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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a stay-at-home mom, but also a singer/songwriter, and, as so often happens when the Spirit stirs something within me, I went to the piano right after reading your article, and a song called “Mercy Calls” immediately came to me. Most of it was written within an hour. I will share the lyrics here with you and hope to record it soon. I will send that to you as well, whenever I get it done.
So, much appreciation for your ministry, and for sharing what God put on your heart. I will continue sharing that message in this song.
Mercy calls, will I listen?
Mercy calls, will I hear?
Mercy calls, will I answer?
Will I serve or will I fear
When mercy calls?
There are so many needs
If I open up my eyes to see
Where should the light that’s in me shine
For it’s in the darkest place
That we need God’s gift of grace
To live the Truth and make it come alive
Like the Good Samaritan
Mercy had a cost for him
But he paid it anyway
What’s done for the least of men
We are doing unto Him
Is the price too high for us to pay?
If we would receive God’s mercy, mercy we must give
Blessed are the merciful, that’s how we’re called to live
Dying to ourselves and laying down our lives
Sharing the love of Jesus Christ
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God
Oh, Cyndi! Wow! This is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.
I can’t begin to express how humbled and encouraged I am that God used those words to quicken this gift in you. I’m bowed low in awe and gratitude to Him, and THANK YOU so much for sharing it with me!
Really. I’m speechless. Just thank you again and again.
Cyndi: Thank YOU so much, Jeanne. It always amazes, humbles and encourages ME how God uses the members of His body to minister to one another in a beautiful, ripple effect. As we faithfully give what God pours into our hearts, He uses it to create an ever-widening circle of blessing.
I’m in the middle of having to upgrade some of my recording programs, so I’d appreciate your prayers that I can get past all the “technical difficulties” and on with sharing the songs! Thanks!
Me: Amen! I too am amazed by God’s kind, beautiful, interwoven ways. Praying for you, Cyndi, that the Lord will bless your ministry through song and give you grace, patience, and insight as you navigate the “wonders” of technology. 🙂
I visited your website. You have a lovely voice and delightful style, and I’m more excited than ever to hear Mercy Calls once you’ve recorded it!
Thank you again for being His instrument and a gift to me.
Cyndi (mid-February): I FINALLY was able to get my system all working and have time to record “Mercy Calls.” (I still have some glitches to work out, but I’m so thankful to the Lord for His help, wisdom and strength!)
So…I’ve attached the song here for you. You’re the first one to hear the finished product!
I hope and pray it will be a blessing to all who listen to it, and encourage them to show mercy!
Thanks again for the inspiration!
(Friends, listen to this! Yes, I mean right now. You’re welcome.)
Me: Oh, Cyndi. I have no words. And by “no words,” I mean I’ve started typing several sentences and then deleted them, because I honestly can’t express the wonder of hearing this beautiful gift God gave you, knowing He used my words to inspire you, and feeling this humbling sense of His kindness to His body, giving us to each other that we might speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, spurring each other on to love and good deeds and a holy urgency to love Him and all people well–especially the least of these.
Thank you for the honor of hearing this first. Please let me know if I have permission to share it. I would love to put it on my blog, tell this story, and direct people to you and your music, but I don’t want to run ahead of what you have in mind for the song.
I’m so grateful to our good, gracious God that He has crossed our paths in this way. You are a blessing to me, and I pray He takes this song and makes it a blessing to many.
Cyndi: Thank you for your beautiful reply! It is so precious how God is working in and through each of His vessels for His purpose.
By all means, you can feel free to share this song. It would bless me to know it is reaching a new audience. I have been praying about what God wants me to do with it….and am thinking of somehow making it available as a download connected to some kind of outreach donation. I’m just not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Maybe you have some ideas?
For now…rejoice with me in God’s goodness! I too am grateful for the way He has orchestrated the meeting of two hearts seeking to do His will.
(Then in a separate email):
I almost a forgot about this….
Several days after writing “Mercy Calls,” I was looking at your site, and read the blog article on the clay pots. This song came from that inspiration! It’s just a little chorus, but it kind of sums up what I think you were expressing. I’ve been singing it quite often.
So…thank you twice over for your insightful writing!
Humility, not I but Christ
Dying to self, Christ magnified
Humility, my pride dethroned
All glory given, to Christ alone
Let Him increase, let Him be seen
And let there be less and less of me
A servant’s heart, a willing mind
Till Christ in me, alone is glorified
Me: I love this! What a blessing you are! Thank you for your beautiful and encouraging ministry. I’d love to hear this one, too! 🙂
Cyndi (mid-March): Hello again, dear sister!
Our God is so awesome and amazing! I just wanted to share what has happened with Mercy Calls lately. As I mentioned to you, I have been thinking of perhaps using it as a download connected with donating to a charity. Well, God had other plans first! I guess He was reminding me that charity/mercy are needed just as much close to home as across the globe! Very sadly, several weeks ago, our dear friends and neighbours (a family of 6), lost their home and belongings in a fire. Thankfully no one was home and so they were all unharmed. Our surrounding community has come together in amazing ways to support and help them, and God is already working the situation out to bring blessings.
They are a musically talented family, and Darryl, the husband, has been a huge part of the recordings I have done for many years. It seemed only natural to have a benefit concert for them, which we are in the process of preparing for. But then, the one day I just felt that familiar nudge of the Spirit, prompting me to compile some songs for a benefit CD for them. Guess what the title is?!? Mercy Calls, of course! All the songs center around the theme of helping/caring/serving others, and being instruments of God’s compassion. I can already see how God is using this…many people whom I wouldn’t have expected (and who don’t usually listen to Gospel music)…are buying it (to support the family of course), but I am praying that God will really speak to their hearts through the messages of the songs. It’s just created a really neat opportunity to minister!
Anyways…I just thought I’d let you know how the ripple effect from your writing has touched us here.
Me: Oh my goodness! Cyndi, you are such a blessing and encouragement to me! THANK YOU for sharing these ripples, and thank you for listening to the Lord and for using your gifts to serve others and magnify Him. You inspire me.
I plan to post Mercy Calls and the story behind it on my blog, and I’d love to include a link to the benefit CD if that’s okay with you. Could you send that to me?
Cyndi (April): The “Mercy Calls” CD is now available on iTunes and here is the link:
I appreciate your offer to share this, and I truly hope it blesses and inspires all who hear it.
Me (mid-May—not in an email to her, but right now to you):
Most of the time we never know what our small offerings stir in others — the kind, supportive word to the frazzled mom of three children wrestling her way through the grocery store aisle; the plate of fresh cookies to a neighbor; a handwritten note to a friend; a bold act of sacrificial faith that quietly emboldens others to do the same.
And maybe we think our voice doesn’t matter. What difference will it make if I add more words to the cacophony of noise clattering around in the cybersphere?
It makes a difference. Your offering matters. Share your words — your small, brave, healing, selfless words.
And don’t be surprised if God answers with a song.
Can I just say, you people blew me away? Never did I suspect my crazy idea would capture the imaginations of thousands of good-hearted people who’d go the extra mile to bring it to Jordan’s attention. You scattered that little digital dream far and wide, and I thank you again and again with all my heart!
I’m happy to report that I not only received a reply, the letter was delivered to Jordan’s parents within a few hours of my publishing it. As it turns out, my cousin is close friends with Jordan’s mom. (Who knew? Apparently I need to get better acquainted with my own relatives!) A friend also forwarded the post to his dad. They both sent gracious replies — just the sort you would expect from people who raised a son like Jordan. Though they didn’t go so far as to say my imaginary golf tournament can’t become a reality someday, they did say that Jordan is currently overwhelmed with commitments, and their family also has their own beautiful foundation that benefits organizations serving people with special needs. Jordan’s first obligation is to those organizations.
So, the answer is . . . maybe. Someday. But meanwhile, one of my goals has already been accomplished! Like I said in the letter, “Dallas is an affluent city with lots of beautiful, generous souls living in it, but most of them don’t even know Young Life Capernaum exists.” Well now — thanks to all of you who shared the letter — many more people DO know Young Life Capernaum exists! And while we can still hope for a possible golf tournament in the future, there are fantastic opportunities already on the table and plenty of ways to bless the beautiful souls served by this ministry.
And if you don’t live in Dallas? You can still give a donation, or get involved with Young Life Capernaum in your own community.
Learn the secret Jordan Spieth and so many of us know so well — that people with special needs are one of God’s best gifts to any family, community, or church.
Our dream golf tournament may have to wait, but our celebration doesn’t have to! There’s gonna be a party in Dallas on April 30, with great music and great friends for a great cause. If you come, look for me. I’ll be the one dancing with Jacob in the aisles.
(Thanks so much for spreading this letter far and wide. Read an update and invitation here!)
I should probably confess right out of the gate that I’m not really a golf aficionado. I’ve never played the game (except the miniature version, and that poorly), and I only watch it on TV because my sweet, 85-year-old daddy loves it, and I love him.
To my untrained eye, golf consists of men in colorful pants whacking small white balls with long metal sticks, vying to see who can plunk their ball in a series of holes using the fewest number of whacks. All the while, a team of volume-challenged commentators share their analysis of the whole process in the sort of hushed tones one might use if a baby were sleeping nearby. Go, team!
I admit I don’t know much about golf, but there are a few things I do know. I know it requires finely tuned physical skills, extreme precision in both strategy and execution, and the mental calmness and acuity of a Jedi master.
I also know that you are an exceptionally good golfer. Anyone who has given the sport even a passing glance lately knows that. But that’s not what interests me most about you.
I may not be a golf aficionado, but I’m intensely interested in what makes people tick. I’m fascinated by human nature and character development and the fact that some people make this world more beautiful by the way they engage with their fellow men, while others seem only interested in achieving their own ends at any expense.
So, whenever the announcers whisper about you, I listen. And I love it when they puzzle over your maturity — how nothing seems to rattle you, and how your interview answers are uniformly gracious and unassuming. They obviously admire you, but in some ways, you’re a mystery to them.
It makes me smile. Because I think I understand at least part of the reason behind that mystery.
I think it’s your sister, Ellie.
Jordan and Ellie Spieth
You see, Jordan, I have a son with special needs. His name is Jacob. And though plenty of people will tell us that Ellie and Jacob contribute nothing to society, we know better.
We know that people with special needs serve immensely important purposes. They are our best teachers of compassion, models of unflinching loyalty, and overcomers of countless challenges, often without complaint. Their joy is infectious, and their gratitude abundant, even for the simplest gifts. They love unconditionally, and they inspire us to do the same. And they ground us in what matters most.
I believe your secret is that you know life ultimately doesn’t revolve around you, or golf, or how you rank against anyone else.
Oh sure, you take your sport seriously, and obviously you work very hard to be your very best. But at the end of the day, your fans aren’t the ones hugging you and gazing at you with adoring eyes, whether you won or lost.
Chicken hats? You are more awesome than I realized.
Jordan, Ellie, and Steven Spieth
So, why am I writing this letter to you?
I’m glad you asked. Because I have a dream. You and I are from the same home town, and there are some people here I’d love for you and Ellie to know.
Young Life Capernaum is a ministry that serves teens and young adults with special needs. It’s an international organization, but each local branch is responsible for its own club meetings, outreaches, and fund raising.
I serve on a committee that meets monthly to discuss the club’s needs, and as we’ve been looking for ways to spread the word about what we do, I’ve been dreaming big.
Dallas is an affluent city with lots of beautiful, generous souls living in it, but most of them don’t even know Young Life Capernaum exists. What if we were to host a golf tournament, inviting local golfers to form teams, play some golf, and then attend a reception where someone who’s really, really well known and respected in the golf world (hint: this would be you) would also be present? Do you have any idea how many people in this area would LOVE to pay a small entrance fee benefiting a worthy organization for the chance to have fun and hobnob with the world’s number one golfer? (hint: a lot)
But that’s not all. In my dream, your sister Ellie would be the star of this event. We would call it the First Annual (remember, I’m dreaming big) Ellie Spieth Golf Tournament, and she would get to introduce her beloved brother to all our Young Life Capernaum friends, who would be invited to attend a mini putting clinic, coached by that same really, really well known and respected number one golfer. (You.)
If you were to catch this vision, I have no doubt all the other pieces would fall into place. Date, venue, caterers, golfers, prize donations, you name it. We really just need two things to make this happen.
You and Ellie.
Thanks for reading this, Jordan. (Assuming you ever actually read it, but I’ve already said I’m operating in dream mode on this one, so I’m running with it.) If you’re willing to even consider what this might look like, you can reach the Young Life Capernaum office at 214-862-5544. (Additional contact info here.) We’d be beyond delighted to hear from you.
And, no matter what you decide about this, I want to thank you with all my heart for loving your sweet sister in front of a watching world. Long after you’ve hung up your clubs, you can know for certain that you made a difference where it mattered most.
Hello, friends! I realize I’ve been largely absent from this little corner of the bloggerhood lately. Partly because I’m feeling increasingly called to physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative presence in real life relationships. And partly because I’ve had the delightful and solemn honor of sharing my heart on various other blogs hosted by people and ministries I deeply love and respect. In case you missed any of these and would like to read them, here are a few links:
“Politicians may leverage fear for their own purposes, but the church doesn’t trade in that currency. If we claim to be a people of love, then we need to embrace Jesus’ definition of that word. Because our churches don’t belong to us in the first place and were never meant to be comfortable or tidy. If the gospel is anything, it’s messy.”
I know many of us are aching to understand and embrace God’s will for His church in the face of rising terrorism and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Will you join me at A Holy Experience?
“This is the kind of beauty that turns mourning to dancing and weeping to laughter.”
Last week I wrote a post for The Lulu Tree, a ministry very dear to my heart that was founded by my beautiful and compassionate friend, Emily Wierenga. This one is about two mamas — a Ugandan woman and me. It’s also about life, and death, and redemption. I will tell you up front, this is raw truth, but it’s also stunning beauty. We can’t fix the brokenness of the world, but we can enter it. And when we do, the words of Jesus come to life. I hope you’ll join me there as well.
“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
And finally, this week I wrote a piece for the fun and lovely Diane Bailey’s group blog, The Consilium. Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, what better to write about than Christmas gifts?
Actually, the post isn’t as much about what I got for Christmas as it is about marriage, the fickleness of passion apart from covenant (no matter what purveyors of flowers, candy, and jewelry want you to believe), and God’s redemptive power to soften even the stoniest of hearts.
Whether you click over to these posts or not, thank you for welcoming my words into your life. It’s such a humbling gift. I do have some stories burning on my heart to share here and plan to do that soon. Until then, God’s best blessings on your journey. Thank you for being a part of mine.
A clay jar is a made thing, imagined and crafted by its maker. He determines its capacity and purpose, and expects only that it do what it was made to do.
In Perelandra (the second book in C.S. Lewis’ amazing space trilogy), the central character, Ransom, accomplishes a magnificent feat. He travels to a world inhabited by its first man and woman, and — by speaking truth to lies and ultimately defeating a demon-possessed tempter in hand-to-hand combat — he prevents a Genesis 3-type fall and secures a curse-free existence for all future inhabitants.
Before Ransom returns to Earth, he stands before the crowned king and queen of Perelandra, and the weight of what he has just accomplished begins to sink in. What will this mean for him in the future? What kind of fame, reward, and legendary status await one who rescues a whole world from brokenness, sin, destruction, and death?
An angelic being quickly reassures him with these words:
“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad.”
Not only does Ransom return home without trophies and accolades, he takes with him a wound on his heel that will remain a painful reminder of his battle with evil for as long as he lives. In a very literal sense, he is conformed to the image of Christ.
He receives the better reward.
And in his smallness, he is comforted.
I think it’s safe to say that the wedding guests in Cana never gathered around the six stone water pots and lavished them with praise. The pots weren’t set on pedestals, festooned with garlands, and worshiped for the miracle of water into wine. Most likely, those water pots continued to function as ordinary water pots and the servants who’d filled them as ordinary servants. Except for what they knew. Which changed everything.
But there is something in me that wants more. Something entitled. Something desperately selfish.
I say I want my life to be hidden in Christ, but I’m quick to bask in the praise of men.
I say I want to be dead to self, alive to God, and content with the portion He chooses for me, but I still find myself comparing, competing, envying, and resenting.
I say I want to be small in my own eyes, but my heart betrays me. When I don’t get credit for something I did? When I’m overlooked or excluded? When he answers my prayer for humility by actual humbling me? Then I see how far I have to go before I’m satisfied in Him alone, no matter what.
Before John the Baptist was born, he was set apart to be the forerunner for Christ, and he fully embraced that calling in spite of the fact it largely meant a life of seclusion and eccentricity. And when the multitudes actually listened to him and redirected their attention to Jesus, John’s disciples were indignant for his sake. But he said,
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.He must increase, but I must decrease.“
And Jesus skips the question asked and answers the implied one.
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
But I believe He also said it tenderly, knowing what we don’t know and seeing what we don’t see.
We don’t know what transpired between John and his Father in the moments before and after this seemingly senseless and humiliating execution. We don’t see what he saw or hear what he heard — the “well done” and “welcome home” of the One he devoted his life to serve. Every question at last answered. Every longing finally fulfilled. His joy once and for all truly complete.
So, my word for the year is “small.” And I want to be like these little ceramic jars, made by a potter friend to be left in random places at Christmas time, each one unique, and each with a note explaining to the finder that the jar is a free gift, given because of all Jesus has given him. Given for the joy of giving joy. No credit sought, and much gladness received.
And I pray I’ll embrace this sacramental smallness not only with words, but with my life. That I will mean it when I tell God I want to be a living sacrifice — one clay vessel among His many, cleansed, set apart, ready for Him to fill and use however He chooses, whether anyone ever notices me or not.
This is my prayer — for freedom from selfish agendas, freedom from entitlement, freedom from offense, freedom to be small.