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Envision

Community of the Lost

By Envision

I’m soaking in the beauty and charisma of Florence tonight. As our plane descended earlier this afternoon, my eyes scanned the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. Trellised landscapes and vineyards interwoven with trees and shrubs bursting with color in the afternoon sun. This is truly a beautiful and amazing city – but filled with spiritual death. Yes, there are troubles in the national economy, in the justice system, in the social welfare system, and the prime minister has committed to step down. But the cruelest truth is that there isn’t a political, economic or sociological policy that can solve these broken and empty hearts and unite them to God.

While my colleague (an Italian national who is an evangelical church-planting pastor) led his staff meeting and provided ministry training, I took the time to wander the streets and pray. I have been asking the Lord to show us what He is doing here, and for The Holy Spirit to lead clearly as to if / when / how we should engage with His work. I spent several hours walking, thinking, observing, praying, wrestling – making a spiritual and mental catalog of the local community of the lost.

Statue of Peter

Statue of St Peter

As I have continued to learn, the cathedrals and parishes of Italy are empty. Postmodernity, Catholicism, moral failings – there are plenty of fingers to point – the Gospel is largely absent here. What a privilege to experience the true faith of a handful of Christ-followers in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire. I learned from these saints about how God is neither known nor spoken of, while a twisted caricature of faith is exhibited through religious traditions and practices. In essence, Italians know the name of Jesus, but they do not know the Gospel. They know how many Euro they must pay the church to have their children baptized, but they don’t know that baptism is a proclamation of faith in Christ’s resurrection. They put off understanding sin and salvation, expecting that when they die they will go to purgatory, and hope that will afford them the opportunity to get to heaven. They cannot taste the goodness of God, but they are deceived by the Pharisees that surround them. They see beautiful art, such as the statue of Peter (shown at right) who is considered the first Pope, but they do not know the beautiful Savior that Peter fought for, preached to the nations, and was martyred for.

So here, in the birthplace of the Renaissance, a different rebirth must take place. Not one of art, but of salvation. Jesus, in Your mercy and grace, pour out Your Spirit here, and bring a revival of spiritual life. And set our hearts ablaze with Your light as we share the hope You offer in the Gospel.

Stand Firm

By Envision, Headfirst, Involve, Media, Personal
[pullquote_right]This interview’s theme is  from 1 Corinthians 16:13[/pullquote_right]

We filmed this video to invite men to be part of a missions trip to Haiti.  While it was edited for a particular weekend men’s retreat, the honesty and authentic stories shared by these men has been included here in hope that others would be inspired to fully entrust their lives to God, and choose to give their all for Christ.  Along with the exhortation for evangelism and discipleship, we also aim to continue bringing awareness and to recruit involvement to missions work in Haiti and to all the nations.

Among the panelists is our ministry’s international director.

Thank you to Crossline and LifeTogether for the production of this video!

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Guest column: A safe mission

By Envision, Involve

By Brianna Alexander

It was supposed to be a “safe” missions trip. All I had to do was drive 20 minutes to church, hammer in a few nails, help carry some heavy wood pieces, and voila! I would have helped build a loft house for a family in Mexico and spread the love of Christ without putting a stamp in my passport. I had done this last year and I thought I was prepared.

The thing is though, I didn’t use a hammer. I used a spatula. I don’t use spatulas, or any cooking utensils for that matter. Seriously, I’m a terrible cook. I’m infamous for burning canned re-fried beans and just the other night I ruined crock-pot chicken! So imagine my dismay when I somehow found myself behind the giant church BBQ cooking cheeseburgers for 80 very hungry house builders. Funny, God, real funny.

Yet, as I stood there with smoke blowing directly into my eyes, I realized something. In the parking lot was a whole group of imperfect vessels. People were bending nails, hammering boards in the wrong place, getting bruised up. But no one was complaining, or yelling, or crying in a corner feeling sorry for themselves. They would all just laugh it off, bandage up and get right back in the action.

Getting Instructions

Volunteers gathered for morning instructions

That day was an amazing testament as to what the body of Christ can do when we set aside our own insecurities, annoyances and weaknesses and just focus on completing the mission God has set before us. Everyone one in the parking lot had a different story. They came from different churches, were different ages and were in a different part of their journey with Christ. What they shared was the desire to serve God by working together to bless a family they didn’t know, in a country many of them had never been to. That desire transcended all differences and weaknesses.

Imagine if we made that our goal all the time? Imagine if we stopped getting hung up on religious technicalities, cultural barriers and personality clashes? What if we stopped comparing ourselves to other people, stopped feeling inadequate, stopped focusing on our weaknesses and instead trusted God to equip us for the mission he has called us to? What if every day, whether it was at church, at work, at home or in a foreign country, we made a conscious effort to focus on the big picture, the God picture, and work with our fellow humans to bring that picture to life? Hmm, I wonder what life would look like then.

For that one morning, I set aside my own insecurities and cooked those burgers as best as I could. And while I did get asked “what’s this green thing in my burger?” (it was just an herb from the herb salt) the burgers turned out fairly decent. I actually didn’t have anything to worry about because the church’s resident chef was there cooking tri-tip that was to die for. Even if the burgers had been terrible, no one would have noticed. And while I appreciated and learned from that experience, I’m glad to be back behind my computer, using one of my actual talents to further the kingdom of God.

Couple receiving the house

Heriberto and Ruth now have a home to share with their one month old son, Jared

Did You Know…?

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  • Hands of Mercy (HōM) helps churches build loft houses for families in Mexico. They have created a system that allows people to build walls, a roof and steps here in the United States. Then the pieces get taken to Mexico and the house is assembled and ready in a day so that the family can move in.
  • Many people in Mexico have never lived in a house with a lock. Someone always has to stay in the house in order to guard the family’s meager possessions. The HōM loft houses are equipped with locks and keys so families and their possessions are much safer.  Sometimes they have to explain how to use a lock & key set.
  • Some people have never lived in a house with a window. Because their homes are often pieced together with mismatched materials, including rented wood and sheet metal, it’s usually not logical or possible to add a window. But HōM loft houses are very sturdy and protect against the elements. Therefore, it’s nice that there are a few windows to open to let in fresh air.
  • You can host your own HōM loft house build! Gather a core group of people together to organize the event and raise $4,000. That money covers all costs including the cost of bringing the house down to Mexico. Then get the word out and gather a group of builders to help with the U.S. pre-fab and the assembly of the house in Mexico. For more information, visit HōM online or contact The Global Mission to learn how you can create your own event.
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BriannaBrianna Alexander is an avid blogger who writes about social media marketing, real estate, Orange County, CA and the ridiculous price of mascara. She’s excited to use her talent to support missions and further God’s kingdom. When she isn’t blogging she’s usually doing things she will later blog about like cheering for the Angels, discovering new parks with her little dog and eating delicious food her husband cooks for her.  To see a video of the prefab she wrote about, watch How to Build a Home.

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Let Faith Arise

By Envision

One brief overview of our most recent mission trip to Haiti in August, 2011:

Thank you to Chris Tomlin – background music to media is “I Lift My Hands” from the album And If Our God is for Us available on iTunes and Amazon.  Many thanks to Jake Hart, who did so much to film, edit and produce media for us this summer as part of his internship with The Global Mission.

How to Build a Home

By Envision

Enjoy this brief overview of a church partnering with Hands of Mercy to prefab a home for Mexico in just a few hours!  One Saturday morning to prepare, the next to build (see bottom):

We were finished by 3pm the next Saturday:

loft house

Partnership Interview

By Envision, Involve

During our most recent mission to Haiti, I had the chance to interview one of our church partners in Haiti.  The team was sent by my home fellowship, Crossline Community Church of Laguna Hills, CA, where as part of my ministry, I volunteer as their missions leader.  They are developing a sister church relationship, and I want you to see this video interview to understand more about the needs of the Body of Christ abroad.

For our current and future church partners, we hope you will view this with a vision for how we can help expand your body’s mission outreach.  It’s a quick overview that will give vision to your church for how they can impact the Church internationally.

 

Power and Clay

By Envision

Talking with a friend today, I found myself using a surfing analogy – which is somewhat amusing since I don’t surf. At all. In fact, apart from helping baptize a friend at the beach this past Sunday, I haven’t been in the ocean this year. Doesn’t change the accuracy of the illustration. You see, before entering the water, you’ve selected your equipment: you can pull on a wetsuit, grab your board, wax it. Everything about you is in your control. And you can check the weather and the surf report, but nothing about the ocean is in your power. Once you slip in and paddle out, it’s another thing entirely. Absolutely, there is skill involved in catching and riding a wave. But there is no swell, no wave, no tide, nothing to ride without the power of the ocean.

When we serve God and minister to those in our communities, we bring our experience, our expertise, our spiritual giftedness and everything about ourselves. But we are completely powerless to actually bring transformation without the Holy Spirit. We are foolish to not recognize Him as the essential originator of all spiritual endeavors. And we are equally ignorant if we think that He will empower our ministry that is not focused on the Gospel. As Jesus said to His disciples, vase“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8.) All our work, teaching and theology are in vain if we are not dependent upon the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and led by the Spirit.

In fact, all the actual work of my ministry is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Yes, God has blessed me with spiritual gifts, and given me discernment and wisdom, and years of experience to draw upon. But I am just an earthen vessel that His power might shine through (see 2 Corinthians 4.) When this Scripture is fleshed out, one can see how God brings Himself glory by indwelling His people with the same power He manifested in the act of creation. And the more broken the clay, the more His light shines through.

I’ll try to remember that truth next time I’m asking God to give me strength. I am broken, and that’s the way it should be. It is His all-surpassing power that matters, not mine.

 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body (2 Cor 4:6-11.)[divider_top]Click for top[/divider_top]

Taking Root

By Envision

Like the mighty mango trees we saw this week in Haiti, we have trusted God and received from Him an immense vision that will bear much fruit for the Kingdom. And like all trees, no matter the size at maturity, everything must start with a seed.

[pullquote_right]I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (Jesus speaking in John 12:24)[/pullquote_right]

Going to the mission field requires many things, and one of those is putting to death certain parts of life, so that other life can spring forth. Without pruning what is unhealthy from our lives, we cannot expect to continue to grow in health. And ultimately, it is healthy things that grow.

The beautiful thing about the farmer is that he plants more than one seed. He plows a field and plants seed everywhere, and continues to irrigate, fertilize and cultivate. And different parts of the acreage receive different seed. How exciting that the Lord has given us a stewardship in Haiti to plant and to harvest.

Some of the fields that were sown and even harvested on this mission:
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  • Gospel proclamation
  • Discipleship
  • Vocational opportunities
  • Micro enterprise identified
  • Compassion ministries meeting physical needs
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If we will open our eyes to the fields, we will see that many are already ripe for harvest. Wherever you are in your journey and commitment to Christ, we invite you to join us in sowing and reaping for His Kingdom.

Recipe for Life

By Envision

Basic Ingredients:

Five bags of rice, five boxes of chickens, one large sack of beans, salt, limes, 2 large sacks of charcoal, hot sauces, spices, garlic, potatoes, carrots, peppers, sugar, tomatoes, coconuts, matches, sugar, five hundred “to-go-box” plates, spoons and juice punch for all…

Add:

Some pastors and youth leaders, Haitians and Americans cooking together, 330 Haitian children and youth, one Total Vacation Bible Sensation curriculum on the Romans Road translated into Creole by Crux33.

Mix in:

The Word of God, specifically Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9-10.
Personal story of life change from Emili.
Gospel presentation and invitation from Dave.

Bake over the course of the day, adding praise and worship.

Yield: 1 bucket tears, 3 gallons sweat, 2 wheelbarrows of laughter, 500 hungry Haitians fed, more than 40 first time decisions to follow Christ, brothers and sisters in Jesus locking arms in partnership, and one team of disciples transformed for life.

Whatever it takes

By Envision

I guess that’s the theme I’ve been thinking about lately on this mission trip. Am I willing to do whatever it takes to get the Gospel out there? It might be something that’s mostly fun, like getting our whole team of 18 somewhere in a single “tap tap” by stuffing in so tightly that a few might suffer temporary loss of circulation. Or it might be trudging through the sludge, grime and sweltering stench of refuse, excrement and dead fish of the local market stalls for a 2nd and 3rd hour long after the romance of discovery has worn off.

What I choose to remember is that (as Madeline spoke of so eloquently in our team devotional tonight) this is part of being called to take up your cross daily and follow Him. When we get to play sports with kids, it’s not so bad – well, not until you start getting dehydrated. (Doesn’t it seem like our emotions are linked to our physiology more closely than we’d like to believe?) But as Ally shared in her story of commitment to Christ tonight, there isn’t a comfortable way to carry a cross.

Today we walked with God through the ups and downs, all because we had confidence in His calling. So we sang and memorized Scripture with over 200 kids, helped them understand what it meant to surrender to Christ and offered them a clear opportunity to come into a relationship with Him. Several did. Tomorrow we will continue the program and invite more of them into an eternal relationship with their heavenly Father.

We spent hours on the soccer field, and talking on the sidelines, and helping advance a project at the water station, and three hours in the open air market (amazing what 18 + friends can do!) buying supplies to feed a traditional Haitian meal of chicken, beans and rice to at least 500 hungry kids and their families. That will take place tomorrow after the conclusion of our “Romans Road” kids bible school. (With many thanks to Dean-o and the Dynamos who wrote the curriculum and offered it at Crossline Church, and invited the kids to “give TVBS” to Haitian kids, who then raised over $10,000 in one week. Kids: you are the ones who raised the money to feed the families, and sponsor this outreach and much, much more this year.)

I can’t wait to get all the media uploaded that will go along with this post!

For now, we learn to be content, be thankful for what we have, and recognize that we must do whatever it takes to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus.

More to come…