Abraham must have had bad days too…

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January of this year started one of the greatest adventures of my life….

Though adventures of faith and travel have seemed to be a part of the Lord’s plan for me for a long time now, it’s never been quite like this…believing God for big and impossible things…for individuals, for nations and for the kingdom…all while living in a country that is not my birth country….DRIVING on the other side of the road…only getting direction one little step at a time…flying “blind” so often…faith…”the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things NOT SEEN!”

Abraham is so esteemed for his faith.  I have looked at his life often over these months/years.  He was 75 when he first received a promise.  By 85 there had still been no movement on God’s promise, though he had moved to the land that God promised to give him.  At 85, a “substitute” plan was introduced by Sarah, and Abraham accepted it–causing strife for centuries.  Abraham seemed content to receive Ishmael as God’s promised son until God came again when he was 99, assuring him that the promise of a son was STILL active–24 years later–and would happen in a year.  And…it did…and Sarah laughed…I have to believe Abraham did too.

Romans 4 says, “Against ALL HOPE, Abraham in hope believed…without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.”   I wish I had more details of the daily struggle of the 24 year lapse between the promise and the fulfillment, but, alas, not much information on that front.  I bet it was hard.  I bet he struggled.  All God tells us about, though, is that he had faith–he believed GOD and not what he saw!

So, in the midst of impossible situations, I choose to stand with Abraham, with Hebrews 11 people, with my Grandpa, a man of great faith.  It sometimes feels crazy, but I face the facts, and I choose faith…I am FULLY PERSUADED that God has the power to do what he has promised (Can you hear me preaching to myself?  A necessity for this journey! :-).
My faith pleases Him, and I want to please Him.  He is worthy of…my love, my faith, and my life,

Signature :: Laurie

Two life-changing jogs…

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I love going for a run!  Over the years, I have received many things while jogging–brilliant ideas, problem-solving wisdom, intercession for people, soul-refreshment, and even great friendship time with others!  I have run in African villages followed by laughing kids, in Chinese streets with “acid rain”(as I affectionately called the polluted rain there), in vineyards in South Africa, in my neighborhood in Indiana and many other adventurous places in-between.

There are two jogs recently that have been life-changing–for very different reasons.

The first one is actually a “JOG”–a Journey of Generosity–a facilitated 24 hour small-group experience to encounter God’s generosity. The experience itself is often a generous gift provided by a those who are hosting it.  During our time together, we experience incredible stories of generosity (of all different types), small group interactions, excerpts of readings, Bible study, and meaningful conversations over meals.  It’s a transformational heart journey.

Over the last year and half, I have had the privilege of participating in catalyzing the first JOGs in South Africa.  A month ago, we had our second round of JOGs in Capetown and our first JOGs ever in the Johannesburg area.  It has been a joy to be with different groups of amazing people and to encounter God’s generosity in a way that has marked us all.

Here are some photos from our times together!

Here’s some more information for the curious and interested that want to see, as it’s an experience I would highly recommend for anyone:

The 2nd life-changing jog was an actual run–in Delta park in the middle of Johannesburg.  To back up a little bit…as I left the USA in January, I had really felt led to bring Beth Moore’s Breaking Free Bible study materials, as the Lord seemed to have an agenda for that study during my stay here.   Fast forward 2 months…a good South African friend in the US wanted me to meet a childhood friend of hers from Johannesburg, which I was delighted to do.  We met for coffee and had a wonderful time together!  A few days later she invited me to go for a jog in the park with her and one of her friends who, as it turns out, leads a Bible study for women in this area.  In chatting on our run, this woman mentioned that their current study was finishing and that they were looking for something new.  Immediately I had a strong sense that this was the reason that I had brought Breaking Free with me to SA.

In March, we started a Breaking Free Bible study with 15+ women, and it’s been amazing to watch the Lord “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” in different ways among this group of women.

Two JOGs/jogs…unique and life-changing.  Our King and His kingdom…there really is no greater joy than being about His business and watching Him work.

“Let there be light…”

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This picture is a story that had its start almost 2 years ago now…so hold on to your seats as I share one of the “mysteries” that I am still in the middle of…

I was getting dropped off at the airport for a trip to South Africa by a dear friend, and as I was getting luggage out of the car, she said to me, “I have been praying for you, and somehow I think the Lord has a job for you in South Africa.  I saw a stream of light go from the top of Africa all the way to the tip as I was praying.”  I was surprised and told her I would be praying about her words, as I know she seeks the Lord and listens well.

About ten minutes later after checking in for my flight, an elder from our church called to pray with me about my trip.  His small group was studying light and Jesus throughout the Bible, and before praying he shared their discovery that when God said, “Let there be light” he then designated the sun to “rule” the day and the moon to “rule” the night.  It seemed to them that light and authority were connected as they studied this.  Revelation states that in heaven there is no light, as Jesus is the only light–i.e. the only authority.  Interesting…

It seemed like I was getting some sort of progressive revelation–one conversation right after the next.  Somehow the light from the top of Africa all the way to the bottom may have something to do with the authority of Jesus’ reign and rule.  I was chewing on this as I boarded my first plane.

I sat next to an engineer who was headed to Italy and he asked me where I was going (South Africa).  He pointed to the Delta flight magazine, saying South Africa was highlighted on the front of the magazine that month and maybe I should read it.  (Incidentally it should be noted that I had been flying with Delta regularly for about 17 years at this point, and I had never seen South Africa highlighted in the magazine.)  I started to read…

The article highlighted 5 cities in South Africa, one of them being Johannesburg.  In Joberg, the article highlighted a place called “The Maboneng Precinct,” a vibrant urban renewal project in a very dark and historically dangerous part of Johannesburg. The article stated that someone (a developer I think) said, “Let there be light and there was light…in downtown Johannesburg.”  I about dropped the magazine, as it was the 3rd reference to light and South Africa in the last 30 minutes…very mysterious, but I was definitely paying attention now!

I arrived in Joberg and headed to “the summit” for J-life African leaders outside of Joberg.  The J-life president opened the first session of the summit by sharing that the prayer team who had been interceding over our time had gotten a picture of lightning bolts emanating out from South Africa into the rest of Africa.  Once again, I just about fell off my chair.   What is the Lord doing here in South Africa and Africa with light/authority?  What, if anything, does it have to do with me?  Crazy…

Well, that’s the mystery part of it.  I still don’t know the answers to all of those questions.  I seem to be on a personal journey, receiving revelations for each individual step as part of some bigger plan that He alone knows.  Faith…the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Back to the Maboneng Precinct (the picture above)….  After this strange trip full of “light,” I really wanted to see this place–to taste and see for myself, even following it on Facebook for the last 2 years.  In August, my South African friends Sego, Gina and Smiley took me to see the Maboneng Precinct.  As we were walking around this really cool Urban renewal area right in the middle of this devastated area of Joberg, I kept asking the Lord what He wanted me to see or hear.  The message I seemed to hear repeatedly was…

“I can put light and life ANYWHERE.  It doesn’t matter how dead or devastated it seems, I am LIGHT and I am LIFE.”  (Ezekiel 37)

The mystery of my journey of “light” continues…

I proclaim, along with our Father, “Let there be LIGHT!”  May He reign and rule in South Africa and on the continent of Africa as He does in heaven!

The Death of Heroes…Elizabeth Elliot

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Elizabeth Elliot…I never met her, but she deeply impacted my life and slowly became one of my heroes.

I started reading her books while in the Philippines  on a Teen Missions trip in high school–Passion and Purity was my first read.  I then moved on to In the Shadow of the Almighty and These Strange Ashes, among others, in college and throughout my 20’s.  These books marked me.

I have a shelf of books that are worth rereading no matter what season of life I am in… books that have touched me deeply once, and most likely will do so again with a re-reading.  Several books on that shelf are written by Elizabeth Elliot.

She went home to be with Jesus last week.  Her passionate pursuit of Jesus and her unwavering faith were and still will be a source of life, nourishment and encouragement in my own journey.  She walked His mysteries of  suffering, grief, work that went up in flames for seemingly no purpose and unfulfilled longings and desires, and yet she stood firm…in faith, in hope and in love of Christ.

She’s a hero of faith for me.  Heroes are rare, and I celebrate her life, as I know our Father does too.  She finished well…fighting the fight and keeping the faith.

Elizabeth Elliot is human, just like the rest of us, so, though I didn’t get to see them firsthand, I’m sure there were areas of failure and weakness in her.  We all have them.  Even with those, she showed me parts of Jesus and His character as she journeyed.

I desire, in and through my own weaknesses, to reflect the same Jesus that lived and breathed in Elizabeth Elliot!

Experience Africa 2015–a family reunion…

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A family reunion…that was the phrase used to describe the essence of our time together in South Africa on Experience Africa 2015.

If you had been eavesdropping, you would have heard laughter and tears around the meal tables, sharing of life experiences across generations, speaking of truth into each others lives/situations, the telling of some great romance stories, and the sharing of wisdom in business and ministry.

Twelve people of all different ages and countries…they had never met before, but they share a rich bond of faith in Jesus and similar places of life in business and ministry.  Together we experienced physical and spiritual adventures for 11 days in an unbelievably beautiful country.

It was delightful and refreshing in every way.

We spent time on the breathtaking coastline of Capetown and the surrounding areas in the beautiful southern region of South Africa.  We hiked in a rain forest, walked on top of Table mountain overlooking the tip of Africa, hiked sand dunes in the early morning, experienced a South African wine tasting, strolled the coastline, experienced a true South Africa brai, feasted like kings and queens, and received a ministry overview of Africa.

Josh Patty led us in studying and experiencing how to hear and discern God’s voice in the noise of life during our retreat time together.  Through the teaching and discussions we were challenged, encouraged and equipped for our different places of business and ministry.

After Capetown, we moved north for our safari in the African bush.  What an incredible worship experience seeing God’s creatures great and small!  There was really not an animal that we wanted to see that we didn’t get to see.  Even our guides were amazed.  What a gift!  The hours we spent together in the open air vehicles with our guide, driver and each other was full of joy, laughter and amazement.  During our safari time, we also were given a fascinating economic overview of Africa, sparking some  good discussion.

The staff in both locations where we stayed blessed us and were blessed by us in very significant ways.  Several times members of the staff approached me and asked, “Who are these people?  We have never had a group like this before.”  I think they saw Jesus in us.  We got to pray for some of them toward the end of our time in ways that I pray will impact them forever.

After the trip finished, one of our trip participants told me, “I actually cried when we left each other at the airport.  I knew we would have a good time, but I didn’t expect to make life-long friends.”  A portion of this South African “family” informed me that they are having a reunion this summer, and though I am going to miss it due to travel,  I love watching these relationships continue.

It was a sweet and blessed family reunion in South Africa where we all walked away richer…in relationships, in refreshment, in kingdom work, and in our walk with Jesus.  I’m so very grateful.

A piano, Poland and Grandma Bell

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What in the world do a Piano, Poland and my Grandma have in common?  Well, there’s a story…

I knew my Grandma Bell as a gentle, sweet and lovely woman, even though her children sometimes affectionately refer to her as the “sergeant.”  She was a homemaker extraordinaire, and our childhood was filled with wonderful smells of pies, cookies and fresh or canned garden vegetables at Grandma’s house.

In addition to her culinary skills, Grandma Bell was also was an accomplished pianist and a diligent student of God’s Word.  She was trained at Moody Bible Institute and up until her death in her 80’s, my Grandma used her piano  and her weekly Sunday School class to disciple young students and young adults.  She left her family quite a legacy.

After my Grandma went to be with Jesus, she left me her treasured piano–one of her main discipleship tools.  As I was living with roommates in a smaller condo at the time, I did not have the space for her piano.  So, I asked dear friends of mine, Korban and Tanya Miller, if they would like to have a piano temporarily, knowing that it would be loved and used by Korban in both playing and teaching music, as he is an accomplished musician himself and was the lead worshiper at my home church.

About ten years went by, and in an amazing turn of events, Korban and Tanya and their kids made the life-changing decision to move to Poland to be part of a movement of God among the youth of Central and Eastern Europe with an organization called Josiah Venture.  Together, Korban and Tanya are leading the launch of Poland’s evangelistic and discipleship music club called Fusion.

As they were packing a container of items to be shipped to Poland, they thought about Grandma’s piano and called me.  What to do…a family heirloom with lots of memories, and a group of young people in Poland who would learn about music and Jesus using Grandma Bell’s piano.  After some consideration and talking with some family, I decided that Grandma’s piano needed to go to Poland as her legacy was going international!

I visited Korban and Tanya in Poland for the first time this last November, and I got to see and celebrate Grandma’s piano in action.  Grandma Bell’s gentle smile must light up her face in heaven as she and Jesus celebrate the use of her piano to disciple youth in Eastern Europe.  She loved Europe.  I’m so grateful for our heritage of faith in Grandma Bell and the joy of one generation “declaring His works to yet another.”

By faith…

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There’s nothing that moves our God like the faith of His people–believing God for who He says He is and all that He says He can do.  He esteems it.  He requires it.  It moves Him.

Hebrews 11 is legendary in celebrating some of the “heroes of faith” in the pages of God’s story.

As the Lord has sent me to different corners of the world, I have had the honor and privilege of meeting Hebrews 11 “extension” heroes–people that would definitely be included if the chapter kept going.  By faith, Svonko…

In November, I was in Slovenia, a former communist country in which the Spirit of God is moving in some powerful ways today.  However, there was a time, not so long ago, when Slovenia was very dark, very foggy, and almost devoid of any overt sign of spiritual life.  In the midst of the overwhelming hopelessness of communism and post-communism, there was at least one man, among others, who stood in FAITH–believing God can and would change the atmosphere–do the impossible.  Svonko….

I’ve known Svonko for about 14 years now, and every time I enter the church where He serves in Ljubljana, Slovenia, I breathe life–faith, hope and love.  Though he and I have had very few personal conversations, I’m so grateful for his life…for the way his bold faith challenges my own.  God has honored his faith.  He has seen Jesus move in power and is still believing Him to do more.

I needed fresh wind for my own faith journey that day in November, and Jesus gave me “manna” through this hero of faith as he spoke words of life from Ezekiel 37, “Prophecy to these dry bones….”

As I have the privilege of meeting, hearing about and reading many stories about heroes of faith, I choose to claim my spot in that lineage–the lineage of Abraham, my Grandpa and Svonko.

By faith, Laurie…for the glory and honor of my King.

God’s got an army…

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Having just spent two weeks in Africa, I came back with significant things on my heart and mind–kingdom things.

It has to do with Light and Darkness and an army that God is raising up, and I would love to invite you to be a part of this army!

Before leaving for Africa, a couple friends shared about light.  One had been praying for my trip and shared that she saw a stream of light move across Africa.  An elder at our church and a friend, not even two hours later, shared that he was reading Genesis with Jesus constantly in mind.  God’s first command is “let there be light.”  The sun was commanded “to govern” the day and the moon “to govern” the night.  He noted that “light” brings governance and authority.  Having just completed a study of Revelation, he further noted that Jesus is the ONLY light in heaven, proclaiming that no other authority/light is needed.  Jesus is it!

“What does that have to do with Africa?” you might ask!  Great question!

(Pictured below are some of the warriors in hand to hand combat on the ground throughout Africa.  I met and spent time with many of them on this last trip and some of them I have known for years!)

In attending a “summit” of African ministry leaders in February, our South African leader shared a picture that had come from their intercessory team praying over Africa and our time together.  It was a picture of streams of light, sort of like lightning bolts, shooting throughout the continent of Africa.

Now call me crazy, but it seems like Jesus is sending some sort of message about LIGHT in Africa through all different sources, and light has to do with authority!  Much of Africa has a foundation of witchcraft, demonic, dead men’s bones, corruption, fear, and ancestor worship.  As many times as I have been in Africa and spent time with my loved African brothers and sisters, I had NO IDEA some of the things that are accepted as absolutely normal in a cultural setting, even a Christian African setting, until this trip as generational sin and bondage were addressed.

The enemy has held authority in some of these areas for generations–FAR TOO LONG.  I believe that our King Jesus wants to expose some of these dark things, bringing His light and authority to the foundations of the African continent.  If that’s true, then we have a WAR on our hands, though the Victor is assured and absolute!

I believe the Lord is calling the church to battle more actively for freedom from the tyranny of the enemy’s authority in Africa.  Even though I don’t understand it fully, prayer holds POWER in the heavenly realms and brings His kingdom on EARTH as it is in heaven.  (Read Revelation 8:1-5 if you have any doubts about that. Wow!).

Would you be willing to be one of the warriors of light that will pray His light and authority into the foundations of the African continent in this season?  Will you commit one time a day, one time a week, one time a month–some sort of true commitment marked on your calendar–to pray for Africa by yourself, with your family, with your small group?

If so, it would be wonderful to hear from you, just for encouragement.  I am serious about being part of God’s army recruitment in this season as “Aslan is on the move” in Africa and I want to join Him.  Will you?

Faith, Miracles and Babies

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What a joy and privilege it has been this year to be an eye witness to two miracles of our God in the form of babies–my sister and my dear friend Alair.

Caleb and Alair Mitchell have been married for 16 years and, though God has given them two amazing and beautiful boys through adoption–Nico and Nate, they have not been able to conceive biologically.  Caleb and the boys started praying for a baby sometime last winter, and I joined them in that prayer in April, around Alair’s birthday.

I was at a mutual friend’s house on a Sunday last June, and we got an unexpected knock at the door.  Caleb and Alair and the boys stood outside, and Alair was weeping holding a positive pregnancy test in her hand.  The JOY!!

As the Lord would have it, I got to be present, along with our friend Kim, for the birth of precious little Nora Jean in a bush hospital in Uganda, where Caleb and Alair serve as missionaries.  I had a front row seat to a miracle of grace!  Here are some pictures of this beautiful and miraculous experience:

A day after Alair found out she was pregnant, I had previously arranged a meeting between Alair and my sister Kara, who also struggled with infertility and was given a 3% chance to conceive naturally.  Kara was in the process of starting a ministry to other families walking through that same pain and struggle, which is what the reason for meeting with Alair.  Our family had started praying with Kara and Duce on our weekly family prayer call in April for the miracle of a baby, and we even had all the kids in our family lay hands on and pray for Kara and Duce’s miracle baby during our annual July 4th celebration!

Two weeks later, as I got back from a trip, there was a knock on my door at 10:30 at night.  I opened the door and saw no one, but there was a stork in my yard.  I was so confused until…Kara and Duce jumped out of my bushes and shared THEIR news!  Another miracle and MORE joy!!!

Just last week I got to witness the precious birth of this little boy born in faith and prayer.  Our little Race Sterling Bishop.  Words cannot describe my awe or my celebration in seeing our God’s design in the miracle of life or in tasting of this sweet answer to the faith-filled prayers of our entire family–from the 3 year old up to the almost 80 year old–in the person of this little boy.  Here are some pictures of God’s beautiful answer to our requests:

Miracles…some have already come and thankfulness is overflowing, and some are still on their way and are waited for in faith and hope.

Experience Italy 2013…a week feasting at His table

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Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a wonderful and unique group of 15 business/ministry leaders and spouses to Experience Italy 2013!!

The richness of that time–with the cultural sights and smells of Italy, the new relationships formed, the amazing Bible teaching on marriage,the time spent as couples, the specialty experiences and the wonderful meals eaten together is hard to capture in words. I would just say that our Father invited us to a feast at His table and we ATE ABUNDANTLY.

How grateful I am for the kingdom hearts of these dear people and the way that the Lord is using them in their different spheres of influence. I know, in comments from many of them, that there hearts were refreshed and renewed in different ways, and I pray that fruit from our time together will roll out 30,60 and 100 fold where they serve the King.

Rather than write alot about our time, I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves. Rejoice with me over our God’s faithfulness in our time together! Looking forward to the next one!