Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers

hurricane upheaval, tree

Upheavals expose the futility of man and often prepare the ground for seeds of true life.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.  Hebrews 4:13

While tucked away under prevailing current events, the devastation of Hurricane Maria continues to impact the communities of Puerto Rico.  Reconstruction is slow, 40% of the island remains without power and the hearts of the people, especially in remote areas,  grow heavier with the passing days.

Maria whipped through an already failed economy with 45% of residents living at the poverty level before she struck.  While the island fades from the media the darkness grows deeper as murder rates soar and suicides increase.  Failing government flounders.  Massive sick-outs by overwhelmed law enforcement agents, unpaid due wages,  exacerbate crime rate and fear.

Storms expose the condition of our hearts, our homes, and our community.  When governments fail and hopelessness abounds it may well become fertile and tilled ground for the Body of Christ.  My husband saw this when working on the island as part of a mission team.  While planning to provide some reconstruction and repair, the team soon found that the greatest need and longing is restoration of the heart and soul.

The Lord moves His Body in place to answer the cries of brokenness.

While in a devastated area, going door to door with care packages and the love of God,  team members Chris, who also directs security at our church and Sarah, a psychiatric nurse worked together with a local pastor and shared this testimony…

At one point in our canvassing we found no one home but the way led to a park where we saw a woman, sitting alone, underneath a tree.  We approached her to ask about her needs, how we might help in any way.  The woman was obviously downcast and heavy hearted. 

“I’ve been praying for days, asking for God’s direction, what I should do” she shared. “Ten years ago I lived in New York City, I used to go to Times Square Church.  My husband lives in New York City but I don’t know what to do.  My mother lives here….I’m praying for direction, I’m asking God for a sign…”

Chris said, “We’re here from Times Square Church.” 

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed and looked up directly at Chris.  At 6’5″ with  memorable looks and physique, she added with amazement,  “I remember you, I used to see you at the front of the church!”  (a security post!)   

An emotional dam burst forth and this woman shared her brokenness and deep fears.  The team counseled her, ministered to her and prayed with her.  No provisions would ever compare to the ‘care package’ delivered by God – the Body of Christ whom she knew from a church she loved, finding her in a remote corner of an island, praying alone underneath a tree.   

There were many such testimonies, even from that same day.  My husband’s team found a woman who readily answered their call.  Inwardly desperate,  she is literally dying and described to the team her terminal condition and prognosis – less than three weeks to live.  Broken, she described her ‘backslidden’ condition, having known the Lord but turned away from Him.  Would He receive her again?  Could she be assured of eternal life?

My husband knows very well the downfall and despair from turning away from the Lord and also knows the true renewal and assurance awaiting those who repent.  He and the brother with him ministered to this woman, praying for her and with her, leading her to the assurance of eternal life.

God’s purpose in the storm, whether it is a personal trauma or natural catastrophe, may be to expose the roots of our condition and cause us to seek Him in a deeper way.  If we, as the Body of Christ, offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” unto the Lord, He may maneuver us toward those broken people who are crying out for Him.

Please continue to pray for Puerto Rico, the work of God continues…

Is This Church?

The life of Christ dwelt within the heart of Haig but we missed it for many years.  Haigie was a mentally and physically disabled Armenian man, without family, who lived with the elderly at the Armenian Nursing Home.  Culturally vibrant and lively, this ‘nursing home’ was a beloved Armenian community for Haigie, even though he wasn’t elderly.  Since my husband and I live 200 miles away, our visits were infrequent and our attention was spread over several residents.

After many years there, Haigie was evaluated by the state for placement into a residential group home for the mentally and physically disabled.  Now in his sixties, leaving his aged Armenian community was a crushing blow, many tried to circumvent this move but in the end it was a ‘God move’, a tremendous blessing for us all.

My husband and I began visiting Haigie at the group home, which did not have 80 residents but under 10.  With Haigie our only focus, we grew closer and the Lord soon revealed his living faith in Jesus Christ.  As a brother in the Lord, visits with Haigie became times of scriptural sharing and worship, including Armenian and English hymns.

However, within two years, Haigie’s health begun to fail.

Bob and haigy

For his memorial I wrote, in part,

It was clear that Haigie had a living faith.  We hadn’t realized before, that in his broken body was a vibrant love for God…In spite of longsuffering, he was ready to worship and expressed his love for Jesus Christ.  Haigie was a true believer whose faith greatly encourages us.  It will be a joy to worship the Lord with Haigie one day in God’s Kingdom.

I believe that ‘living faith’ doesn’t die.  

During our last visits with Haigie,  a woman wheeled herself into his bedroom as we were singing.  Mentally and physically disabled and mute, Adrienne somehow communicated to us that she was Armenian and friends with Haigie.  Another Armenian in this residence?  Adrienne joined us and we soon learned that she cared deeply for Haigie, his death would be a great loss to her.

SO following Haigie’s death we continued to visit this group home, Adrienne seemed to cherish this fellowship.  We sang songs and had scriptural reading in the ‘sun room’.  It was different.  But I soon saw the Lord doing a new thing.

One day Linda was in the ‘sun room’, her wheelchair parked by our sitting area as she worked on an art craft.  We hardly knew her but she seemed happy to have us there.  We socialized a bit with Adrienne then we opened up fellowship with singing (accompanied by much needed YouTube songs online!)  and Bible reading.  Although Adrienne is mute, Linda is not and we soon found that she had faith and something to say about it!

We came to know the other residents and the staff as well.

This Christmas our visit moved from the ‘sun room’ to the living room, the common social area.  A group seemed to form around us, including a Jewish resident!  The ball started rolling with Linda’s request for the all popular ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.  We sang out Christmas songs in every pitch and tone that perhaps only the Lord could love.  We even sang a Hanukkah song before sharing God’s word about Christ’s birth.  The story highlight became the shepherds and God’s choice to miraculously announce the Savior to simple folks huddled around sheep.

This is the best part…there was a time of prayer before leaving.  With joined hands and bowed heads I looked up, and saw residence staff come and join in!  

Was this church?  I think so!

 

Lord, speak to the heart of every resident and staff member in that home, water every seed of faith.  Open our eyes to value and seek the childlike faith of Matthew 18:3, humble and dependent upon you.  Press upon our hearts the kind of fellowship You desire, in the places that You ordain to make Yourself known.

I pray for each reader that visits this site, whet their appetite for more of You, Jesus.  Speak to their hearts and encourage them as they walk through each day, no matter how heavy the steps.  I pray for every writer that visits here, anoint them and inspire them with Your Holy Spirit.  Let Your seeds of living truth come to fruition through their work.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

When Angels Operate Elevators

“How then can evil overtake me or any plague come near?  For He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go.”  (Psalm 91:10-11)

There is another Parole testimony which lives in my heart as a constant reminder of the Lord’s presence and protection as we serve Him.  I covered two Harlem precincts as a Parole Officer, the 28 and the 32.  Within the 32nd Precinct stand the infamous Polo Grounds,  a huge concentration  of city housing projects built upon the former baseball field.

polo grounds II

Each one of these 4 buildings contains over 1600 apartments.  

These buildings are a hotbed for crime and gangs, ergo I had many assignments here.  It was a good thing for ‘one stop shopping’ – I could make many home visits and curfew checks in one location.  However, it was dangerous as well.  Over the years I came to know many of the parolees and their families here, had many ‘meet and greet’ moments on walkways and lobbies and often had open doors to share the Gospel.   However, during one early morning curfew check, the encounter was not friendly at all…

 

It was a bit past 5am, I hopped off the city bus and walked briskly down the project’s walkway.  The sun had not yet risen over the city high risers but it was not dark.  I passed by the park benches in the grassy area and took a mental photo of 5 youths sitting upon the bench and atop the bench back – five gang members who apparently ‘broke night’.  They clocked me as I walked past but did not move.  A warning pang struck me as I entered the building and pushed the elevator button – however, I was obviously alone.

When the elevator door opened I was still alone – I quickly stepped in but before I could press any button those 5 youths jumped in and the decrepit doors shut behind them.  

A powerful ‘oh crap’ moment struck me – bum-rush, disarm, rape and worse flashed in my mind.   “Lord!” was the cry in my heart, but before they could reach the floor buttons…

the elevator doors flew open for one secondI jumped out – the doors slammed shut! …the elevator quickly lifted away!

Those moments,  deeply etched in my heart, are a continual reminder to me of God’s presence as we walk in His will and His power to intervene.  I do believe that angels operated that elevator, confounding wicked plans.  (After thanking God and gaining composure, I actually did take another elevator and made the visit!)

The word of God describes many angelic interventions, there is no doubt of their endowed power, evidenced through the Old and New Testament.  While it is Biblical for believers to accept the presence of angels it is not Biblical or godly to engage angels or place our faith in these servants of God.  They are dispatched by God alone and exist to enact His commands and will.  We should be aware though, as demonic spirits influence and darken the world around us, our God has more powerful beings to launch on behalf of His beloved, us.  

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?    (Hebrews 1:14)

The essential truth that marks my heart from those memorable moments is this:  if we are walking in obedience to God’s will, if we are where He has placed us and busy at what He assigns, we are backed by heaven.  God will go before us, protect us, and sovereignly bring His plan to fruition.  

Thank you Lord for Your presence and intervention in our lives even if we don’t see it.  Let us walk in total assurance that our names are “engraved in the palm of Your hand” and, as the Lord promises, “no one will snatch them out of My hand.”   Help us to obey and trust in Your word, serving as You assign and plan our lives.  Amen.  

 

“Hey, I Remember YOU!”

dark city street

 

New York State Parole Officers are required to make many random home visits in their assigned precincts.  Many visits were ‘surprise’ visits during curfew hours, 9pm to 6am.  Unlike most of my fellow officers, I chose to work alone in the field and, moreover, walked through the neighborhoods block by block.  Although the Harlem precincts were quite rough at the time, I grew to know and love the community.

However rewarding my lone and lengthy excursions, there were also a few hairy moments to remember.

One early morning, a little past 5am….

It was a cold and dark winter morning, I hopped off the bus and started my scheduled visits, block by block.  Except for a few figures huddled inside doorways, either selling drugs or loitering for warmth, the streets and sidewalks were empty.  I walked into a side street, between two major avenues and, halfway in the block an eerie feeling came upon me.  I noticed a large hooded man across the street, picking up his pace, following me.  There was no once else to follow!

I looked ahead towards the avenue which was well lit.  “Lord, let me get there”.  However, this man sped up, crossed the street diagonally towards me.  A flashback of being jumped as a youth shot a warning inside me…As he walked between two parked cars to the sidewalk,  I neared the street light.  He slowed his pace and looked at me, his countenance clearly changing…

“Hey, I remember YOU!  You were my Parole Officer a long time ago!”

“Really?”  I did not remember him!

“Yeah!  I remember you, you invited me to your church!”

“Oh, well did you go?”  I asked this possible mugger.

“Actually, I did go once, a long time ago…but things just fell apart…”  his voice drifted.  No doubt that “things just fell apart” since he was roaming the streets for no good reason.  “Well, maybe you need to go back to the church, remember where it is?  51st and Broadway…Start praying, call out to the Lord.  He’s the only one that can change your life…”

“Yeah, I know…” with that he turned and walked away…and I, somewhat stunned,   headed towards the avenue, the sun now rising.

I call upon this memory often, it refreshes my trust in God’s protection and His “order to my steps”.  I am fairly certain of that ex-convict’s initial criminal intent as he eyed and followed me – but I believe the Lord had an appointment that morning.  At just the right moment, that man saw my face in the light and remembered me, and God stopped and redirected him.  Of all the scenarios that flew to mind, I did not imagine what God had in store.

That morning also brought life to the truth…”He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers…”  (I Corin 3:8-9)   If I indeed invited this former parolee to church it was after counseling him in the Lord and sensing a receptive heart to know God.  What happened during the subsequent years is unknown but serving God under His direction and calling is never futile – the Lord of the harvest will yield His intended fruit.  

I pray for Lord’s encouragement upon us all, may we seek and anticipate His possibilities everyday…appointments – even unlikely ones – where we might water the seed within someone’s heart or refresh someone’s damaged faith and even more, sense a unity with the Lord of the harvest as He causes the seeds to grow.

 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11)

A Ragamuffin in God’s Hall of Fame?

Being slammed with the flu this week availed to me the pleasure of doing nothing, lounging guiltlessly.  Floors need mopping?  Who cares.  Carpets to vacuum?  So what.  Hubby hungry?  Order delivery.  Achy and feverish, I did not have concentration to read but was well able to watch.  I turned to The ‘Pure Flix’ cable subscription – its educational programming includes biographies of godly men and women.

Amy Carmichael,  Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Florence Nightingale are worthy to esteem and study.  They lived sacrificial lives, walking with a burden from God.  They were divinely appointed to their call and were relentless in fulfilling God’s purpose in spite of severe opposition and tremendous suffering.  Their focused hearts precluded worldly and temporal distractions.  They did not marry nor did they value any possession.  They were people broken by God, vessels through whom He poured out His love.  

The biography of Rich Mullins is quite different.  He was a gifted songwriter, singer and musician however it is doubtful that many would include him in the same ‘hall of fame’.  His songs touched lives deeply, often moving them towards the Lord.  Mullins’ connected with people’s despair and struggles.  When my brother was terminally ill, he found much comfort and encouragement in Rich Mullins songs.

Mullins, however, was not the pinnacle of holiness.  His biography, Ragamuffin, produced by his brother David,  portrays a deeply troubled inner life, stemming from an emotionally abusive father.  Mullins had a relentless quest to know God and apprehend His love, his music was an expression of that search for and worship of God.

When discovered and launched into the world of ‘Christian entertainment’ his success led to a growing discontentment.  Christian ‘entertainment’, ‘prosperity’ and ‘celebrity status’ were hollow goals that Mullins rejected as antithetical to the Savior he sought.  Inner turmoil and battles with depression and alcoholism were constants in Mullins’ life, a well loved but alienated man.

The shallowness of American Christianity weighed heavy upon Rich.   Although financially successful, he arranged a very modest income of approximately $20,000 for himself,  allotting the rest to specific charities such as Compassion International.  He finally drew away from ‘Christian entertainment’ and moved to the Navajo Indian Reservation to teach music to their youth.

So why might this emotionally tormented, depressed – sometimes disheveled and irreverent – Christian musician be included in a Believers Hall of Fame?  Becausein spite of being an “emotionally tormented, depressed” and “alienated” Christian, he never gave up his quest to know the love of God.  He battled alcoholism and loneliness but never squelched his gift to exalt the Lord.  Mullins continued to praise and worship until his death in 1997.

Rich Mullins had a word for the suicidal, the downcast, and alienated who desperately needed the Lord.  Perhaps it takes great inner resolve, even courage, to exalt and praise the Lord when your heart is crushed and your mind oppressed.  A broken man, Rich Mullins gave his life to the Lord and continues to minister to us through music and song.

“If I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, whom I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way I can do that is to identify with the poor.  Christianity is about learning to love as Jesus loved.  Jesus loved the poor.  And Jesus loved the broken.”    (Rich Mullins)

 

 

“God takes the junk of our lives and makes the greatest art out of it.”  (Rich Mullins)

I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II

Over 300 flyers and bilingual street signs went out into the neighborhood for yesterday’s Dec. 4th meeting.  C.U. was on the agenda to once again press the City Board to approve their plans to take part of our street, build a ‘plaza’ – ultimately expanding their campus.  As the ‘largest private land owner in NYC’, we knew of Columbia’s neighborhood take overs – I encouraged one neighbor, “With God, all things are possible”.  But what would God do?

Over the weekend I studied the book of Nehemiah.  I often study the Bible with the commentaries by Zac Poonen, a gifted teacher.  I highlighted some notes to meditate upon…

  • “Fear is the opposite of faith, and when we act in fear we are acting in unbelief.”  Nehemiah may have feared before the King (“I was very much afraid”) but he never compromised, he pressed on.
  • “If we really believe that God Almighty is supporting us in what we do, it is ridiculous and foolish to fear anyone.”
  • “Nehemiah was a great organizer and a man who could motivate people.  The people worked with him happily because he worked alongside them.”
  • “Nehemiah was a fearless man who was not seeking for a reputation as a kind, gentle person…If you are concerned about your reputation, you might as well forget about building the church.”

I do consider humility and meekness foundational in Christian character.  But I also see the boldness of God’s leaders who confront opposition with zeal when set forth by God.  Although the presenting battle in my neighborhood is not spiritual per se, I believe that the Lord is doing something with me and my husband, perhaps preparing us for spiritual battles in these last days. For example, after speaking at a podium in a large gathering, I really sensed new confidence within.  I  find myself more comfortable engaging with people in public places such as bus stops and stores, extending simple kindness with hopes of sharing God’s love.

When the meeting started, almost no one was there.  Thankfully though, by the 3rd agenda item Bob and I turned and saw the room full – once again, standing room only.  Many new people came, obviously from work.  There were seniors, young adults, many Hispanics and even students!  “We’re from the Columbia School of Social Work…We are with you! We stand in solidarity with your neighborhood against the expansionism or our university!”  Really!

Months ago, C.U. initially deceived the City Board, presenting a building plan with an elaborate but devious survey to quickly convince the Board:  “93% of all people polled are in favor of our plan!”  They neglected to report that only C.U. students were polled, the residents were totally unaware.  Now, aware and informed, our stand came forth with clarity and strength…and with fire!

The room heated up as one by one all the neighbors cried out against C.U.’s plan, and they had done their homework!  The C.U. reps began to shrink.  When they presented, all points seemed to fall to the ground, their strategies exposed and deflated.

After nearly two hours, it was time to vote….or once again table the issue!!

The Board was divided but the majority confirmed, a vote must take place.  The whole room was silent, we stood up, waiting for their votes………….with 2 abstentions,  THE CITY BOARD VOTED AGAINST COLUMBIA’S PLAN!!  WE KEEP OUR STREET!!

(Of course, the giant may resurface and come back next year…)

Somehow I was the point person in this endeavor, my husband to a lesser extent as Bob works long hours.  Several people acknowledged us and expressed gratitude for our continuous outreaches and signs to notify them.  Maybe the Lord is giving us favor.  After our victory we met more neighbors from our street, some whom had lived there for 30 years, contact info was exchanged and we conversed.

While I had wondered about God’s plan in this, Bob frequently quoted Proverbs 31:8 to me, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…”  A true calling, but I also believe that with God, there’s often more than just the ‘issue at hand’.  We prayed for our neighbors’ salvation and entered a different arena…but I believe God is not finished!

Together we saved our street, but neither a ‘Bible study’ nor ‘prayer meeting emerged.  After 30 years the Lord introduced us to many folks and perhaps with future purpose.  ‘Coincidental’ meetings, times of sharing or, who knows, when calamity strikes one day, could we be ‘point persons’ for prayer?

Only God knows!

Thank you friends and brethren for your prayers!!

 

P.S.    C.U. should change either their school motto or their deceitful exploits…It is never good to hide hypocrisy behind God’s word.  (They had their flag with this seal standing at the meeting!)

CU seal

C.U.’s school motto”In Lumine tuo Videbimus Lumen” translates: “In they light we shall see light”, Psalm 36:9, the banner around the woman holds the words, “Auri Al”, God is my Light”, from Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation”

 

I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened

Many of my neighbors have moved in and moved out over these past 30 years and, while I’ve prayed for them, most relationships remained superficial.  I really understand – at the end of the day, everyone wants privacy and rest after bustling through the city.  But at the same time, I believe that “the times and places for man to live are ordained by God” and don’t want to neglect any opportunity to show God’s love.

Showing some kindness isn’t hard – helping carry bundles (we have no elevator), being a listening ear when someone needs to unburden, or even an occasional hospital visit.  But I kept praying, was there more?

THEN I happened to see a flyer posted, announcing a plan by Columbia University to build a ‘public plaza’ on our small residential street, eliminating two blocks and much needed residential parking.  They already demolished housing for a conference center – the flyer urged residents to get involved.

(After the city itself, Columbia University is the largest land owner in the City of New York.  They have displaced more residents and dismantled more neighborhoods than anyone else.)

I really felt a stirring but feelings can deceive….does the Lord really care about our street per se? Are these concerns worldly?  Temporal? Of no consequence in view of eternity?

But the stirring continued.  I attended this open meeting where C.U. presented their illustrious “plaza plan”.  But something was wrong, I sensed something devious and underhanded in their overture, “This is a plaza for you to enjoy!”

Their plan must be approved by the Community Board and that meeting would be held on November 5th.  My husband and I felt compelled to notify our neighbors over a two block radius.  We distributed flyers to many, especially to weary drivers, urging them to attend this meeting and stand up for their neighborhood.   I continued to pray, hoping that my zeal is from God and not my own unction.

On November 5th, during my morning prayer and devotion,  Deuteronomy 20:1-8 was the scripture topic twice!  One inspirational blog I read,  A Mountain of Faith, posted “Is Your Tank Full?”  (https://amountainoffaith.com/2017/11/05/is-your-faith-tank-full/)  I truly felt covered by God for this meeting, that no ‘chariots’ ‘horses’ or ‘armies’…even big businesses…can come against the purposes of God.

For the LORD your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’  Deuteronomy 20:4

There were many empty places as the meeting was about to begin.  However, shortly thereafter my husband and I turned around and saw behind us dozens of people who came from work and from their homes.  Standing room only!

C.U. presented a slide show of their ‘plaza plans’.  Their P.R. reps tried to present how this will ‘benefit’ the neighborhood,  a fancy but hollow attempt to patronize while ruining and taking our street.

My inward ‘stirring’ turned into a ‘churning’.  I stood and challenged C.U. with unexpected fervor…which passed the torch to others.  They thought their plan was a slam dunk in this Spanish speaking, working class neighborhood.  And why not?  They have never lost an endeavor, especially when displacing families, the elderly and small businesses…those with no clout.   They did not get approved on this night though, the board ended up divided and could not vote.

Digging into rumors uncovered the truth.  C.U. really needs this plaza in order to change the zoning law on our small residential street and proceed with building plans.  The plaza is their platform to build upon and expand their campus, architectural plans are are already established, waiting in the wings! 

I privately prayed more though for God’s guidance, “Lord, should I take this farther?  Should I see an Assemblyman or Councilman?”  Shortly afterwards my husband came and suggested, “Maybe you try and see our Congressman or Councilman…”

So I met with the City Councilman’s intermediary, who happens to be a pastor. He aligned with the neighborhood concern and added, “God bless you!”  He strongly urged me to contact the Chief of Staff…whose name is Jose Espiritusanto!  (which from Spanish translates Holy Spirit!)

This week my husband and I had opportunity to address a larger general meeting and present the truths behind the ‘plan’.  The next Community Board meeting is Dec 4th.

So far I testify:

  • God is “training my hands to battle” (Psalm 144:1) strengthening us toward a spiritual calling.  I never addressed a public gathering before, but the Lord is breaking new ground within me, teaching me that through Him I am able to do this.
  • After praying for my neighbors, we’re getting to know them, perhaps they’ll see we care.  Already some have shared personal struggles and know, “We’re praying for you!”  Might we remember each other when this battle is over, when hardships or calamities strike?
  • I believe that the Lord is revealing Himself, teaching us greater dependence upon Him and His unmatched sovereignty….strengths we will need for future spiritual battles.  

“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  II Timothy 2:4

This is scripture to live by.  But somehow God has put us in the middle of a neighborhood issue and has stirred us within. Sometimes our prayers for people don’t supernaturally create home Bible studies and prayer meetings.  Sometimes God positions His Body alongside the lost and hopefully upon that road, fulfills divine appointments.

Would you pray for us?