and miles of pointless red tape.

He’s been trying to get a medical degree to return to the Nuba Mountains and help his people, who for years have been caught in the crossfire between the government of Sudan and the rebels occupying their territory. But, as I explained in my previous post, Kocho is a man without an official ID. He has no papers and can’t obtain them, because anyone from the Nuba Mountains is considered a rebel by association. And without papers, it’s hard to be accepted anywhere for study, or even to cross borders, for that matter.

Kocho is brilliant, gifted, and eager, but one after another, doors slam in his face. Just when it looks like a way has opened, rules change for one program, or random requirements are added for another one. And what does he do? Wherever he finds himself, he determines to be the best he can. Just like Joseph.

He smiles. He serves. And when you ask him how he feels about the delays, he says God must want to teach him patience. He also says that he prays he will never achieve any success that would shift his focus away from Christ and onto himself. And he means it.

So, Kocho is content. He continues to work as a nurse assistant. He also pastors youth, teaches and leads singing in his church, and is currently studying business — partly because it was the only program he could get into for now, and partly to pave the way for entrance into medical school in the future.

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Kocho’s grades in business school last fall

And even as he smiles and serves and works hard at whatever his hand finds to do, he has no idea how he will pay for the education he needs to be able to eventually return to help his suffering people in the Nuba Mountains.

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Cathy and Ruth in Doro, South Sudan

So his friends (and mine), Ruth and Cathy, set up a fund. And you’re invited to give. And to pray. You’re also invited to share Kocho’s story, because the only way anyone will know about this fund is if people like you and me help spread the word.

And someday? When all God means for good in Kocho’s life bears its fullest fruit, we will have the joy of knowing we were part of this Joseph story — a story setting ripples in motion that I believe will continue to spread, bringing salvation and healing and hope to many, until Jesus comes back again.

Because it wasn’t a government or a war or rebels or armies or chance that sent him here.

It was God.

 

P.S. Whatever you choose to do,
Thank You, friends.
You always amaze.

 








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