Just a Minute

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Yesterday I was walking to the back of a classroom, returning from the bathroom with four-year old Elena. Because we had a function later in the day, Elena was wearing a pink, swishy dress and Sunday shoes that tapped noticeably.  I was surprised when I was slid a hand-written note from another homeschool mom. Some of her children and mine attend a composition (writing) class while we mothers and siblings sit in the back, trying not to make too much noise.  Her note read:

“Your daughter is

Unbearably cute.

Everywhere she goes it is with great intent.

Her heavy steps, laser focus, and speed say so much.

She has far to go and the steel will to get there.

You are probably exhausted by her determination but

Just wait. I am a decade farther along and I promise you will

Be entertained and relieved when she is older.                                                                                                                                                       

You will have a front row seat to her greatness

One day.”

When the mom handed me the sweet note, I probably took a deep breath, preparing myself for what it would say. In my memory there are a couple of other times I have been “slipped” a letter. Both times were harsh and critical. The first occurred almost twenty four years ago, exactly four weeks after Thomas and I married.

Just a month married, we visited a new church together. The next day Thomas, a U.S. Army lieutenant, was being deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of the preparation for the Gulf War (Desert Shield, soon to be Desert Storm). All we knew is that he would be gone a minimum of six months. Eventually, it turned out to be seven months and a day, but who’s counting?!

A bit overwhelmed, we sat holding hands during church service. Once in a while, we’d kiss each other’s cheeks. Okay, we were a little mushy, but he was getting ready to leave for a war.

As we were leaving the service, a man handed us a note. “I’m an elder of the church,” it began and what followed was a pointed chastisement of our affection display. He didn’t say, “Don’t come back.” Of course, he didn’t need to.  After that welcome we weren’t exactly eager to return.

I have revisited this church service memory over and over, mostly in amusement. I hope when we’re seventy we get chastised for being too effusive. The experience with the “elder” has also been a challenge to me not to judge others too quickly.

Currently, I am reading the fabulous book Just a Minute by Wess Stafford, former president of Compassion International. It is filled with stories of people who in just a moment interaction have changed a child’s life. Words are powerful. They can be used to encourage and empower. The converse is true. We can shame and damage.

I will be saving the above note for Elena. A gift for her when an “elder” fails to her true spirit and worth in God’s eyes.

As usual, I can’t help but see the connection with the privilege of sponsoring through Compassion International. I have heard former sponsored children say, “Poverty told me I had no value.” It’s the lie of poverty. Sponsorship brings hope and demolishes the lie. Through support and letters from their sponsors in a land far away, children realize that they are in fact valuable, loved, and cherished by Jesus. There is actual evidence that sponsored children perform better in school when they receive correspondence from sponsors.

Let’s use our resources and our words. It only takes a minute. Sponsor a Compassion Child

 

 

 

 

 

We Didn’t Know

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Leon Leyson, author of The Boy on the Wooden Box, survived the holocaust, just barely. Because he was on Schindler’s list, this young Polish Jew made it to liberation. The years of the war were not without much suffering, brutal beatings, and near starvation in Nazi concentration camps. The humiliations and terrors were endless. Still, Leon lived! And his gratitude to Oskar Schindler is undying.

Ironically, Leon spent three years in post-war Germany. With his parents he lived in a refugee camp protected by the U.S. Army. They were provided ample food and shelter and the freedom to come and go as they like. Leon talked to people everywhere he went.

Among the Germans who sympathized with the Nazi regime, he always received a similar response: They looked down at their feet; they twirled their watches. They stated, “We didn’t know.”

Of course, Leon knew that one Nazi, Oskar Schindler, had not cowered under that excuse. Although not a saint, Oskar used up his own fortune to rescue 1,200 Jews from certain death. Countless times he risked his own life to pluck others from death.

Because the Nazis had blocked Leon’s education from the age of ten, his parents were worried about Leon’s future. Although they had no money, they used some of their food rations to pay an unemployed German engineer and father of five to tutor Leon three times a week.

Almost immediately, Leon knew this man was different. He listened with compassion and interest to Leon’s accounts of the concentration camps. Once while Leon was giving a grim account, the tutor’s wife heard and mumbled, “We didn’t know.” Her husband shot her a withering look and rebuked her, “Don’t say that!”

While they may have not known every detail, they all knew something. On November 9, 1938, violence broke out against Jews across the Reich. In two days, over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were attacked, and dozens of Jewish people were murdered. Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted while police and fire brigades watched.

These pogroms became known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” because of the shattered glass from the store windows that littered the streets. Yes, they surely knew, and they did nothing. If they hadn’t cared then, why would they have cared later?

Of all the historical accounts we read in our family, the period of World War II and the Holocaust is the one we come back to over and over. We are particularly captured by those who risked their own lives (and, in fact, many did die) to rescue the lives of the persecuted Jews. Additionally, we are interested in our own country’s history of slavery and those who sought to liberate others in the Underground Railroad. If we had lived in those times, would we have risked it all for others? Or would we claim, “We didn’t know?”

Every generation has its own story. We can’t know how we would have acted in the past, but we can know how we act in the present. Today there are an estimated 27 million people in slavery worldwide. After drug dealing, human trafficking (both sex trafficking and trafficking for forced labor) is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing. Worldwide, there are nearly two million children in the commercial sex trade. Abject poverty puts children at risk of many kinds of exploitation.

We don’t know all the details, but we know. And many of us care. What can we do? Among other things we can do what hurts—take from our own wallets. Organizations like International Justice Mission are effectively combating human trafficking and can only continue and increase their work through contributions.

With hundreds of millions in extreme poverty, were does one begin? One precious child at a time. Compassion International engages each child as a whole person, releasing the child from spiritual, social, economic, and physical poverty. Research by the University of San Francisco demonstrates that Compassion child sponsorship works powerfully. You can change a life forever.

Right before their liberation, the “Schindler Jews” presented him with a ring they made from a gold tooth of the one of the Jewish workers (talk about giving till it hurts). Engraved in Yiddish on the ring was the saying, “He who saves a life saves the world entire.”

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Beyond Broken Glass (part III)

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Our last day in the DR, my daughter Kyrie Micaela (10) woke up saying, “I don’t want to leave. I’ll miss everything, especially the singing!”  The final morning, she joined one of the Compassion classes, getting to know several little sponsored girls—all in Spanish. In her backpack, she deposited a slip of paper with the names of the children sitting with her at the table.

A month after we returned from the DR, we received our 2013 Compassion Sunday, which I had ordered. Each year, the event highlights the story of one Compassion sponsored child world-wide. Our Kyrie looked at the picture of the sponsored girl on the Compassion Sunday brochure, one of 1.4 million Compassion sponsored children in the world, and exclaimed, “Wait! That’s Karina–I know that girl.” And, sure enough, she does know her. Why? Nothing but the hand of Jesus can explain it. Karina lives in La Romana, a couple hours east of where we visited our sponsored children.  As you can read in earlier “Beyond Broken Glass” posts, we ended up in La Romana for our last two days in the DR because Compassion reached out to us following the home invasion.

Opening Kyrie’s backpack, you can find Karina’s name on the slip of paper that Kyrie has carefully guarded. It gives me spiritual goose bumps.1305230110-1

Jesus, a most personal God, who knows us each by name. He connects our world with His world. He  connects us with children around the world. Will you sponsor a Compassion child today? It’s a decision to give hope that brings no regrets.

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What’s Left Undone

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Many of us have heard the story of the filling jar. The teacher challenges the student to fit an entire assortment of rocks, some large but most small, into the jar. Initially, the student tries a rather random approach of dropping the rocks into the container. With this method there are sundry rocks remaining. Next the teacher demonstrates that all the rocks will fit if he deposits the big rocks first.

Nice. And that’s the problem. It’s too nice and neat. My intent is not to be critical of the story, which serves as a little homily: focus on the top priorities and everything falls into place. Naturally, analogies break down, but still the neatness chafes on me.  After all, the only thing required in this illustration is to choose the right order, and then everything fits. I would much prefer the story if there were still rocks left over.

For me, it’s endless choices that characterize my life. What will I do? What will I not do? What are my values? Some things scream out as the big rocks, as the most important, but others are more ambiguously sized. Is it important that I clean out my closet, wash my car, or rescue a dog from a shelter? Well, if that’s all I had on my plate, sure. As it is, I decide that a clean closet and car are not in my agenda for the near future. We remain pet-less. They are rocks that lay on the table, neglected and waiting. And that’s the way it will always be—there will be rocks of assorted sizes on the table. You can’t do it all. You can’t have it all.

In my eyes some people are running around after what they deem “big” rocks while I view them as trivial. I suspect that others are equally perplexed by what I consider essential. As one who chafes against the cultural norms, I am continually seeking to align my values by what I perceive as God’s leading and not the “American dream.” Still when I examine closer, I can find subtle influences that affect my attitude, causing me to question my choices. Back to the Word and His presence I must turn. No wonder I love the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Well-meaning people often say, “Oh, you must be so busy with four kids.” At times I reply, “Not really.” The truth is that I leave a lot of rocks on the table.

Having many choices is both our challenge and privilege. Those in abject poverty have “no choices” as they are constrained by one big rock—survival. As a result, some of the rocks that we leave out in are home are material in natural. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Live simply that others may simply live.”

No, we don’t go out to eat as much as other families. My kids notice that and other differences in our spending. It’s a continual evaluation to know the right way to go in finances, balancing various needs, and I have no formula. All I know is that with our choices comes the privilege of being able to give to those without choices. It takes only one of our small rocks to help with their big rock.

For some time I prayed for God to show us the best place to give that would help the poorest of the poor. One of God’s biggest gifts to us last year was the answer to that prayer. Seeing Compassion at work first-hand won our hearts. As a result of their outreach, working out of local churches, children are being released from their economic, physical, social and spiritual poverty. It is a long-term approach with extraordinary results. Because I am not easily impressed, you can be assured it took nothing less than seeing the wonder of God’s hand at work to make me a fervent promoter of this ministry.  Compassion rocks.

What’s left undone, what’s left not spent, can change a life forever. Sponsorship of a child is just $38 per month. Will you join us?

 

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Beyond Broken Glass (Part II)

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Thanks to the robbers and the kindness of Compassion, we ended up in La Romana with one of Compassion’s church partners. This church is transforming their ghetto.

Steps away from the church and missionary house, they’ve established a hospital/clinic where the neighborhood poor can receive free medical and dental care. Know of any nurses, doctors, or dentists who want to serve for any length of time? They are also in the process of building a new school next door to serve the many, many children who cannot attend now due to overcrowded schools.

Not long after we arrived to the Missionary House, the School of Worship (SOW) team arrived from Allentown, PA. The church in La Romana was praying for us to make good connections with them…and does God answer prayer?! Before dinner the SOW team briefly heard our story. Immediately, the group put their arms around the six of us and prayed for us. The Holy Spirit was present and palatable and our tears flowed. Later that evening, they wanted to wrap us in praise and worship, so we all stayed up late, singing the most amazing praise to Jesus in English and Spanish, crying much of the time.1305220072

The next day, Manaen and I received a great gift. The local Dominican host for SOW’s mission trip invited us to join them in their outreach to area children.  And it did not come without cost to the SOW participants–I can still picture six of them squished in the front row of the mini-bus taxi because of us, the two extra passengers. Gloria a Jesus. 

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You have no idea how that crammed bus image alone ministered to me. In former years when Thomas and I were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, we lead college student teams to closed East Asia. I have vivid memories of mian bao che’s (mini-bus taxis), stuffed with 10 to 12 American students on our way to bring the gospel to those who have never heard the name of Jesus. We lived in East Asia for two years and the privilege of being His ambassadors can still bring tears to my eyes. While we sang and interacted with the local children, I felt such joy to be there with Manaen, a full participant in all of it…and all because of a rock thrown in our window. “What others meant for evil, God meant for good.”

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And that’s just one of the gifts from “Our Night of Broken Glass.” More on the way!

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Matthew’s Shame and Surprise

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The most impressive piece of acting in Son of God was delivered by Matthew. I cried. Admittedly, I was weeping for much of the film, but these tears were not a result of any violence against Jesus or others.

The scene of their first encounter begins with Jesus telling the story that compares the Pharisee and the tax collector. After describing the prideful Pharisee, Jesus locks eyes with Matthew. Without hesitation Jesus lunges into the description of the tax collector.

At the very mention of the word tax collector, you feel the burden of emotion in Matthew’s face. His shame is palatable. Tax collector. Roman collaborator. Synonymous with scum. What could Jesus possibly say?

Matthew is one already bowed low. You can read it in his eyes. Now what humiliating blow from the Teacher will be the knock down punch?

What transpires is nothing less than shocking. Rather than Jesus fulfilling Matthew’s fears of further shame, He demonstrates His deep knowing of his soul. While Jesus quotes the tax collector, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” the camera is on Matthew. His lip movements and voice blend fully with those of Jesus.

The tear sliding down Matthew’s cheek says it all. Shame meets grace. Hiding gives way to intimacy. He leaves his wealth–just to be with Him who knows.

The Son of God. He knows you, too.

Sponsor a Compassion Child He knows the child who’s waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew, the Son of God, and Things We Couldn’t Say

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Matthew. Who was this fellow with two names, Levi and Matthew? The early scenes of the newly released movie Son of God set the historical context of Jesus’ life, which accentuates why Matthew’s inclusion to the twelve disciples was so scandalous. Quickly, we see the brutality of the Roman occupation against the Israelites including the slaughter of Jews after they rightfully protested Pontius Pilate’s use of Temple funds for building of aqueducts. I, personally, was taken aback and sobered.

Matthew, a tax collector, is branded a collaborator for aiding these Roman invaders. Collaborator, in fact, is one of the softer descriptions his fellow Jews use. At best they despise him as nothing more than scum. Immediately, I was reminded of a book about the Nazi occupation of Holland and the Holocaust which we read aloud last year as a family: Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman. The author was an active member of the underground resistance, providing rescue for many Dutch Jews. Eventually, she was captured the Nazis and imprisoned for her efforts. After her release she goes back to her work to thwart the Nazi invaders.

While Diet and others are sacrificing everything, other Dutch citizens are siding with the Nazis. Collaborators. Scum to their counterparts. When the Allies finally release Holland from the grip of the Nazis, there is a dark cloud that covers what should be utter joy. The collaborators. Other citizens, gentile and Jewish Dutch, attack them with hate and venom. Revenge bleeds through the streets.

The same kind of hatred these Dutch exhibit is found in the hearts of Matthew’s fellow countrymen. And what does Jesus do? He picks Matthew.

Out of all the decent and solid people in Israel, he chooses Matthew to be one of the Twelve. It never occurred to me before what a supernatural band the Twelve really was. For among the Twelve was not only the collaborator and traitor, Matthew, but Simon the Zealot. Simon was the equivalent of a Dutch Resistance Worker, battling passionately against his invaders. For three years, these two “enemies,” Matthew and Simon, lived together, ate together, traveled together. Two men on completely opposite sides who were transformed by Jesus, completely leaving both of their pasts behind. Their beginnings were sorely different and their endings poignantly alike: both died as martyrs, not for their original causes, but for Jesus.

How does this happen? How can two enemies become so united? Nothing less than the Son of God.

See the movie.

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Beyond Broken Glass

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While we stayed in a small apartment in Bayahibe, that quiet little fishing village became not so quiet. In “Our Night of Broken Glass,” I tell how armed men broke our window and entered our home. Not long after that, they and the police had a fire-fight out front. Supernaturally, Jesus kept us safe throughout. Yes, we were frightened, but completely unharmed. We didn’t know that the best was yet to come.

My husband and our four kids and I were in the Dominican Republic (DR) to visit two of our Compassion sponsored children.  After the break in Compassion sent us two wonderful Compassion staff from Santo Domingo.  In addition, we were joined by two pastors, Isidro and Junior, from a church that hosts a Compassion Center in La Romana, twenty-five minutes west of us. What love! They told us they wanted to make the rest of our visit a positive experience, so that our children could leave the country with happy memories.  Pastor Isidro invited us to be guests at their missionary house for our last two nights. They assured us we would be safe.  All night they have two men keeping watch, and they would not let us go anywhere alone.

Minutes after we arrived at the missionary house, fifteen year old, Endry, beckoned to Avian (8) to play the immensely popular dominoes. Even with his minimal Spanish, Avian quickly bonded to this Dominican boy, who has been abandoned by his parents. Eventually, my other kids joined them in playing. In the twilight they had a pick-up “baseball game” with an old soccer ball for the “baseball” and just a stick for a bat.Image

At one point in the day, Endry was sent to accompany me when I walked from the missionary house to the church building.  I learned that he had been kicked out of school in fourth grade because of his fighting. Endry said that he was not a Christian then and that Pastor Isidro has done so much to help him. The church in La Romana has tried unsuccessfully to get him re-admitted to school and is still pursuing other options for his education. Endry was at the missionary house pretty much all the time, helping the cook and reading the Bible with her, escorting people around, running errands, and, of course, playing dominoes. He is embraced by Isidro and his church.

It didn’t take long for me to see Jesus powerfully in Pastor Isidro. He is a humble servant of the Lord, active in ministry as a lay man for decades. For most of his life, he was a well-paid manager for an American company, which explains why he has such excellent English. Eight years ago, he experienced God’s call to leave it all to become a full-time pastor, resulting in pay just one-tenth of his former salary.

The first day he went to his wife in discouragement, saying, “I just don’t think I can do this. We won’t be able to pay our bills, the electricity, the phone…” His wife, Lucy, said, “It doesn’t matter if we have no electricity, or we have to eat dirt—let’s obey Jesus.”  And so they did. Wow. If you could only see what God has done in those eight years and the lives changed. Their church hosts a Compassion Center for several hundred children. It’s transforming that community. Stay tuned…there’s more!

 Experience the Joy of Investing in a Child

Our Night of Broken Glass

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“Fuego! Fuego! Fuego!” we all screamed in the dark of night. My husband, our four kids, and I were frantically trying to get our neighbor’s attention by yelling fire.

We were in Bayahibe, a small fishing village in the Dominican Republic, not staying in a resort but an average apartment in town. There was a roughly identical two bedroom home to the left of ours, not connected, but a few feet away. During our week stay my kids had played joyfully with the two children who live there– Leyla (8) and Mario (6)– and their dog Milo.

Our cries woke their mother, Maria, and we could hear her yelling back.  In Spanish we hastily explained that robbers with guns had broken into our apartment.  “Call the police!” we yelled.

It was just minutes earlier at 3 AM that I had been woken by sounds on our front porch.  Rushing to look out through the living room window, I noticed that the front part of the two part glassed window was missing. It gives me chills now–it didn’t even register to me then that someone also had physically removed the strong iron bars that enclosed the window. All the homes in the Dominican Republic (DR) have those bars.

Immediately, I went back to wake up Thomas. With a flashlight he looked out through the front window. Peering down on him was a masked man, pointing his large-barreled gun right at him. Thomas pulled back and told me, “He has a gun.” My response was just three words, “Get the kids.”

Silently, we dashed to the bedroom where Kyrie (10) and Avian (8) were sleeping. Evidently, I carried Avian and Thomas carried Kyrie to the next room where Manaen (14) and Elena (3) were sleeping. Just a few minutes later, we couldn’t tell you clearly who carried whom. It happened so fast. I shut the door to this bedroom and locked it, keeping my hand on the handle.

During those quick moments, the robbers broke the window with a rock and entered the apartment.  Only seconds after I closed and locked the bedroom door, I felt one of the men jostle the door handle that I continued to hold, my body against the door. Of course, they easily could’ve broken the door or shot off the lock.Image

Eventually, we heard the robbers having a fire-fight in the street with the police. Both sides fired and it was a surreal sound, hard to comprehend. At some point the six of us had begun singing praise songs to Jesus. I really wanted to cloak the kids in a spirit of gratitude to God, rather than fear. Truly, we were terrified, but behind the close doors I wanted us to be as Paul and Silas in prison, praising God.

The thieves were not caught and the police returned to our apartment. I needed to use Spanish to explain everything, calling upon rarely used vocabulary. By the grace of God, I knew how to say, “And you know why the robber didn’t break down our bedroom door? Because Jesus Christ protected us.” The eyes of the first police officer lighted up. He said, “That’s right. You are Christians?” The other officer just looked at me, dumbfounded. Throughout the morning Jesus gave me the great privilege to speak to many police and others, testifying to His care and protection.

I told my kids and others that when we yelled “Fuego” we actually were telling truth. Earlier in the year, during my morning readings (lectio divina), I had been impressed by the words in Song of Songs 8:6, “Place me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death…It blazes like fire, like a burning flame.” I have asked God for months to help me see that surrounding me, like a ring of fire, is His love. With that ring of fire around me, nothing can harm me. And so it is.

Following Jesus is the safest place to be. Several months earlier, I had mouthed a simple prayer, not really knowing where it came from, “Lord, if we can get five of our six airline tickets with frequent flyer miles, I want to go to the DR to visit our Compassion sponsored children.” Amazingly, we got them, unaware of the adventure that lay ahead. And stayed tuned, because the incident with the robbers opened the way for the best to come.

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An Atheist’s Impressive Faith

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“You kissed when you were married,” remarks four year old Elena, looking with fascination at our wedding photos.

“Was I there?” she wanted to know.

“No, we were married before we had kids.”

Before dinner recently her dad and I exchanged a kiss not far from a framed wedding picture. Elena interrupted that kiss with a remarkable flow of logic: “You kissed when you were married. You were married before you had kids. Now you have kids, so you aren’t married. No more kissing!”

Goodness, she almost had me convinced…almost. My lips are still puckered.

Odd as it may seem, that conversation generated much thought about the arguments of my atheist friends. Many of their arguments contain true statements just like Elena’s. Some of those statements can be compelling, such as there is great evil in the world. My friends in China, almost without exception, were quick to point out that they couldn’t see God. Because they can’t see God, He cannot exist is their conclusion.

Why am I impressed with the atheist’s faith? He or she must believe in the statement: Because of…(whatever the observation, fact, or argument), therefore God must not exist. How do they know that to be true? They can’t know it in any provable way; they accept it by faith.

Interestingly, while I still was pondering these things, Elena and I had the rare opportunity to be home just the two of us. We were enjoying time upstairs when she heard something below. She called downstairs, “Is somebody down there?” No answer. Hmmm. How could she really be sure there was no one down there? Perhaps one of her siblings had returned but didn’t hear her call. Maybe they were playing a game with her and not answering.

It was going to require a great amount of faith to accept no one was downstairs. How do you prove a “nothing?” How do you prove there is no God?

When Elena hears her siblings loud call from downstairs, it will be easier to accept there is “somebody down there.” Frankly, I can’t claim great faith because I believe in God. I have experienced Him.

Recently, I heard an interview of Richard Dawkins in which he quoted the other famous atheist Bertrand Russell. Someone asked Russell how he would respond if he met God upon his death. “Why did you take such pains to hide yourself?” will be Russell’s question.

It makes me wonder if Russell then took pains to find Him. Have you? I believe what the Lord says in the Bible, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

If you’re willing to seek, have you considered immersing yourself in the book of John? The author of this gospel says in John 20: 30, 31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe the Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

My atheist friend, I am eager to see the result of your great faith when you find Him.

Experience the Joy of Investing in a Child

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