By jeffsimmons

“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head,And whispered to her neighbor_ %22Winter is dead.”

Changing a Country

My first time to Moldova was in 2003. On that trip, I knew that God had a huge heart for the precious orphan children I met and a huge calling for us, a baby church in Middle Tennessee. I must admit that before that trip, I knew very little about this small country in Eastern Europe. But, it was the statistic that 60% of girls trafficked into prostitution in Eastern Europe come out of this country of 4 million and then meeting some of these vulnerable children that truly grabbed my heart. Not only the girls, but also the boys are in danger of trafficking, organized crime and even suicide. I have returned every year since my first trip and our church, Rolling Hills, has been sending mission teams multiple times a year. By God’s grace, we have had a front-row seat to see Him change an entire country.

Camps for Orphans and Vulnerable Children with Mission Teams

unspecified-1I am writing this on a plane returning home with one of our summer mission teams. From the first year, the prioritization of taking mission teams from Rolling Hills and other churches has been the basic building block. By hosting camps at various orphanages throughout Moldova, we have been able to share the Gospel and to see countless young men and women commit their lives to Christ. Having a spiritual foundation is the essence of a person’s worth and value. Christ has transformed their lives with His love, just as He has for each of us. We have seen God changing Moldova, one life at a time.

Mission teams have also allowed us to connect with children in order to hear their story and see the depth of their need. Through individuals who have served on one of our teams, we have been able to meet physical needs with clothes and food as well as to foster on-going discipleship by connecting Christ-followers in America with these children. This has allowed us to meet pastors in area villages who have helped identify the need. I am so thankful for the hundreds of people who have gone to Moldova to serve – God has used you and continues to use your prayers, love and support. You are a part of God’s bigger story for this country.

Sponsoring Children

After a few years of taking mission teams to serve in Moldova, we quickly realized that we had to do more. These kids were coming to know Christ, and we were able to give food and clothes, but they had long-term needs at the risk of not being met. In 2008, we started a non-profit called Justice & Mercy International. The first role of JMI was to hire a National Director and begin a sponsorship program. This sponsorship program has solidified the connection between an American (sponsor) and a vulnerable child in Moldova. This sponsor becomes a surrogate “parent” to the child providing resources for clothes, food and advice. Through letter writing and connecting a JMI staff member with the child, the child’s future is being impacted. Today almost 400 children are being sponsored through JMI in Moldova.

Different from great organizations like International Justice Mission (IJM) who rescue trafficked children from brothels, we are endeavoring to be on the front end – protecting the children and preventing them from ever having to experience the hurt and tragedy of this abominable situation. And, by God’s grace, it is working. Lives are being saved – spiritually and physically!

Transitional Living Homes

Through JMI, we were able to start a Transitional Living Home for when children outgrow and have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 – their most vulnerable time in life. Today, we have a home for girls (The Grace House) and a home for boys (Boys to Leaders). The Transitional Living program is two to three years of providing a place for the child to live, a mentor (House parent), enrolling in additional school (“college”), teaching them English and spiritual discipleship. We have over 30 girls and boys currently living in our transitional living homes.

Independent Living

unspecified-3After the children graduate from the Transitional Home, they can move into an independent living apartment with others from the program. This allows them to learn how to live in an independent setting with the help of a social worker, vocational director and additional education. We have close 20 boys and girls in independent living apartments. It is exciting to see these kids growing up, exceling in school and attaining jobs in areas of influence – education, local churches and even government jobs.

By God’s grace, it is working!

Last night was an amazing celebration for JMI in Moldova. Our Mission Team shared in a graduation party at the Grace House for 11 graduates of the Transitional Living program. With caps and gowns, the graduates came out onto our stage in the back courtyard. With about 80 people present, we applauded the graduates for their hard work, prayed over them and blessed them. There was not a dry eye in the place. It was incredibly special!

unspecified-2Graduates like Ejor. Ejor grew up in the orphanage in Baltsi. He came to know Christ through one of our Rolling Hills mission teams. He has been in the JMI program for three years, and his English has progressed to the point where he now serves as a translator for JMI. In fact, Ejor leads worship at the Camps that our mission teams host in different orphanages and villages. Kids in Moldova are drawn to Ejor, and God is using him to impact the next generation there.

Graduates like Elijah. Eli grew up in the orphanage at Internat 2. This was our first orphanage in 2003, and we served at this Camp for 9 years in a row. I have watched Eli grow up. I met him when he was 8. He told me at graduation, “You were the first man who ever said he was proud of me.” These kids, just like all of us, simply need someone to believe in them. Eli was also one of our translators for the week and leading other kids to Christ.

unspecifiedAt the graduation that night, Elena and Ion came to visit. Elena was one of our first girls in the Grace House in 2010. Since she graduated from the program herself, she has gone on to marry Ion (a godly man) and just completed her Masters in education. Next month, Elena and Ion are the leaders of a Camp at their Moldovan church for 125 children in their community.

After the graduation, we had a big celebration. We had a Moldovan band, and all 80 of us danced traditional Moldovan dances. We had a cake to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the NGO status of JMI’s work in Moldova. I stood looking around at everyone laughing and having so much joy, and thought, “Only God.” Only God can change an orphan’s life and only God can change a country.

We certainly have a long way to go, but we take motivation from the fact that Moldova used to be known for sending orphan and vulnerable children into the sex slave trade, and now we are seeing Christ transform these young lives so that this country will be known for sending missionaries for Christ. Through the leadership of these young followers of Christ who are now getting jobs in education, business and government, and volunteering in their local churches, with American mission teams in orphanages and sponsoring vulnerable children themselves, we are seeing a new Moldova emerging – one with a hope and a future. God is changing this country, and we all have a part to play in His bigger story for this country. Get involved and join in what God is doing. Don’t miss it – God is changing a country!

 

Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Praying for Orlando

Yesterday, our hearts were broken over the mass shooting that took place in Orlando that left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized. All of these people were created in the image of God – those in the night club and the one who committed this heinous act. As Christ-followers, we pray for the families of those tragically killed and injured. In addition, we pray for all the churches in the Orlando area that are ministering to their community right now. May Christ bring peace to our nation and to our world that is so desperately searching for answers.

In 164 days so far this year, there have already been 133 mass shootings – hard to fathom, isn’t it? The fact is, we live in a world of hate. Our world seems to scream, “hate those who are not like you.” Yet, as Christ-followers, we are called to love all people. “For God so loved the world…John 3:16 tells us. “If anyone loves, he is like God because God is love.1 John 4 tells us. Regardless of people’s behavior or beliefs, God loves them, and we should as well. God is the only hope in this world of hate. The more hate rules, the more people die. But, in the end, love will triumph. As we love like Christ, hearts are changed – and our world is changed.

When something like this happens, our immediate reaction is anger. Many people lash out. In a case like this, people can turn against all Muslims, even though the radical Islam only characterizes a small number. Instead of responding with hate toward the hate we experience, we must learn to respond with grace and love. We should not stereotype our neighbor, but we should love our neighbor. As Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”  We are called to abhor the evil and we do this by bringing it to God. We must allow God to administer justice and redemption. We cannot fall prey to the same hate that we see around us. Instead, we must reach out to those who are different from us and respond in love.

While our government struggles with how to battle terrorism and other mass shootings, as Christ-followers, we must pray and support our leaders. In addition to prayer, we should be willing to engage by being active in our community, state and country. It matters who we vote for. It matters what we stand for. Being informed and active is important. Living for Christ and engaging in civil affairs can help protect and instill values that impact the world in which we live. We cannot isolate ourselves, but this should be a calling for us to become even more engaged and outspoken.

In addition, we cannot fall prey to fear. As mass shootings become more and more commonplace, we must never grow numb to the threat around us; yet, we must not allow fear to rule our lives. We live in a growing world of fear, and we can become paralyzed in this. But, our faith is not in the people of this world, but in our Sovereign God who is in control. Our children are growing up in a world of fear. Helping them process and understand this is so important. Recent studies show children today are experiencing more anxiety than ever before. Teaching our kids about Christ and pointing them to Jesus is essential. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7 For them, and for us, abiding in Christ and allowing His Spirit to fill us is the only way to stay steadfast in this world of hate and fear.

Unfortunately, these tragedies will continue to be a reality. We live in a fallen world. And, as much as we pray for peace, the truth is that we have an enemy who wants to “steal, kill and destroy.John 10:10 The influence of darkness and sin will be an eternal battle until our Savior returns putting an end to it all. Thus, for now, we must continue to pray and share Christ with those around us. Regardless of life-style behaviors or religious backgrounds, we must love all people. In the process, we will see our God change this world one life at a time.

Overall, we must not run from times like these. We must not bury our heads in the sand, and act like nothing happened. As Christ-followers, this is our time. We must pray – “the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.James 5:16; we must love, and we must engage. In the power of God’s Sovereignty and filled with the love of our Savior who died for all, we must run to the darkness. We must stand with those hurting in times of crisis and point people to Jesus, so that all men will know that there is Hope, and there is a better way. Instead of giving in to this world of hate, we can hold out Christ and see God transform lives and bring peace. And, isn’t this what our country and world so desperately need right now – love and peace? Where else will they find this? Only in Christ Jesus.

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Battle Plan – The Ultimate Defeat of Evil

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Last week I wrote about the war between Good and Evil and the importance of the four P’s of a Battle Plan (read it here). We all need a Battle Plan so we can endure in this epic struggle and make an impact for God and His glory in our little time on this earth. Now, we know the end of the story – God wins! And I’ve never been more sure of that, but how? How does it all come to an end in the last days?

Eschatology is the study of the end times. Jesus talked a lot about this. It is important to know what will happen, so we can be prepared and not be deceived. The book of Revelation can be daunting. In fact, many people ignore it altogether. Then, on the other hand, there are those who are completely enamored with Revelation and look for signs in any nook and cranny (remember Y2K, or the 2012 Phenomenon?). As Christians, however, we are called to study the entire Bible and live according to it…which also means preparing for what Revelation tells us will happen in the last days. Jesus talked so much about His Second Coming. As His disciples, we are called to be ready…whenever He comes.

So, how will it all play out? Let’s look at a timeline:

Creation: In the beginning, God created everything for a purpose. God created man, and God created you for a relationship with Him. In fact, our lives are never fully aligned until we have this relationship with God.

Old Testament: Right after the creation is when man rebelled (Genesis 3). The Old Testament is all about God pursuing man and drawing us back into a relationship with Him. God begins carving out a people for Himself – the Israelites – through whom He will bring the Messiah, the Salvation of the world. Everything in the Old Testament leads up to the cross…

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The Cross: Jesus’ Coming. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). It also says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Praise God! All of history had been leading up to this – Salvation! Jesus split history in two (BC and AD) and because of the grace we received at the Cross, we are declared righteous. Redeemed and restored.

Church Age: This is the time in which we live. After Jesus conquered death, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples in Acts 2, and the Church comes alive. The Church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His work in this world. We are united in Jesus Christ and called to impact the world for His glory. There is a reason God put you in “a time such as this.”

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Tribulation: This is a seven-year period where world events will become terrible. We don’t know when, but we do know that it will come. Revelation 6-18 walks us through this period in time. At some point during the Tribulation will come the Rapture…

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The Rapture: The word “Rapture” is never used in the Bible, but it is written that it will occur at some point during the Tribulation. This is when God comes for His church. Opinions vary as to when the Rapture will come (“pre-trib,” “mid-trib” and “post-trib”). Either way, it will be during this time that God will come for His Church. Believers will be taken into heaven as the last events unfold.

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The Second Coming: The Bible is very clear that during this time, Satan will rally all the nations and he will make an onslaught against God. This will be called Armageddon. This battle will take place in Israel, outside of Jerusalem – a valley where more blood has been shed than any other place in the world. This land-bridge between Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa is where this overwhelming moment will happen, but then…When Jesus came the first time, He came in His humility, born from a virgin as a baby and lived 33 sinless years. He was tempted in every way that we were and died a horrible death on the Cross – fully God and fully man. When He comes the second time, however, nobody will miss Him! He will come in all His glory. Satan and evil will be thrown in the abyss for 1,000 years.

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Millenium: This will be the 1,000-year reign of Christ. 1,000 years of peace.

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Final Judgement: This is the time that Satan will be released. He will go out and deceive other nations and turn them against God. In response, God will throw him in the Lake of Fire – no more evil, pain, suffering or death.

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New Heaven & New Earth: God promises to make all things new. Imagine the world that God made, but without sin, decay, hurt, or pain. Imagine dwelling with God, being fully known and fully accepted. Being in right relationship with other people without shame, worry, or fear. That is what God is doing.

Titus 2:12 says, “For the Grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

In light of this, what is your plan? How does knowing evil will ultimately be defeated impact how we live today? Let’s see what the Bible says bout this:

  1. Be ready (Matthew 24:36-44)
  2. Invest in what will last (Matthew 25:31-46)
  3. Share the Gospel (Matthew 24:14)
  4. Live with confidence (John 16:33)
  5. Engage in the battle! (Ephesians 6:10-20)

We are in a battle! And, we better have a plan. There is a spiritual battle that rages all around us, and there is an enemy who doesn’t want us to succeed. He doesn’t want us to grow spiritually, for our marriage to prosper, for our families to thrive or for us to reach our full potential in Christ. Yet, our God is greater! He is Sovereign over all creation, and He will triumph over evil! Now, let’s engage in the battle and live our lives for Christ! Our God wins!

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10 Leadership Lessons Learned from Others – Part 2

Last week I let you in on the first five (of ten) significant leadership lessons I learned from significant leaders or organizations in my life.

  1. Never stop learning. Thank you, Roger Glidewell. My Student Pastor growing up was an insatiable learner. He was brilliant, and yet he was always working to learn more. Leaders are learners. You will never reach a point where you know it all. You must always keep pushing yourself to learn and grow. What are you learning?
  2. Develop a long-term perspective. Thank you, Eugene Peterson. This amazing author wrote A long obedience in the same direction. We are so enamored with the short-term (stock market, grades in school, etc.); however, the people who really make a difference in the world develop a long-term perspective. They know where God is calling them to go, and they focus on the “big picture.” Is your focus short-term or long-term?
  3. Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. Thank you, Louie Giglio. I was blessed to be discipled under Louie for four years in college. Louie knew what God had called him to do, and despite so many opportunities to go in different directions, he stayed faithful to His call. I believe, God gives all of us a “Main Thing.” The enemy will work to distract us with many other “good” opportunities. What is your “Main Thing?”
  4. The hardest part is starting. Thank you, Harold Pinto. Harold has his law degree and MBA. He has run companies all over the world. And, above all, he is a passionate disciple of Christ, a wonderful father, husband and grandfather. When his son-in-law wanted to get his MBA, Harold said, “The hardest part is starting.” And whenever we want to do something new at church, Harold says, “The hardest part is starting.” This is so true. There are many excuses for why not to start, but we have to just do it. What do you need to start today?
  5. Always give God the glory. Thank you, Jesus! Regardless of the cost, Jesus knew His life was meant to bring glory to the Father. Every decision He made and every minute of His day was ordered around bringing glory to God. What a difference this will make in our thought-life, family and career. If we lead in such a way as to give the glory to God, then we will lead with boldness and passion. Where does the “glory” go in your life?

Leadership – what an amazing opportunity and an incredible responsibility. Leadership is a gift. May we be found faithful with what we have been given. My prayer is that we all become better leaders because “everything rises and falls on leadership.”

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10 Leadership Lessons Learned from Others – Part 1

We are all leaders, whether it be in our families, communities, churches, non-profits, volunteer positions, or at our children’s schools and sports teams. Leadership opportunities abound. Over the years, I have learned a few important leadership principles from a few significant leaders and organizations that I’ve had the pleasure to cross paths with. Some are well-known, others have come from growth and development over a period of time. I want to share the ten most significant lessons with you, five at a time:

  1. Never give up. Thank you, Winston Churchill. I have often wondered how many people have quit right before a big breakthrough. Right before an idea, a relationship, a transforming moment takes place. The people who really impact the world are the ones who never give up. (And, thank you for modeling this, Abraham Lincoln). Is there an area of your life where you are about to give up?
  2. Under-promise and over-deliver. Thank you, Larry Atema (and Ritz Carlton). Larry completed the largest building project in the history of Tennessee (the Music City Center) both on-time and under-budget. In the service industry (and we are all in the service industry to some extent), you learn to be realistic in what you promise and then exceed expectations. With any job given by a boss, supervisor or client, always go above and beyond – This is what separates people with the same talent. What can you do better?
  3. Accept the blame. Thank you, Sigma Chi Fraternity. When you pledge, you get blamed for everything. You learn to accept it, to not make excuses, and move on. This applies in the real world. Nobody is perfect. Instead of blaming everyone or everything, learn to accept the blame and move on. Don’t spend your life blaming others, but own a mistake a move forward. Is there is an issue that you need to stop trying to justify, and just accept the blame and move forward?
  4. Give the credit to others. Thank you, John Maxwell. Our goal is not to make a “name” for ourselves, but to bring glory to God and to disciple others. No one is an island. We are all interconnected. Giving the credit to others builds the organization, family, team and/or ministry. It is not about us, it is all about Him! And, Jesus came to “serve” others. Who around you can you encourage and bless today?
  5. Never go alone. Thank you, Boy Scouts of America. Well, I was a “RA” (Royal Ambassador), however I think the Boy Scouts coined the phrase, so I want to give them the credit (see #4). So many leaders are afraid to ask for help. We need others in our lives to help burden the load, encourage us, shore up our weaknesses and share the blessings. Who do you have around you?

Check back in next week for numbers 6-10.

Blessings on you until then.

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4 Things I Learned Through My Dad’s Passing

My dad passed on to heaven one week ago. It has been a whirlwind of emotion. From grief, pain and loss, to the celebration of a life well-lived. But, through it all there has been an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. I have never felt alone. I greatly miss my dad, yet God’s grace has been consistent and steadfast.

I know many of you have experienced the passing of a parent. Now I fully understand what you went through. Although each situation is different, I can now empathize with even more love and compassion. While people have told me that it doesn’t get easier, I believe that there is a “new normal” ahead for me and my family as we live without my dad’s physical presence. During this process, I will continue to learn, grow and lean deeper into God’s love and His plan for my life.

These are 4 things that I learned through my dad’s passing:

  • There is Hope. My dad loved Jesus, and I know I will see him again. I don’t know how people make it in times like these without Jesus Christ. Where is the hope? 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” We grieve, but it is not as men who have no hope. During my dad’s hospice stay, a nurse we hadn’t met yet came into his room. She looked at our family and immediately said, “You all are Christians aren’t you?” When we asked her how she could tell, she told us that it is always obvious to her when she is in a room of Christ-followers, because there is hope. She said that in other rooms, it is so sad and depressing. It is the last time they will see their loved one. But that with Christ, there is more to come. Through all of this, our love for Christ and our hope in Him has grown – this is the “peace that passes understanding,” and I am so thankful for Hope.
  • Life is a Vapor. As we were looking back over pictures of my dad’s life, I realized how fast time goes. For my dad, growing up on a farm in Mississippi, then off to college, the Air Force, meeting my mom, having children, then grandchildren, and now home with Jesus. We will all die. We don’t like to talk about it, but it should call us to live life to the full. To not spend time on things that are trivial or simply time wasters. To invest our lives in what matters. There are only three things that are eternal – God, God’s Word and People. You can’t take anything else with you. Death is the great equalizer of all persons. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how much stuff you have acquired. Invest your life in what matters. You get one shot at this life – and it goes fast. Don’t miss it.
  • Love your Family and your Church Family. We surrounded my dad’s hospital bed, prayed, read Scripture and sang worship songs. God was in the hospital and hospice rooms with us. As I looked around at my mom, my sister, my wife, and many of our church family, I realized that these are the people who will be with you in life and death. So often we spend our time pursuing attention from those who really don’t care. We consume ourselves with celebrities and social media followers. Yet, at the end of the day, it comes down to our family and church community. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know how people make it through this without Jesus, but also without a church family. God gave us community for a reason. My dad was involved in church, and the community responded. Through this time, people have prayed for us, sent emails, texts, cards and food; been present at funerals and visitations; given hugs; and simply overwhelmed us with love. We need each other. Love your family and your church family well. Forgive, forget and press on to love those around you. Don’t let pettiness and hurts from the past rob you of family and community. Love your family and church family well.
  • Focus on God and His Kingdom. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your relationship with Christ. My dad’s life was transformed by Jesus Christ. He loved the Lord, and this gave us so much assurance as we spent his last days on earth with him. For all of us, the death of a loved one is a wake-up call about our own mortality. And, the fact is, it all comes down to our relationship with Jesus. I truly believe God will ask us two questions when we get to heaven:
    • “What did you do with My Son, Jesus Christ?” We will all have to give an answer. It is not by works that we are saved, but through a relationship with Jesus. It all comes down to Jesus. Where do you stand with Him?
    • Next, He will ask, “What did you do with what you were given?” Did you use everything for yourself and to build your own little “kingdom” or did you invest your life, resources and opportunities for the glory of God and to build His Kingdom? Don’t get distracted with the things of the world, but invest in what matters.

I am so thankful for Christ and for my dad’s life. My dad had 85 years on this earth, and he lived his life for the glory of God. I pray I am as passionate about Jesus, as loving of a husband, as great of a father and grandfather, and as faithful in church as my dad. I pray to make the most of the opportunity I have in this life and to live it all for Christ!

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My Dad

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Last night my dad went home to be with Jesus. He had a fall on New Year’s Eve and broke his hip, which was followed by surgery on New Year’s Day, 5 days in ICU and 6 days in hospice. 85 wonderful years on this earth, and now he is in heaven with Jesus.

My dUntitled6ad loved the Lord so much, and I know he has awoken this morning to see the face of Christ! He has heard the words we all long to hear one day: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done!” He has seen Jesus! I love my dad, and I will greatly miss him, but through it all, I praise God for his love for Christ, my mom (married 58 years), his children, grandchildren and God’s church. He served as a deacon at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas for 40 years. He was our oldest church member at Rolling Hills, and he truly loved sponsoring his Moldovan orphans through JMI.

I will always be grateful for tUntitled5he legacy of Christ my dad has passed on to us. He modeled Jesus, and he lived his life for the glory of our great God. He served well and did it right. I am proud of my dad, and thankful for the difference he made in my life as well as in the lives of countless others.

My favorite memory of my dad is not the first time I finally beat him in golf (23 years-old, and only by one shot), but it was seeing him kneeling down by his bed and praying. I saw this often as a child, but one particular night when I was about 8 years-old, I asked my dad what he was praying for. He looked up at me and said, “You. I am praying for you.”

Untitled41 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” There is something different about the way you grieve when you know your loved one is in heaven. I love my dad, yet I am also excited for him. I am excited that he is finally with Jesus and he is seeing all of his loved ones that had passed before him again. I am excited that I will be with him one day, and we will spend eternity together. I am excited for the way he lived his 85 years, and I pray I live worthy of his name. I grieve, but not as one who has no hope. Our hope is in Christ.

Untitled2Thank you to so many for the prayers, love and support throughout this time. Our church family is amazing, and we have experienced so much comfort and peace through all of this. I don’t know how people make it through this life without Christ, first and foremost, or without a church family. We need each other. God created us for community—community with Him and community with one another through the good times and the tough ones. We are better together.

Thank you all for your love, prayers and support. I love and appreciate each of you!

And, God, thank you for my dad!

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Lena from Moldova

I first met Lena in an orphanage in Moldova about 7 years ago. We had two mission teams from church—one that served in the Falesti orphanage and the other in an orphanage in the capital city of Chisinau (which was the one I served with). This was our third year serving in these orphanages, each time leading a week-long camp for the children there. One day, I drove to Falesti (three hours North of Chisinau) to see our team and meet the kids I had heard so much about. This was when I first met Lena. She was young, happy, smart, athletic and funny. She was always wearing a smile. There were so many wonderful children, but there was something about Lena.

5x_bsG66gwGZae-PUcr9TP3_MDO1CxMcMaF_sqsWjg4The following year, our team noticed Lena walking with a slight limp. When asking her teachers, the answers were vague, basically just that she was hurting. She had been to a few Moldovan doctors, but they could not identify the problem. The following year, Lena was having a hard time getting around at all. Her health was deteriorating, and no one seemed to have any answers.

On our next visit, our team brought along a wheelchair. Although it was a blessing, it was still difficult to get around as Moldova is not really a handicap-accesible place. The camp was outside and the terrain, rugged. There were no ramps into dorm rooms or the cafeteria. The orphanage also had no ramps or places to make wheelchairs easily maneuverable.

We were not going to give up! The following year, our team brought a more rugged, durable wheelchair, but at this point the greater concern was for Lena’s health. We knew there had to be answers, but the reality was that they did not have the technology or medical professionals in Moldova to truly help Lena. If she stayed in Moldova, Lena, being an orphan, would have spent her life in an adult institution.

swkflUS0ith4uQ4wrVvPsyChX55Ycug38TlljHat560Alva Duke, a member of our church who had been serving at the orphanage each year, was determined not to let this be Lena’s fate. She had fallen in love with this sweet girl and had been praying for her since they first met. She was the one who made sure Lena had a wheelchair in the first place. In the U.S., Alva headed up a non-profit for children with disabilities, which she had started about fifteen years prior. It is amazing how God made sure these two would meet. Of all the places in the world and all the people in the world—He knew. He was making a divine connection and taking care of His precious child.

Alva and her husband, Mark, made a decision to begin the process of bringing Lena to the U.S. This would not be an easy process and would take no less than a miracle, dealing with an orphan and the Moldovan government, but they knew Lena’s life was hanging in the balance.

By God’s grace, Alva and Mark were able to bring her here about three years ago. They took her to meet with a few specialists at Vanderbilt University Hospital, who were able to help slow down the degenerative muscle loss that she was experiencing. Although she still uses her wheelchair, she is able to navigate much better here and her condition has stabilized.

Today, Lena is thriving. She is active in church and high school, always surrounded by friends. She is fluent in English and is still wearing her beautiful smile. Lena loves God and is thankful for her new opportunity at life, knowing that God has an amazing plan for her.

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This past Sunday, myself and Chase Baker, our Student Pastor, had the joy of baptizing Lena in Christ. She is truly a miracle. God is transforming her life spiritually and physically and I can not wait to see what more He has in store for her.

I will be forever grateful for Alva & Mark lifting this precious girl up in Jesus’ name. They are two of the most godly fellow-servants of Christ, and I love them both. I am forever grateful for Lena’s joy, bravery and hope. She inspires me, and I can clearly see how God truly has His hand on her life. And, I am forever grateful to a God who sees the broken and hurting, and redeems and restores. He has transformed Lena’s life (and mine in the process), and is not through yet.

God is still working miracles, and He is inviting you and me to join in.

Simmons Christmas Card

Merry Christmas!

 

Simmons Christmas Card

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

From my family to yours, I pray you have a wonderful Christmas Season.

May you & your family experience the overwhelming Presence of Christ today! And, may you be drawn to our amazing Savior of Grace and Love – the Christ of Christmas.

It is truly a joy to know Christ and to share life together for His glory!

But the angel of the Lord said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.’
Luke 2:10-11

Blessings on you and your family this Christmas!