Camp Habitat

Last week I was blessed to attend a Christian Youth Service Camp called Camp Habitat, a part of Habitat for Humanity of Simpson County, KY. The teen volunteers spend a week, camping out at the local High School and spend the days helping low-income, elderly and disabled citizens of Simpson County. We spend the evenings celebrating and praising God and participating in organized recreational activities such as swimming, a cookout at the creek and team competitions.

I am reminded to appreciate my health and the ability to serve. I am not a skilled worker, yet somehow, I and a group of 4-5 kids, aged 13-16 have managed to accomplish our assignments.

When we arrive at the work site, the first thing we do is ask the homeowner if they have any prayer needs. On the first project during my first year, I forgot to do this until it was time to leave.  The couple we were serving were in their eighties, and we had cleaned the aluminum siding on their house and cleaned out their gutters. Two of the girls helping had already returned to the van. It was a hot, humid afternoon, and we were all exhausted. I wiped the sweat from my face with a paper towel and watched the homeowner inspect our work. When he returned to our small group huddled in the shade, I remembered to ask him if he had any prayer requests.  He shook his head and so I asked him if we could pray for them.  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to pay for you,” he said.  I’ll never forget the first words of his prayer. “Thank you Father for answered prayers. Thank you for sending these people to help us.”

I don’t know if I’d ever been the answer to someone’s prayer. I had entered the work sight with a bad attitude. For you see, I had not planned to be a crew chief.  I had been responsible for organizing the food for the week and had done that task. But due to a lack of adult volunteers and an abundance of teen volunteers, we were going to have to turn down projects and reject some teen applications if I didn’t step forward. I am thankful God blessed me even though I didn’t deserve the blessings. He sent me to the right sight, to the right couple, to remember who I was serving. Each homeowner I’ve served has blessed me. My cup runneth over.

It was difficult for me to serve this year because a loved one is ill. I considered cancelling at the last minute, but I knew this would be a strain on others, and I would also miss an opportunity to share my faith.  Not all of the teens who attend Camp Habitat are Christians. During our morning work schedules, one of the teens leads a devotional, and we pray together. On Thursday, we didn’t have a planned devotional, so I spent the time sharing God’s plan for salvation. My skills for home improvement projects are limited, but I know how to tell people about Jesus and His love for us.

As I struggled with the decision to work at Camp Habitat this week, I prayed and studied scripture. The one I love who is ill knows Jesus and regardless of the outcome of her health issues, she will spend eternity in heaven. It was a difficult decision, but I prayed about it, and felt God would have me serve Him best at Camp Habitat.

Satan attacks us and those we love when we are serving Jesus. I was reminded of 1 Peter 5:8 “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. But as long as I keep my eyes on Jesus, he cannot harm me. Have you experienced spiritual warfare when you are serving the Lord? Has the evil one put up barriers to block you or to distract you? Remember, ““No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39.

 

#HabitatForHumanity

Why I Go To Africa

Many wonder why I travel all the way to Africa to share the gospel when there are so many lost in America. I go because I have compassion. Imagine knowing that everyone you passed on the road this week is destined to spend eternity in hell because they’ve never heard the name of Jesus? No one in the mall, at school, at work or in the grocery store has ever heard the name of Jesus. That’s the reality of Niger. Virtually everyone I saw, everyone I passed on the road, and in the market place will spend eternity in hell unless someone tells them about Jesus. Niger is 99.9% Muslim.

On our recent mission trip, we shared with perhaps 2,000 and six believed. Since January 2014, seventy-seven people in Niger have believed and accepted Christ. How many times did you hear about God’s plan of salvation before you believed? The people we visited have only heard once. I could see their interest. That’s why I must return, and I hope others will go with me in 2015. I hope to return as long as I’m physically able.  And I pray others will accept the responsibility to go. I pray God will call those who are able. I understand some can’t due to family responsibilities or poor health. I understand being afraid to go. I’ve been there. But I hope you will pray and ask God to remove your fear.

The setting in Niger is Biblical. I felt as if I had stepped into the book of Acts as I walked among the mud brick buildings and women gathering water at the wells. I felt the power of the Holy Spirit as the crowds gathered. It seems like a dream but I know what I saw and experienced.

I am nothing without God and I can do nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit. God does not need me to accomplish his plan, but I’m thankful he allows me to be a part of his plan. As I looked at the villages of 5,000, 8,000 and 15,000, I felt helpless. I was helpless. But then I prayed and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit. I hope you too will have the opportunity to share the name of Jesus with people who have never heard his name. You will experience something I lack the words to describe.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

Joy and Light

During our orientation meeting, Mark reviewed our schedule for Wednesday morning. He asked us to share Bible Study with a group of three women believers in a remote village. Bible study would be followed with teaching them a craft project in an effort to help them earn money.  He said, “The last time we saw Anna, her hands were ravaged with sores where she’d been bitten by termites. She had been to the mound in search of food for her family.”

Mark developed the idea to teach them to create notecards. He would provide the supplies needed and would buy back the finished product. Enabling the women to make a marketable item was our version of teaching them to fish for life rather than giving them food for the day. It would have been easier to donate money; however, everyone in Niger will be saying “I believe in Jesus” if we start distributing cash. It’s a dilemma. We want to help, however, gifts can create false conversions.

I’m thankful for Terra’s artistic gifts and was relieved when she agreed to teach the women. Her assignment wasn’t an easy task. Women in Niger usually don’t attend school and can’t read or write. Explaining the purpose of a notecard was difficult. It took several attempts to describe which side of the folded paper was the front. Next they had to be taught how to hold a pen, and how to trace the outline of the wooden pattern on the fabric.  Finally, Terra taught them how to grasp the scissors to cut the material and glue it to the notecard.  Keep in mind there was no table or proper work surface. It took more than an hour to create the first finished notecard.

I will never forget their smiles of joy as they each proudly presented their finished notecards.  Mark will return next week and buy all they have to sell. Some might look at these simple cards and shrug. But when I view the results of their efforts, I’m reminded of their joy. I may never see these women again until we meet in heaven. Until that time, I’ll remember seeing the light of Jesus in their eyes, in a country that desperately needs His light.

I’m the Least

I started a Bible study, Gideon, by Priscilla Shirer in February. As I studied chapter six in the book of Judges, I felt a bond with Gideon.  “And he said to him, ‘Please Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’” Judges 6:15.  So many times I’ve asked myself, “What can I accomplish by going to Africa?  I’m not a Bible scholar. I don’t speak the language. I am the weakest.”

As we entered a new village on the second day of our trip, I felt the heaviness of our task. It was a long drive so it was already hot. The population of the village is about 5,000. We had to ask a young boy to lead us to the school so we could deliver a gift of school supplies. The director of the school was polite but curt. As he turned to leave, we were on a slight hill and I could see the many walled compounds. Again I wondered, “What can we accomplish?”

We stood at the entrance of the first compound where a group was standing inside the walls. Our translator, Biba, smiled and explained the purpose of our visit. Without hesitation, they told us they did not have time to talk with us. We thanked them and moved down the sand trail and listened. You can’t see over the walls of compounds, but you can find women by listening. The women are always working. Their jobs include: gathering water, pounding millet or cooking and caring for their families. It’s easy to hear the rhythmic thud of pounding millet.

Our team continued to walk and approached another compound and saw a circle of women. We greeted them and asked permission to visit. They simply stared at us without speaking. Biba said, “They have not offered us an invitation. We should go.”

After our third rejection, I felt defeated. I didn’t know what to do. We’d travelled so far and no one wanted to listen. I was thinking about Gideon and remembered that God had told him, “But I will be with you.”  I stopped in the middle of the street and said, “We need to pray.” We prayed for God to clear a path for us and to call his sheep. “My Sheep hear my voice.” John 10:27.

After our prayer, we continued to walk through the maze and found ourselves in a central public area with a well.  Many women were gathering water. We greeted them and explained that we were Christians. Immediately, one of the women left and returned with a mat and unrolled it. We sat on the mat in the shade and started to share. A man suddenly pushed through the crowd and sat across from me. This is very unusual behavior for a Muslim man. I expected him to tell us to leave. Instead, he said, “It is good for people to hear what you have to say. Everyone should decide for themselves.” This was an amazing comment to come from a Muslim man.  We continued to share scriptures and covered the IMB’s version of From Creation to Christ, also known as C2C.  The growing mass of people closed in on us. As Biba interpreted, her eyes grew large as she studied the pressing crowd. This is not normal behavior for Biba. I’ve been with her through two other mission trips and she is always calm and confident. However, she continued to interpret and speak fearlessly. Every mission team needs a Biba. She is a blessing.

Each of our team members spoke boldly and proclaimed the gospel. I felt the power of the Holy Spirit so strongly it was overwhelming. We estimated that perhaps 100 people had surrounded us. When we rose to leave, the crowd dispersed. That’s when I realized that we were sitting in the shadow of a large mosque. It had been to my back as we entered the central courtyard. I had only seen the well. We had been preaching the gospel in the Mosque courtyard. I felt weak in the knees as I realized what we’d done.

For the rest of the day, we were welcomed with smiles, laughter and interest. I believe two factors impacted our success: 1. We prayed and called on the power of the Holy Spirit.  2. Our prayer partners were praying. It was about 11:00 am in Niger when we prayed, but 5:00 am in America. I believe one or more of our prayer partners had risen early and prayed for us.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.  I am the least, but He is the most powerful. That’s why I’ve been called to go to Africa.

Overcoming Fear

On the first day of outreach in Niger, Africa, we visited a village on the road to Namourou. I suppose the people would be considered an unreached group because of the 200 women I met, no one had previously heard the name of Jesus.  The population of the village is about 9,000.

When we parked in the shade of a thorn tree at 9:30 in the morning, the temperature was already 90 degrees with a high of 100 degrees expected. This is considered a mild day in March. The teams divided into men and women. The four men were to deliver medical supplies to the health clinic, and the four women were provided supplies for the school. After our gifts were delivered, we were to visit homes and hope that we were invited to visit. After our gifts were delivered, we had nothing else to offer except the name of Jesus. We can never supply enough medicine meet the need. We cannot feed all the hungry. But we can share the name of Jesus with everyone we meet.

I studied my surroundings and tried to calm my fears. As we prepared to depart and enter the maze of pathways that are neighborhoods, we held hands and prayed. I was reminded of Matthew 10:12-15 “As you enter the house greet it. (13) And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (14) And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. (15) Truly I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Jesus’ disciples were instructed to take nothing. I had a backpack of supplies and a ride back to the air conditioned mission house. I even had fancy water bottles that would spray a mist. Unfortunately, the mister doesn’t work if you freeze the water. I was terrified to enter the first compound. And then I remembered all the people at home praying for me, and suddenly I had peace.

As we trudged through the sand, I studied the mud brick buildings that probably looked the same as when Jesus walked the earth. We stopped at the first compound and were greeted. We introduced ourselves and explained that we were Christians and asked for permission to share scripture. After a tense moment of waiting for an invitation, one woman entered the building and pulled out a mat and unrolled it under a shade tree. This was the invitation for which we’d been waiting.

First we discussed the similarities between Christianity and Islam.  They agreed there is a heaven, and there is a hell, and we all want to go to heaven. When we asked the women, “How do you know whether or not you will go to heaven when you die?” They responded, “No one knows. Even religious teachers don’t know.” Now we had an opening to share the “Good News.” We asked them, “Have you ever heard the name of Jesus?”  No one in the crowd of thirty had heard of Jesus.” We held up our Bible and started at the beginning.

The crowd continued to grow and as we read the story of Adam’s sin condemning us all.  We shared about God shutting the door to Noah’s ark, and it was too late for everyone else to be saved. We told the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac as a sin offering. And finally we explained God’s love for us which he demonstrated by sacrificing his Son for our sins. These women had never been told that God loved them. They had never heard the name of Jesus. They did not know that they had a choice and that they could be assured of spending eternity in heaven if they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

We asked them if anyone was willing to believe in Jesus. There was no response. And so we prayed that the women would think about the stories we had shared. I will never know if the women we met will believe in Jesus. I spoke the name of Jesus in a place that was completely dark. I overcame my fear and sowed the seed. Only God can reap the harvest. We were welcomed everywhere we stopped, and crowds grew at every home. I will continue to pray for the women and men who heard the name of Jesus for the first time, and I will pray that others will go and boldly proclaim the name of Jesus.

I am blessed for having the experience of being a disciple in a foreign land. I am grateful to be reminded that I am completely dependent upon God all the time. I appreciate the many people who faithfully prayed for me. And I am thankful that I was able to overcome my fear. I hope I remember to trust Jesus every day.

My Safe Place

In four days, I plan to leave on a mission trip to Africa. Yesterday, a friend said, “I’ll never go on a trip like that. I wouldn’t feel safe.” I have some bad news for my friend.  There is no safe place on earth for anyone.  To quote my Daddy, “If you are born, you are going to die and there is no one who can do that for you.”  Just because we live in America, we are not safe. Turn on any television or radio and you will hear of a robbery, traffic accidents, random shootings and chaos.  We, and the people we love will suffer at some point in our lives. The only safe place is covered with the blood of Jesus.

If you have ever considered the mission field, this is the plan of action I recommend: 1) Pray. The mission field is all around you. You don’t have to go to a foreign country. It is more difficult for me to share the gospel in a rundown trailer park in my hometown than in Africa. 2) Study God’s word. How can you share the gospel if you don’t know the gospel? 3) Trust God. He has such an awesome plan for your life. If you let go of the fear and trust God, he will amaze you with his rich blessings. We cannot fathom the goodness of God’s grace. And finally, be thankful in every circumstance. God does not promise an easy life. In fact, if we follow Him, we are assured that we will be persecuted.

Pray, Study, Trust and Be Thankful. To find true safety, “Follow Him.”

 

Where is the Mission Field

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Niger, Africa on a mission trip. A group from my church recently returned from Haiti.  One of the team members was sharing his experiences with the congregation, and he said something that resonated with me. He asked, “What would happen if we all acted the same way in our daily lives as we do when on a mission trip?”  I tend to forget that any time I leave the church sanctuary, I’m on the mission field. We are all called to go, and that means everywhere we go, there are opportunities to share the gospel.

This morning, I made a rare trip to the Laundromat. As I sat engrossed, studying material for my pending trip, an elderly man folded his clothes. We didn’t speak, and I was barely aware of him until I noticed he was struggling to open the door with his basket full of clothes. He dropped his leather jacket, and it was only then that I jumped to offer assistance. Another woman rushed in and started removing her clothes from the dryer and rapidly folded her clothes. It was obvious she was in a hurry. I could have offered to help, but I tuned out the world around me as I had my head stuck in a book. She left, and I was alone, waiting for my comforter to dry.  A man dressed in a suit and a young woman entered the Laundromat. They looked as if they were on their way to church. I looked up as they walked toward me, and he boldly asked, “Do you know Jesus?” I stood up and said, “Yes. I’m preparing to go to Niger on a mission trip in two weeks.” His response was, “That’s very interesting. We are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  He then handed me a pamphlet and promptly left. I sat down and read the brochure.

I’m not well informed about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but their actions this morning reminded me that I was sitting right in the middle of the mission field.  Had I been focused on the people surrounding me, I might have had the opportunity to share the gospel.  Satan can trick us into focusing on the wrong things.

There are lost people all around us. I hope you’ll read this and remember that you are in the mission field.

 

Trust and Obey

I finally submitted the first book of The Weldon Series to an agent whom I met at the ACFW Conference. You may wonder why I’ve been stalling. The conference was in September. My manuscript was finished. I’ll let you in on a little secret. The manuscript is never finished, never perfect.

Open doors are few and far between for unpublished writers. That’s why I wanted to make sure to send my very best work.  I’m impulsive by nature. However, for once in my life, I waited. Even now, I worry about grammar errors, typos, word choices, etc. I reviewed the final version of the manuscript this morning and saw an error on the first page of Chapter 2. And so, I had to close the document and let go.

In two weeks, I will send the manuscript to an editor who requested to see the first five chapters. I’m hopeful I’ll have an agent by then.  If not, I’ll polish more and try other avenues.

I know God’s hand is on this project. The first draft of book two is finished.  I started outlining the third book of the series last week. In book three, the protagonist, a retired bank executive plans to use her wealth to start a drug rehabilitation facility for women. My next plan of action is to research recovery facilities for women.

At the Rotary luncheon on last Friday, I found myself sitting across from the guest speaker. To my astonishment, I discovered she is the director of Haven 4 Change, a drug recovery center for women. God arranged for me to meet this inspiring woman. When I start to doubt myself, God has been faithful to provide the resources and people I need. My job is to trust and obey, to yield completely to His will. I am in awe of the great God I serve.

What is God asking you to do? Are you afraid? Do you doubt your skills? I’m reminded of the old hymnal, “Trust and Obey.” 

I may never be a published writer, however, “I am happy in Jesus when I trust and obey.” 

Reviewing the Past and Looking Forward to the Future

Today is the first day of 2014. My only writing goal for 2013 was to write one hour per day. I failed many days. But that’s not going to stop me from setting new goals for 2014.

The beauty of this life is that each morning we have the opportunity to do better than we did yesterday. Of course, none of us have the promise of tomorrow.

The most important thing I’ve learned about writing this year is that reading good books and writing regularly has helped me to become a better writer.

Writing is a way for me to share my faith. God’s in charge of deciding whether or not my work will be published. I enjoy writing and reading the simple stories He has given me.  I’m sowing seeds. Only God knows where the words he’s planted in my heart will land and what fruit will be harvested. I know writing has drawn me closer to Him and led me to spend more time in His word.

My writing accomplishments for 2013 include:

  1. I submitted the first draft of my novel to my editor. She returned it in June and I re-wrote almost the entire book and resubmitted it to her in October (91,898 words).
  2. I submitted three short stories to contests.  One story, The Barber’s Sanctuary, won the fiction category of Kentucky Monthly’s 6th Annual Writers’ Showcase and was published in the November 2013 issue of the magazine.  Kentucky Monthly magazine distributes approximately 45,000 copies so I received exposure.
  3. I set up my WordPress Blog. My original goal was to post weekly which was unrealistic. If I submit a weekly post, I have no time to commit to my short stories and novels.
  4. I participated in NaNoWriMo (the annual novel writing project where writers set the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.) I only logged 43,000 words. However, I WROTE 43,000 WORDS IN ONE MONTH.
  5. The first draft of my second novel is almost finished. I’m at 58,569 words. I estimate that it will be around 65,000 words and my goal is to finish on my birthday, January 5.
  6. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and attended the annual conference in September.
  7. I joined Middle Tennessee Christian Writers.
  8. I joined a critique group that meets at the Bowling Green Public Library monthly.
  9. I met an outstanding agent with a stellar reputation who wants to see my edited manuscript with a proposal.
  10. I met two editors from publishing houses who want to see my edited manuscript.
  11. I completed an outline for seven books in The Weldon Series.

My writing goals for 2014.

  1. Write for one hour every day with the exception of Sunday.
  2. Post to my blog once per month.
  3. Submit the edited manuscript with a proposal to the agent.
  4. Submit the edited manuscript to the two publishers.
  5. Attend six meetings of the Middle Tennessee Christian Writers group.
  6. Attend six meetings of the critique group that meets at the Bowling Green Public Library.
  7. Read one book per week.
  8. Submit the manuscript of book two for editorial review by the end of January.
  9. Write the first draft of book three by the end of October.
  10. Attend the annual ACFW Conference in September.
  11. Write three short stories. (Feb, June, August)
  12. Submit three short stories to magazines.
  13. Apply to attend The Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
  14. Participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m sharing my goals so that I will be accountable. We’ll review the results next January (if I’m still here and able).  Or as my Granny would have said, “If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Happy New Year and I pray that God will bless you and those you love.

Until I post again,

Shelia

The Perfect Gift

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve made the annual trek to my family cemetery where my parents rest.  I don’t know why I feel drawn to the cemetery on Christmas Eve. My heart is always heavy as I stand over the cold, gray tombstone and remember happy Christmases from the past.

From the cemetery, I could see the house that was my childhood home. Oh how my heart yearned to go inside, sit by the fire and have a nice visit with Mama and Daddy. While standing in the cold on this bright day, I heard a rooster crow, and was reminded of Jesus telling Peter, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34.

How many times did I deny Jesus before I finally yielded and accepted him into my heart? More than three, I can tell you that. Only God knows.

All week, I’ve been focused on the short book of Haggai. Two verses keep taunting me. “Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (6) You have sown much and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” Haggai 1:5-6.

These verses could be describing most of us and our culture today. Our mega churches harvest little. We create many of our health problems because we cannot control our appetites. How many people are in the malls today buying clothes they do not need? How many of us work longer hours, make more money, but find ourselves feeling dissatisfied? We will never be filled, never be satisfied until we fill the vacuum in our heart that only Christ can fill.

Dear ones, if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I ask you to pick up a Bible and turn to the following scriptures:

Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boasts.”

Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 10:9-10 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

On this Christmas Eve, I pray that all will accept the gift of Jesus into your heart and be satisfied. It is because of God’s perfect gift, I have the hope of seeing my beloved parents again.  I visited the cemetery this morning, but I know they are not there. They are in heaven where I too will join them someday. I hope to meet you there. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.