Monday, April 7, 2014

marching onward

Bonjour à tous! / Hello everyone!

I hope you are doing well, and that those of you living in the "polar vortex" aka the midwest are starting to see the hope of spring arriving! I am doing very well - as busy as ever! It seems like, despite my hopes to the contrary, I will be writing more like 1-2 posts a month rather than 3-4. Better something than nothing, and better late than never! Sorry if this post ends up being very long and chatty, it's just that so much has happened in the last month since I've written! I'll do my best to synthesize :)

There are so many exciting things happening in our movement and in my personal ministry right now - it has been such a blessed and encouraging month full of "God sightings" as we see the ways He is present and working here. One of these things was the City 360 - a type of reciprocal movement evaluation where staff and students from one city come to another city to interview people who are involved in that movement, and compile together a list of encouraging things that God is doing as well as a few points of advice to help them continue moving forward. It was a crazy, hectic, and very rewarding experience for all who were involved in the 3-way exchange between Toulouse, Montpellier, and Lyon (Agapé's southern cities) over the course of 6 days. For more information about the 360 and its impact on our students, check out my monthly newsletter.

In addition to the City 360, March has marked the beginning of our pioneering effort of "groupes découvertes" (discovery Bible studies designed to present the basics of the Gospel to non-Christian or newly Christian students). We are using an Agapé France resource recommended to us by the national director Francis and his wife Marie-Carmen when they came to visit us back in February, and we are really excited to put it into place and see the Lord use this tool to impact students. So far, my teammates are leading two discovery groups, and there are enough students showing interest that we may be forming a third one soon. It has already been a huge encouragement to us to see some of our long-time friends, and some newer friends, who are spiritually seeking really engaging and taking the Bible study seriously. Please pray for our friends Adam, Capucine, Ourada, and Justine who are currently part of a group, for Leila, Ural, and Aline who will hopefully be forming a new group soon, and for Amandine (one of our student leaders who is coming with her friend Capucine) and my teammates as they prepare and lead these studies. Pray that the Lord continues to reveal Himself to them through their study of the Gospel of John, and that they come to know Him personally through these small groups.

This past Friday we hosted a short-film outreach night, and were able to see God moving in incredible ways through the people that came. I was the "point person" for the evening, and was able to use the advice and input of my partner Hannah with Jesus Film Media (check out their work and their films at as well as one of our students Daniel who is studying cinema to help plan out the films we would use, as well as in which order to show them. I also reached out to two of our involved students - Anne Elizabeth and Emmanuelle - to act as M.C.s for the event. It was exciting for me to be able to use my resources and partnership with JFM, but even more exciting to make the extra effort to involve our students. Daniel had really great insights to share, and the girls did a fantastic job of making people feel comfortable and directing the evening. I was so proud of them! In addition to the planning going well, it was really encouraging to see which friends the Lord moved to join us, and His sovereignty in organizing our groups and directing the conversation. Each of my teammates (and several of our Christian students who came) were able to share our own testimonies and the Gospel around our tables using the questions sparked by the films. God really provided for us, and it was amazing to feel His presence with us.

On a more personal note, March also meant a special visitor for me - my dear friend from Marquette, Brittany! She came for a week and we were able to do a great mixture of sight-seeing, catching up, and experiencing & sharing my life here in France together. She was able to meet students, come on campus with me, come to my church, and meet my teammates. It was a lot of fun and a huge blessing to have her here to see and better understand my world. It was also a great vacation for me to travel with her, and I was able to spend my birthday in Paris and have dinner with my dear teammate and roommate from last year, Kate.

Brittany and I on the Corum overlooking my lovely city of Montpellier

Outside of Carcassonne - a beautiful, medieval, walled city near Montpellier

The lovely back of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

My dear friend the Iron Lady - looking as beautiful as I remembered!

All in all, March has been very full, and I am eagerly anticipating all that God will continue to do the rest of this semester! Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support - I am so thankful for you!

A la prochaine! / Until next time!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sharing with Students and National Conference

Coucou tout le monde! Hi everyone!

Here, as promised, is an update of some of the highlights from these past two weeks. I would like to start by sharing a few stories from my time on campus having spiritual conversations with students, and with students! What do I mean by that? No, it is not a redundant typo! These last few weeks, we have been challenging our Christian students to come with us on campus to talk with their peers about Jesus. We have truly seen God show up to bless their steps of faith in amazing ways, and I would love to share a few of their stories with you.

Here's Hayley on Paul Valery (the liberal arts university and also the campus where she is studying). I met up with her for lunch on campus before we went out sharing, and was able to get to know her a little better while also explaining to her our strategy, vision, and goals. She had never done anything like this before, and was a little nervous and concerned about approaching people in a sensitive and caring way. I was able to assuage some of her fears, and reassure her that we don't need to worry about our incompetency, because the Spirit is the one that makes us competent for the ministry He gives us. (2 Corinthians 3:5) She had shared with me during lunch that she spent a year in Istanbul, Turkey as a high school student and we talked a bit about her experiences there. Imagine how surprised we both were when the first girl we approached was Turkish - and not just Turkish, but from Istanbul! They even have mutual friends on facebook! We had a great conversation with her and I was able to share the Gospel. She reached out to Hayley and asked for her number, and we're hoping to see her again soon. It's so beautiful to see the ways God, as a good Father, blesses our steps of obedience and faith and gives us good gifts!

Chelsea, left, is an American study abroad student here for the year. She has been involved with Agape since the beginning of last semester, and has been growing by leaps and bounds. This semester, she has felt really challenged to share her faith, and has been enthusiastically seeking opportunities to go with us. I went with her for her second time sharing on her campus, and was amazed by her heart and her courage doing something that she told me she would never have imagined herself doing only a few short months ago. The Lord continues to do an amazing work in her life!

Here is a photo of Girish, and Indian doctoral student in biology involved with Agape, during our weekend retreat last semester. Girish has been a Christian for a long time, but shared with us last semester that he has a really hard time talking about his faith. He is nervous and said that he doesn't feel comfortable or confident since he doesn't know all the answers. Since we had talked about this before, I was surprised and excited to see that he had signed up to go on campus and volunteered to go with him. We went on the science campus together, and was encouraged to see in talking with him that he was choosing to take this step of faith despite his fears - his feelings hadn't changed, but he had decided to act courageously despite his fears. He was especially nervous about having a spiritual conversation in French, since he is still less than confident in French despite having made enormous progress since arriving last fall. Once again, God blessed and surprised us by leading us to a Canadian student and we were able to talk to her in English! It was a great conversation, and at the end, she asked me for my phone number! I'm hopeful about being able to hang out with her again. While she doesn't have any faith beliefs herself (she operates more under a moral system of the Golden Rule than a particular religious system), she is very open and enjoys hearing about what other people believe. I'm really looking forward to new steps of faith Girish is able to take, and I hope that this experience has encouraged him to keep sharing his faith.

This past week was the Agape France National Conference - where the whole group of anyone on staff with Agape in France (campus, music, sport, and art ministries, human resources, accounting, staff services, etc.) got together near La Rochelle (in the north west of France) for a week of learning, connection, and planning for the future. It was really fun for me to be there, and a lot less intimidating than last year to connect with the staff - especially since I know some of them much better! One of my favorite moments from the conference was the group prayer time, where the national director called up to the front everyone on staff or interning who was under 35. Altogether, we were a little over half of the whole group! When we were all up front, they took some time to pray over us and to thank God for us. It was so beautiful and so touching to see and hear such tangible proof of their support and love for us. Next, they asked everyone who had been on staff for 25 years or longer to come up and stand with us as a model of perseverance and faithfulness for us to look to, and we were able to pray for them. It was so sweet to see that living record of how God has been at work here in France.

Another of my favorite moments happened at the end of an evening planned by the art team in Paris. They had us each write our anxieties, fears, and weaknesses on pieces of red paper, and then with a series of several clever folds and cuts, we opened it up to see a cross. After we laid these things at the foot of the cross in a tangible way, we all brought our crosses up and laid them out around the map of France they had created on the floor out of tealights. Then, we read and meditated on several verses they had chosen and used art supplies they gave us to write or draw a one-word prayer for France, what we hope for God to do here in this country, and put them in the middle. Then they lit the candles around the outside, turned down the lights, and we spent some time praying over the country of France and singing praise to God. It was a poignant, beautiful moment.

Also during the week, I was blessed by the natural beauty around us - like this sunset! - and by some really sweet and intimate times with the Lord. I am learning a lot about grace - how to accept His grace for me, and how to extend grace to myself and others. All in all, it has been a very busy and very blessed two weeks. I'm glad to be home, and energized & excited for what God has in store for the rest of the semester! Thanks for your continued prayers for me, my team, and our movement here in Montpellier. I am so grateful for you all!

A la prochaine! Until next time!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Playing catch-up

Bonjour tout le monde!

It has officially been almost 9 weeks since my last post...yikes. My sincere apologies to anyone who has been waiting on the edge of their proverbial seat for an update from this side of the pond. It has not been my intention to keep you in the dark! Instead, it has been a combination of factors including, but not limited to, lots of events, lots of details to organize, lots of traveling, limited energy, and limited free time. As my dear mother said in our last email exchange, "UPDATE BLOG.  Last entry Dec. 8th (2 months)" Happily, as Paul told the Romans in his letter, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Phew! Thanks for extending me grace on this one!

In thinking about the best way to fill you in on all that has happened in the meantime, I decided the most effective plan would be to create a photo overview of the last 2ish months - so here goes!

The above photo (Leila on the left and my teammate Amy on the right) is from our girls-only Christmas party that we hosted mid-December. We decorated cookies together, talked about our Christmas traditions, and then Joelle shared about the greatest gift she has ever received - Jesus! Leila is one of our more spiritually interested friends, and we were able to have a really deep and honest conversation about where she is at in taking steps towards God. It was so encouraging! If you want to hear the next part of Leila's story, check out my January update letter.

Above is Amandine, a new friend that my teammate Megan met on campus the previous week. As part of the Gospel presentation, we offered one of the girls a free gift (the cute little box she is holding in her hand). She volunteered to accept it, and when talking to me afterward shared that she was especially touched by the gift because of what Joelle had shared - she said that hearing her story made the gift so much more meaningful. Then she asked me if I had ever had a moment in my life where I opened the door of my heart to Jesus, like Joelle had explained. I was flabbergasted - how often does someone so clearly give you an opportunity to share your faith? All in all, it was a very encouraging time sharing with the girls who came.

The end of December meant the approach of our national Christmas conference - called CNA (Camp du Nouvel An, or New Year's Camp). It was a wonderful, encouraging, rich week where we were able to come together as different individual movements to learn, grow, and experience God in the beautiful Alps! Above is a group of students who went hiking up a nearby trail during one of our free afternoons.

Stéphanie (French intern in Rennes) and two students enjoying the free day excursion to the beautiful city of Annecy. Other students spent the day at Les 7 Laux, a nearby ski resort, and came back tired but happy.

On New Year's Eve, it is a French tradition to have a special dinner and a big party late into the night - and this CNA did not disappoint! It was so fun to see everyone dressed up, and to play games, dance, and worship into the new year together.

We had two fantastic speakers - a young husband and wife team who came to share with us what it means to live missionally, to be "100% sent" wherever God is calling us.

One of my favorite parts of the week was the amount of time we were able to spend praying together - for each other, for our campuses, and for God to move supernaturally in France.

For one of our nightly programs, we did a "cardboard testimonies" evening - we asked students and staff to reflect on the different ways God has transformed each of us as we put our faith in Him and seek to follow His leading, and then synthesize those transformations down to a "before & after" to write on their pieces of cardboard. It was amazing to see and hear each student's story as they shared with their small groups, and then to spend time together praising and thanking God for His work in our lives. Above is Martin, a student, and Louis, a French intern. Their "befores" are fear, and nothing.

After - peace and confidence in God, relationship!

Throughout the camp, in the midst of all the details to organize and things to think about (I served as part of the planning committee), God really met with me in very individual ways. I learned a lot and was incredibly encouraged by my quiet times with Him. I also got to enjoy beautiful gifts like this stunning sunset over the Alps. Our biggest prayer as the planning team was that everyone who came would experience God in a unique and personal way, and He far exceeded our expectations!

A short two weeks after returning from CNA, we were on the road again traveling to southern Spain for our Stint Mid-Year conference. The conference is for all Americans serving on short-term internships with Cru in Europe, Russia, Africa, and the Middle East - about 200 of us in all. We were met in Spain by about 50-100 American staff members who made the trip over to pray for us, counsel us, teach us, coach us, and encourage us. 

Another fun perk of the week was our free day adventure - my roomies and I chose to go to the Rock of Gibraltar. As Megan said, "Calling it a big rock is so deceptive! It's so much bigger than I imagined!" Bigger, and rockier! It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day and we really enjoyed the lovely mixture of man-made history and natural beauty.

After Mid-Year, my teammate Kimberly and I decided to take advantage of our compensation days and extra weekend days to travel to Scotland. While there, we got to visit the University of Glasgow (above). I still can't believe people go to school here! We were walking around, exclaiming to each other, "It's like Hogwarts!" Then we heard someone whistling the main theme from the Harry Potter movies and we had to laugh together!

We were also able to take a day trip from Glasgow and visit the beautiful village of Stirling (castle pictured in the above picture). I've never seen so many gorgeous rainbows!

After Stirling, we traveled to Doune and were able to tour Doune Castle - the site used by Monty Python for the filming of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We loved the castle, and really enjoyed the audioguide (done by one of the members of the Python crew).

The next stop on our tour was the lovely seaside town of St. Andrews, featuring some of the most beautiful ruins I have ever seen - including the cathedral pictured above.

Our last stop was the scenic and historic city of Edinburgh - truly a beautiful and incredible city. All in all, I came back from Scotland with many great memories of adventures, a much richer understanding of Scottish history, and a great desire to watch Chariots of Fire (which I finally watched this evening!)

Phew! That's a lot of traveling and a great many things to catch up on! I hope you enjoyed the pictures, and I look forward to sharing some very encouraging stories from the last two weeks - but I'll save that for the next update! Thanks once again for your prayers and for all your support and encouragement - God is richly blessing us here in Montpellier, France!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Giving Thanks

Coucou tout le monde! Hello everyone!

It has been a few weeks since my last post, and A TON of things have happened! God has been teaching me a lot about what it means to live gratefully and to give thanks for all of the beautiful, mundane, and difficult aspects of my life. He has also been blessing me (and my team) abundantly in the midst of a lot of busyness and things to organize. We have so many reasons to be thankful! Let me share just a few with you...

1. In the beginning of November we were able to go apple picking as a team (the five of us girls) to a nearby orchard owned by a family that knows the Skurs - a family on staff here last year. We had a wonderful time playing, juggling, laughing, and picking apples, and came home loaded down with many enormous bags of Pink Lady apples. We have made so many apple crisps! It was really fun for us to be able to get out of the city and spend time together.

2. Johanna came to visit! Johanna is a dear friend of mine and an Agapé student who has been very involved in the movement here since it's beginning several years ago. This year she is in the U.S. doing an internship with Glaxo-Smith-Klein and so I haven't seen her since I left to go home to the States back in June. It was so wonderful to talk with her, to catch up, to eat frozen yogurt (one of our traditions), and just to hug her. I'm so glad she was able to come and see us!

3. We got to be a part of new life! Pierre has been coming to our once a week Parcours Alpha (Alpha Course) seeker Bible study and recently showing a lot of openness to spiritual things. He went with the group for a day-long outing into the country to focus specifically on a study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. During the course of the day, there was an opportunity given to anyone ready to accept Christ to pray and ask Him into their heart. Pierre prayed to accept Jesus that day, and has already started making steps of faith and growing in his relationship with God. He was also able to come to our Thanksgiving dinner, and wrote on his hand turkey craft how thankful he was to the Lord for his new relationship with Him.

4. We also were able to have our first ever Agapé weekend retreat with our Christian students who are involved in the movement. It was such a wonderful and encouraging time for myself and my team as we were able to experience the whole weekend from it's beginning planning stages through to it's completion. It was a weekend full of learning, building new relationships and deepening old ones, relaxing time in nature, shared fun, and delicious food. God's hand of blessing and provision was so evident throughout the whole process! Our speakers for the weekend were a young pastor and his wife from Paris who came to share several deep, Bible-based, and immensely practical messages on the Trinity. They also directed a women's time/men's time about purity, relationships, and marriage - and what God says about them. The students were very impressed by the teaching they had to share, and very appreciative of their willingness to come down and speak to us. I am also thankful for the part our student leaders played in organizing the ice-breaker games, planning food quantities, and leading the hiking trip. I am immensely thankful for my teammate Megan who did a fantastic job of planning the menu for the weekend and organizing the purchasing and preparation of the food. We ate very well! Although we (the team) returned exhausted, it was the grateful exhaustion of those who have worked hard and experienced God's blessings on their endeavors!
Some of our students around the table at dinner 

The beautiful country house we stayed in for the weekend

5. November also means Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving for my team and I means a traditional, American-style Thanksgiving dinner for about 100 people. Thanksgiving is one of our huge outreaches of the year, and so we have the opportunity to invite many of our friends to enjoy celebrating and eating with us, and also to hear the testimonies of our two of our students who shared the reasons that they are thankful to God. There was so much planning to be done, and so many details to organize! But the Lord granted us favor, patience with each other, and His supernatural, incomprehensible peace. We all made it through, and were able to celebrate together on the other side. Some of the highlights in photos:

 My sweet teammate Joelle with her hand-painted signs

Setting up the room before the big event

Chrystelle, a Northern Irish study abroad student experiencing her first Thanksgiving! She joked with me after dinner that she would make her mom cook her Thanksgiving dinner every year! She also added, on a more serious note, that she wished we could know how much our team had blessed her by inviting her to the dinner and pouring into her.

Chelsea, an American study abroad student, thanked us for helping her celebrate Thanksgiving away from home and combat the homesickness associated with this holiday. She was able to bring 4 other study abroad students, none of whom are believers.

Amandine (near the middle holding the whipped cream) brought 4 friends to Thanksgiving (many of whom are repeat visitors!). All of them helped out serving platters and clearing up after dinner, and all of them were able to hear the good news of Jesus from Amandine herself.

My teammates and I after dinner and clean-up standing in front of our Arbre de Reconnaissance (Thankfulness Tree)

Our Thankfulness tree in all it's glory (each leaf features a reason one of our students who came is thankful this year)

One of my favorite pictures - Joelle "eating" some of our leftover corn!

I wish I had more time, space, and energy to share all the blessings God has showered on us during November! I'll stop here for now, and just add a hearty and sincere thank-you to all of you who are supporting me financially and through prayer. I am thankful for each of you - thank you for helping to make this movement possible!

"Soyez toujours dans la joie. Priez sans cesse. Remerciez Dieu en toute circonstance: telle est pour vous la volonté que Dieu a exprimée en Jésus-Christ." -1 Thessaloniciens 5 v 16-18

("Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Intellectual assent vs. Trusting faith

Bonjour tout le monde!

It has been some time since my last post - not because I have nothing to share or because God hasn't been at work, but rather because I have too much to share! These last few weeks have been very busy (in a good way!) and God has continued to provide the energy and motivation to persevere in loving and serving. Rather than give another ministry update, I would love to share some of the things the Lord has been teaching me recently.

I often find in my own life that God teaches me in themes. What I mean by this is that I will often have the same or similar messages coming at me from multiple sources - in sermons, in my time in the Word, through conversations with friends, in other books I'm reading, etc. In recent days, the Lord has been teaching me about faith - what it means to really have faith and to trust Him. This message, this theme, has been coming to me in a variety of ways.

One example comes from our recent weekend trip to Lyon (myself, some of my teammates, and our dear non-Christian friend Adam went to Lyon to visit the childhood home of my teammate and dear friend Joëlle). Friday we hung out with her twin brother Ben and visited the beautiful city of Lyon.

On Saturday we visited the town where Joëlle grew up, Brignais, and got to have lunch with her dad, Marc. We were also able to check out a visiting exposition at her church that shared the story of the Bible through a series of paintings by different artists. We even had audioguides to go with the paintings! It was a very beautiful expo, and just one of the many times over this weekend that Adam got a chance to hear the message of the Gospel!

On Sunday, we attended church with Joëlle, and got to hear her share an update of the ministry with her church family there that helps to support her financially. Her dad, one of the elders at the church, shared a message with us about faith. He preached on John 3:36 - "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." In light of this verse, he asked us what it means to have faith, to believe in Jesus. He challenged us to think about the difference between someone who believes - someone who believes God exists, that Jesus is real, and that He died for them, and someone who has faith and trust. You can believe in God without entrusting Him with yourself and your life - it's the difference between an intellectual agreement of belief and a life-changing faith of surrender. As he said, and it's clear in John 3:36 as well, an intellectual agreement kind of belief will not save you - only entrusting all of yourself to Jesus through faith brings life everlasting.

Another way God reminded me of this message and caused me to reflect more deeply was through our Parcours Alpha (the Alpha Course) that we have each Tuesday. For anyone  who doesn't know, the Alpha Course is a type of seeker Bible Study pioneered in the U.K. that's designed to help educate people about the basics of Christian faith and to draw them into dialogue about spiritual topics. The topic this past Tuesday was Assurance of Salvation - How do I know that I have faith? Once again, we were talking about the difference between an intellectual agreement and a faith that bears fruit in our lives. During the presentation part, we watched a short animated film that really challenged me to think about the nature of faith and trust. The cartoon introduced us to "The Great Blondin" - fearless daredevil and tightrope walker who traversed the Niagara Falls each day in front of an awestruck crowd. Each day he added a new challenge, a new dimension to his show. One day, he crossed the falls on his tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow with a sack of potatoes in it. When he got back to shore, he asked a man in the crowd, "Excuse me sir? Do you believe that I can walk back and forth across the falls pushing this wheelbarrow?" The man replied, "Of course I believe you can do it - I've seen you do it!" Blondin then asked him, "Are you willing to climb into my wheelbarrow and cross the falls with me?" The man was shocked and too afraid to accept his invitation. What a concrete example of the difference between believing that God is real, and trusting Him enough to entrust yourself to Him!

A third example of how God has been bringing this theme of true faith and trusting Him to the forefront of my mind is through the book I'm currently reading with my spiritual coach Lindsey. The book is called "Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God" and is written by Brennan Manning. In addition to being beautifully written, this book is wonderfully challenging, thoroughly convicting, and extremely encouraging. I would highly recommend it to anyone who, like myself, too often finds themselves working for God instead of being with Him, trying to control and micro-manage areas of life that God wants to take care of, and doubting or not living in light of our identity in Christ. I wish I could share the entire first chapter with you here, but instead I will limit myself to two key passages that really touched me. Firstly, one that perfectly exemplified the distinction between intellectual belief and trusting faith that God has been teaching me about. Manning writes, "The faith that animates the Christian community is less a matter of believing in the existence of God than a practical trust in His loving care under whatever pressure. The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart, 'God exists,' until I have said, 'I trust you.'" If I want a faith that animates me - that gives me life and pushes me to action - I need to practice trust in God's love for me in concrete, daily ways.

The second passage I'd like to share comes from midway through his first chapter. He writes, "The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it His presence and His promise." Through reading and reflecting on this passage, I clearly heard the Lord softly whispering to my heart and extending me His hand saying, "Kristin, do you trust me? Are you willing to leave what is comfortable, logical, and expected to follow me into the unknown? Will you trust My love even when times are difficult? Are you willing to die to your reputation, expectations, and need to control in order to follow where I'm leading you? Are you willing to do all of this without any promise of clarity, understanding, guarantees, or rational explanations simply because I have assured you of My presence with you?" More often than I care to admit, I am not ready to say yes to Him in all of these areas. I would rather stand on the bank of the Falls and pay Him lip-service than commit myself to His will and hop into His wheelbarrow.

I am so thankful for the ways that God has been teaching me and helping me to grow in relation to my trust in Him and my entrusting all of myself to Him. I hope this longer-than-intended sharing of my thoughts and reflections has been an encouragement to you! My prayer for myself, and for our movement here in Montpellier, is that we would trust God and follow where He leads, even and especially when it seems obscure, ambiguous, and undefined. That, like Moses, we would say, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here." (Exodus 33:15) I pray that we would seek God's will for each moment of our days and earnestly strive to follow where He is leading for the simple joy of His presence and the assurance of His promises.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Transformed Lives

Coucou - hello there!

This past week has been another full, busy week with many events, coffee dates, meetings, and to-do lists. God continues to provide for us physically, emotionally, and relationally as we work with Him to the praise of His glory and the expansion of His Kingdom here in France. Our Lord is in the business of radical transformation, and He continues to be hard at work. I would love to share just a few stories with you that I have heard this last week or so.

Last Thursday I met with my discipler Lindsey at a cozy little café called Kalysthé that I had visited once or twice before. Lindsey, a missionary with Pioneers, shared with me how she had come to know the café's owners Nanou and Jean-Louis. After she moved in across the street, she brought them some cupcakes as a neighborly housewarming-type gift. She got to know them better over the course of the following months, and invited both owners and the whole staff to the outreach Thanksgiving dinner her and her team were putting together. Jean-Louis was the only one who came, but he was very touched by the hospitality and kindness he experienced at the dinner. He was also exposed to the truth of the Gospel, which God used to draw him to Himself. He accepted Christ shortly afterwards and started going to a Bible study for new Christians with his non-believing wife. Nanou talked to Lindsey and asked if they could meet up every other week or so because she had so many questions she wanted to ask Lindsey. She kept going to Bible study and meeting with Lindsey for several months, and finally in February called Lindsey up to tell her that they didn't need to meet up anymore - all her questions had been answered by the Holy Spirit coming into her heart and her life! Both Nanou and Jean-Louis are now members at our church, and Nanou has been taking classes through the church to learn more about the Bible. Their staff and many of their regulars have remarked on the change they have seen in both of them since they committed their lives to Christ. 

This past Friday, I was working Chez Théo (the lovely not-for-profit café run by a partnership of four Protestant churches and Agapé) when a lovely young woman named Anisa came in. Anisa was meeting with Richard, a pastor at La Clé (one of the partnership churches), about getting baptized. Before they went upstairs to talk, Richard asked her if she'd like to share her story with us. I'll just share the highlights here. Anisa comes from a family of North African immigrants, and grew up Muslim. After starting her studies in Montpellier, God brought Christians into her life and orchestrated encounters as only He can. She was able to meet other women with Muslim families and pasts who have come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, and through their prayers and witness she started going to church with them. God broke down the walls around her heart and brought her to a knowledge of the truth in Christ Jesus. After her conversion, God gave her a burden for her other family members who are still Muslim. She told us that she would spread their photos out on her bed and spend hours in prayer, interceding for them. When she first told her mom that she had become a Christian, she was outraged and felt betrayed. Anisa kept praying for her, and introduced her to some of the formerly Islamic Christians she had met. Now her mom is coming to see the truth found only in Jesus, and is close to making a decision to follow Him herself. She will also be coming to Anisa's baptism.

Nanou and Jean-Louis' story gives me such hope, and is a great reminder that God can (and does!) save older, set-in-their-ways, atheistic French people. Anisa's story helps me to persevere in prayer and hope for our Muslim friends. God can break through darkness and lies with His truth. He is mighty to save - no one is impossible or too far gone! There are so many more stories of God's power transforming lives, but I just don't have space for all of them. Instead, I'll leave you with these verses that I hope encourage you. Thank you for your continued prayers for me and my team! Please pray that our lives would become brighter and more beautiful as we become like God, and that the Lord would remove the veil of blindness stopping our non-believing friends from truly seeing Him.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 MSG)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My pleasant boundary lines

Bon dimanche tout le monde! (Happy Sunday everyone!)

This past week was another busy one, full to the brim with good gifts and blessings from the Lord. Every night we had a different event, in addition to our meetings, campus time, and time spent with friends. Monday, as usual, was English Club at FitzPatrick's. We still have quite a crowd coming, and a whole new group of "regulars" who seem committed to continuing to come. I got to spend some time with our favorite Indian doctoral students (Hindu friends of our good friend Girish - a Christian Indian student in their same program). They recently moved into an apartment, and during the course of the night (I think we were discussing good Indian restaurants here in Montpellier) they invited us over to be their first dinner guests! They hosted us last night for dinner - which turned out to be a full cultural experience! We ate traditional food, (though they told us they cut the normal spice amount in half...I was still at my limit of spice tolerance!) in the traditional way (they showed us how to eat with our hand - Megan and Kim had pretty good technique), accompanied by a traditional drink of sweetened almond milk. It was delicious!

Tuesday was the first Parcours Alpha (or Alpha Course) meeting. The Alpha Course is a seeker Bible study developed for churches to help teach the basics of Christianity and create space for dialogue and exchange. I participated last year with a Muslim friend Doaha, but she was very busy and so we didn't go to all of the sessions. This year, Richard (a pastor from La Clé - another Protestant church here in Montpellier) is leading an Alpha Course specifically for students! We invited our friend Aline (see previous posts) who has already showed an interest in spiritual things, and she told Jeanette afterwards that she really enjoyed it. She said it wasn't at all preachy or boring like she thought it might be, instead she had a really good time and is excited to come back!

Wednesday was a game night instead of our normal Agapé meeting - and we had a ton of new faces! Kimberly introduced us to the perfect opening game for a game night called "Over the mountain." We all sat in chairs in a big circle, with one chair-less person in the middle who asked us to cross over the mountain if...and then picked a possible descriptor like "if you wear glasses" or "if you are a student." If their statement is true of you, you have to get up and try to find a new seat before they are all taken, and the last person standing gets to share their name and the next "over the mountain" statement It was a ton of fun, and a great way to get people talking to each other and decrease any initial feelings of awkwardness. My personal favorite was "Cross over the mountain if you have violently run into one of your neighbors during the course of this game." There were very few people left seated! My favorite part of the night was meeting Judith, a non-Christian friend of our non-Christian friend Israel. It meant so much to me to see our non-Christian friends inviting their friends - what a testimony to see that they trust us that much!

Thursday night we had our second groupe de serviteurs (servant leaders) meeting at our house. Four out of our five student leaders were able to come, have dinner with us (cooked by my lovely and talented roomie Kimberly), and talk together about the upcoming Agapé weekend in November. It was a lovely night, and such an encouragement to us to see how God is growing this group to really be a movement, and a movement after His own heart.

Friday night we had dinner with our dear Priscilla - a sweet Swiss girl who came to Montpellier for two weeks with her class, and wanted to stay with a Christian host family. Little did we know that responding to Daniel (a pastor at the Pompignanne church) and volunteering to house her made us a French host family! The irony was not lost on Megan or myself as we picked her up two weeks ago, surrounded by French families, at the bus stop. We are not a traditional family, nor are we French, but we had a wonderful time together! It was so much fun for us, and such a blessing, to be able to host Priscilla. She wanted to cook for us before she left, so we ate a delicious meal together before exchanging small gifts and notes, and accompanying her to her bus. It was very sad to see her go! She did tell us that we are welcome to visit her anytime we are in Switzerland, so maybe we will see each other again.

In the middle of all of this crazy busyness, I realized that I needed to take some extra time with the Lord. After meeting with my coach/discipler Lindsey on Thursday and talking with her about my spiritual and emotional state in the midst of a very full week, she shared some insights with me that really pushed me to reflect. I took Friday morning off and headed to my favorite coffee shop with my Bible and journal. I poured my heart out to the Lord, and He gently brought sin issues to light and helped me to bring them before Him and to confess my dependence. Over and over, I kept coming back to the phrase "I need you." As someone who is often competent, fairly responsible, and gifted in several areas, it is easy to depend on myself - on my own talents, capabilities, and strengths. God lovingly reminded me that my relationship with Him is one of dependence, that I truly need Him every minute of every day for everything! He led me to several passages in Psalm 16 that really challenged me to think about where I have been finding my joy, purpose, identity, and value outside of the Lord. After bringing those different idols to Him, I reread this Psalm and was reminded of who God is - that He is worthy of my trust and dependence! I'd love to share just a few insights that God gave me in reading this passage.

"I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing.'" (Psalm 16:2) God is the giver of good gifts, so everything good comes from God, and without Him I don't receive anything good. In another sense, even the good gifts He gives are not good apart from Him - when I separate them from God and He is not in them, they become idols in my life and separate me from Him. Unless He is in it, nothing is good.

"Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." (Psalm 16:5-6) The Lord is my provider - He is the One who knows me best, who knows exactly what I need, and He is able and willing to provide for me. There is never a reason to be discontented, the Lord gives all that I need. Not necessarily all that I want, or even all that I think I need, but I always have what I truly need when I come to Him to provide for me. God is the One who defines my boundaries, and He makes them fall in pleasant places. When I am stretched too thin or exhausted by my commitments, how often is it because I have not asked God to show me the boundaries He has defined for me, or because I didn't listen when He told me? As in everything else, I need God's wisdom to know when to say yes, and when to say no, as well as where - and with whom - I should invest myself. And He promises that the boundary lines He will draw for me are pleasant. In all this, I know that my ultimate joy comes from my eternal inheritance. God has provided for me in a big way, and as His child I can claim Heaven as my inheritance.

"You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand." (Psalm 16:11) Lastly, joy, life, and true pleasure comes from following God - and I need Him for every step of the way. He is the one who showed me the path of life, and enables me to live for Him. He is also the one who fills me with joy and gives me His eternal, lasting pleasures. Like any good gift, I cannot expect to find it apart from God. No wonder my vain idols failed to bring me joy, life, and pleasure! These things can only really be found in God. I need to be near to Him, in His presence, to be able to truly listen to His guidance, to receive His provision, and to live joyfully. Anything else this world can offer is not a lasting, eternal pleasure, but instead an earthly, temporal one.

Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support! This journey is not an easy one, and it is never fun to be confronted by my own insufficiency and idols, but I know that God is continuing the good work He began in me, and I know that the eternal pleasure and joy I experience in Him is worth all of the growing pains. Please continue to pray that God would work in my life, my teammates' lives, and the lives of our students to sanctify us and help us reflect Jesus Christ more and more each day. Merci beaucoup!