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I’m Content

But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6 WEB)

No matter what people may think, I’m content with my life, my family, my work and my faith; so, stop telling me I need something more. I was thinking about this while lying awake in bed one morning. When I look at things in my life and consider what I’ve done, where I’ve been and what I’ve acquired (physical stuff, experiences, etc.), I’m content. Unfortunately, sometimes, when my frustration over things around me percolates to the top of my patience, I might present a temporary persona that doesn’t portray a contented soul. But that’s another subject.

One of the first things I thought about was my wonderful wife quietly asleep beside me. It’s the precise planning of God that brought us together at the right place and time to embark on an amazing busy, full and fantastic life. Two-thirds of our lives we’ve been together and I’m looking forward with anticipation to undertaking together the next 40 plus years of life and adventure God has planned. Like most married men I know; I often wonder how my love tolerated me all these years. But I’m content knowing God was gracious to me and gives her lots of patience.

We’ve lived through raising four children, watching them leave the nest and start a life of their own with their own families. I like my children’s spouses. I love them all and I believe they like me. Our children are doing well in a variety of jobs. We’ve got service managers, restaurant managers, teachers and soldiers carrying on the family line. I’m proud of them all. They’ve had their problems, we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but as family we work through things. Thanks to them I have a number of grandchildren that I love dearly. I think they love me as well. I know why God gives us grandchildren. It’s to insure we still have that delightful spark of innocence to encourage us in life. They have good and bad days, they’re little children and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m content with my family.

I’ve spent the majority of my life serving and working with the same organization in various places around the globe. I’d like to say everything was rosy and delightful all these years but the truth is there were hard times along with good times. Still, I’m content with what God has been able to accomplish through my work around the globe. More than once I felt ill-equipped for the job. It was then I watched as God stepped in to show His grace and let me know that I can do all things through Him. I can’t say I never had doubts about what I was doing. They would raise their ugly heads now and then until I reset my vision on the one who gives me strength. I can say I never had doubts about God’s calling me to this life. I’m content in my work and ministry.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned to God and asked, “Why?” Sometimes I found the answer. Some questions remain unanswered. I’ve railed at God in my frustration and anger and praised and worshipped Him at all times. Yes, even when I was furious I still worshipped God. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, some things I still don’t understand, but I trust in God in all things. I’m comforted understanding that I can come to God with praise, anger, questions and the small issues of daily life and He listens. He shows me grace, especially in my stupid times. He loves me always, even in my disobedient times. I’m content with my faith in God.

In all this I find myself wondering why I would consider not being content. I can stop and think and realize that this is a great life God has provided and like the verse above I have great gain. Sometimes people think I’m discontent because I’m frustrated with things or get angry over an encounter with massive stupidity. So I wonder if we’re not confusing contentment with emotionless living. Are they the same? I don’t think so. God gave us emotions to help us deal with life on this spinning rock. We can let them get out of hand but to dismiss them as ungodly just doesn’t ring true for me. There are some things, regardless of my godliness or contentment, which I suspect will always increase my blood pressure.

There are inconsistencies in the behavior and reliability of computers, an area I’ve worked with for over thirty years that make me want to test the aerodynamic characteristics of the device from any open window (which I have done). There are vehicle drivers who apparently didn’t attend driving school, forgot all they learned or had incompetent teachers. Some folks standing in line for ten minutes or more to pay for items wait until they reach the counter to fish through their fifty gallon purse looking for their credit card. Sometimes I just sigh and roll my eyes. Other times, for whatever reasons, I just get frustrated or angry.

Then there’s the modern church. As a faithful member of the congregation we’re never doing enough “for God.” We hear preaching about contentment and at the same time a message of “do more” which creates discontent because we’re not doing enough, in the eyes of the local church, to justify our claiming to be faithful believers. Rubbish! I’m concentrating on my walk in this world as a faithful follower of Christ. Just walking faithful with God through normal tivities of life is doing something “for God.” Where that intersects with a church ministry, such as being a full time missionary, I’m glad to go as God leads. I don’t doubt some future heavenly residents might need a little fire under their backside to get them moving but who lights the fire, God or man? Without getting into a pet peeve let me say I’m content with the ministries where God has place me and I’m not looking for more. If He gives more I’ll undertake it. Otherwise I’ll be content with the here and now.

That’s probably where contentment lies. It lies in knowing you are where God wants you to be. It’s understanding the abilities God has given for the particular task and being content that God knows what He’s doing. Does it remove all emotion so we can be like good southerners and just say, “Bless their heart” when they do something ridiculous. At times it might. At other times life boils to the top and we are reminded we are humans, designed with emotions, by a God with emotions, to live in an emotional world. I’m content to live here, with all my foibles, until He takes me to that perfect mansion. Are you content?

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Mission Mama and the Ten Little Cakes

What if you lived in a land with no cakes?

NO cakes you say???? IMPOSSIBLE!!!

This is the story of the Missionary Mama who lived in a land where there were no cakes.

There were no cakes like we have in America like she had when she was growing up.

There were no cakes like we have for our birthdays.

Most of the time the Missionary Mama and her missionary kiddies didn’t miss the birthday cakes because the land they lived in had lots of really, really good food. The only times they thought about birthday cakes were . . . well . . . at birthdays. Then the Missionary Mama and Papa did what they could to get happy birthday cakes from America for their missionary kiddies. Sometimes it wasn’t easy but they always found one.

As the years past the Missionary Mama learned how to make all kinds of wonderful things in the land where they were living and didn’t even always make birthday cakes for birthdays. But one day some people from America were going to visit the Missionary Mama and Papa and they said, “What can we bring from America in our Suitcase for you?” Well they thought and thought and said, “A birthday cake please?”

A BIRTHDAY CAKE THEY THOUGHT????? DON’T THEY HAVE BIRTHDAYS? OH NO! WE SHOULD BRING THEM A BIRTHDAY CAKE. SO, THEY PACKED THEIR CLOTHES . . . TWO BLUE SHIRTS AND TWO PINK SHIRTS AND TWO PURPLE SHIRTS AND TWO RED GREEN SHIRTS (ONE FOR THE MR AND ONE FOR THE MRS.) AND THEN THEY PACKED A BIRTHDAY CAKE. . . AND THOUGHT . . . THERE IS MORE ROOM SO WE CAN BRING TWO BIRTHDAY CAKES. AND THERE WAS STILL MORE ROOM AND THEY PUT IN TWO MORE AND THEN TWO MORE. THERE WERE TWO CHOCOLATE AND TWO YELLOW CAKES AND TWO PINK CAKES . . . YOU SEE THE MR. AND THE MRS. LIKED THINGS IN TWOS . . . AND THEY ENDED UP WITH 10 CAKES IN THEIR SUITCASES.

2008_06_teresaphotos_0003Can you imagine 10 little cakes all ready to go to a foreign land and take birthdays to the Missionary Mama. Well they filled up the suitcase so much the Mr. and Mrs. had to take out some clothes and the cakes were starting to get heavy so they got friends to bring their clothes and their friend’s daughter to help carry the cakes. Then they all got on a big airplane with their suitcases and their clothes and the 10 little cakes. Oh, I almost forgot, they also brought a rabbit to make the airport people look at him so they wouldn’t look at the 10 little cakes and say, “NO cakes in this land!!!!!”

When they came to the foreign land the Missionary Mama and Papa picked them up at the airport with a borrowed car and you know what? It wasn’t big enough for so many people and 10 little cakes and a rabbit!!!! There were people and suitcases and cakes and rabbits everywhere. Wowie. They had a great visit and went to all the nice places in the land and ate lots of really good food and the rabbit met lots of nice people and then Mr. and Mrs. and their friends and their friend’s daughter took their empty suitcases home and with the rabbit had plenty of room.

Then the Missionary Mama thought . . . 10 little cakes what will I do with 10 little cakes????? We don’t have 10 little cabinets and we don’t have 10 birthdays. I know, I’ll share the cakes with people who miss Happy Birthday cakes like we do. Or maybe, I’ll share them with people who have never had a Happy Birthday cake. This is going to be fun.

The first little cake was made and it was a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and the Missionary Mama and Papa and Annamarie ate it just to make sure they were OK to share with others. I mean they needed to know that it still tasted good, right?

The second cake was made for a family from Switzerland and Canada and they had five children so the confetti cake was the best.

The third little cake was chocolate with chocolate icing and it was for a Missionary Mama and Papa party with Americans so they could practice their English and tell funny stories in English. There were some American missionaries and Canadian missionaries who hadn’t had a birthday cake for a long time.

The fourth little cake was a yummy spice cake with cream cheese frosting and Missionary Mama made it for the team that meets to plan all the work. Those poor people are in long meetings all day and they need a treat sometimes. Some of them liked the cake, and some thought it was too sweet, and some thought it was too fat, and some thought it was just right. There was a big Russian man and a happy Swiss man and a quiet German lady, a really, really tall man (I think he ate two pieces) and a strong Serbian man who tells funny stories and likes cake too.

The fifth cake was pink I mean really very pink and the Missionary Mama made it for the baptism in the Danube River. I don’t know why she made the pink one but the people from Africa and the people from the Philippines and the people from Iran and the people from Austria all ate pink cupcakes and said yummy, yummy, yummy. Let’s go to the river and get Baptized.

The sixth little cake was pink too and the Missionary Mama gave it to a little missionary girl who likes muffins with cream that are pink (that is what they call cupcakes there!!!!!) for her birthday.

The seventh little cake was chocolate and the Missionary Mama made it for a Happy Birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas. Her little missionary son ate it for dinner and lunch and breakfast. He also shared it with our friends from Hungary, and Canada, and Cameroon. (But I don’t think he wanted to.)

The eighth little cake was Carrot and the Missionary Mama made it for a missionary kid Christmas party and it had cream cheese frosting, yuummmmm. But one little boy said” Yuck,” and Naomi said “we forgot to pray,” and then she and the Missionary Papa prayed and she said “I like the cream!!!!!!!” There were children from all around Europe at the party and they liked to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and then eat the cake.

The ninth little cake was for a ladies’ prayer group and it was lemon and very yellow and pretty. I hope it made the ladies strong so they could really pray for the families and the children.

The tenth little cake doesn’t have a place to go yet. What shall we do????? Maybe you can think of a place to take the yellow cake with chocolate frosting on it??????? It sounds Yummy but the Missionary Mama is all out of places to take it right now. So please help me to think, and think, and think of the best place for the little cake because it is sad to be all alone in the cabinet and needs a nice party to go to.

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Woody Woodpecker

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalms 46:10 ESV) 

Do you remember the old cartoon, The Woody Woodpecker Show? That was back in the 1950s and 60s. I remember watching the old cartoons. Walter Lance was the creator, designer, writer and artist. Woody was an annoyingly persistent woodpecker causing trouble everywhere he went. I loved the show. I would sit on the floor of our Georgia home, in my Saturday morning PJs and laugh over and over at the obnoxious woodpecker. My fascination with the show might explain some of my personality quirks. For years it was in black and white. Then magically, one Saturday morning, it was in color! That was cool. 

Beth paints our office building in Perchtoldsdorf

Many years later I was on my way to our mission office in Perchtoldsdorf, Austria. Normally I ride the 0730 bus filled with noisy, active school children. I was reminded of Woody’s loud voice and penchant for pranks. The elementary and middle schools (what I would call them) are near the office so I walk by them each day. I enjoy watching the children relate to one another. The shy, the charismatic, the clown, they all bump and jostle their way from bus, to sidewalk, through the park, to the school.  

But this day was different. It was a holiday week in Austria. No school children on the bus. Just me, one grumpy bus driver, and a couple old ladies going out to shop. I forgot my MP3 player at home so I couldn’t drown out the bus noise as we jostled our way down the hill, through the vineyards toward the little town where my office sits. 

I got off the bus, sans children, at the normal stop and headed through the park. Did I mention there’s a beautiful park near our office? There is. I like to walk from the bus stop, through the park, past the school and down the hill to the office. It’s a nice walk that takes about six minutes. Usually I watch the children interact on the bus and walking through the park. Not this day. It was quiet and there was plenty of room on the sidewalk. No little boys climbing through the bushes or girls whispering secrets to one another. Just a beautiful, warm clear sky morning. Ho hum. 

As I came up the hill from the bus stop, I head a bang, bang, bang. There was a pause and then bang, bang, bang. The repetitive clamor reminded me of something. I listened intently for a while and then remembered. One furlough we visited friends in California. Their house was riddled with small holes from the numerous woodpeckers in their area. Our friends weren’t fond of these beautiful birds. 

I listened again. Bang, bang, bang, pause . . . bang, bang, bang, pause. . . over and over like a machine. I walked slowly searching the trees and cocking my head to the side trying to find Woody. Finally, I found the tree and spotted the little fellow, way up high, hard at work looking for his breakfast. It was fascinating to watch. His head was a brilliant red, and he had a white chest with spots and black wings.  

He would bang away at the tree then pause and listen for the rustle of some juicy tasty grub. I stood there for a long time watching him work. Industrious, oblivious to the world around, concentrating on the task at hand, he chiseled his way into the tree trunk. He knew there was a treasure trove of succulent delights waiting to be slurped out by his lengthy tongue. He just needed enough persistence until the tree would give way and then he could enjoy the fruit of his labor. 

The persistent widow Jesus mentioned in a parable in Luke came to mind. The widow asked and asked and apparently stopped now and again to listen for an answer. That judge wasn’t about to give up and give in. But she kept banging away asking then waiting, asking then waiting. He persistence won the day. Eventually she received what was needed. The judge didn’t want to be worn to a frazzle. 

I wonder how often we do this in prayer, persist in asking because we need an answer and can’t let the issue drop. That’s a good procedure. But, how often do we stop to listen for an answer? I know some people who talk so much it’s funny. They rattle on, endlessly, without pausing for a breath and intersperse questions along the way. The problem is they never pause long enough to listen for an answer.  

I think I do that in prayer at times as well. I ask, ask, ask, wrestle with God looking for an answer I know needs to come. But then I realize I’m exhausted from asking and never pausing long enough to listen. I can’t hear the answer if I don’t listen. 

God isn’t quite like the judge. He doesn’t respond because we annoy him. God responds because he loves us and wants to help us. I’ve beat my head against the wall at times until I’m dizzy. When I finally stop I discover God has already provided an answer. I couldn’t see it because my eyesight was blurred from the constant motion of whacking my head against the wall. 

The Psalmist reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) In an active world people see stillness as a weakness. Christians seem to think busyness about God’s work is the sign of a true and faithful believer. Jesus took time away. He stepped out of the mainstream of his ministry to refresh himself with the father. I’m sure he and his father had some great conversations. 

As a Christian stillness is necessary to listen, to hear what God is saying. Just like the woodpecker, we need to bang away with our needs and requests. And, like the woodpecker, we need to pause, now and then, to listen for a reply. 

Are we listening today?

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Reconciliation – Some thoughts

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NASB)

Reconciliation, an interesting word. How do we define reconciliation? Just think about that word for a minute. We might think of a spouse reconciling with their mate after a  separation. Maybe there is a wayward child who needs reconciliation with their parents. Maybe we need to be reconciled with our family, church, or friends. What does this mean?

If we peruse the English dictionary we find some insight into the word reconcile. It is a transitive verb (for all you grammarians) with several meanings including: (1) To reestablish a close relationship, as in marriage: The estranged couple reconciled after a year. (2) To settle or resolve an issue. (3) To bring (oneself) to accept: He finally reconciled himself to the change in management (4) To make compatible or consistent: reconcile my way of thinking with yours.

Reconcile finds part of its root in the word conciliate. This word helps us understand more of the embodied concepts of this intriguing word reconcile, i.e. re-conciliate. Conciliate can mean: (1) To overcome the distrust or animosity of; appease. (2) To regain or try to regain (friendship or goodwill) by pleasant behavior. (3) To make or attempt to make compatible; reconcile.

Within the etymological confines of this word it becomes evident a schism, a division, between one person and another, must exist in the physical, spiritual, ideological or emotional aspect of their relationship. A cursory look at the orthodox teachings of Scripture reveals the pervasive presence of a schism between man and God on all these levels. We are separated from God because of inherited sin.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB)

However, salvation, a healing of the division, is found in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ to provide proper atonement for our transgressions. We become fellow-heirs of God’s kingdom, brothers and sisters in the eternal family of our Creator.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 NASB)

We’re missionaries so this salient point should be a clear foundation on which we proclaim the message of the Gospel. Mankind gives birth to sinners, separated from God and in need of reconciliation. When we think of reconciliation, within the bounds of our faith, we easily recall the Gospel message, the rescuing of sinners from eternal damnation. Still, there is another aspect of reconciliation we need to consider.

This is reconciliation which occurs after salvation. A daily opportunity, sometimes hourly, arises for us to practice the ministry of reconciliation. While the first step is removing the rift between our sinful soul and God’s righteousness the next is to maintain an un-gullied landscape between ourselves and the rest of mankind. Paul expressed it simply by saying, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 NASB)

Jesus dealt with this interpersonal relationship aspect of our Christian walk in the sermon on the mount. He shocked the primarily Jewish audience by indicating something more important than a sacrificial offering was at stake. Jesus said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NASB) I always found this short story interesting. Instead of thinking about the offenses you have against others, it is important to consider what offenses others have against you. We don’t often reflect with such altruistic intentions.

It is such attention to the needs of others, the clear understanding that relationships between ourselves and others must be maintained, that brings to the forefront the need to practice the ministry of reconciliation on a day to day, person by person basis. Let’s consider how we fare in this aspect of our Christian walk and the ministry where we serve. Let me say, I’m not an expert. As a matter of fact I’m sharing this subject as part of my own erudition.

We are all busy. At least we all appear to be very busy. Many projects, many changes, people coming, people going, life at home, life at church, life in the neighborhood, all add up to a busy life. Sometimes this can press us to the point of treading on another’s  actions, emotions, or ideas in our pursuit of the final completed check mark on the to do list. Getting things done is part of the ministry. Being people, which we are, we make mistakes and at times show a great lack of tact and care towards one another.

It could be we haven’t a worry working with one another but the impact of our schedule, the self created pressure of our work, surfaces in our interactions at home, church or in the community. Where the altercation, intended or accidental occurs is not the issue. The issue is what do we do after the conflict or simple clashing of personalities, plans, concepts, cultures or perceptions? Do we seek to reconcile, to get to terms with one another, to come to an mutually acceptable agreement? Or, do we sweep it under the carpet and just hope it goes away quietly?

A multitude of tomes exist extolling the virtues of conflict resolution along with a plethora of steps to take, guidelines to apply and innumerable “how-tos.” The goal of this discussion is not the technique but the need. It is also important to differentiate between apology and reconciliation. An apology may sooth immediate feelings over a issue but won’t necessarily change our actions in the future. Reconciliation goes to the extreme of attempting to find a point of agreement for both the immediate and the future.

It isn’t a problem, especially working in a mission, to see the need to administer the word of reconciliation to the world, to the lost sinners we envision searching for a bridge across the chasm that separates them from God. It often becomes lost when our vision draws closer to hearth and home. Our ministry is about people. Proclaiming the message of salvation to people. Helping people find God. Helping people walk faithfully with God in righteousness.

We must remember, we are people. We work with people. If we cannot apply the same concern, grace, functional application of reconciliation close at hand we cannot proclaim the message far and wide. Our personal interactions, at the office, in the community, at church and home belie our true understanding and significance applied to the need for reconciliation. Its the same idea from age to age. We might say one thing but if our actions don’t support what we say, we might as well not say anything.

I’m not calling for everyone to look around and say, “He did such -n such to me. He should reconcile with me,” or “I’m ready for so -n so to come and then we can reconcile the matter.” Instead I’m asking myself, and you, to look inside and think of our relationships. Think of people in church. Think of family at home. Think of colleagues. Do we sense, do we know that someone has something against us.

Before we come to God’s altar to sacrifice our praise, our life, our finances, our skills, whatever you want to put in the equation, we need to seek out that person and get things cleared up. We need to do our part to administer, not just preach, the act of reconciliation. We must also be willing for others to approach us and seriously work through matters to insure we are reconciled at all levels of relationship.

Some may accept our advances, some may not. But we need to know we have done what we can to insure our horizontal relationships with people are in as good a shape as our vertical relationship with God. Think about it.

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Pray for the Dead

If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10 WEB)

On weekends I like to sleep in and enjoy a rested start to the day. I consider sleeping late to be anything past seven in the morning. My wife, Beth, felt this was way too early for anyone to stir. When we were first married I’d arise early and wander about our small apartment. After an hour or so of reading, looking out the window and boredom, I’d wander back to the bedroom.

Snuggling up to my lovely sleeping wife I’d whisper, “Are you every going to get up?” It sometimes took a few renditions, with increased volume, before she would open one eye and see me smiling down at her. It was then I would look innocent and say, “Oh, were you still asleep? I didn’t mean to wake you.” She never believed me.

One Saturday morning, on Guam, we were awakened to the mournful sounds of what must have been a dying moose or other large animal outside our apartment. Our daughter, Ellice, and son, Joel, came bounding into our room, climbed across the bed so we could see the unusual looks on their faces. It was a mixture between concern and curiosity.

“What’s up guys,” I asked them as they scampered across the covers, elbows and knees thumping us to wakefulness. Beth opened one eye and sniffed to see if there was breathable air.

“There are people across the street,” said Ellice, “doing weird things.”

“In the graveyard?” I asked. I piled up my pillows and slid to a sit against the headboard.

“What sort of things?” asked Beth finally opening the other eye peeking from the safety of her blanket.

“Making weird noises and burning stuff,” responded Ellice curling her nose as if she were smelling a rotten apple.

“Let’s take a look,” I said. I tossed off the covers, Beth pulled them close and burrowed deeper.  The children and I headed to the front door.

Our flat was situated on the second floor of a four unit apartment across the street from the local cemetery. The graveyard was sandwiched between the road and the shoreline. We surveyed the fence bound graves. A lot of people stood next to gravestones or wandered around looking for a lost relative’s last resting places. Once the graves were identified each person or family stood by a particular stone with flowers in hand.

Near one end, under the shade of a concrete cabana, stood the local priest. Dressed in flowing regalia and donning a spectacular liturgical hat he chanted some liturgy, in Latin, or the local language. The people responded at the appropriate time with somber melodies in agreement. Back and forth the invocation was proclaimed and the musical affirmation responded.

The people, with priestly guidance, were praying for their relatives to depart purgatory and enter heaven. Candles, invocations, penance, all struggled together to assure them the dead would rise again to Heaven. Uncertainty brought them back year after year.

It was an eerie sight which chilled our hearts. Their religion held no concrete answers. Their faith reminded us again of God’s grace and love. Heaven awaits us, we are sure. It is not our candles, music, or attendance which opens the pearly gates. It is the saving grace God has provided through His son on the cross.

We are staunch believers in the security of the believer. God has brought us into His kingdom and we are his. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:29 WEB)

With our children we watched people, unsure of their eternal destination, giving all they could to possibly enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The need is great . . . the workers are few . . . PRAY.

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