From Missions

behind-the-scenes-of-the-2016-jmi-gala

Behind the Scenes of the 2016 JMI Gala

Every year we host the Justice & Mercy International Benefit Gala in order to raise money for all the mission work we do in Moldova, the Amazon and South Africa. It has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Our National Directors – Alina, and her husband Vlad in Moldova; and Sarah, and her husband Magno in the Amazon – come all the way to the United States to attend and share about the work they do. These people are so special to me personally, and to our whole church family. In addition, we have people come in from Reston Bible Church as well as other JMI partner churches and so many friends from out-of-town who go on mission trips and invest in the work. It has become like a giant Family Reunion! All united in Christ and with a common desire to make a difference in His Name.

The Gala is our biggest fundraising event of the year and there is a lot that goes into making it happen. Our JMI and our Rolling Hills Staff Teams all work hard because we believe in what God has called us to. Along with this, it takes close to 100 volunteers – most of whom go on mission trips and sponsor children through JMI. The fact is, we all sincerely love the people we go to serve. The precious orphan children in Moldova, the pastors in the Amazon, the poor and forgotten in South Africa – they are truly our friends. We love them, and we know what a difference this night can make in their lives.

But, the Gala is also a lot of fun. When you are serving with people you love, united in a cause bigger than yourself and you see God do miracles in people’s lives, of course it’s fun! It is not work, but a calling and a passion.

Here are a few of the behind the scenes fun moments as we prepare for the Gala:

Taking our National Directors out to experience some good old American fun:

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Setting up in the auditorium with staff teams and volunteers – it’s all hands on deck

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Serving with people we love

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Praise God for allowing us to be involved in what He is doing in the world. When Christ is transforming lives there is nothing like it! There is no place in the world that I would rather be than serving our God with people I love and seeing lives redeemed for His glory. Thank You, Father! Get involved. Jump in because serving God is awesome! Go on a mission trip, sponsor a child, serve locally, but do something. You will have a great time serving, and God will impact lives through you. We are better together.

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:10

Lastly, here is a message from one of our good friends about giving to JMI:

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The Very Best You

I listened as a friend shared stories after just returning from a mission trip to the Amazon. He was passionate and excitedly talking, flowing from one story to the next. Then, he said something that really caught me. He said, “When you are on a mission trip, I think you are the very best you.” He went on to elaborate, “You get up in the morning without any distractions, you open your Bible, you get your coffee, you spend time just with the Lord. Then, throughout the day, you are focused on what God has called you to that day. You see people differently. You love well and want the best for those on your team. It is just the very best you.”

As I have pondered his statement, I think he is right. I know this guy well. I have seen God transform him from someone who was on the sidelines spiritually – just sitting back and watching – to someone God is using today to make a huge impact for the Kingdom. It has been amazing to see his growth and leadership, and I believe that missions has been a huge part of God’s story in him. Moving from this life of fear to a life of faith on mission trips has translated and impacted every area of his life. He is more bold and passionate about the things of God in his every day.

This is why I am so passionate about everyone going on an international mission trip at some point in their spiritual journey. You simply can’t come back and live the same. You see the way the rest of the world lives, and you realize that God has blessed you, not simply for you to accumulate more and more stuff, but so that you can be a blessing to others. You go to help people – and you do. But, in the process, you discover so much about you – the very best you. And, what living as the very best you can do in your life every day.

Imagine waking up each day and starting the day off with the Lord. Imagine the impact of filling your mind and heart with prayer and Scripture before you fill your mind with social media. Imagine committing your day to God and asking Him to accomplish His will through you, and not just your own agenda. Imagine seeing people around you and your first response being to love them. Imagine encouraging your teammates – family, co-workers, friends and helping them experience the best. Imagine being the very best you.

After my recent mission trip to Moldova, we landed in the States. My first reaction was to turn on my phone. Immediately my social media feed filled up with posts about the election. I felt my mind shift from seeing God working to being concerned about, as the Bible calls it, “the cares of this world.” I felt the shift from faith back to fear and concern. I had just experienced this incredible time of seeing God transform lives, and I had a decision to make – do I leave the very best me on the mission field or do I choose to live that way every day?

What if we started to live our lives on mission? What if we made every day count for God’s goodness and His glory? What if we started our day in the Word and in prayer, then committed to live His agenda for the day and not our own, if we loved everyone we met with the love of Christ and we helped bring out the best in those around us? Think about the impact. Think about the difference in the lives of others, but in our life as well. This is the way Jesus lived, and this is why the Bible tells us, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…” Romans 8:29.

Yes, we are surrounded by distractions – we have an enemy who doesn’t want us to succeed, we have social media that can be a blessing, yet also a curse, we have jobs to do, bills to pay, and errands to run. However, if we begin to live our life, each and every day, on mission, I know we start to truly experience the very best you and me. We become more at peace with ourselves, our strivings and others. We experience fullness and purpose. We draw closer to the heart of God and His love simply overflows out of us. This is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.

This is: The very best you.

 

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

We hired a Moldovan Band…

It was graduation night in Moldova. There were 11 students graduating from our Justice & Mercy International Transitional Living program and moving into the Independent Living program. All of these kids grew up in the orphanages throughout Moldova. They never had much of a chance of success – until now. And, this called for a celebration!

In Moldova, the statistics of what happens to kids when they have to leave the orphanages at age 15 or 16 are overwhelming. Sex-trafficking. Organized crime. Suicide. But, through JMI and by God’s grace we are seeing that change. Surrounded by their 12 Moldovan Staff Leaders – house parents, social worker, phycologist, vocational director and more – as well as 31 Americans (our Mission Team from Rolling Hills), and 50 of the other transitional living and independent living students, these 11 graduates received their diplomas.

This marked a huge milestone for them. In the program, they have been discipled in Christ, learned to speak English, received additional education (high school equivalent) and been taught character, self-esteem, work ethic and integrity. These kids are sharp, and they are ready. Most people with any ounce of initiative in Moldova merely leave the country. But these kids are now prepared to change the country.

So, we hired a Moldovan band and we made it a celebration! These graduates are just as smart, talented and gifted as anyone their age in America. The difference – opportunity and someone to believe in them. In the America, many kids have parents who teach them, give them advice and believe they can do anything. In Moldova, these kids don’t have parents, or really anyone who believes in them. In America, our kids have opportunities for college, universities, and well-paying jobs. In Moldova, you need connections to attain more eduction and good jobs are hard to come by. In fact, a decent paying job can range from $100 to $300 a month. A month! Think about trying to live on that.

But, now these kids have three things necessary to succeed: 1. Jesus – they know Christ and He is with them. They know an inner peace, a joy and a purpose in life. 2. An opportunity – because of JMI they have access to universities (we even have one graduate going to med school) and through our vocation director, access to good jobs. 3. Someone to believe in them – because of having a sponsor (an American Christ-follower who has been helping them) and because of our JMI Staff in Moldova, they have people who believe in them. And, if you have someone who believes in you, there is nothing that can stop you!

IMG_5193Therefore, we had to hire a Moldovan band and celebrate. And celebrate we did. We had food, a big JMI cake and lots of Moldovan & Russian traditional dances. Everyone loved it! All the kids were in awe. Most of them have never had a birthday party in their life, much less a huge celebration. We wanted to mark the moment and to let the graduate know that they are valued and celebrated for their hard work. Also, we wanted to set the stage for the ones coming behind them. The American high school seniors on our team said it was better than their prom at home. It really was one of the best nights ever!

I think this is so much like our God. Remember, when the prodigal son came home, what did the Dad do? He threw a party. And, I bet his party was incredible! There was food (fatted calf), and I bet a cake, and I am sure traditional dances – and who knows, maybe even a Moldovan band with a xylophone and a violin. I am sure that this party was better than prom. How awesome that we have a God who gives us His Son, who offers us the opportunity to be adopted into His family, and who believes in us. This should cause us to celebrate! As well as to throw parties for those who, because of His love and grace, now have a hope and a future. You see, we had to hire a Moldovan band!

 

“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!

 

Pastor's Conference

Amazon Pastor’s Conference 2016 – We’ve Returned

IMG_4246I just returned from our annual Justice & Mercy International Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon! Wow! What an incredible time with pastors from all over the Amazon. All glory to our great God!

We had 88 pastors and their wives (plus, many more of their young adult children who serve with them in ministry) for a week of training, worship, prayer and fellowship. The first time this conference was held was five years ago with 18 pastors. The goal is to help train as well as refresh these amazing servants of Christ. The entire week was filled with God’s Presence, and I believe it will impact generations.

Every year, I am spellbound by the stories of these faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. As Mike Minter, Pastor of Reston Bible Church just outside of Washington D.C. (and who has taught at all 5 of these conferences) says, “We go to teach them the Bible, and they teach us about Jesus.”

IMG_4164Pastor Diogo travels 7 days by canoe to be at the conference. Another pastor and his wife drove 3,300 km from Venezuela. They are hungry to grow deeper in the Word of God and to learn how to better serve their churches & villages. They sacrifice everything for the call of Christ.

When asked “What was your most encouraging time in ministry last year?” Pastor Cosme responded, “Everything was great! So many people came to know Jesus. My house was washed away by the floods, but we are staying with friends and the work is flourishing.” “Wait!” We responded, “Your house was washed away by the flood, but everything is great?” “Yes,” Pastor Cosme replied, “We were able to help so many people in the name of Jesus, and many people gave their lives to Christ. And, I have a much better home in heaven anyway.”

IMG_4190Pastor Nome was excited because a few years ago he found a job in Manaus cleaning toilets. This gave him enough money to buy fuel for the motor on his canoe. He could then go to other villages and share the Gospel. This year, we had men join us who had been led to Christ by Pastor Nome. God is using him to make an enormous difference in this region.

On Thursday, an 89-year-old Pastor from Manaus came to see what was happening. I was told that he had helped to plant over half the churches in Manaus. As he walked into the John Pac Center, he began to weep. He said, “I have prayed for the Amazon region all my life. There is so much spiritual darkness and so many lost people in this area. And, now, to come in and see all of these pastors gathered in worship and training to take the Gospel to the people of the Amazon, it overwhelms me.” Then he added, “I just wish I was in my 70’s again, so I could be more involved.” I love this!

IMG_4192Last year, Rosimar and Valdenor came for the first time. Their marriage was on the brink of divorce. They have 4 kids, and it’s a struggle to do ministry, raise children and provide food, especially the Amazon. Yet, through their time, they were encouraged and renewed their commitment to Christ and to one another. This year when they arrived, they came bounding up to the Center holding hands and sharing the miracles God had done in their marriage, family and ministry over the past year. They couldn’t wait to see us and share His story! I love these fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

On the last day, a group called Mission Aviation shared the results of a three-year study where they flew throughout the Amazon region and discovered over 1,000,000 unreached people. As they showed maps and revealed locations of distant villages, the pastors at the conference became passionate about reaching the entire region for Christ. They began to pray, committing to reaching other villages and to invest in raising up others in their churches to go.

IMG_4245These people inspire me. They jumped up and down when receiving a new Bible. They worshipped with sincere love in their hearts for God even in tough situations. They serve the people of their villages tirelessly and passionately. They know their eternity is secure, and they live every moment for Christ!

Thank you for your prayers and your investment in JMI and Rolling Hills as we endeavor to bless, train and encourage these incredible men and women of Christ. Let’s continue to invest in this region and help to reach every person with the love of Christ. My these faithful men and women inspire us to everything we have for Christ and His Kingdom. May we not just study the Bible, but may we also live it!

Pastor's Conference

Amazon Pastor’s Conference 2016 – We Have Arrived!

I am writing from our annual Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon. We have 110 village pastors and their wives here at the John Pac Center where the conference will be held. So many of these pastors were traveling by canoe for days to be here with us. Their stories are amazing, and their lives even more so. They deeply love Jesus, and they are passionate about His call to share His love with those in their villages and communities. They work tirelessly and battle in prayer for those they love. And, God is using them to bring the Good News of Christ to this dark region in the world.

As Mike Minter, Pastor of Reston Bible Church in Washington D.C., says, “We come to teach them the bible, and they teach us about Jesus.” Their passion for Christ is contagious. I am always inspired and encouraged in my time with these men who are in the front lines of ministry. They are the leaders of their churches and villages, which can range anywhere from hundreds of people to thousands. They are the ones who stand in the gap for the people by preaching God’s Word, helping provide education for children and taking care of the sick. The pastors, and their wives, are Christ incarnate in this region.

This week will be filled with teaching, worship and fellowship. Justice & Mercy International pays for most of the cost–the pastors make very little money and they do pay a very small fee to come, but then JMA (Justice & Mercy Amazon) covers the rest, which is a huge portion of it. We do everything to make sure this will be a week where the attendees feel renewed, encouraged and appreciated. This is their only “vacation,” and we want them to feel special. We provide all the meals, supplies, and send them home with materials for the adults and children in their churches & villages.

God has blessed us with a wonderful team from the States to teach, minister and love:

  • Mike Minter, Senior Pastor of Reston Bible Church, and myself teach the men.
  • Kelly Minter and Angela Thomas (both Kelly and Angela are Bible Study teachers and authors) teach the women.
  • Leo Ahlstrom, Rolling Hills Community Church Worship Pastor, and a team from a church in Manaus, Brazil lead the Worship times.
  • Breakout sessions dealing with specific topics are led by:
    • David Shedd, Recently retired head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
    • Jim Rabelhofer, Lead Pastor of Business Operations at RHCC
    • Mike Myers, Family & Children’s Pastor at Reston Bible Church
    • Harold & Regina Pinto, grew up in Brazil and are both inspiring spiritual leaders
    • Heather Crane, Leading women studies on the PGA and at the Next Door
  • Mary Katharine Hunt, Executive Director of JMI, Francie Leslie, JMA Board President, and Kari Bidwell, Logistics coordinator for JMI, make it all happen.
  • And, Sarah Rodrigues, National Director for Justice & Mercy Amazon works with the pastors throughout the year bringing mission teams, food bags and support to their work.

This is truly a team effort. It takes all of us here, and all of you back at home! Thank you to so many of you who sponsor pastors through JMI. As a sponsor myself and seeing how $40 a month is being used here, I can tell you that your contribution is making a huge difference! Also, thank you to those of you who tithe at Rolling Hills Community Church and Reston Bible Church – a percentage of what you give goes to help make this happen. And, last but not least, thank you to all of those who pray. Prayer is powerful! We are seeing God transform lives for Christ here in the Amazon through your prayers. We are all a part of something very special.

I ask that you continue praying for our team and all the pastors attending the conference this week.

Together, we are seeing God change the world!

Pastor's Conference

Pastor's Conference-2

Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon

This weekend, I will be leaving for our annual Justice & Mercy International Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon. We have a dedicated team going there to pour into these servants of the Gospel. I appreciate your prayers during this upcoming week of travel and ministry. We have pastors coming from all over the jungle to learn how to better lead in their villages, churches and families. These faithful men and women of God will go back and impact so many lives for Christ.

Let me share an example of some of the challenges many of the attendees face and conquer to be a part of this conference. This is an email from Sarah Rodrigues, our National Director of Justice & Mercy Amazon:

From: Sarah Rodrigues
2/11/16, 11:00:24 AM

Today I woke up with a message from a pastor who has been traveling for four days to arrive at the conference.
“Dear brothers, God be praised!!! We arrived in Novo Airão today in the morning after traveling on the river. The river is very dry and very difficult. Stranded boats on the beach and stuck in banks. We did not know the river we were on, a small canal in Semiraita, and we went around several times, completely lost. God saw our struggle to navigate and provided a vessel that was traveling to Manaus and we followed them. It has been a five-day trip. We were praying for God to multiply the diesel that we are to use much more than expected.. God kept us from drifting away. Cleide (his wife) now is much better by the grace of my and our good God!! however we were very sad with the fact that a thief entered her mother’s house when they were sleeping and took 350 reais and her bag with all the medicine we had bought for the treatment and other things. That is in God’s hand. And by his grace, nothing will happen to her and her mother and relatives. My brothers, through your prayers God has delivered us from evil. Pray that we can buy her medicine; that is what we are asking God now. Peace.”

What a perfect example of passion and commitment to Christ as well as the desire to grow in leadership. The river water level is much lower than usual for this time of year and may cause similar travel problems for other pastors. Please pray for God to make a way for all those that He wants to be there next week. We have 112 people signed up and 78 of those have double-confirmed. Please pray that they all make it.

Thank you for your prayers for all of us. I love and appreciate each of you.

Godspeed as we share the love of Christ with the nations…

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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.

This One Matters

I am so thankful for what our God is doing through Justice & Mercy International! I love being a part of God’s work here. This video shows why we do what we do.

I have known Ala for many years and have watched her grow up. Yet, there are so many other precious orphan children like Ala. If you’d like to link arms with Justice & Mercy International through sponsorship opportunities in Moldova, the Amazon, or South Africa visit: justiceandmercy.org/sponsorships. Sponsor a child, go on a mission trip, and make a difference in kids like Ala.

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Clarinha

One of our Mission Teams returned from the Amazon this week. When asking one of the team members about a couple of trip highlights, he told me about all the work they did on the John Pac Center – our Justice & Mercy International (JMI) community center in the middle of the Amazon that ministers to about 29 villages. They painted, cleaned gutters, and cleared brush for a new soccer field. Then, he told me about unveiling our Children’s Sponsorship Program in a nearby village called Terra Preta with a big celebration and prayer time. But, even over all that, what stood out to me most was his description of one incredible scene…possibly because it reminded me a little of what heaven might look like.

Unknown-2Two years ago, Mary Katharine Hunt (Executive Director for JMI) and Kelly Minter traveled with me to a small village to meet a woman in her mid-twenties with Cerebral Palsy. Clarinha lived in a hammock in a small house just off of the Amazon River. For years, her mother had faithfully taken care of her, even when her father left. They lived in a small village, and over the years the entire village has adopted Clarinha as their own. On that first visit, I watched as Mary Katharine and Kelly loved on Clarinha and her mom in a very special way. We all sat on the floor around Clarinha, who was smiling ear-to-ear, as Kelly played guitar and sang Clarinha’s favorite songs. I remember Kelly commenting that of all the places and stages in the world that she had performed on, this was the one where she felt closest to Jesus. We gave the family food bags, and prayed the sweetest prayers over this precious child of God. You could clearly see how much Mary Katharine and Kelly loved Clarinha and how much Clarinha loved them. And, you could truly feel the Presence of God with “the least of these.”

Unknown-3The following year, someone donated a new wheelchair for Clarinha. Although it was quite a challenge to get to her, it ultimately became a huge blessing in her life. What a difference this made! Clarinha could sit up, which made it easier for feeding and allowed her to be in a new position throughout the day. Now, however, the challenge became taking Clarinha anywhere outside the home – the ground was so sandy and soft that the wheelchair could not roll.

Then, in February 2015, at our annual Pastor’s Conference in the Amazon, many of our leaders took on the challenge of building a boardwalk from Clarinha’s house to the little church building in their village. Although this sounded easy, it was quite a daunting task. The building was about 300 yards from Clarinha’s house and all the wood and logs had to be transported in by boat. Alas, after six full days of hard work, the boardwalk was built! Now, Clarinha’s mom was able to roll her daughter all the way through their village to church. Clarinha could worship, sing and experience the Presence of God with those in her village.

During this most recent trip, it was Clarinha’s birthday. In all of her years, she had never had a birthday party, and so our Mission Team decided to change that! Armed with cake, ice cream and popcorn, our team threw what they called “the biggest surprise birthday party the Amazon had ever seen” for Clarinha and her entire village. Everyone was brought to the John Pac Center by boat, and the all had an awesome celebration. This was the first time that some of the children in the village even had ice cream and, like any child around the world, they loved it! The party also had a movie-showing of “The Prince of Egypt” in Portuguese.

IMG_3184Jesus told a story about a shepherd leaving the 99 to go after the one. I believe that Clarinha is the one. With all the great work Justice & Mercy International is doing in the Amazon – the 14 schools, the John Pac Community Center, the child sponsorships, food bags – maybe God called us here just for Clarinha. Or, maybe it was for her mother, who desperately needs the encouragement and support. Or, maybe for the village that had supported Clarinha all these years. Or, maybe it was for the one, like Clarinha, that God will lead us to in another village. You see, I truly believe we see Jesus in the heart of the poor. We see Jesus when we “Make Justice Personal.” We see Jesus at a surprise birthday party in the Amazon. We see Jesus in Clarinha.

September 10 Video – Amazon from Rolling Hills on Vimeo.