Category: Following Jesus

Grace in Horrific Times

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There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

We can each do something this day to increase shalom, well-being, and flourishing in our world—God’s kingdom come.

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed this summer when I was visiting Birmingham, Alabama. This monument was erected in the context of the Civil Rights struggles of that city, quoting a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis. If she could think and pen such words, shouldn’t we as followers of the Messiah—who revealed to us God’s heart of Love and compassion—be looking for ways to “improve the world” that God created, died for, lives to intercede for, and is coming back to reclaim and re-create? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” John 3:16.

As a believer and follower of Jesus, the Creator and Redeemer, I want to reflect his character of holy love into this groaning, strife-filled world.

One way I seek to do that is by publishing books that offer hope. I believe that is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry, a story, essay, or poem may portray a context of brokenness, sin, and conflict. But into that milieu will shine a ray of hope that gives the reader renewed courage to reach up and take hold of “the helping hand at the end of God’s long arm of love.”*

————

*This is the way a former pastor of ours liked to describe “grace.”

Hope for Refugees

Lang with her brother and three sons in our backyard

On this World Refugee Day (June 20) I think of the refugees I have known. First, years ago my family helped sponsor a family of Vietnamese “boat people.” Lang, a South Vietnamese Army officer’s widow, and her brother and her three sons, escaped for their lives off the shore of Vietnam in a small boat to wander the sea along with many others. They gave everything they owned to the boat’s owner. They suffered on the sea. But they were fortunate that a ship picked them up and took them to a refugee camp.

Lang with my daughter

They arrived in our town frightened, slightly sick, “lost” in a completely different culture. While we waited for an apartment to open for them, this sad little family stayed in our home. Our little girl gave up her bedroom for them. Our way of living was so different from theirs. I showed them the glasses in the cupboard. They took one and drank water from it, then returned it to the cupboard. I bought five plastic glasses and wrote their names on them and lined them up on the counter for them to use.

They had experienced dangers and horrors that I could barely imagine. Even though I made beds on the floor, at night they all slept side by side on one double bed.

The word “refugees” changed in my mind from strange, almost-suspect stories into warm, real human beings.

Using gestures and a Vietnamese-English dictionary, I tried to tell Lang about Jesus’ love. Tears welled in her eyes. I tutored her in “English as a second language” for a short time. Eventually they moved to another city and I lost track of them. But I’ll never forget all I learned from them. And I have prayed that the welcome we gave them, and the bit of God’s love we tried to show them across cultural and language barriers, would grow like a seed planted—and that I will see Lang and her family again in Heaven. I look forward to worshiping around the throne the One who gave us freedom, who rescues us from sin and evil and death, and gives us the opportunity of new life and hope and peace.

Because of this experience, and then later getting to know the many Laotian refugees who came to our church, I had the opportunity to write and publish the book, No More Fear: From Killing Fields to Harvest Fields, the story of Physa Chanmany who came to America as a Cambodian refugee.

Physa also had some things in common with many refugees today. As a boy, Physa saw indescribable horror and genocide. Taught to fear Westerners, especially Americans, he had never heard the truth of Jesus. But as a lost and traumatized refugee, he had a dream in which he encountered Christ, who set his life on a new course of hope.

“Trail Angels” for Jesus in Israel

(In Hebrew with English subtitles)

Judith Galblum Pex writes from Eilat, Israel:

Shalom dear friends,

…We just want to share with you a short video clip that the Israel Broadcasting Company made about the Shelter Hostel as part of their new digital series about Trail Angels. I mentioned our interaction and help with the Israel Trail hikers in my book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

On the original website from the Broadcasting Company, the video already has more than 156,000 views. Here’s the link to the video on YouTube [The video is embedded above.] where you can also share it with your friends. To read the English subtitles, just press on the “settings” button on the lower right side of the screen, a cogwheel, and click on subtitles – English.
 
 
With love and blessings,
John and Judy

When John and Judy Pex, Israeli believers in Jesus, hiked the Israel National Trail in their late 50s, it was life changing. A challenging trail that runs from the southern to the northern tip of Israel, through many types of terrain—deserts, coast, cities, and mountains. Judy wrote about the experience in Walk the Land: A Journey on Foot through Israel. John and Judy were helped along the way by “trail angels,” and they decided to sign up to be trail angels themselves. They offer one free night in their hostel in Eilat, close to the southern end of the Trail.

As you can see in the video, young Israelis like to walk the trail and often take the Pexes up on their offer. At the Shelter Hostel, they offer hikers a bed for the night, meals, help with phone calls, and advice in starting out on the Trail. All guests at the Shelter Hostel also have opportunity for spiritual discussion, fellowship, and worship.

This is just one more way the John and Judy Pex have found to share the truth and love of Jesus. Judy tells about many more ways God has worked and helped them reach out to thousands of people through the years—tourists, travelers, students, refugees, Jews, Gentiles, and Arabs—in the book, Come, Stay, Celebrate: The Story of the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel.

We can pray for John and Judy and their family in Israel. We can also learn from them and seek to find ways to share the life and love of Jesus with people in our spheres of influence.

Free Pastor Andrew Brunson

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Have you seen this picture on social media? Pastor Andrew’s story has been published in Christianity Today, The Washington Times, broadcast on ABC News, etc. Pastor Andrew Brunson has been wrongly imprisoned in Turkey, accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” His family says he’s being persecuted for his Christian belief. The North Carolina man has given 23 years to Christian missionary work in Turkey—building churches and spreading the gospel.

It’s easy to scroll past such stories when we see them online. We become inured to them. But this man’s story got close to home for me when I realized his connection to Cladach Publishing.

Pastor Andrew’s mother, Pamela Brunson is the missionary (with World Witness) who first sent me the manuscript for Paper Poppies: A Memoir, which Cladach published in 2005. At the time, Pamela was serving in Russia and became acquainted with the author, Marianna Vekhova, a Russian Christian working with street children in Moscow, who has her own harrowing story as a suffering, spiritually-hungry orphan in atheistic Russia during WWII.

Pamela distributed Marianna Vekhova’s Russian memoir, Paper Poppies during her speaking engagements while on missionary furlough in the U.S. The last I heard, Pamela and her husband were transferring to ministry in Turkey. Recently I learned that their son, Andrew, is the missionary imprisoned in Turkey.

Please pray for Andrew’s release, and consider signing the petition asking the U.S. President to speak to the Turkish president and request that he order the release of this falsely accused and imprisoned man. The petition has been launched by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination of which Andrew is a member.

On February 6 Pamela shared in a public post on Facebook:

We tend to expect God will bless and protect us. When something bad happens, say a child dies of cancer, we feel confused and disappointed in God. We rethink our concept of Him. Job 1-7, David in Psalms 1-40 and Jeremiah all struggled with this.

While some have faced the same trials as Andrew rejoicing, Andrew has been sifted as wheat by Satan: inability to sleep, terrible nightmares, considered by cellmates as an ‘unclean’ Christian, shock, fear of the future, immobility of confined spaces, feeling abandoned by God, weakness and without books or other input, confused. We just received a letter written on 11th January where he wrote:

“Even if You leave me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t help me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t show me goodness, love, care or compassion, I will follow You.
Even if when I call, You don’t answer but remain silent, I will follow You. This is my intention.”

When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. We are more closely connected than we sometimes realize.

“…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.…” (1 Corinthians 12:25-, NIV)

Opening to Adventures in Prayer

bee on hawthorn flowers

My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!

Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.

Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.

This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.

If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.

Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.

If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.

God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.

Our open and relational God is calling us to:

  • Praise him.
  • Confess to him our lack of faith, trust, hope, and loving action.
  • Give thanks to him for enlarging our hearts and vision.
  • Bring supplications to him, interceding on behalf of the people and places we see that are far from the well-being of shalom.
  • Listen to and commune with him. Receive and respond.
  • Pray in the spirit always.
  • Say “yes” to what he is calling forth in and through us.

As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.

It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.

“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.

If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.


Note: I wrote this piece because I believe in prayer and I wanted to engage with Thomas Jay Oord’s teaching after reading his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God  (NavPress, 2015). This entire post first appeared at http://uncontrollinglove.com and then at http://thomasjayoord.com . I don’t agree with all opinions and philosophies expressed on those sites, but I’m thankful to have the opportunity to participate in the conversation.

An Early Lesson in Racial Reconciliation

Corcoran-bday-1958

 

Children can feel the tensions, prejudices, and injustices that can exist around them.

When my sister and I were about 6 and 7 Daddy pastored a church in a coastal town in Central California, where the parsonage was in a racially-mixed neighborhood. We thought nothing of the fact that we played with Black children. We went into each others’ homes and each others’ apron-clad mothers gave us drinks of water and fresh-baked cookies. I only remember feeling acceptance and friendliness.

Then we moved to a valley town where 2/3 of the student body in our elementary school were Black and Mexican-American, many the children of transient farm workers. In this school in the 1950s, I first experienced racial tension. There I first heard the “N” word used. We were naive little girls, unprepared for the sights of gangs fighting on the playing fields, busloads of kids shaking their fists and yelling out the windows. As insults and epithets flew, I thought, “What is this?!” At the age of 9 I didn’t know anything about the civil rights movement taking place in our country.

I do remember Daddy driving us to a farm workers camp and the shock and sadness I felt when I saw how some of my classmates lived. No sidewalks, no trees, no grass. Just dirt and squalid shacks that couldn’t really be called buildings. No indoor plumbing, out by the cotton fields, with no respite from the hot sun.

Some of our little friends at school bragged about how they didn’t have to go to school during the cotton harvest. They were going to pick cotton with their family and make lots of money! Bev and I went home and told our parents we wanted to pick cotton and make money and not have to go to school! Mother shook her head. “Girls, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s back-breaking work. The cotton plants cut your hands and make them bleed. And the farm workers get paid very little. Those children’s parents need the extra money their children make just to help them subsist.” I had a hard time believing my mother. When we drove by fields of ripe cotton, the bursting heads looked white and soft as cotton balls.

We were learning about divides between people groups that couldn’t be crossed.

My second-grade sister had a more personal learning experience. She got into an argument with another little girl on the playground, probably over the rules of a four-square game or something. It just happened that the other girl was Black. As the girls hurled insults at each other, the worst thing my sister could think to say was, “You’re nothing but a big chocolate sundae.” Understandably, the girl took offense. She could have yelled back: “Well, you’re just plain vanilla ice cream.” Instead she hit my sister pretty hard and by the time I showed up on the scene, there was my sister on the ground, crying. I got scared and ran home (we lived across the street from the school) to tell our parents Bev was hurt. Daddy came to the school, found that only Bev’s pride was wounded, and made her apologize to the girl.

Well, that was really hard for Bev to do. But later, she and the little Black girl became friends. When Bev had her 8th birthday party, she invited this girl. The picture above shows the two of them with me (age 9) in the middle.

If only reconciliation were always that simple.

Or maybe it is that simple:
Wise and caring authority figures who bring us together, don’t hide from suffering, help us face the truth about ourselves and each other, encourage asking for and receiving forgiveness, then give us opportunities to celebrate our common humanity. 

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