School Supplies Aren’t Just for Kids

School supplies in Liberia

In developing countries, people understand the importance of education. Parents want their kids to attend school in the hope that they will break the cycle of poverty. Even children desire the opportunity to go to school. However, in poor communities, often children miss out on education because parents can’t afford to pay school fees or purchase pens, paper, and colors. School supply kits, or CarePacks, are frequently requested from GAIN in-country partners. We and our partners want to show communities that children matter, and their education has great potential to facilitate change for the better.

In one Liberian village, a newly formed Christian church found a different use for CarePacks. With a fresh, faith-filled outlook on life, the women from this new church have a zeal for learning to read and write – especially in English. Because of this desire, a Women’s Literacy program formed. They realized the CarePacks were perfect for increasing the learning experience. Armed with their own notebook, pens, and pencils, these women have the tools for practicing their new writing skills. When they received their CarePacks, these happy women proudly began singing their ABCs! They couldn’t wait to show off what they learned.

CarePacks for adults

Learning is fun for all ages! You can help provide education opportunities by simply helping GAIN get CarePacks into the hands of children (and excited women) in tough places in the world. Visit the GAIN gift catalog, or learn how you can host a CarePack drive in your community!

* At GAiN, I tell stories of life change, letting people know how their gifts and donations make a difference in people’s lives. Originally, photos and portions of this post were used in one such report at GAiN.

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Film Touches the Heart of Women

Tabeth's church. Pastor is the woman wearing green.Maybe you’ve heard of the Jesus Film and its impact on lives around the world. But, do you know about the Magdalena Movie, which shares the gospel to women in a special way? Born out of the compassion of one South African man, this film reaches into the emptiness of the hearts of women and teaches that they matter to Jesus.

Willie E. and his wife Marie were working in Afghanistan. Willie saw first-hand how the women were ill-treated, worse than dogs. While distributing aid in a room of about twenty burka-clad women, most holding babies, a large bearded man stood at the door with a stick. When the women talked, he beat them over the head with the stick. They cowered. One lady tried to shield with her arm, yet he continued beating her. Willie could feel her pain, even though he couldn’t see her face. After this experience, he told Marie they had to do something to teach these ladies about Jesus. How would they learn? They can’t go out, can’t read, can’t get a Bible, and can’t communicate with strangers. After much prayer, the Magdalena project began in 2002.

One of Tabeth's 10 churches

The Magdalena film depicts biblical accounts of Jesus’ loving, grace-filled interactions with women. One evangelistic strategy trains women to tell these stories orally, so they can share with anyone, anywhere. Marie has been instrumental in these trainings. Storytelling training equips women not to just memorize a story, but to tell it in a way that reflects the women’s personal reactions to the movie and their unique life experiences. After crafting a story, women learn to use it for evangelism. They watch clips on a battery operated projector because many places have no electricity. They discuss the clips, using the movie like a Bible study while learning to tell the stories.

Marie tells of Tabetha session in Madagascar when after crafting two stories, they sent the women out to practice using them to evangelize. The women came back within an hour and had led 72 people to Christ! When the women see this method working, they get excited and want to learn more and more. Another woman from Zimbabwe, Tabeth (at right), learned the storytelling technique and used it to plant ten churches, five of which were planted within a six-month time period. One of these churches appears in the photos above.

God is using this film to show defeated and degraded women their immense value. From the first Afghan version in the Dari language to the subsequent 170 translations, women weep as they watch because they learn the joy of knowing Jesus. Marie says,“In the end, it’s God that gets the glory for everything that gets done, because without him, we could have done nothing.”

*Photos courtesy of Marie E. of Cru.

Is the Church Doing Any Good?

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In my work at GAIN, I hear and write about stories of desperation, help, and hope in struggling places like Zimbabwe, Liberia, South Sudan, and East Africa. Recently, I attended a trip debrief meeting to hear what took place during an assessment in Zimbabwe. GAIN distributed seeds to some communities in previous years, and our team returned to learn the progress and to see what other development projects we could aid. We heard stories like this:

Two pastors in one village have huge vision. They realize their job is not just to preach, teach, and visit, but to love. They caught the attention of their community by doing things like building desks for the school, helping repair water wells, and clearing land for a community garden. They mobilized pastors from other churches and denominations to labor with them. The people watching this unfold were astounded. Pastors working together in this way was unheard of in their culture. As a result, respect of the church was elevated, and hearts were open to receive the Gospel message.

A female pastor in another village was inspired by the two pastors. She began a church garden to help feed people in her village. She recognized the requirement to expand her garden because needs around her were great. She took out a loan to purchase more seeds, a water pump, and other necessary supplies. She has been able to sell excess produce and is close to repaying the loan. In her village, people have taken notice. They understand the church cares for them.

There are many more stories like this. What struck me is how in story after story, the church gains credibility by helping the community accomplish what they might not otherwise. Why is that not the case in affluent countries like mine?

The good news is there are many churches in the US working hard to help others. Some help the elderly by doing home repairs or yard work. Some pack weekend food for children who don’t get meals other than those they get at school. Some help immigrants apply for citizenship. Some pack seeds or rice and bean meals to send to developing countries. Some take food to homeless in downtown areas. Some regularly send teams to other countries to build churches, drill wells, or teach about AIDS prevention and Biblical love. Some visit people in prison. The list goes on and on.

But, do we hear about these things? Not usually. Sadly, the media loves to tell stories of church mistakes. Yes, churches make mistakes. And unfortunately, some are misguided. We are all flawed. We are all learning – together.

Thankfully, there is One who forgives our mistakes and misguided understanding. God has seen it all. He isn’t taken by surprise. His desire is for the church to become like His Son by the power of His love.

Church, let’s be bold in our good deeds so that the love of Christ will flow through us. Let our communities take notice!

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:16

A Call to Unity

With controversial topics abounding these days, many Christians find themselves in the middle of heated debates. The disappointing fact is that these debates are quite often among Christians. It’s obvious there are Christians on both sides of the coin. If we are called to be unified, why are so many Christians asserting their opinions so loudly? I wonder what good it is doing to argue one stance or another. Is it that important to be “right?”

It saddens me to see God’s plan and desire so disregarded. In the midst of that, Christians are called to exhibit love, grace, and truth. And, we are to be unified in those things.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:22-23

God’s word spells out the way to have a perfect joy and peace that only He can provide. He shows us how to live. Yes, the truth is we don’t always get it right. But, instead of disputing and name calling, let’s keep our mouth shut and listen. Listen to what God expects from us. Our opinion isn’t what’s important. Our unified actions of love are of the utmost importance. This is our calling. This is how we can make a positive difference in the lives of those who don’t know the love of Christ.

I love this quote by Billy Graham:

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.

We don’t need to condemn or condone. We just need to love, and do it as one.

To Win the Prize

Blogging. Something I thought I’d never do. One, I’ve never thought I have enough to say to the world at large (i.e. anyone who follows my posts). Two, I’m not the deep thinking, introspective type. I likely won’t have much wisdom to impart – maybe only a nugget here and there. Well, here I am. Blogging.

Let me give you some background on the name of my blogging site – ipressontowintheprize. I’m a late adopter when it comes to technology, and that includes social media. I was a few years after my friends stepping into the Facebook arena. Twitter, why on earth would I do that? Who has the time? I already experience information overload as it is. (I did start up with Instagram because I like pictures. But, I’m definitely not an active user.)

Less than a year ago, the marketing department where I work started getting more involved in the social media scene. Employees were asked to take part in being “social.” Well, ok. I posted a few things here and there on Facebook. That was my small contribution.

Then, our company added a new Twitter handle. This one was meant to get us more involved in the Twitter community of software developers. So, there was this employee contest to post a picture to Twitter using a targeted hashtag. The selected tweeter would get a free vacation day. Argh! Dang. Time to get a Twitter account.

I am horrible at coming up with clever user IDs. Other people have cool, fun, or cute ones. Mine tends to be some derivative of my name. Boring! So, I thought about it for a while. I decided to use something from my selected life verse.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14”

to win the prizeAfter trying several phrases, @towintheprize was available. Yay! I finally had a more interesting user name. Armed with my new Twitter handle, my coworker friend and I worked together and posted a tweet with a photo of us working by the pool. We hoped to both get that free day off!

Well, a different coworker in charge of tracking the submissions laughed, loving my handle. She thought I chose it because I wanted “to win the prize” of the free vacation day. Ha! I’m more clever than I thought. I picked a handle with a double meaning and didn’t even know it. I didn’t win the vacation day.

That brings me to this blog. I decided to start a blog chronicling what God is doing in my life. He’s been doing quite a bit lately. Maybe my stories, comments, etc. will encourage or inspire someone, even if it’s only in a small way.  I wanted to name by blog site the same as my Twitter handle. That didn’t work out. towintheprize was already taken. After trying several iterations, I got something close. ipressontowintheprize. In fact, it’s even better because it includes an action – I press on. This is what I intend to do – through the good and bad, the hard and easy, the fun and not-so-fun. With God’s leading, do things that are “way beyond me,” to steal the lyrics from Toby Mac’s latest tune.

Press on.