{Fall Newsletter – One Need at a Time}

In only a few weeks, Michael and I will head out to SE Asia, on outreach! This will be a multi-purpose outreach, as we like to make the most of our overseas travel! After a week in Ontario and a quick trip to Michigan for a wedding, we’ll be flying to Asia on October 22. Michael will fly to “Country A” to teach Galatians and the Gospel of Mark for an SBS. I will fly to “Country B” to meet up with our Mountain Venture DTS for their Pastoral Visit. After two weeks, Michael will fly out to meet the DTS and I in “Country C,” where we’ll spend another week with the team. We’ll be back in Canada in mid-November.

Every time we go on outreach, God provides in a different way. For this outreach, it feels like God is providing for one need at a time. International flights? Check. Visas? Check. Part of our accommodation is paid for, and some of our in-country travel is also covered. We’re thankful that the bigger pieces of our outreach are already looked after, but we still have a few needs. If you’d like to partner with us as God provides for us “one need at a time,” here are our remaining needs for this Fall’s outreach. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation for our outreach, go to ywamturnervalley.org/donations/ for more info, or contact us! Thank you for your prayers and support as we head out!

{Summer Newsletter – Stepping Out in Faith}

Mary Magdelene: Set Free to Proclaim the Kingdom

In my last two blog posts, we’ve looked at two women from the Bible, who were on the receiving end of pride and prejudice. First we looked at Hagar, and we talked about how God saw her, provided for her, and protected her when she was rejected by those around her. Next, we talked about the bleeding woman from Luke 8, and we saw that she took a great risk to pursue the healing touch of Jesus. He not only healed her, an unclean woman, but He reinstated her as part of the family of God. We talked about how we can be a people who reflects the love of Christ by welcoming in those who are left-out, lonely, and rejected. These women’s stories have a lot in common, and something else these women have in common is that they are not stories we hear often from the front of a church. The story I want to look at today is much more well-known – that story is the story of Mary Magdalene.

There are a lot of Marys in the Bible, so it’s easy to get their stories jumbled up. We first meet Mary Magdalene at the beginning of Luke 8:

“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3).

In these three verses, we learn quite a lot about Jesus. We find out that the twelve disciples were with Jesus as He was going through cities and villages proclaiming the Kingdom of God, but we also find out that women were following Him also. This would have been extremely unusual for this time in history, and in Jewish culture. Rabbis, or Jewish teachers, taught boys and had exclusively male followers. Women were not educated, and therefore not acceptable to be students of rabbis or to follow them around as disciples. But this Rabbi – Jesus – is different. He has a male entourage (who themselves looked pretty different from the typical collection of disciples a rabbi would attract), but He also has women following Him, and He does not seem to protest this. Where other rabbis would find this unacceptable, Jesus not only allows it to happen, it seems He encourages it. He had healed these women, and in their gratitude and understanding of who He was, they followed Him and provided for Him and His other followers. Mary, specifically, had been set free from seven demons. We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene, but from this brief description, we know she had encountered Jesus’ healing power and His teaching in a very real and personal way. She knew who He was and dedicated herself to following Him.

The gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene’s commitment to following Jesus extended beyond that of most of the disciples. In Matthew 27, we read that there were women at His crucifixion, “who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:55-56). In the Gospel of Mark, we read that after the Sabbath, these women “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.”

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from who he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:2-11).

It is no small thing that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene before appearing to anyone else, especially from an historical perspective. In the first century in this culture, a woman’s testimony was not considered valid in the court of law. If a woman witnessed a crime, she could not testify to it in court because her testimony was considered unreliable. Depsite this, the news of Jesus’ resurrection is first reported to women. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, before He appeared to any of the eleven remaining male disciples. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as saying to Mary, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17). During Jesus’ life, He proclaimed an upside-down Kingdom in which the first would be last and the last would be first. In his death and resurrection, He carried on that trend, as a woman – specifically a woman who had once been plagued by seven demons – became the first person to be commissioned to preach the Gospel message.

You might be wondering why this is important, and why I’d talk about this in the context of Hagar and the bleeding woman. Well, we don’t know the end of Hagar’s story. We know that God rescued her and that her son went on to father twelve princes, but we don’t know how she lived her life after her encounters with God. We can hope that she continued to rely on Him, trust that He saw her, and rest in her identity as one who He very specifically met and cared for. As for the woman with the issue of blood, we don’t know the ending of her story, either. We can hope that her life was radically transformed after her encounter with Jesus. As a woman who had been reinstated into the Jewish community, made new and made clean, we can imagine that she shared her story with those she met. We can imagine that maybe she went on to be married, or have a family, and tell her story to her children – a witness of God’s heart for the left-out, lonely, and rejected to be reinstated to the family of God. But we don’t know for sure. But with Mary Magdalene we know. We know that at one time she was possessed by seven demons, and she was set free by Jesus. We know that as a result, she made her life about His Kingdom work. She followed Jesus during His ministry and to the cross, cared for Him in His death, and proclaimed His resurrection. Her encounter with Jesus drew her to a life of actively seeking His Kingdom, and following her Saviour. She went from a woman who was likely left-out, lonely and rejected by her community, to being the first proclaimer of the Gospel message.

How has God seen you and met with you in the way He saw and met with Hagar? How has he healed you and made you part of His family, the way He healed and reinstated the bleeding woman? What has Jesus set you free from, and how has He called you to participate in His Kingdom plans, the way He set Mary Magdalene free and commissioned her into His Kingdom work? God wants to heal us and for us to find our identity in Him, not in the pride and prejudice of the world. And when it comes to the pride and prejudice in our own hearts, He wants to set us free from that sin and those lies, and welcome us into a kingdom where His care for the outcast becomes our own heart’s cry. We don’t know what Hagar and the bleeding woman did with their experiences with God. We know that Mary followed Jesus as a result of being set free. What is your story? What has God set you free from, and how is He calling you to use that as a platform for your own work in His Kingdom?

I can’t imagine that there is anyone who has not encountered hardship at some point in his or her life. Maybe you are currently in the midst of hardship. Whether it’s a broken relationship, an unmet expectation, a one-time tragedy with long-lasting effects, or an ongoing battle with a physical or mental illness in your own life or in the life of another, Jesus wants to meet you where you are at in that hardship. God met Hagar, the bleeding woman, and Mary Magdalene in ther hours of need, and He wants to meet you too. That meeting will probably not look like the miraculous provision of a well in the wilderness, and it might not look like instanteous healing, but God wants to meet you in the thick of it – to see you, to be your healer, to set you free. In the case of Hagar, the bleeding woman, and Mary Magdalene, the hardships they encountered led them to encounter God in a personal way. Will you allow God to draw you into deeper intimacy with Him as you walk through this, or other dark seasons in your life? In these seasons we have a choice to buy into the lies that society tells us – the prideful veneer we are encouraged to adopt – and we have the choice to lean into relationship with our Saviour. Your situation may look bleak, and the choice to lean into your relationship with Jesus may need to be made every hour of your day, but choosing the hope of the Kingdom over the pride and prejudice of the world will always be worth it. When Mary was plagued by seven demons before she met Jesus, I doubt she believed that one day she would know, let alone be a follower of the Messiah she and her people had waited for for centuries. I doubt she expected that she would be the first proclaimer of His victory over death and sin. While you may be in the darkest of seasons right now, will you choose the hope of the Messiah and look to what He has for you in His upside-down Kingdom that abolishes pride and prejudice and proclaims hope?

Maybe you’re on the other side of a hardship that Jesus walked you through, and you have something to offer others who are facing a similar experience. Maybe your Kingdom work is telling others about your experience, and ministering to them from the place of having walked thorugh what they have walked through. When Mary was set free from seven demons, her response was to follow Jesus and to proclaim His resurrection. How will you proclaim what the Lord has done for you? For us to know the details of the Lord’s resurrection, the encounters of the women and of Mary with Jesus at His tomb, they had to have shared their stories with others. The gospel writers either had to hear these stories first-hand from these women, or they had to have heard it from others who knew their stories. Who is God telling you to share your story with, so that others can find hope? How can you be a proclaimer of who Jesus has been to you in your time of hardship, so others can share in the promise of a life defined by the resurrected Jesus? Our culture would have us champion ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, as the ones who overcame great diffficulties to be where we are today. But how can you bring glory to Jesus by sharing with others what He has done for you? How can you abandon pride and bring glory to God for what He has done, and what He can do in the lives of others?

Mary had a close relationship wtih Jesus; He knew her by name and appeared to her personally. He wants the same close relationship with you; He wants to interact with you as He interacted with Hagar, He wants you to be welcome and to welcome others into the family of God, as He welcomed the bleeding woman into His family.  I hope that through this mini-series, as we have grown our understanding of these three women, and how God lifted them out of the pride and prejudice of the world around them, we can trust that God can do the same for us, and wants us to be agents of change in the world around us, as we understand our identity in Him, and our call to participate in the work of His Kingdom.

Reinstated Into the Family of God

In my first teaching for my church’s women’s retreat, we looked at the story of Hagar, a woman who was left out, lonely, and rejected by society, and yet was met by God in the wilderness; He saw her, provided for her, and protected her when she was treated harshly and left to die by others. The woman of the Bible I had the opportunity to share about in my second teaching during this weekend, is actually quite similar to Hagar in a lot of ways. This woman was left out, lonely, and rejected by society, yet God met her, and she was healed by Him and her identity was restored by Him. The woman I’m talking about, is the woman with an issue of blood from Luke 8. This is one of my favourite stories in the gospels, and it’s another story we don’t necessarily hear talked about from the front of the church on a regular basis, probably because it has to do with a woman who is bleeding. But once again, I think we see so much of God’s heart in this story, so it was a pleasure to teach about this woman’s story for the women of my church.

“Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.’ And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace’” (Luke 8:40-48).

Before this story takes place, Jesus had been in the country of the Gerasenes, opposite to Galilee. This was a Gentile, or non-Jewish area, so when the text tells us that Jesus returned (in 8:40), we know that Jesus is back in Jewish territory when the story of the bleeding woman takes place. If you read on to the end of chapter eight, you actually see that this is the story of not one, but two healings. We meet a man named Jairus at the beginning of the section of text I read. He is a synagogue leader, a very important man who would have had great influence in Galilee. At this point, the crowd is welcoming Jesus; this is early in His ministry, and the crowd knows Jesus as a miracle worker. Jairus knows this about Jesus, too, and he begs Jesus to come to his house because his only daughter is dying.

Jesus starts heading in the direction of Jairus’ house, and as he goes, the crowd presses around Him. You can just imagine the scene; this is a culture and a time where personal space isn’t valued, and the crowd is eager to see Jesus. If you’ve ever been on a bus or the c-train when you’re packed in like sardines, or you’ve been at the front of the stage at a standing-room only concert, you can imagine what this might feel like, and what Jesus might have felt like as He made His way to Jairus’ house. In the midst of this, as the crowd swarms Jesus, the text tells us that there was a woman in that crowd who had a discharge of blood for twelve years. She had spent all her living on physicians, and she couldn’t be healed by anyone. Before we go any further, let’s learn a little bit more about this woman. The text doesn’t tell us her name, how old she is, or what she looked like, but it’s important that the text tells us that she had had a discharge of blood for an extended amount of time.

Because this story takes place in Jewish territory, we can assume this woman is Jewish, and the Jews had some very specific laws when it came to bodily discharges, including blood. We read about this in Leviticus 15:

“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening” (Leviticus 15:25-27).

Now this sounds pretty harsh. A woman was considered unclean during her period, which seems awfully unfair and unkind. No one could touch her or even sit on the same chair that she sat on, for fear of becoming unclean. This was a rule God gave the Israelites, not because God is grossed out by periods or because there is something wrong or dirty about the female body, but because at this time (in the time of Leviticus), there were other people groups who used blood in worship practices to other gods. Gross, right? One reason God gave these laws to His people (and many other laws in Leviticus) was because He didn’t want them to participate in those things. God wanted His people to be separate from other people groups who worshiped false gods, so God gave them rules to protect them from idol worship and the practices of the other people groups. The point of this rule wasn’t to ostracize women on their periods, or women like this woman who had been bleeding for years. But throughout the years after the Law was given, the heart of the law had been lost. The Jews became more concerned about keeping the letter of the law, rather than the heart behind it. Because of this, this woman would have experienced segregation and loneliness for the last twelve years of her life. She had spent everything she had on physicians, probably partially because no one wants to bleed for twelve years, but also probably because her medical condition made her a social pariah. This woman wouldn’t have been touched, hugged, or shown any care or consideration from anyone around her for more than a decade, because in the eyes of her community, she was unclean, and she could make others unclean.

As this woman makes her way through the crowd that is pressing in around Jesus, she is taking a huge risk. She is undoubtedly touching other people as she makes her way to Jesus, making them unclean. By touching even the fringe of Jesus’ garment, she could essentially be accused of making Jesus Himself, unclean. If Jesus was any normal rabbi at this time in history, this woman’s actions would be unforgivable. But Jesus doesn’t scold her or demand punishment; He perceives that power has gone out from Him when this woman is healed, and He asks who it was that touched Him.

Imagine how this woman feels at this point. She knows that she has been healed – the text says that her discharge of blood ceases – but she knows that she has willfully broken the Law, and Jesus is calling her out on it. The text tells us that “she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed.”

Imagine the reaction of the crowd. There is an unclean woman in their midst. How many of them has she touched as she made her way to Jesus? What was the Teacher going to do with her? She has even made Him unclean! But Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

This would have been shocking to the crowd. Not only did Jesus not punish this woman or make an example of her, He commends her for her faith. By healing her and by telling her to go in peace, Jesus not only restores her physically, He restores her socially. She has spent the last twelve years of her life on the outskirts of society, left-out, lonely, and rejected. But Jesus restores her identity as part of the community by healing her, and by calling her “Daughter.”

This event would be shocking to the crowd for another reason. Where is Jesus going when this healing takes place? He is going to Jairus’ house. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue – a man of substance, a man of influence. Obviously, Jairus would be someone you want to impress and please, not keep waiting. Jesus could have continued on His way, even after He felt power go out from Him when the woman touched Him. He didn’t have to stop and ask who had touched Him. But He did. He stopped for an unclean woman who would have been a no one in the eyes of her community. He spoke with her, heard her story, blessed her. 8:49 tells us that while he was still speaking, someone came from Jairus’ house and told Jairus that his daughter was dead. How would Jairus have felt? Maybe he would have felt anger welling up in his heart, that Jesus’ interaction with this woman had stolen the opportunity for his daughter to be healed. Maybe he would have felt bitterness against this woman, that because of her, his daughter was dead. Jesus of course goes on to raise his daughter from death, but in this moment, it looked as though Jesus had chosen the outcast over the synagogue ruler.

We learn so much of God’s character from this story. We learn that in the eyes of Jesus, a person’s social standing means nothing. Whether an unclean woman or the leader of a synagogue, Jesus’ heart is to heal and restore. Jesus welcomes all into His presence and into the family of God.

When we looked at Hagar, we talked about how God sees the left-out, lonely, and rejected, and how if you feel this way, God wants to meet with you and redefine your value, just as He met with Hagar and redefined her value. When we think about the bleeding woman and how Jesus saw her, met with her, and restored her identity, we can ask ourselves the question, “Who is part of the family of God?” We can ask, “Who defines who gets to participate in the Kingdom of God?”

In what ways can we imagine the story of the bleeding woman taking place in Canada, or even in our hometowns? Are we willing to give time and attention to the people in our midst whom society has rejected? If this story were to take place in your hometown, who would be the woman with the issue of blood? Who would be on the outskirts of society? Would it be the refugee family who has recently moved into the neighbourhood? How can we be a people who is welcoming them into the family of God in our midst? Do we hesitate to share the gospel with immigrants, or single mothers, or with the elderly, or with those who have a reputation for disturbing the peace in our communities? How can we be a people who welcomes the left-out, lonely, and rejected, into the family of God? How can we be a people who seek to bring healing and reconciliation, regardless of whether someone is celebrated by society, like Jairus, or an outcast, like the bleeding woman?

For us to represent Jesus in our world today, we need to be a people who will refuse to give in to the pride and prejudice of our society, and invite anyone and everyone to participate in the Kingdom of God. I hope we can think of creative and compassionate ways to do this amongst ourselves, within our communities, and beyond, into the mission fields God calls us to, whether that is in our families, in our workplaces, or in the nations.

Hagar & the God of Seeing

It’s been ages since our last post, and once again, we’ve been to SE Asia and back, teaching and preaching the Word in nations and to people we’ve grown to love. We’ll share more on that in the near future, but for now, I thought I’d share a teaching I developed for our church’s women’s retreat.

The theme of the retreat was “Pride & Prejudice,” and I have to admit I was pretty puzzled as to what I could teach on from the Bible that would fit that theme. I have to confess that I’ve never actually read Pride & Prejudice (but I’ve seen the BBC mini-series – that counts for something, right?!), and I had never been to a women’s retreat with our church, so I felt pretty ill-equipped to teach that weekend. But, fortunately, God has better ideas than I do, and as I prayed and thought about what to focus on over the three opportunities I had to speak that weekend, I was immediately drawn to the stories of three women in the Bible, who very literally dealt with the themes of pride and prejudice in their lives. These women aren’t much like the beautiful Jane Bennet or the quick-witted Lizzie Bennet, but these three women are women who were on the receiving end of prejudice, who didn’t fit into their communities because of the pride and lack of compassion of others. But God lifted each of them out of their respective situations, restoring their value and identity.

The first Biblical woman who captured my attention is a woman by the name of Hagar. We don’t typically hear a lot about Hagar from the front of a church, probably because we don’t hear a lot from Genesis on most Sunday mornings in general, but we can actually see a great deal about the character of God from Hagar’s story.

We read about Hagar, as I mentioned, in Genesis. She is mentioned in Galatians, but we’re going to focus on her story, which is found beginning in Genesis 16. Back in Genesis 12, God had promised Abram that He would make of him a great nation, among other things. This was an unexpected promise, because when Abram received this promise, he was 75 years old, childless, and married to a barren woman who was a little bit younger than him, but not much. Yet God told him that He would make of him a great nation…which meant God was promising him a child. The events of Genesis 16 take place ten years after the promise of God to Abram. He still had no child, and he (and his wife, Sarai) were not getting any younger.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘’Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress”

While we might shake our heads at Sarai for her lack of faith, remember, Abram and Sarai, who have spent their whole lives childless, have been waiting ten years for this promised, miraculous child by this point. The fulfillment of that promise was looking less likely than ever. In her desperation, Sarai takes matters into her own hands and gives her servant, Hagar, to her husband, and she conceives. But rather than being thrilled about this news, and about the child to come, Sarai says to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” Nothing good ever came of a man having multiple wives, and this case is no exception. Abram tells Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Sarai deals harshly with Hagar, and Hagar flees. We pick up the story in Genesis 16:7-13.

“The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you ogin?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her, ‘I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.’ And the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.’ So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’”

Hagar was a servant, an Egyptian, and a woman. Her status, her gender, and the fact that she was not a part of the family of Abram, meant that in the eyes of the world at that time, she was of little to no value. In Genesis 16, she is treated as a possession. She is not asked if she would like to become Abram’s second wife, but Sarai gives Hagar to her husband. We don’t know how old Hagar would have been, but presumably she is of normal child-bearing age – she could have been a teenager, forced to marry and sleep with a man in his eighties. At this time in history, a woman’s main role was to produce offspring. Sarai had been unable to do this, but Hagar becomes pregnant seemingly easily. When she looks with contempt on her mistress, it is likely because the woman who was worthless – a possession to give away at her owner’s will – has become valuable, as she is able to give Abram a child. Sarai’s insecurity and actions make sense in a culture where a woman’s value and security were based on her ability to produce offspring. So she treats Hagar harshly, and Hagar flees. But in this space, Hagar once again meets with God.
Hagar’s encounter with God speaks so much of God’s character and His heart for the left out, lonely, and rejected. The Lord promises Hagar that He will multiply her offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude. The Lord promises Hagar that she will bear a son, ensuring her security in a culture that said a woman was valuable if and when she produced a son. And Hagar calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “a God of seeing.” She says, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” God is faithful to His promise to Hagar. When Abram was eighty-six years old, Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

God is faithful to His promise to Sarah, too. In Genesis 21 we read that Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son (Isaac) when he was a hundred years old. We pick up Hagar’s story again in 21:8-21. In this passage, Isaac has been weaned, and Abraham makes a great feast for him. But Sarah sees Ishmael laughing at Isaac, and insists that Abraham casts Hagar and her son out, saying, “the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac” (21:10). God tells to Abraham to do what his wife has told him, and emphasizes that it is through Isaac that his offspring shall be named. God would make of Ishmael a great nation, too. In response, Abraham gives Hagar bread and water, and sends her, with her son, away. She wanders in the wilderness of Beersheba.

”When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, ‘Let me not look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the widerness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him fromt he land of Egypt.”

 

Once again, Hagar is rejected by her mistress. Sarah once again comes across as a villain, and her actions are pretty harsh considering it was her idea for Hagar to have this child, but her actions are also understandable in a culture and a time where a first-born son stood to inherit far more than a second-born son. Sarah seems to anticipate a rivalry between the two sons, even at this early time, and her well-being could also be in jeopardy, as if Abraham died, culturally, Isaac would be the one to look after her, and that would be more difficult if Ishmael inherited first. While it might seem like God is agreeing with Sarah and her hateful attitude and actions by telling Abraham to do whatever she wishes with Hagar and Ishmael, God is emphasizing that the promise to Abram all the way back in Genesis 12, will be accomplished through Isaac, not Ishmael. Ishmael may be Abraham’s first born son, but he is not the son of the promise.
Despite this, God has His own intentions and provision for Hagar and Ishmael. Though she is cast out to the wilderness, left to die without enough water or food for herself and her son, God meets her in the wilderness, and promises that He will make of Ishmael a great nation. God opens her eyes to a well of water, and the text tells us that “God was with the boy, and he grew up and lived in the wilderness.” He married a woman from Egypt, and later in Genesis we read that he became the father of twelve princes.

Hagar was left out, lonely, and rejected, by Abraham and Sarah – by the family she had served and even married into. No one in Hagar’s day would assign any value or worth to Hagar. But God sees Hagar, provides for her, protects her, and promises her a future. God redefines Hagar’s worth. God sees the outcast, and by that very seeing, she is called valuable. Her identity is that of a woman who was seen by God, met by God, and cared for by God.

Perhaps you can identify with Hagar in this story. Perhaps at some point in your life you have felt left out, lonely, and rejected. In an age where we are more connected than ever, and yet loneliness is an epidemic, maybe there have been times when you’ve felt overlooked by the world around you. Maybe you feel that no one sees you, cares for you, or acknowledges your value. No matter why you feel this way or if those feelings are grounded in actual events or are lies of the enemy, I want to assure you that just as God saw Hagar, God sees you. He wants to meet with you, just as He met with Hagar, and He wants to redefine your value, not within the constructs of the prejudices of the kingdom of the world, but as His child – as one who belongs to Him and to His Kingdom. God is faithful to His promises, and He is faithful to the promise that you are His. This means we don’t have to strive after acceptance in this world. This means we don’t have to strive after a picture-perfect life that will convince our family, friends, and Instagram that we have it all together and are of value. This means we don’t have to strive after even what contemporary Christian culture holds up as being a woman of value. Whether you homeschool your kids or send them to public school, whether you are married or unmarried, whether you are the main breadwinner in your family or a stay at home mom, whether you’re retired, unemployed, or have a successful career, you have value, because God sees you, knows you, and wants to meet with you.

I want to challenge us to see our value the way God sees our value, and to see one another’s value the way God sees the value in each one of us. Whether we feel like we have been hurt because of pride and prejudice of others, or whether we have pride and prejudice against others, I hope we can remind one another of where our true value lies: in the God who sees the left out, lonely, and rejected.

5 Things You Should Never Forget to Bring on Outreach…

At the end of next week, Michael and I are headed off on outreach (again!), and we’re scrambling to think through all the things we need to pack. Here are a few things I consider vital to pack for outreach – obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you’re heading out on outreach for the first time, they’re things you may not have thought about…

  1. A headlamp. Every time I’ve brought one with me for outreach, I’ve used it. Every time I haven’t brought one with me, I’ve wished I packed it. Whether you’re trying to find the outdoor bathroom in a village without electricity, or the power goes out when you’re cooking dinner on a gas stove in a practically windowless apartment building (both real case scenarios), a head lamp will save the day.
  2. Anti-diarrhea medication. Just. Bring. It. And bring a lot of it.
  3. All the underwear. Bring more underwear than you think you’ll need. In a lot of countries, if you have to stay in hotels, they’ll launder clothes, but not your underwear. So bring lots of it, and be prepared to hand wash it.
  4. Feminine hygiene products. Of course, this one’s for the ladies, but if you are accustomed to using a particular type of feminine hygiene product (i.e. tampons), you may find it’s impossible to find in the country you’re going to. Bring enough for the duration of your short-term outreach.
  5. Clothespins and laundry line. Obviously, you can use this for laundry (dryers aren’t really a thing in a lot of places), but you can use clothespins and laundry line for all sorts of things. Teaching English outdoors and need to hang up your alphabet illustrations? Hang your laundry line between two trees and clothespin up your ABCs.

If you’ve been on outreach, what’s on your must-pack list? Check out our newsletter below to read more about Michael and I’s upcoming travels!

Adventure Complete!

Before our recent Mountain Venture DTS began, I (Helen) was praying about the school, and I felt like God gave me a picture of a slot machine – the kind where the object of the “game” is to have matching images show up in order to win. The picture God gave me was of fourteen cherries showing up on the slot machine, and I had the impression that leading DTS this year would feel like winning the lottery.

Five months later, I can absolutely say this picture was accurate. Our nine students and three staff were incredible to work with, and it was such a gift to see all of them grow throughout the course of the school. Michael and I had never staffed a DTS before, let alone led one, and it is such a gift of God’s grace to us that we had the opportunity and privilege to be part of the lives and faith journeys of these amazing individuals.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us as we took on this new adventure. Thank you to everyone who contributed towards our time in Vietnam and Myanmar this Fall. Thank you for all the love and support and encouragement we feel so consistently from those who support us in a multitude of ways. We. Are. Blessed.