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:
Setting up in the auditorium with staff teams and volunteers – it’s all hands on deck
Serving with people we love
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:
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.
What a powerful experience in Beirut, Lebanon, This was my first time to this special place in the world. Honestly, I was a little uneasy about the trip (although not nearly as uneasy as my wife). However, the opportunity to help train pastors from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq was a call I could not ignore. God truly had a plan and a purpose.
Meeting these pastors and leaders from these Middle Eastern countries was deeply rich and meaningful. These are the pastors and leaders on the front lines of ministry – many literally risking their lives for the Gospel. Every pastor had a story. A story of persecution. A story of endurance. A story of God’s protection and His never-ending grace. These men and women have been shot at, run into by cars, had to flee their countries for a period of time and yet they continue to serve, to pray and to love “their people.” There is a passionate desire when people come to know Christ, and they will understand God has them where they are for this purpose. Servants like these are my heros – Kahli (who pastors the largest church in Jordan and just launched a church plant in Iraq), Camille (who leads Heart for Lebanon in Beirut), Mariaf (who leads Youth For Christ), and the list goes on. These are friends and brothers for whom I am most thankful!
One of the highlights was a special prayer time we had for the pastors and leaders from churches in Syria. Such a powerful picture of Christ’s love as pastors from other countries surrounded their brothers and sisters in Christ, laid hands and prayed over them. The room was full and the Spirit was Presence. As I led this prayer time over these faithful servants, I asked God for His protection, peace, Presence and purpose. You could literally feel God’s Spirit. People were praying in different languages, and yet everyone understood. Tears and sobs for loved ones who were in danger and yet resolve to stand firm in the Lord come what may. As one person said, “It is in times of persecution that the church truly grows.” God is Sovereign. Our faith, hope and future is in His hands.
In addition to working with these pastors and lay leaders, we had the opportunity to minister to Iraqi refugee families. Through this amazing organization, Heart for Lebanon, we made home visits to Iraqi Christian families who had to leave their homes because of Islamic persecution. As we sat in these meager one to two rooms “apartments” (some with up to 11 family members staying together), we heard of struggles and fears. Yet, we also saw people who were just like us. Moms and Dads doing their best to take care of their children and parents after losing everything after having to flee their homes and country. Heart for Lebanon gives out food, diapers and medical supplies to over 550 Iraqi refugee families every month. Along with this, now they are ministering to over 200 Syrian refugee families. I wondered what it would be like to have to “start over.” To take my family and have to leave my house, job, loved ones since people were threatening to kill my children because of my faith in Christ. May God be their Provider and their Shelter.
The religious and political implications of this region are so complicated (for example think about the Palestinian issue alone in Lebanon and Israel). Here in Lebanon, there is a caste system based on religion. We had coffee (strongest coffee ever!) in a Gypsy tent. These are the poorest of the poor in this region. Essentially no rights. This is a place (like most of the world) where there are definitely the “haves” and the “have nots.” While society distinguishes based on your ethinticty and where you are born, I am thankful for a God of grace for all! God loves all people, and this is still the most powerful and captivating force for change in the world!
Overall, like a mission trip, when God calls you to go serve, you are the one who was changed. My understanding of the Middle East will never be the same. My respect for the Christians facing persecution will be more personal. My time in prayer will be more intentional. Also, I have a deeper appreciation for the power of investing in the same place over time. I came to Beirut with
Tom Atema (one of our core team members and leaders at RHCC) as well as his dad. Tom Sr. has been investing in Beirut for 10 years now. Through the war in 2006 to assinations of government officals, Tom continues to faithfully come and train leaders. You can see the difference. This country will never be the same because a new generation is being raised up in Christ. Also, people like Tom Sr. has been investing in Beirut for 10 years now. Through the war in 2006 to assinations of government officals, Tom continues to faithfully come and train leaders. You can see the difference. This country will never be the same because a new generation is being raised up in Christ. Also, people like
Kim Tone. Kim who is from our church is here working with Cru. She just committed to a long-term appointment. It was so good seeing her and celebrating what God is doing through her ministry here. Whether a place like Beirut, South Africa, Moldova, Brazil, or other place, I encourage you to find a country in the world and invest! Be involved in God’s church here in the States, and along with your ministry here somewhere else in the world! Lebanon is called the “Gateway to the Middle East,” as God transforms lives there so many other people are being impacted. It is not safe or easy, but God is our Protection and our Provider. He draws us to Himself and then sends us out for His glory! Let’s change the world together!
I recently returned from an amazing mission experience with our South Africa Mission Team. For over six years, Rolling Hills has been investing in South Africa. Our ministry has centered in a special place called Red Hill, the population of which ranges between 800-1,200 people. This is definitely a place of poverty, but there is something powerful happening just below the surface…
When we arrived in Red Hill we divided into three teams – Garden, Construction and Preschool training. The Garden team took on the task of developing a large garden to provide food for the community. Phillis and her husband, William live in the home by the garden. Phillis already feeds 27 people in need in Red Hill, and her dream has been to have a garden to feed 100+. There was a look of grateful joy and sheer amazement as she watched her dream come true. Our construction team spent the day building out the roof on the Living Hope club facility. They are doing a great job working with people in the community to see this come together. In addition, our preschool team spent time training leaders of the two preschools in Red Hill.
One of my favorite parts of the mission trip thus far is seeing what God is doing through our very own missionary, Lesli Crawford. She is truly the “Mother Theresa” of Red Hill. Whenever she drives into the community, the kids immediately flock to her. Lesli is a true gift from God, and she is making a huge difference for the Kingdom. I am so thankful for her heart and her ministry!
After this work, came the kids! Kid’s Club today was absolutely incredible! About 94 kids aged 3-10 came bounding to the building ready to sing, dance, and hear about Jesus! It was so fun! The kids immediately jumped into our arms only to find love and acceptance. They sang songs about Jesus, listened to our Bible Story, carefully worked on their craft, prayed with sincerity and waited patiently for us to give them a meal – which might be their only one of the day. God was there! As we all sang “How Great is our God,” tears filled my eyes. To look around and see the difference God is making through His church in Middle Tennessee in the lives of precious children half-way around the world. I truly thought, “Only God! Only God can do something like this!”
I am so thankful for all who invest in this incredible ministry. Thank you for your prayers, your time, your giving and your constant investment. God is using us in a mighty way for His glory! Your obedience is making a huge difference. I am so thankful for Brent, Jason, Lesli, Ethan, Mark, Zach, Emily, Sam and Nathan who have come year after year to serve in this place. I am thankful for Sara, Steve, Tama, Conner and Claudia who are here now investing in God’s work. And, I am thankful for each of you! It takes all of us working, praying, giving and serving together to make this kind of impact.
As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We are planting seeds here in Red Hill – not just seeds in a garden that will feed over 100 people, but seeds of the Gospel that will impact generations! Many of these seeds we are already seeing sprout up in Christ. God is alive and moving Red Hill. And, I believe, the best is yet to come!