Top 14 of 2014

2014 has been a busy and exciting year for us, in ministry and personally. Here are our top 14 moments of 2014, in somewhat chronological order:

  1. Michael taught 1 John, Deuteronomy, Micah, & Daniel in YWAM Turner Valley’s SBS.
  2. Helen taught Exodus, Hosea, and Ezekiel in YWAM Turner Valley’s SBS.
  3. Helen wrote correspondence Bible study material for the books of Titus and 1 & 2 Thessalonians; these booklets can be used for self-study or small group study, by anyone, anywhere. This Bible study program will be launched in 2015, and is a collaborative work by writers, translators, and editors around the world.
  4. We helped raise $1600 for women in need of obstetric fistula repair surgery, enough for four women to receive this life-changing surgery.
  5. In June, we celebrated the marriage of Helen’s sister, Jill, and our now brother-in-law, Matt. Helen had the privilege of being a bridesmaid in the wedding.
  6. In July, we had the opportunity to camp with the Mountain Venture DTS, preparing meals for them while they had lectures in the woods!
  7. In August, we spent a week in Montana with SBS staff from around North America, at the SBS Hub Boost. This was a great time of being encouraged and challenged as Bible teachers.
  8. In September, we spent two weeks in Ontario with Michael’s family, reconnecting with Alliston Christian Fellowship, friends, and supporters. It was such a blessing to spend time with Michael’s mom, dad, and sister.
  9. Throughout the year we got to watch God provide for us to participate in the Titus Project in Mexico! With the Canadian dollar struggling, and the uncertainty about costs of the program, every gift towards Titus Project was a miracle, and we are so blessed to have been able to save towards our next outreach because we received more than we needed!
  10. We loved the three weeks of Titus training in Mexico! Learning about the heart of a teacher, how to reach oral communicators, and how to illustrate and prepare lectures was so helpful. We will refer back to these lectures for years to come.
  11. Helen’s favourite Mexico teaching moments: teaching at the Ranch (a centre for men recovering from drug addictions), co-teaching Luke in Ensenada, teaching Job to YWAM San Diego Baja’s Chronological School of Biblical Studies.
  12. Michael’s favourite Mexico teaching moments: teaching in EN VIA (a discipleship program for community members), co-teaching Luke in Ensenada, preaching at the church in the Colonias, and preaching at La Roca (an inner-city church in Tijuana’s red light district).
  13. Spending three days in San Diego after our three months in Mexico. It was such a refreshing, relaxing time of being together and exploring a new city.
  14. Coming home for Christmas! We feel so blessed to be home at YWAM Turner Valley.

Thank you for being a part of our year! What have been your favourite moments of 2014?

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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Merry Christmas! May the peace and joy of Christ fill your heart and your home this season.

Love, Michael & Helen

Book Review: Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist

At the beginning of 2014, I (Helen) set a goal to read 20 books within the year. Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist, is book #20! If you’re curious, this is what I read in 2014 (those with links will connect you to book reviews by myself or Michael):

  1. Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  2. I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzi
  3. Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth
  4. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline
  5. In the Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth
  6. Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth
  7. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, by Francis Chan
  8. The Autobiography of George Muller, by George Muller
  9. Proverbs, Commentary by Katherine M. Hayes
  10. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
  11. Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis
  12. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  13. Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing, by Julia Duin
  14. Holy Fire: A Balanced Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in our Lives, by R.T. Kendall
  15. God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew with John & Elizabeth Sherrill
  16. Seven Laws of the Learner, by Bruce Wilkinson
  17. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart
  18. Foreign to Familiar, by Sarah Lanier
  19. Discipling Nations, by Darrow Miller
  20. Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist

Some of these books were required reading for Titus or suggested reading for SBS and other teaching opportunities, while other books were read for pleasure or spiritual development. Bittersweet, book #20, was both a pleasure and an encouragement in my walk with God.

bittersweetbyshaunaniequist

I’ve been meaning to read Shauna Niequist’s work for quite a while (she has three books published, and another coming out in March), but they’re not available at my library. As Titus drew to a close, and I found I had quite a bit more time on my hands as teachings wound up for this season, I purchased her second book, Bittersweet, for my Kindle. I wanted to savor the book, so I tried to read it over the course of a week, rather than gobbling it up in a day, but I could have easily read this book in an afternoon.

The book is comprised of about forty short essays, in which the author recounts some of the sweetest and most difficult moments of the season she found herself in – a season of great celebrations and beautiful memories, but also a season of loss and pain. While I haven’t experienced many of the things Niequist writes about, particularly motherhood and miscarriage, her heart of seeing God work in and through even the most difficult times in her life, was easy to connect with. Niequist writes the way I would love to write – a beautiful balance of painting pictures with words, and telling stories with honesty and vulnerability.

Two of my favourite essays were “Grace is new math” and “Thin places.” In “Grace is new math,” Niequist shares how the theme of grace was standing out to her everywhere in her life at the time she was writing. She writes of how she doesn’t want to need grace, and how it’s much easier to believe that there is a mathematical formula to life and relationships – that the “good things” about her outweigh the “hard things” about her, and because of this, she can “net” on the right side of things. But,

Grace isn’t about having a second chance; grace is having so many chances that you could use them through all eternity and never come up empty. It’s when you finally realize that the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever. It’s the moment you feel as precious and handmade as every star, when you feel, finally, at home for the very first time.

Grace is when you finally stop keeping score and when you realize that God never was, that his game is a different one entirely. Grace is when the silence is so complete that you can hear your own heartbeat, and right within your ribs, God’s beating heart, too.

Grace of course isn’t a new concept, but at a time in my life where the theme of grace is standing out to me, especially after these last months as part of Titus Project, Niequist’s words were a great encouragement.

In “Thin places,” Niequist writes of the Celtic idea that there are “thin places” – places where the boundary between the natural and the supernatural worlds are “thinner” – where God’s presence feels closer and more real than ever. She speaks of Christmas in particular, as a “thin place:”

Christmas is a thin place, a season during which even the hardest-hearted of people think about what matters, when even the most locked-up individuals loosen their grasps for just a moment, in the face of the deep beauty and hope of Christmas. The shimmer of God’s presence, not always plainly visible in our world, is more visible at Christmas.

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us. These thin places are gifts, treasures, and they’re worth changing our lives for…A thin place is an opportunity to be more aware of the divine fingerprints all over this world, and Christmas is one invitation after another to do that.

This describes Christmas for me so perfectly. When all the lights are turned off in the church on Christmas Eve, the band plays or the choir sings Silent Night, and everyone holds their candle in the darkness, that is a thin place – a place where God’s presence feels so real, almost visible in the very air.

Bittersweet is a beautiful read, the kind of book I want to give to everyone I know. The best endorsement I can think of for this book is that I’ve already started reading Cold Tangerines, Niequist’s first book, which will undoubtedly be finished before 2014 comes to a close. Number twenty-one.

Pruning

While Helen and I were coming home from a walk on the beach (yep, suffering for the faith) she mentioned how God had shown her He has her in a time of pruning. One of our team members had brought up the image from John 15 of God as the Vinedresser, and as Helen reflected on the idea of God’s pruning the ones He loves, she realized He was doing that in her life. Since that conversation I have thought a lot about not only this season on outreach with Titus Project, but really the last couple of years, and I realized I have also been going through a season of pruning. I believed at times that this season was just one of little to no growth, and because of that belief, I felt again and again I was failing as follower of Jesus. I was unable to see that what felt like a lack of growth, was God pruning back the old to make room for new. The last couple of years have not been ones of great charismatic experiences of God, and in the past, I would have seen that as an indication that God was distant in my life. This would lead me to doubt my faith and even salvation. Now, however, I know with certainty that no matter what I feel or do not feel, my standing with God does not change. I have assurance of my salvation, that I have been redeemed from sin, and transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom of light. I have this assurance because I know I did nothing to earn God’s forgiveness, and God promises to never take away what He has given to me. My status of righteousness before God is not dependent on anything I have done, but on the unchanging reality of what Jesus did on the cross.

In the same way that I am certain of my justification before God, I am certain of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and His work of sanctification in me. The Holy Spirit is the promised sign and seal of the salvation I know I have received as a gift from God. I do wish I found the expression of the fruit of the Spirit in greater measure in my life, but I do not doubt the Spirit is working with me to help me grow. I may not see the fruit in the abundance I would prefer at the moment, but I hope as God cuts away the old, it will make way for new and fuller fruit to appear in my life. It is this promise of God that comforts me in this time of pruning. God is okay with what I experience as a lack of fruit at the moment, because He knows what a good vinedresser or arborist knows – what looks hacked back and almost pruned to the point of damage, will bear fruit in its season. My certainty around this comes from seeing the work of the Spirit in the gift of teaching He has given me. I know it is the Holy Spirit that has called me to teach by way of gifting me so. I see how even when I do not “feel” the Spirit’s presence I see the results that could only occur if the Spirit was present and active. If the Holy Spirit is active in using and growing the gift of teaching He placed in me, how much more is He also active in pruning me so the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in time also. The challenge of faith at these times is having the assurance that God fulfills His promises, even when it is difficult to see how those promises are fulfilled. My hope at the moment is in the promises I find in God’s Word – that they will come to pass. My prayer is for eyes to see where God is at work in my life in every season, even ones in which He is pruning me.

Good News of Great Joy for All the People

I (Helen) write this post from a room decorated for Christmas. There are white twinkle lights, wreaths of evergreen with pine cones, cranberries and plaid ribbons, and vases of ornaments strategically placed around the room. But it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. I’ve heard Christmas music over the speakers in stores and when we went for fish tacos on Saturday, but I’m writing from Baja California, Mexico, and the weather is 20 degrees Celsius. For me, it seems, the “feeling” of Christmas requires cold weather, a certain amount of baking, feverishly hand-making gifts, and wishing we had winter tires. All of these are impossibilities at the moment. Next week when we return to Turner Valley, we’ll be immersed in winter, I’ll bake to my heart’s content, and we’ll finally get winter tires (yay!), but right now, Christmas seems far away, even though December is almost a third underway.

I know Christmas is more than the decorations, the music, the gifts, and the food. Though the traditions and memories of Christmas are wrapped up in these things for me, the beauty of Christmas means that whether I’m in Baja California, Mexico, or Turner Valley, Alberta, a Savior was born over 2000 years ago, and the effects of that birth echo throughout history past and future.

In early November, Michael and I had the opportunity to teach the Gospel of Luke in Ensenada, Mexico. It was a brief overview teaching of the book, as we only had six hours to cover it, including translation. I taught on the historical background of the Gospels, equipping the students to understand the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees, the Jews’ expectation of their long-awaited Messiah, the climate of the Roman empire. But I also had the opportunity to teach Luke 1-4, the portion of Luke which outlines Jesus’ birth and preparation for ministry.

Luke begins with a word to his original audience – Theophilus – and tells the reader he is writing “an orderly account” that Theophilus “may have certainty concerning the things [he has] been taught” (Luke 1:3-4). The purpose of the Gospel of Luke is to show Theophilus a) who Jesus is, and b) who the Kingdom of God is for. We see this throughout Luke, as the Kingdom of God is constantly discussed, as is Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man who has come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), but we also see this in the first few chapters of the Gospel, in the lead up to Jesus’ birth, the events surrounding the coming of Messiah, and in the days after the Savior was born.

In the very next paragraph (Luke 1:5-7), we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple described as righteous before God, walking blamelessly. “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). At this point in history, barrenness was a disaster for a family. It meant a shaky future, little security for the elderly, and it raised serious questions. Barrenness was associated with being under a curse; it was associated with having been removed from the favor of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth would be outcasts in their society, looked down upon and of questionable character. But this wasn’t the end of their story. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” said the angel, “for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord…he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hears of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:13-15, 17). After years of being cast aside by their society, Elizabeth and Zechariah would be part of the greatest story that ever was. Their son would herald the birth of Messiah.

Six months later, another angel was sent. This time the recipient of that angel was Mary. Mary would have been a teenage girl, likely no older than fourteen. She wasn’t wealthy or important. Her future husband, Joseph, wasn’t wealthy or important either. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:28, 31-33). Luke tells Mary’s side of the story – a side of the story that wouldn’t typically be considered at that point in history. Women were considered insignificant. And a poor pregnant teenage girl, claiming to be a virgin? A scandal, a story to be swept under the rug, to be sure. But Luke recounts Mary’s humble response, “I am the servant of the Lord” (1:38). When the time came for her to give birth, her child was born amongst animals. The King of kings born not in a palace, but in the dark, damp dwelling of four-legged creatures. Later, when the time came to present Jesus to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph would offer a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons, the provisional sacrifice allowed for those who could not afford to give a lamb (Luke 2:22-24).

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” An angel visited them too: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-11). No little boy in Israel grew up hoping to be a shepherd. Shepherds were smelly outcasts, on the fringes of society. But shepherds were the first to learn of the birth of the Messiah. They were the first to find Mary and Joseph and Jesus. They were the first (besides the angels) to proclaim the birth of the Lord.

Luke is filled with stories of the last, lost, and least. Jesus healed many of them. He taught many of them. He showed them their value by engaging them in a world that ignored or rejected them. But even before Jesus was born, God was using a childless couple in His story. God used a poor young woman to bring Him into the world. His birth was proclaimed to outcasts. Luke highlights these stories because His intention is to show Theophilus that Jesus is for everyone. The Kingdom of God is for everyone. Any who accept their need for Christ are welcomed into the Kingdom.

While it might not “feel” like Christmas in Mexico, and while I might long for all the sights and sounds of the traditions I am accustomed to, the truth of Christmas is that 2000+ years ago, God put on flesh and dwelt among us, born to die to set us free from death and sin. As the angel told the shepherds, Jesus is “good news of great joy…for all the people.” That is a reason to celebrate, whether you celebrate in sun, snow, or rain, with family or with friends, near or far from where you spent your first Christmases, with gifts opened Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Jesus is good news of great joy, for all the people.

Book Review: Discipling Nations, by Darrow Miller

When I (Michael) first taught 1 Corinthians, I came to realize just how much our beliefs shape our actions. Many of the problems Paul responded to when he wrote to the church in Corinth, were rooted in their worldview, which did not line up with the truth of the Gospel. Not surprisingly, the Corinthians’ incorrect beliefs resulted in a number of actions that did not line up with the Gospel either. Much of what Darrow Miller suggests in his book, Discipling Nations, centered on this idea that that a person’s worldview heavily influences the way s/he will live his/her life and pursue growth for him/herself, and his/her nation. Through his work with development agencies world-wide, Miller saw firsthand how world-views in contraction to Biblical Theism hindered growth in those holding to those ideas. By looking at how Secular and Animistic world-views differed from a Biblical worldview, Miller discovered that until a people and a nation’s worldview changed, it would be difficult to encourage development in some of the most impoverished peoples in the world today.

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I certainly agree with much of what Miller has to say about ideas driving actions, and how one’s worldview can actually cause him/her to do things that prevent his/her own development. I also hold to a belief in the Truth found in Scripture, so I too see a Biblical worldview as the only framework that will give people the ability to live a full life both now and eternally. I did, however, struggle with some of the generalizations made about the ideas and actions of people who do not hold to a Biblical worldview. This is not to suggest that Darrow’s statements are incorrect. Actually, I think my discomfort around some of Darrow’s statements highlight my own culture and worldview; I struggle to read sweeping criticisms of groups authored by those outside of those groups. Most likely this comes from the influence of the kind of humility and tolerance encouraged in my culture in Canada. I would have liked to see Darrow quote writers who have come from the world-views he was opposing, who could speak of the shortcomings of those systems of belief as “insiders.”

The greatest revelation for me out of Discipling Nations was the idea that wealth is really found in the mind, and not in natural resources. Coming from a natural resource rich country, where economy is so tied to the cost of commodities like oil, if asked where true wealth came from, I would have previously suggested natural resources. Now I can see this is not true. It is the image of God in us which causes us to desire to create in a fashion similar to God (we do not create out of nothing like God does). This desire to create allows us to take something seemingly useless, like sand, and turn it into something valuable, such as silicon, which can then be made into a computer chip, which then gets data stored on it. Because of this ingenuity and creativity, what was once an abundant and practically worthless material is now full of worth. Even petroleum at one time was not a valued resource. It took an act of the mind to create ways of using it so that it became a valuable commodity. Wealth is tied not to finite resources, but the infinite creativity of the human mind. The true wealth of any community is not found in the ground, but in the development of the minds of the people. The challenge of discipling nations is to show the people how their ideas can actually hold them back from the great wealth God has placed in the minds He created, and wants to transform and renew.

I will continue to process the challenges highlighted in Discipling Nations, but I come away from the book knowing I need to participate in the unlocking of the potential found in the minds of those God gives me the privilege of teaching in the future.

Changing Seasons…From the Desert of Baja Mexico, to the Snowy Foothills of Alberta.

If you’ve read our latest e-newsletter, you’ve already read the following, but just in case you’re not on our mailing list, here’s the content of that newsletter, the last one we’ll send from Mexico. (If you want to see it nicely formatted, check it out here, and then subscribe to our newsletter!)

We are wrapping up our final week of outreach here in San Antonio Del Mar, and fly back to Alberta on December 16th. In between we’ll have a few days of debrief, and a few days to relax and process the last three months of ministry in Mexico.

God has been faithful throughout our time with Titus Mexico. Like any season, this time has had its highs and lows, but God’s faithfulness has been consistent, whether it’s been with finances, with giving us energy to teach, or with allowing us to build relationships with new friends. We have been so blessed to be equipped as teachers through the Titus Project, and it has been a privilege to teach to a wide variety of people here in Mexico.

When we arrive back in Alberta, we’ll be heading into Christmas break, but starting in January we’ll be transitioning into a new season of ministry. We’d love to share with you both about our time in Mexico, and about what’s next for us!

Ministry in Mexico

After a three-week lecture phase in which we were equipped as teachers, we, along with the rest of our outreach team, had the opportunity to teach several different audiences. In the last weeks some of Michael’s favourite teachings have included our time teaching Luke in Ensenada, which we wrote about in our last newsletter, teaching Bible Overview to a group of teenage boys from the Colonias, and preaching at La Roca, a church in Tijuana that serves men and women who have been deported and live in poverty. I (Helen) also really enjoyed teaching Luke in Ensenada, but the highlight of the last few weeks has been teaching Job to the Chronological School of Biblical Studies (CSBS) students at the YWAM base here. You can read my reflections on my study of the book of Job on our blog, here.

Our Titus team taught Bible Overview in a local elementary school, to kids and adults at the YWAM base, and for kids and youth from the Colonias. We preached in La Roca, and in a church in the Colonias. We taught the Inductive Bible Study method to men recovering from drug addictions at a place called “The Ranch,” and to Homes of Hope staff. We’ve had so many opportunities, and we’re thankful that God has been able to use us in the lives of so many. When teaching kids in particular, it’s hard to know the fruit those teachings will bear, but we’re trusting God will use our work for His glory, and that these kids will come to know Jesus, or that their relationship with Him will deepen as they see how God fulfilled His promises to His people through His Son.

Thank you so much to everyone who has sent us encouraging emails or thoughtful snail-mail throughout our time in Mexico, and of course, thank you so much to everyone who has prayed for us and financially supported us in this first stage of our involvement with the Titus Project. We’ve been blessed beyond what we’ve needed financially, and have been able to set some funds aside for our next steps with the Titus Project, which is really exciting! We’re so grateful for all of you, and your partnership with us in equipping God’s people with a world-changing knowledge of the Bible.

Ministry in Turner Valley

We fly from California to Calgary on December 16th. Christmas break begins December 20th, and we’ll be spending our holidays in Turner Valley. We’re looking forward to celebrating the joy of the Christmas season at home – we’ll get to attend our church’s Christmas Eve service for the first time (we’ve been in Edmonton for the past two Christmases), and hopefully we’ll get some snow-shoeing in (while snow is still a novelty!). We’ll miss our family and friends in Edmonton and Ontario at this time, but are looking forward to staying off the highways and are excited about not living out of a backpack for a while!

YWAM Turner Valley resumes its normal schedule on January 5, 2015, and Michael and I will very much be part of that schedule. Our main role will be running the kitchen. I’m looking forward to introducing some more Mexican food to our menu! In addition to being in the kitchen, Michael and I will be teaching in the School of Biblical Studies. This quarter, Michael will be teaching Genesis, and I (Helen) will be teaching Leviticus. Michael will also be helping in facilities, and is very keen to be involved in local outreach. We both hope to be involved with Bible teaching in the wider community in the months to come. We’re excited about our new schedule, and the different places we’ll be able to serve the base through working in a variety of departments.

This next season will be a real time of prayer and discernment for us, and we would love for you to be praying with us through that time. We are still very much looking towards planting Titus at YWAM Turner Valley – we so believe in this program, and its ability to equip SBS graduates with the tools to teach the Bible around the world. Our next step in bringing Titus to Turner Valley is to staff Titus. Returning to Mexico to staff in the Fall of next year is a possibility, but we really want to seek God in this, and ask Him what His next step for us looks like. We will definitely keep you posted as God reveals His plans for us. We would like to staff Titus in 2015, but we are placing our timetable in God’s hands. Please pray with us, and feel free to contact us if you receive a word from the Lord that He is prompting you to share.

Helen getting ready to teach Job for YWAM San Antonio Del Mar's Chronological School of Biblical Studies (CSBS).

Helen getting ready to teach Job for YWAM San Antonio Del Mar’s Chronological School of Biblical Studies (CSBS).

For Job, Michael, two other Titus participants, and one of the CSBS staff re-enacted Job's dialogue with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

For Job, Michael, two other Titus participants, and one of the CSBS staff re-enacted Job’s dialogue with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

Michael preaching at La Roca, a church focused on serving the poor and deported in Tijuana.

Michael preaching at La Roca, a church focused on serving the poor and deported in Tijuana. (Photo by YWAM San Diego Baja).

Celebrating American Thanksgiving with staff and students at YWAM San Antonio Del Mar. (Photo by YWAM San Diego Baja).

Celebrating American Thanksgiving with staff and students at YWAM San Antonio Del Mar. (Photo by YWAM San Diego Baja).