They Say We Are Infidels, a book review by Paula Wilding

Paula Wilding wrote this review of They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz, WORLD magazine editor. This book is available at the Sunday morning Bookstall.

On New Year’s Day, Pastor Josh Stringer preached on Psalm 130 and encouraged us to share our stories of where we have seen God’s care and grace. In her 2016 book, WORLD magazine editor Mindy Belz does just this—the telling of the stories of our Christian brothers and sisters persecuted by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Belz has spent years traveling to war-torn areas as a journalist, communing with Christians in the Middle East. In They Say We Are Infidels, Belz shares the conditions and history that has led to where the Middle East stands today, with Christians now continually threatened and killed by ISIS. But Belz’s book focuses mostly on stories of the Christians who she met and talked with during her travels over many years. Belz comments that during her years of covering war-torn areas in the Middle East, her safety and survival were always dependent on those whom she could trust—other Christians. What a lesson for us. Our God—who loves community and is himself in constant community with the Son and Holy Spirit—brings his care to us through others who also call him “Lord.”

While not shying away from the destruction and persecution Christians face in Syria and Iraq, Belz focuses on what should be a prevailing characteristic in all Christians—hope. Belz writes of the Christian community and how many Iraqi Christians risked their lives to help her, transport her and house her. The Christians, while they cannot ignore the constant threat upon their lives, clearly are living for something more. Their eyes are on eternity and on Christ day-to-day. With so much loss and uncertainty, these Christians are centered on the promises of God that will not and cannot change. As Belz commented in an interview, “They have a fearlessness that is admirable and something we can learn from them.”

Belz remarks that when she asked the Christians if they would like to be featured in the book under aliases, none of them wanted their real names changed. The bravery and focus on God of these Christians came when they were forced to choose. As Belz remarked in an article in “By Faith” magazine, “they gave up everything so that they could hold on to the one they weren’t willing to give up . . . their faith.”

Belz is clear that persecuted Christians do not need our pity, but they desperately need our prayers and our advocacy. Not all Christians are called to travel to war-torn areas, but they are called to care for their brothers and sisters in Christ. If you would like to be involved, consider joining the weekly prayer group for the persecuted church, Fridays at noon in C103.

If you are interested in helping our Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters, go to WORLD Magazine’s website and search “Aid for Iraqis.” The magazine has compiled a list of 15 reputable and trustworthy agencies, encouraging American how to help in very practical ways.

Nearer, My God, to Thee by Holly Burke

There are days when it’s good to take a breather from current politics and world affairs and look back at other occupants of the White House such as the twenty-fifth resident—William McKinley. Holly Burke gives us a glimpse into McKinley’s life and death.

President William McKinley was a man of profound Christian faith. He prayed, read the Bible daily, faithfully attended church throughout his life, participated in the ministry of the Methodist church and other Christian organizations, supported missions, displayed genuine compassion for others, frequently testified to his Christian convictions in both public and private, and believed that God directed the course of history and his own life.

 As a Union soldier during the Civil War, the young man wrote in his diary:

“Fall in a good cause and hope to fall in the arms of my blessed Redeemer. This record I want left behind, that I not only fell as a soldier for my Country, but also as a Soldier of Jesus Christ. [His family and friends would be comforted with the solace] that if we never meet again on earth, we will meet around God’s throne in heaven. Let my fate be what it may, I want to be ready and prepared.”

Following the war, McKinley studied law and settled in Canton, Ohio, where he met and married Ida Saxton. The couple had two daughters, one of whom died at age three and the other at four months. Devastated, Ida never recovered from these losses and soon developed epilepsy. McKinley remained a devoted husband to her for the rest of his life. Ida declared in a 1901 interview that few could understand “what it is like to have a wife sick, complaining, always an invalid for twenty-five years, seldom a day well … and yet never a word of unkindness has ever passed his lips. He is just the same tender, thoughtful, kind gentleman I knew when first he came and sought my hand.” According to the Presbyterian Banner, McKinley’s love for his wife was “almost proverbial throughout the nation.”

In 1876, the aspiring politician was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, an office he would hold for the next fourteen years. He then ran for governor of Ohio in 1891, winning by a comfortable margin. While campaigning for governor, McKinley stated, “I pray to God every day to give me strength to do this work, and I believe He will do it!” Two years later, he was reelected governor by an overwhelming majority. In 1896, the Republican National Convention nominated McKinley for president on the first ballot. The governor conducted his entire campaign from his front porch in Canton, giving more than 300 speeches to an estimated 750,000 visitors. In a hotly contested race, McKinley beat Democrat William Jennings Bryan by a margin of about 600,000 votes. He humbly invoked God’s direction in his first inaugural address: “Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers, who has so singularly favored the American people in every national trial, and who will not forsake us so long as we obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps.” On another occasion, he declared, “The greatest discovery a man or a nation can make is to find the truth of God’s Word. More to be prized is it than the discovery of continents, than the discovery of gold mines, than the marvelous discoveries being made in the physical and scientific laboratories of the day. When a man truly gives himself to the study of the Bible he discovers it to be God’s great love story to man. The more profoundly we study this wonderful Book, and the more clearly we observe its divine precepts, the better citizens we will become and the higher will be our destiny as a nation.”

Biblical principles and his personal Christian convictions clearly guided McKinley throughout his presidency. His oath to faithfully execute the office of president was “reverently taken before the Lord Most High. To keep it will be my single purpose, my constant prayer.” Less than a year into McKinley’s first term, a series of complex diplomatic challenges with Spain tested his foreign policy. On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba. Outraged at the loss of American lives, Congress, the press, and much of the American public constantly pressured the president to declare war. Because McKinley had lived through the gruesome battlefields of the Civil War, he approached the situation with caution. The president quietly explored several other alternatives, including the purchase of Cuba from Spain and allowing Spain to maintain token sovereignty over the island. Both proposals were refused. On April 23, Spain declared war against the United States. Two days later, Congress responded with a declaration of war on Spain.

The conflict itself lasted a little over three short months. After a decisive American victory at the Battle of Santiago, McKinley issued a proclamation of thanksgiving: “[We] should reverently bow before the throne of divine grace and give devout praise to God, who holds the nations in the hollow of His hands and worketh upon them the marvels of His high will, and who has thus far vouchsafed to us the light of His face and led our brave soldiers and seamen to victory.” On August 12, 1898, the United States ratified an armistice with Spain. In December, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war. Under the agreement, Puerto Rico and Guam became American territories, and the Philippines was purchased for a sum of $20 million. The president justified annexation of the Philippines “to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.”

Devoid of personal bigotry, McKinley enjoyed a very cordial relationship with both Protestant and American Catholics during his administration. In November 1899, the president hosted the General Missionary Committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was praised as “a Christian gentleman, … a devoted husband, and a God-fearing American statesman” who was “actuated by lofty motives.” John Ireland, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul, paid tribute to McKinley after his assassination: “I knew him closely; I esteemed him; I loved him. He was a true man, honest, pure of morals, generous, conscientious, religious.” Although the political realities of the time prevented McKinley from alleviating the plight of Southern blacks, he stood for racial equality and justice. The Ohioan declared, “Our black allies must neither be forsaken nor deserted. I weigh my words. This is the great question not only of the present, but is the great question of the future; and this question will never be settled until it is settled upon principles of justice, recognizing the sanctity of the Constitution of the United States.” On the subject of voter fraud, he asserted, “Is this system of disfranchisement to be further permitted? Is the Republican sentiment thus to be hushed in the South, and how long? … I answer, No, No! but that the whole power of the Federal Government must be exhausted in securing to every citizen, black or white, rich or poor, everywhere within the limits of the Union, every right, civil and political, guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws…”

In the 1900 presidential election, McKinley stood on an indisputable record of national prosperity and successful foreign diplomacy. Despite the extensive campaign travels of his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, the incumbent received 292 electoral votes to Bryan’s 155. It was the largest margin of victory in thirty years, a testament to the American people’s confidence in McKinley and his capabilities.

Six months into his second term, tragedy struck. On September 6, 1901, while greeting visitors at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, the beloved president was shot twice at point-blank range. His assassin was Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. The Presbyterian Banner reported that after being shot, McKinley’s “thoughts went out in tenderness to his wife, in forgiveness to his enemy, and in unselfish regard for the public interest.”

One of the bullets ricocheted off the president’s jacket and landed in a pocket, but the other penetrated his stomach walls. At the Exposition hospital, surgeons carefully operated on the injury. While a doctor administered ether to sedate McKinley, the wounded man murmured the Lord’s Prayer. After much gentle probing, the surgeons determined that they couldn’t locate the bullet and closed the wound. McKinley was then moved to the home of John G. Milburn, the chairman of the exposition. Throughout his ordeal, McKinley remained calm, cheerful and patient. All who visited the president were impressed by his serenity. An anxious nation waited and prayed. By Thursday, he seemed to be recovering. Unbeknownst to the doctors, gangrene had been slowly creeping along the path of the bullet. Early the next morning, McKinley suffered a collapse. Around 7:40 p.m., he asked to see his wife. In his final conscious moments, the fervent Christian quoted a few lines from his favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” His last words were, “Good-bye all, good-bye. It is God’s way. His will, not ours, be done.” At 2:15 a.m. on Saturday, September 14, 1901, President McKinley surrendered his soul to the Savior he had so loved.

Sorrow engulfed the country. Thousands of mourners lined the railroad tracks from Buffalo to Washington, many of whom broke into spontaneous renditions of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” in McKinley’s honor. At the Capitol, thousands more viewed the fallen president’s casket as it lay in state. Two public funerals were held at the Capitol and the First Methodist Church in Canton. Charles Manchester, McKinley’s pastor, declared in his eulogy that McKinley was a Christian “in the broadest, noblest sense of the word… He had gained in early life a personal knowledge of Jesus, which guided him in the performance of greater duties … than … any other American President.” Indeed, he had affirmed that he was only able to faithfully discharge his duties because of his faith in God.

“Where he found distrust, he left faith; where he found strife, he left peace; where he found bitterness, he left love; where he found an open wound, he poured his dissolving life as a precious ointment to soothe and heal,” wrote journalist Harry S. Edwards. Ministers challenged Americans to examine their own spiritual state in view of McKinley’s sudden death. Methodist bishop Edwin Andrews emphasized that the president “based his hope on Jesus Christ, the appointed and only Redeemer of men...” Perhaps McKinley’s life is best summed up in his own words: “[A]ll a man can hope for during his lifetime [is] to set an example, and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history.”

Lost-ness and Light--fiction by Vikki Williams

"The Bible affirms that on earth the unrighteous experience some of God's blessings...These blessings are not the same as salvation...So we have a paradox.  People without God experience many of God's blessings.  John says that Christ, 'the true light... gives light to every man.'" (John 1:9)--Ajith Fernando, Crucial Questions About Hell

Welcome

Sonja and Irene had barely been in my dorm room a minute before they attempted to raid my mini-fridge. This is how I know my friends are comfortable here. “Looking for the care package my mom and dad sent?” I asked, holding up a cardboard box. I fished out two foil-wrapped brownies and threw one at each friend.

While we munched, Sonja said, “Usually just my mom sends me care packages.”

“Book from my dad, food from my mom,” I said between bites.

“What book?”

“It's about something he wanted me to consider,” I evaded. “Kind of interesting, though.”

Then I quickly shifted my gaze from Sonja to Irene. Irene had been staring at the snow outside, a late-spring sugar snow. Her face was reflected dimly in the glass of the window, eyes solemn to match the cast of the sky. The blue-white glare of the snowy landscape was too bright.

I thought silently, “It’s as if the sun has come dangerously close to the earth.”

Apparently, Irene had noticed me staring off into space.

“Whatcha thinking, Vivian?” she asked.

“How I would describe this scene in a story,” I admitted.

“You and your stories--you're always so enslaved to your writing,” said Sonja.

“What are you writing, anyway?” she asked, sidling up to my straight-backed desk chair.

“Nosey!” I giggled, starting to close my sleek laptop.

“Okay, okay, I won’t read it.”

“Is it the one you showed me--the disturbing story about a little girl?” asked Irene. I nodded.  “If it’s disturbing, maybe I shouldn’t read it then.” said Sonja, mischief dancing in her dark eyes.

I set my trap carefully: “Maybe I shouldn't let you. You know what they say about writing.  What if it reveals all kinds of secrets about me and my childhood?”

“Actually, Sonja, it’s more that it's kind of intense,” I said, looking straight at her. “Some people might say it's morbid.”

“Now I want to see.” she replied.

I opened the laptop and tapped a few keys.

Sonja said, “I'll read it out loud, since you both know what's in it.”

And she began to read.

Dreams and Visions

A little girl and her mother sit side-by-side in the living room. Slanting Texas sunlight slides in between the blinds, marking out stripes on the floor like the intervals of a timeline. The girl, about seven-years-old, watches dust motes drift in the air. And that is what she will always remember that afternoon: “It was so tranquil at first.”

"Let's read the one about stars," says the mother, pulling a book off a stack on the floor. Its cover looks like a shining color photograph of outer space. Luminous nests of stars twinkle out from behind the clear plastic dust jacket: this one holds good promise. It might even be a new friend.

The child reads.

Soon, the mother is lulled towards sleep by her daughter's voice, clear and rhythmic and steady.  The child looks over at her.

“Do you ever think about space, Mom?”

The mother snaps awake, thinks for a second, and then answers. “Not much lately,” she admits.

After a pause and a sip of the dregs of her coffee, she asks, “What do you think about space, little one?”

“About how it's so big, like you can run and run practically forever and never get to the end.”

The mother looks amused, “You actually enjoy thinking about this stuff.”

The girl looks surprised, “Of course! It's like dancing with the genie.”

“You mean the genie from Aladdin?”

“Yeah... like you're swept away. And by something stronger than you! Because you get to imagine something so big that you never would have imagined it before! And then you do the next thing!”

“Swept away in a dance by an otherworldly being,” says the mother, more to herself than to the child. “I like it. And the genie in Disney’s Aladdin was such a cheerful version,” she adds, wiggling her toes out of her blue flip-flops.

The mother looks at her daughter again.  “What is your favorite thing from these books?”

Immediately: “Neutron stars.  They weigh SO much.  It says that just a drop of one would be more than a BILLION TONS on Earth.  It would CRUSH you!”

“And how huge the ones called red giants get... like Beetle-juice.”

“I don't know - that sounds pretty scary,” the mother says.

She tastes a sip of coffee and waits.

“But nobody can live on Jupiter or Beetle-juice.  So nobody would go there!”

The mother chuckles, and they resume their reading.

But then the child discovers something she did not expect.  The book tells her that not only distant Betelgeuse—but our own particular star, the sun, will become a red giant.  It will swell to an enormous size, perhaps swallowing the earth.  An inhabited world engulfed in a ball of red fire.

The child turns her large dark eyes to her mother in distress. “Will this really happen? Will the earth and all that is in it really be destroyed?”

Sonja paused and turned to me, her face lit up by the digital glow of the screen.

“She sounds a little like my sister. I could imagine her getting worked up over something like that.  So frustrating.”

Irene said, “Sounds like one or two of the kids I have in Sunday School!”

Sonja smiled sympathetically and then went back to reading.

Her mother answers the child as seems good to her: “Oh, five billion years is so far away that...” The mother gestures in the air, but finds it futile to mark out such a span of time.  She begins again: “That won't happen until after you have died and after your children have died and your children's children and their children and so on and so on. It's so far away.”

The mother hugs the little child with such serious questions. “Don't worry about it.” But her answer created a whole new set of questions for the little girl, who never thought about the children she might have one day or their children or their children's children.

Or about dying.

Sonja looked over at me to say, “Well, that is intense. Now, where's the punchline?”

I pointed, and she began again.

That night, at bedtime, the child says to her father, “I have a question.” He listens. “What about when I die?

Sonja said, “I see.” and got really quiet. She finished reading my story in silence and then looked up.

She repeated the last sentence: “The little child goes to sleep.”

Revelation

“So a little girl, at seven years old, decides that if she does great things, she will be able to live on in others' memories,” said Irene. “And she thinks that works.“

But then Sonja turned to her: “Well, I don't see how it's disturbing.”

“I was bothered by the fact that I couldn't go to the child and help her,” said Irene.

I looked straight at her and said, “Irene.  You have helped her, and you do help her.”

Irene gave me her “You are a weirdo” look and I could have laughed, but instead, said softly, “I am the child.”

“Oh.” Now she looked delighted.

Sonja went on talking, somewhat obliviously: “It's kind of sweet and comforting. Like... her parents love her, and the little girl feels safe.”

“Yes.  Her parents love her.”

Irene thought about that for a second, eyes searching this way and that. Then she spoke: “But the conclusion the characters in the story come to... is that if she does deeds worthy of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, then she will be remembered long after she dies.”

“In the minds of others.” intoned Sonja, without a trace of irony.

“But that's not supposed to be a Christian hope, is it?” asked Irene, looking to me for assent.

“It's totally a worldly hope, Irene!” I answered her.

“And it's ummm - you know - a little bit of a burden for a five year-old child.”

“Seven.” said Sonja.

“Oh, yeah.  Right.  Seven.”

“So then how is it a Christian story?” asked Irene.

“It's about lostness!”

Now they both stared at me dumbly.

“It's so easy to forget what 'lostness' is like.  And what it feels like!  Lostness often doesn't feel like being lost!”

Sonja motioned to a spot in the middle of the faded blue carpet: “That is now your soapbox.  Go... take ownership of it.”

I walked over there, smoothed down some loops of the fraying rug, and continued to speak.

“We are tempted to quickly dismiss some of the concerns of people who do not follow Christ.  As Christians, we tell ourselves we 'know we don't need to worry about those problems.'  But maybe these concerns are more like our own concerns than unlike them.”

“Like the world being destroyed by fire.” said Irene.

Then Sonja turned to Irene: “You know, this reminds me of that one book we've been reading. It was talking about how pride really hampers witnessing.” And that was when I knew I had them. No telling how long this would last... but, for now, I had them.

 

A Song of Salvation

Philip had written to his praying friends to pray for an elderly man who was close to the end of his life, yet felt no need for Christ to be his Savior.

Philip now picks up the story, “Since I wrote my last letter to you, the man for whom I asked for prayer has passed away. I also have good news to share with you. This man turned to Christ to be his Savior. The man's daughter was astonished that God can and does instantly turn a hard heart to Christ. The daughter thanks you for your prayers for her father. She gave me permission to share her father's story.”

The man was born into a family that belongs to a people group that serves its society as religious priests. He prided himself in his strict ritual purity. He ate ritually pure vegetarian food cooked in his ritually pure kitchen. He considered food prepared outside his home to be ritually defiled by cooks who lived ritually impure lives. He regularly studied the scriptures of his religious tradition as well as other books about his religion.

The man's daughter had turned to Christ after experiencing his power and deliverance from spiritual oppression. She had told her father about the good news of Christ and of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The father listened politely to his daughter but dismissed the uniqueness of her message. He considered names of any gods to be equivalent spiritual realities. He was proud of his religious tradition and saw no need for Christ.

“During our evening devotions with the daughter and her family,” Philip recalls, “I emphasized the truth that our purity can’t create a relationship with God. Our best behavior can't reach him. We need Christ’s sacrifice to cover our sin. We need Christ to be our Savior.”

 As her father’s health deteriorated, the daughter spoke to him with increasing earnestness about his need for Christ. She read Psalm 23. She told him that he needed to repent and turn to Christ as his Savior. She told him about the one true God who is seated on the highest, holiest throne. She told her father that rituals were insufficient to reach God.

Priests came to visit the father, and the daughter admitted to them that they had studied more and knew more than she. “But there is one thing I do know,” she told the priests. “I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior—the only Savior of the world.”

The father grew physically weaker, apparently headed to a godless eternity. But his story wasn’t over.

“Friends like you were praying for his salvation. The father experienced a longing for his wife who had passed away a year ago. His wife had received Christ as her Savior shortly before she passed away. ‘Your wife is in heaven now,’ the daughter told her father. ‘You can go to heaven, too. You can see her again if you repent and receive Christ as your Savior.’

“Two days before he passed away, the father had an unusual sensation. He sensed that he was engulfed in flames and he was getting burned. He called out for people to put the fire out, but there was no fire or smoke anywhere near his room. ‘The flames that you are seeing are the flames of hell,’ the daughter told her father. ‘You don’t have to go to hell if you repent and trust in Christ to be your Savior,’ she said.”

The man approached his final day. Relatives, friends and priests came in and out of the father's home. Then, there was a period of quiet during which no visitors came. The daughter seized the opportunity and told her father that he needed to repent and turn to Christ. “I am going to pray a prayer and you need to pray the same words I pray,” she told him. Her father agreed and he repented and prayed for Christ to be his Savior.

After praying for Christ to save him, the father’s perspective changed. A relative came and wanted to read the father’s old religious scriptures to him. The father didn’t want those scriptures. Relatives came to plan the traditional religious rituals for the father’s death. He told them that he no longer wanted any of those rituals performed after his death.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, the father breathed his last breath. Relatives brought the priests to do his final rituals. The daughter told her relatives that her father had turned to Christ and repeated her father’s desire not to have the rituals performed. Instead, she told them the good news of Christ. When the relatives insisted on performing the rituals, the daughter replied, “Those rituals won’t make any difference for my father now. He is in heaven. But if you want to perform those rituals, you can go ahead.” The daughter left her relatives to their rituals.

“As she told me this story about the miraculous salvation of her father,” says Philip, “the daughter said to me, ‘I am amazed that God can instantly change a hard heart.’ I mentioned that I had asked my friends to pray for her father’s salvation.  And now, the daughter thanks those of you who prayed for her father’s salvation.”

The Faces of God's Global Work by Jeff VanDerMolen

Jeff and Ann VanDerMolen serve with Kids Alive in the Dominican Republic. Jeff first shared this story at College Church's Spring Missions Festival. Jeff's story, and others like it, were printed in the festival guidebook, giving us glimpses of how God is at work around the world.

What is God doing in the global church?

As I think about this question and what we have observed in our 20 years living in the Dominican Republic, a series of faces come to mind. What I see God doing in his church is utilizing people to impact the lives of others. Ordinary people. People who may seem unprepared and inadequate, like I am. People who take bold steps of obedience to God and despite not being fully prepared, step out to do what God has called them to do.

I'd like to introduce you to a few of these people.

Carmen is the cook at our ANIJA school. Every day she cooks for more than 300 kids. She cooks in enormous cooking pots on top of a giant three burner stove. She goes through more than 120 pounds of rice a week. Carmen knows how to cook in quantity, and she has been doing it for more than 20 years. I've done the math: she has cooked 750,000 plus meals as an act of service in her ministry to the ANIJA kids. And in her spare time, she cooks in the evenings for the visiting work teams from North America. If you come to Jarabacoa, you will meet Carmen as she prepares your evening meals.

Carmen is one of my heroes. She has a servant's heart and a quick smile. She is involved in the lives of the kids, her neighbors and those she comes in contact with. God has used Carmen to impact the lives of those that she interacts with.

Jessica teaches second grade. When she was young and living in a broken home in a poor barrio neighborhood she was invited to church by her neighbor Carmen (yes, that Carmen, the cook). Jessica came to know the Lord and looks to Carmen as her spiritual mother. Jessica entered the ANIJA school and graduated from eighth grade. Jessica continued on through high school, and with the help of a Kids' Alive scholarship, went to university, graduating with a teaching degree. Jessica has various options of where to teach, but chose to return to teach at the ANIJA school, whose focus is working with at-risk kids. She knew what it was to sit in these classrooms as a child coming from a hard situation. Jessica has chosen to invest her time and talents to impact this next generation of kids who are growing up in the ANIJA school.

Nojean teaches French and tutors in one of Kids' Alive's school in the Dominican Republic. This might not sound unusual, until I tell you that Nojean is Haitian. There are more than a million Haitians living in the DR, many of them here without visas. They live in some of the poorest conditions, receive the lowest wages and work some of the hardest jobs. Life is not easy for them. Yet there is a vibrant church within this community. Each week as my family and I drive to our Spanish speaking church, we pass a church building where the Haitians meet to worship in Creole. Their service starts before our church service and ends after our service ends. They know how to worship.

During the day Nojean serves in ministry to at-risk in the Kids Alive school, and in the evenings and on the weekends serves as pastor of this Haitian church. He makes his living as a teacher, but chooses to serve as an unpaid pastor. This is common in the DR--bi-vocational pastors who meet their financial needs through a day job; then serve as church leaders as part of their ministries. Nojean has a heart for at-risk kids as well as the Haitian population living in the DR. Nojean is an example of a typical pastor in many parts of the global church, a job during the day and ministering to a church body in non-working hours.

When I think about what God is doing in his global church, I see the faces of those that he is using to accomplish his tasks. He is using ordinary people to do extraordinary things, people who are affecting the lives of those around them in obedience to God.

Hope Is Alive and Well . . . in Jesus by Pat Cirrincione

W.

Cubs win! Cubs win! For years and years and years, Cub fans hoped their beloved team would win a World Series, and we finally saw it happen last fall!  The joy! The ecstasy! Our beloved Cubbies finally overcame the Billy Goat’s curse. People danced in the streets, hugging one another as tears of joy ran down their faces. What a glorious time it was!

Actually, this is a sign of what hope isn’t. It isn’t wishing for your favorite team to win the World Series. It is not a hope or wishing for what we cannot have (for example, a voice like Frank Sinatra or Celine Dion when we are tone deaf or being the winner among hundreds in a hog calling contest). It is not hoping to be someone God did not design for you to be.

It is also not wishing and hoping or expecting something from our family members that they cannot give. How can we, in our brokenness, expect what they cannot give in their brokenness? Nor is hope hungering and thirsting for the things that can never truly satisfy our worldly wants and desires.

So, is hope an illusion? No, but that hope I just described will leave us empty inside. A Christian’s definition of hope is grounded in the Word of God. Hebrews 6:19 states, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” We have the hope of God’s promises, which are absolutely trustworthy! Our hope in Christ guarantees our safety because we are moored to God himself. Not a prize we have won or a fleeting career on stage or a trophy that is nothing more than a symbol of a passing fancy.

We Christians have been given many gifts, and the gift of hope shows itself throughout Scripture. We have the hope of never being abandoned (Acts 2:26); of hoping patiently for what we do not yet have (Romans 8:25); the hope that if God is with us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). We have hope because Christ was raised from the dead, and our preaching and faith is not useless. First Thessalonians 4:16-18 reminds us that “we know that the Lord Himself will come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise…and then those alive in Christ…”

As Christian believers, we place our hope in the living God, the Savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10). Christ Jesus is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1), and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). We have hope in God, the hope of the resurrection--true biblical hope. A God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace as we place our trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

The next time you place your hopes on a sports team or politician or anything else that's bound to this earth, remember that they are fleeting. For believers, to hope and have faith in God is eternal and lasting. It brings great peace and a joy that surpasses all understanding.

Keep your hope in what really matters, God himself.

Fingerprints: Ours and God's by Wil Triggs

It’s been more than 22 years since Lorraine and I got fingerprinted. We weren’t caught in some kind of crime—we were in the process of becoming foster parents with an eye toward adopting. It’s standard procedure, or at least it was back then. Once you go through everything it takes to get approved for adoption, it all makes sense and seems fine. But back then, it seemed like a lot of paperwork and red tape.

We were rushing to jump through all the hoops we needed to jump through in time for the birth of a baby who turned out not to be our child after all (another story). But our social worker urged us to get the fingerprinting done as soon as possible. The fastest and best path toward getting this taken care of was to go to downtown Rockford and have the fingerprinting there. 

That seemed like a long way to go. We were nervous. But we made the appointment and went. The officer was friendly, kind and efficient. We talked with him, thanked him and went on our way. That was one item we could check off our list. 

Just few days ago, the officer who took our fingerprints all those years ago emailed me.

“I was the Illinois State Police fingerprint technician who fingerprinted you and your wife for an adoption. I think that was well over 20 years ago,” wrote Officer William Reeves, who now works as a fingerprint specialist with the Fairfax County Police Department in Fairfax, Virginia. “My wife and I attended College Church for several years before moving to the east coast.  We also adopted two girls through Sunny Ridge Family Center. They are now 20 and almost 18. My 20-year-old is a junior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (VA). My 18-year-old graduates high school in June and is trying to decide which college to attend. She’s been accepted at about four or five universities.”

He also made some interesting observations that seems to fit with Orphan Sunday tomorrow.

"I was older when I married," he said. "and we knew from the onset due to some health issues, that we would have to consider the adoption route to become parents. We were comfortable with that realization from the start. We attended meetings and adoption support groups. I did meet once with Pastor Hughes to discuss our options and to see if my motivations to adopt were in the right place. To clarify, some people want to adopt to save a child or save the world. I met a number of them when the state police took over the fingerprinting project for the Illinois DCFS for a few years. Some folks couldn’t wait to save a child. I was concerned about false altruism. And, as I discussed this with Kent, he stated somewhat emphatically that to want to be a parent was the greatest of altruisms."

Both of Bill's daughters were born in China, and in our email exchange he recalled a woman coming up to him when he was with his two daughters and asked if his wife was Asian. Bill said no, his wife is Irish. The woman got this puzzled and embarrassed look and walked off.

Bill then went on to say some kind things about the College Church website and to ask for some resources in his church’s search for a new pastor.

It was great to hear from him and to help in a small way in his current church’s search for a new pastor. Whatever help I provided, I wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t made that trip to Rockford 20+ years ago. This was more than just an item to check off our list of things to do because God was doing so much more.

God’s fingerprints are all over us. He touches us and uses us in ways we would never dream. He makes connections between us and other people that we can’t imagine. So now, more than 20 years later, I’m reconnected with the man who fingerprinted us for our adoption so long ago. As adoptive parents, it’s good to hear from him. As Christians, it’s great to hear of his walk with God and his new church. But it’s really God’s work—not Bill’s or mine. Fingerprints.

Think about that today. Think about that with the grocery clerk. The person who cuts your hair. The parent you’re standing next to at the indoor soccer game. Or that baby thousands of miles away or in Wheaton who won't look like you, but is waiting for a family to welcome him or her.

Every encounter is more sacred than we realize.