The Bury Family Story: Trusting God's Plans

A Letter from the Bury Family

Dear Westport,

 Three weeks ago, Jordan and I packed our Uhaul and moved down to Medford.  Our plan had been for many personal goodbyes and celebrations of this transition for our family.  Unfortunately, an unexpected loss in my extended family redirected those plans and we spent our final weeks stretched between packing, wrapping up the school year, traveling, and attending a funeral service.  

 It is important to us to have the opportunity to share with all of you as our church family the incredible journey we are on with God and how Medford ended up in our path.  The quick and easy answer is that Jordan was transferred to Medford for work.  The long version of the story is best told over a campfire, or a cup of coffee, or where there is time for intricate details to be fully exposed...because God set out to reveal himself to us as we followed him and there's no short cut in sharing what our eyes have seen and our ears have heard.

 Several years ago, as I was doing devotions with our young kids, we read the story of Nehemiah.  I was enthralled by Nehemiah's passion and began to dig deeper into the study for myself.  God stirred my spirit as I read and prayed.  I could feel him prompting me to pray Nehemiah's prayer for our family and for his people.  It is such a big prayer, but it resonated so deeply in my heart that I knew the prompting was from him. Nehemiah prays and reminds God of his promises, 

but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling place for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  O Lord, let you ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.
— Nehemiah 1:9-11

At the time, Jordan had just started a career in law enforcement, and I could see he had passion for the exiled people just as Nehemiah did.  I continued to pray this prayer specifically over Jordan and his work, that God would use us to gather the exiles.

This past November we were days away from closing on a piece of property out in Rainier, which was our greatest and most self propelled attempt to try and bring satisfaction into our lives where we had been battling the feeling of unsettled dissatisfaction at our “every day”.  Instead, Jordan’s supervisor informed him that they had a special project for him in Medford and they were planning to transfer him at the end of the school year.  When we heard this news, we began to pray one simple prayer…

“Lord, you have designed and orchestrated these things, and you have allotted our time.  In the next six months, prepare us.  We do not want to go to Medford as the people we are now.  We want to be transformed.  We want our minds to be your mind and our hearts to be your heart and our ways to be your ways.  Do not let us waste this time.  Stir our hearts and fix our eyes on you.”

Looking back on the week this happened, Isaiah 65:24 is the song of my heart, “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”  God began to transform our hearts and minds at a rapid rate!  He intentionally put people and relationships into our paths that became mentor relationships.  Primarily, he used those relationships to reshape how we interacted with Him.  God began inviting us into personal conversation with him in which he affirmed and loved us, and called us into specific identity as his image bearers.  He named inside of each of us, the reflection of himself that was unique in our creation.  He stirred up in our hearts the things that he had designed for us when he knit us together in our mother’s womb.  The amazing part of this journey is that we both realized that we had been longing for this and attempting to achieve it on our own strength for most of our lives.  The things God stirred up in our hearts were the things we were already doing.  But, through prayer and interaction with him, he showed us the difference between doing those things in our own strength, and doing them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we were willing, God was going to take our identity and super power it with Kingdom of God vision and purpose.  We were willing.

In Medford, our careers do not change.  Jordan is still in law enforcement and I am still home and caring for our four kids.  However, our mission has changed.  We are no longer making our own attempt to do those things to our own standard or by our own power.  We are continuing to ask God to reveal his ways and unleash our imaginations for his Kingdom work in those desires he put in our hearts.  

God brought me back to my prayer that Nehemiah had prayed, and we moved forward together in the story.  Nehemiah called the people back to Jerusalem, not just for a relocation, but to bring forth the identity they had forgotten while they were in exile.  In his own strength, perhaps Nehemiah could have convinced some Israelites to change their life style and act more like the Israelites they were created to be.  Perhaps in his own strength, Nehemiah could have rebuilt parts of the city and out of tradition people would have come back to the temple.  But, God had created Nehemiah with a passion for reconciliation, and in HIS power, he would take the desire he had given Nehemiah in his mother’s womb, and he would call back an entire nation and rebuild an entire city and reconcile a lost people to their loving God.  And that…is exactly what we want to do in Medford.

For Jordan, this is happening through his occupation.  God is already connecting him with other believers and giving him vision and desire for unity among the agencies he will be working with in this area.  God is anointing Jordan for reconciling relationships and building teamwork and camaraderie as he leads others into interaction with God, where God can be the one to remind these men who he created them to be and call out to them from his Spirit to theirs in the identity he gave them that is a reflection of his character.  Ultimately this will expand into the work they will do as a team.  

For me, God stirred inside the deep love I have for his kids.  I taught in a classroom for 3 years before we started our family, and God brought back to my memory the relationships I had with my students and my strong desire for them to know their value.  As I prayed about those things, he filled my imagination with the faces of the students at the public elementary school down the street from our new house in Medford.  I felt God lovingly encourage me.  In my own power I am doing my best to love my own kids and teach them about God.  In his Kingdom power, my kids and I walk hand and hand into this elementary school and through relationships with teachers and moms and friends of theirs, we show this entire school how treasured and loved they are by the God who created them and desires intimacy with them.  

 Collectively, our house is quickly becoming our mission center.  It is on our property and in our home that we can invite anyone to come and taste and see how good is the love of the Lord.  When Jordan was praying over Medford and moving, God gave him Acts 2:42-47 for our house and our mission,

“They were continually and faithfully devoting themselves to the instruction of the apostles, and to fellowship, to eating meals together and to prayers. A sense of awe was felt by everyone, and many wonders and signs (attesting miracles) were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed [in Jesus as Savior] were together and had all things in common. And they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing the proceeds with all, as anyone had need. Day after day they met in the temple continuing with one mind, and breaking bread in various private homes. They were eating their meals together with joy and generous hearts, praising God continually, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were being saved.”
— Acts 2:42-47

In our own power, we would have re-established ourselves in Medford with similar style to how we were living in Portland.  We would have done our jobs to the best of our abilities and continued to try hard to do the right things for the right reasons.  In God’s amazing power, we believe that in Medford we will experience Acts 2.  

 We treasure your prayers as we move forward.  In Nehemiah 4, he shares about the opposition that the people faced as they made their repairs to the city.  Nehemiah said half the people worked on the wall while the other half stood watch, ready to defend.  Everyone who worked had one hand for building and one hand on their sword.  We are asking God to give us community in Medford.  As Jordan and I reach out around us, our desire is that our home is a place of gathering and encouraging and protecting and defending and celebrating the sense of awe and the wonders and sharing meals and the growing number of exiles that are returning to God’s family.  

 When the Israelites had come back to Jerusalem, Ezra read them the law and reminded them of God.  The people confessed their sins with grief over what they had lost, but with hope for renewal!  They recalled all that God had done for them and lamented their sinful state and then renewed their covenant with him.  And then they had the most amazing worship service that had ever happened!  They were overcome with the revelation of the One true God, and their response was to celebrate it with all of their gifts and resources.  When I read this part of Nehemiah, God stirs my heart for the second coming of his Son.  Nehemiah did all of these things in preparation for Jesus coming to the earth to rescue us.  It was a shadowing forward of the rebuilding and reconciling that He would do through his death on the cross and resurrection, defeating the power of sin.  God is giving us, all of us, the invitation to be a part of the shadowing forward in preparation for his return!  Then he will come and call all of his exiled children to him and reveal the fullness of himself and there will be lamenting over things lost for many people, but there will be a celebration of all celebrations for those who have lived in his promises.  

 Jordan and I want to be there for the celebration, along with all of those whom God has allowed for us to share in bringing back to his family!

 We want to encourage each of you to truly engage God about your hearts.  The identity that God gave you when he knit you together in your mother’s womb is a truly beautiful and unique reflection of him that he longs to power in your life.  Ask him to show it to you.  Believe that he will specifically respond to you.  Know that he will make a way to display himself to his lost children through you.  It will change your life even if it doesn’t change your career or your location.  

 We would love to talk personally or share with any who are interested to hear more of this story, or who would like to be included in praying specifically for our family, or to be updated on how we are walking forward here.  Our kitchen table is always open, as are the seats around our fire pit and the couches in our living room and the bed in our guest room and the walking trails around our house.  We would also settle for emails and phone calls :)

 Thank you so much to all of you and to the staff at Westport.  You have truly been our family for the last 10 years.  All of our children have been dedicated on the stage of Westport Church and Jordan was baptized there after the men’s retreat many years ago.  In the most challenging stage of my life, when we had 4 tiny kids and a new career, I was supported and loved and encouraged by Westport Moms group and the relationships I shared with pastor’s wives that reached out and invested in me.  My kids have learned and flourished in the Port, and I had the opportunity to love on and teach many of your children while I volunteered.  Westport has been the only church home our family has known, and we are honored to have shared our life with the life of this church body.  The Bury family will greatly miss Westport.  We had the opportunity to share all of these things with the Fookes, Wolvertons and Kings before we left, and it was with their blessing and their genuine prayers that we were sent on our way.  All of you will also remain in our prayers!

With love, affection, and celebration,

 The Bury Family

Matt's Story: More Being, Less Doing

By Guest Blogger, Matt Hartzell

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If you have been in and around the church for a decent length of time, it’s likely that you have at some point participated in a short-term missions trip.  In fact, short-term mission has been on the rise since the 1980’s.  In 2006, 2.2 million Americans spent $1.6 billion on short-term mission work around the globe.  The North American church’s increased burden for the materially poor is a good thing, but it also presents an opportunity for all of us to pursue mission work that is helpful and appropriate, and more about being and less about doing. 

This past October, I had the great joy to travel with a team of a dozen people to Gan Sabra, an orphan home in Aizawl, India that specifically targets and cares for children who have either been directly affected by HIV themselves, or have been affected it by it to the degree that their primary caregivers are no longer available or able to care for them.  It’s an incredible place. The kids who live there have been neglected and often abused, as India harbors a deep stigma against those who are HIV positive. You would expect to find such a place filled with sadness and despair, but Gan Sabra actually is one of the most joyful and happy places I have ever experienced.  There have been few other places where the gospel has come alive in more vivid, vibrant clarity for me than when I spent time with those kids.

The cost to get our team to Gan Sabra was north of $40,000.  During the six days we spent with the kids, we played soccer, made art projects, talked about stories from the Bible, drank chai and sang songs.  We played tag, took photos, and went swimming.  We had thumb wars and sat silently together.  We shared meals, listened to one another, talked about Jesus and drew pictures.  It will, undoubtedly, be one of the highlights of my life, when the Lord draws my time on this earth to an end.  It nourished my own soul with immense joy, happiness, peace and satisfaction.  I did something entirely uncomfortable for me and learned to rely on God’s grace, goodness and provision more deeply because of it. 

Those personal takeaways may sound typical of short-term missions, but perhaps not some of our activities.  In fact, there was not a lot in our trip that fits into the traditional boxes the North American church has constructed around short-term missions over the last several decades. Much of our western approach to missions has been born out of a definition of poverty built around a lack of material possessions.  In When Helping Hurts, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert define poverty in a context of fallen and broken relationships with God, self, others and creation.  Because of the fallen nature of mankind, we are all in immense poverty:

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.

If we are to adopt this definition of poverty, then simply building a school or providing financial alleviation is not enough.  In order to combat this kind of poverty - poverty that affects every single person on the earth - we need a different solution.  Jesus is the only one capable of reconciling and restoring us to right relationship with God, with ourselves, with others we know, and with the rest of creation.  He is the one who brings shalom and restores peace to our lives.  

The fact of the matter is that we are human beings, not human doings!  The children of Gan Sabra have been afflicted, rejected, abused and discarded.  For a group of Americans to travel 10,000 miles to be with them speaks an incredible truth to them and starts to shape a new story about them: that they are loved, seen, valued and desired.  That they have inherent worth. That they are not garbage to be used and thrown away with barely a second thought, but that they are deeply loved by the God of all creation, that God has purpose for their lives, and that they can genuinely love others just as God loves them.  I think it would have been very hard for me to communicate this message to the kids of Gan Sabra if I was more focused on swinging a hammer or throwing paint on a wall, rather than simply being with them and saying “You are beautiful, and I love you just as you are, because that’s the way that God has loved me.”  

The ironic thing about all that, is that while this type of mission work dramatically changes the lives of HIV orphans, it also dramatically changes us.  The gospel comes alive!  We learn so much about the character of God as loving Father.  We come to more fully understand our own brokenness, as different as it is from an HIV orphan in India, and that we need Jesus just as desperately to come and make us new.  We learn to more strongly trust in God’s faithful, steadfast provisions, as we deal with the difficulty of travel, culture shock, and being prepared enough to have some fun activities for the kids.  We come to the end of ourselves, and discover that God cares for us just as deeply as he cares for the orphan.  

Let’s be clear: material poverty is uniquely devastating for billions of people on the planet.  We should not ignore that fact.  However, as westerners we should work with poor people, not for them.  We should be more interested in long-term relationships and partnerships, not a quick fix (that’s why I’m so glad that Westport sends teams to Gan Sabra every six months). We should be more interested in being and not always in doing, at Gan Sabra as well as in our everyday lives.  I think we may find, that as we put relationships with people above the things we can accomplish, God will provide more than we can ask or imagine.  

I certainly found that to be the case when I went to Gan Sabra.  If you get a chance to go and discover this for yourself, you should take it.  You will not be sorry you did. 

Dawn's Story: From Lost to Found

*By Guest blogger Dawn Tiffin

On Sunday, October 16th Dawn Tiffin was surrounded by her church family while she was baptized. Before her baptism she boldly shared her life story and journey to find Christ. The following is what she shared with us that day.

It’s hard to condense 56 years into a sound-bite, but I want to share a few things in order to illustrate just how much God changes lives.

My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic and an alcoholic who blamed me for ruining her life. My father was also an alcoholic, and suffered endogenous depression. I inherited the depression gene—which I consider a pretty good deal, considering the other option.

My father forbade all religion in our house. He was vehemently against Christianity, so I had no grounding in any faith of any kind. No rudder, no anchor. No hope.
 

I learned how to take punches without flinching, endure the foulest verbal attacks, and have looked down the barrel of a gun at each of my parents, at different times, on the trigger end.
Books, music and nature were my refuge in a hard and ugly world.

I played music for over 30 years, in punk, post-punk, and industrial rock bands. I moved all over the country, and I indulged in the type of lifestyle you expect of musicians. I was saturated in booze and drugs.
Eventually, I went to college and majored, amusingly, in religious studies and predictably, English literature.

I landed here in Oregon right before the crash of 2009. I, like many others, lost everything. I was laid off from a job I loved, lost all 3 of my 14 year-old cats in rapid succession to cancer (those of you who don’t have children will understand why this is tragic), and had a VERY violent falling out with a person I considered my best friend.

Depression folded me in its black arms, and whispered failure in my ears every step of my way.
In my befuddled state, I married a man I knew I shouldn’t have. When the violence and the alcoholism erupted after the first year, something in me snapped.
I meticulously calculated a lethal dose of my husband’s opiate painkillers and tranquilizers, and on a glorious, sunny day a week before my 52nd birthday, I took my own life.

*Insert record scratch sound here*

After 3 days in hospital, I was released to wander with a ragged and aching hole in my chest, trying to put one foot in front of the other in a world that made no sense to me.
I got a divorce, and moved from one bad situation to the next—6 times in 2 years—a shoulder’s brush from homelessness.

Last August, a coworker asked me if I would stay at her apartment for a week to take care of her dog and cat while she and her daughter visited family in New York. I thought it would be good to have some 4-legged company, so I agreed.

My friend is a single mom, raising her daughter in a small apartment decorated in Bible verses. The atmosphere of a peace-filled HOME was SO comforting I couldn't help but feel it. She has no tv, and the only books were a basket of inspirational books and a Bible.

Each day, several times a day, I walked around the apartment and read the verses, the quotes from Christian authors, inspirational collages...I noticed a reference to CS Lewis and thought, "He's a rational guy--an Oxford Don--he won't be prone to flights of emotional excess. I'll check him out".
I bought a ragged copy of Mere Christianity, and laughed in gleeful agreement, underlining my way through it.
I began reading the Bible with much different eyes than I had in college.
 

As the week went on, I began to think, "Could it REALLY be possible that Christ exists, and that the Holy Spirit can lead a person--even a complete waste of carbon like me--to Him?"
I decided to take the gamble. I thought, "What have I got to lose? If it's true, that's just awesome, and if it isn't--well, perhaps I will live as a better person because of it".

I pulled the car over on the drive to work and prayed a tentative, shy prayer to Jesus, asking Him if He would “forgive me for bothering Him and if it was alright, I'd like to accept Him into my life--oh, and please ask the Holy Spirit to help me be a better person if that's even possible".
In a moment of synchronicity, the song "Holy Spirit" came on the radio, and the deal was cinched with tears.

My life was filled with rejection and brutality.
In my time, I've taken an array of drugs, both street and pharmaceutical, and washed them down with oceans of booze, in an attempt to distance myself from my pain.
I have been arrested.
I have broken every. single. commandment.
I have badly hurt people—even and especially those I loved--out of my own woundedness.

Yet, in spite of all of that, and in defiance of my own low opinion of myself, I have been called daughter by a Father who truly and inexplicably loves me. My past has been washed clean by the gift of a sacrifice I can barely comprehend.

I believe with ALL certainty that I was allowed to live through my attempt on my own life for the sole reason of coming to know Christ. I believe with all my heart and mind and strength that He is my Lord and savior, and that I am made worthy in Him and by His death on the cross.
My life of wandering is at an end, because my Shepherd has called this lost lamb home.

I hear His voice, and He knows me, and I follow Him. 

Bri's Story: A Marriage Reconciled

*Written by guest blogger Bri Waldridge.

For years, my marriage had been dying.  Financial pressures, too little time together, and a porn addiction had gradually and thoroughly chipped away any intimacy Jeremy and I shared.

If I were to compare my love for my husband to a candle, the flame grew very dim and weak.  I never let the flame go completely out, however, because I never completely gave up hope that things would change. 

And in 2011, things did change.  But not in a good way. 

My husband publicly humiliated me.  He was at the center of a scandal – and I was dragged right along with him.  He entered a new chapter of life that I did NOT want to enter with him.  He had a new label that I did not want attached to me in any way.  He lied to me, even after I thought he had hit rock bottom.  I had no respect for him, and a whole lot of resentment.

The candle went out.  What little flame had been left was now dead.

I was pretty sure that if I opted for divorce, no one would blame me – not even God.  And yet, with no marital affection left, with the freedom to choose divorce as a valid option, I moved slowly.  I wanted to honor God with my decision.   And divorce brings Him no honor. 

Forgiveness brings Him honor.  Reconciliation brings Him honor.

Reconciliation.

God says that reconciliation is worth pursuing.  So much so that He pursued it Himself, with us, to the point of death.  As the recipient of such love, how could I not give God’s way a try? 

Reconciliation takes two, and at first I hinged our reconciliation on my husband.  I was not willing to be married to a man with the same old issues who refused to change.  But if Jeremy would do his part and make the changes he needed to make, if he began to follow God sincerely, I thought I would naturally do my part and be reconciled to him.

Jeremy did his part.  He became a better man than he had ever been before. 

But I learned that a dead heart naturally does … nothing.  My candle was still out.  Jeremy’s changes were not enough for a dead flame to start burning again.  

It seemed impossible.  The rift in our relationship was so vast that we could never be close again.  How could I ever trust him and respect him again?  Marriage as God designed it seemed an unattainable goal for us.

But God excels at doing the impossible.  His specialty is to take the ugly, the broken, the dead parts of our lives and make them alive again, more beautiful and more whole than ever before.

It took a long time for my heart to change.  A loooonnnnnggggg time.  It took a lot of hours in counseling.  It took the honest, patient, generous, grace-filled support of a church family. It took a lot of tears and tough conversations.  It took Jeremy sustaining behavior changes over a period of years (yes, YEARS) and me taking the risk of trusting, little by little.

But more than that, it took a miracle.  God took my dead candle and set it on fire once more.  He transformed the distance between us from a vast rift to the closeness that marriage is supposed to be. 

I thought I would never again say that I’m glad I married Jeremy.  And yet, I am, despite all the pain and heartbreak.  I love Jeremy once again, and I’m really looking forward to spending the years to come with him. 

And that is a miracle worth sharing.

A few sidenotes for my Westport family:

If you are in a dying marriage, please don’t wait to get help.  We told ourselves we didn’t have the time or the money to get counseling, but the truth is that not getting help early on caused us years of heartache and cost us a significant amount of money in the long run.  Good Samaritan Ministries in Beaverton offers counseling on a donation basis, so if money is an issue, give them a call. 

If you are on the brink of divorce, ask yourself how to honor God with your decision.  Allow time for heart change to happen.  Because God can and does change hearts, and He glories in reconciling seemingly impossible relationships.  But also know that staying in a dead marriage just because “divorce is wrong” brings God no glory either.  Instead of worrying about what’s right or wrong, ask yourself how you can best honor God in your situation.  That question is often a lot deeper than focusing on right or wrong – and it applies to any situation, not just marriage.

If you struggle with pornography or are the spouse of a porn addict, please don’t wait to get help.  Addiction will never leave your life if you try to get rid of it on your own.  You need support from others – it’s just the way addiction works.  Contact Pure Life Alliance to get started.

And finally, if you were part of Westport when we dragged our scandal into your lives, thank you for responding with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and grace.  You lived out the gospel to anyone who was watching, and Jeremy and I are forever grateful for your love and friendship.


Shane's Story: Why do You Come?

By: Shane Fookes

*This story was originally posted on November 11, 2015.

We sat there on short benches, ten Americans taking questions from 25+ orphans whose lives have been altered by terminal illnesses, mostly HIV/AIDS, in a remote part of East India. We gazed into eager faces perplexed that we would traverse the globe to spend time with them, even more amazed that some on our team had come a second time.

Six months earlier, we same ten Americans asked ourselves a similar question: “Why should I go?” After all, it takes months of preparation and thousands of dollars. And getting there is no picnic. No, it's a travel nightmare: about 36 hours across 13 time zones on 5 airplanes. Why should we leave our pretty comfortable, safe suburban American life to embark on such a journey?

The answer, though it may sound trite, is simple: to follow Jesus. After all, Jesus left the wonder and beauty and perfection of heaven and crossed time and space to become poor and powerless, sacrificing his life as an act of love. For us. How could we not do the same for them?

“We came because we love you. You are worth it."

It’s true. Before we came, we didn't know them, but we loved them. We met them through pictures and stories from others and we wanted to come and meet them first hand. We wanted to give our hearts to them to let them know they are precious in God’s sight. We wanted to love these orphans because we were orphans before God loved us.

“We came because we want to see God in you."

We came because over and over the Scriptures are clear: God is close to the poor, the powerless, the sick, the downtrodden, the overlooked, the widow, the orphan. If you want to see deeply into the heart of God, spend time with such as these. Care for them in their distress. And see the heart of God in them. As James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5)

Spending time at Gan Sabra Children’s home didn’t make us feel magnanimous. Rather, it humbled us greatly. Here are kids who have seen and experienced pain, suffering, and injustice beyond our comprehension. Yet, they are also children who have tasted of deep, abiding, sacrificial love. Lucy, who operates the home, is far more than mere “ministry director.” She’s a mother with 25+ children. She’s given these children a home and a family. She has shined the light of Jesus into their lives and transformed their story of despair into a story of hope. And their faces show it. They love Jesus passionately. They exude joy. They love unconditionally. They welcome with trusting hearts and open arms.

We went with love to offer, and received far more in return.

Gan Sabra Community Project: Hope In The Hills

By: Ronne Rock, Marketing Coordinator at Orphan Outreach

*This story was originally posted on August 27, 2015

An unfinished brick warehouse sits precariously above the colorful neighborhood streets carved into the mountainous jungle landscape of the Aizawl district of Mizoram, India. Inside, separated only by splintered wood and worn curtains, five families live and work. All are refugees who have escaped the human rights atrocities of Burma, and all now sit for hours each day at large looms, weaving traditional Mizo fabrics sold by vendors at market. Water is available from a nearby stream, and a few bare light bulbs struggle to illuminate a building that offers little in the way of creature comforts. For Liana and Haemi, a husband and wife with three young boys, this week is a better week. "We have some fresh vegetables from a garden I planted on the hill," he says with the hint of a smile. And this week, they have sold a good amount of their hand-loomed fabric. The couple fled Burma in 2011 to find sanctuary. Shortly after finding their home in Aizawl, both battled constant sickness. They finally went to a doctor, and both tested positive for HIV.

A few miles away, in a hut perched on stilts and crafted of timber and corrugated tin, Lalsangsawti cares for her children. The youngest is having complications with the medicine he is receiving for tuberculosis,  and the oldest has severe developmental delays which prevent him from attending school. The middle child, a bright young boy with great potential for learning, has chosen to rebel. The single mother raising three boys wonders about their future, and prays God will give her many more years to make sure they are cared for well. But her health is frail. Before her husband died in 2002, he infected her with HIV. And last year, she was dealt another blow when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Despite her illness, she remains faithful to her job. The love of her sons gives her strength as she walks up to two hours each way to an employer nearer the city's center.

Both families have become part of a larger community, thanks to the determination of a former nun named Lucy who believes everyone in Aizawl is worthy of great love and care - especially those who are HIV+. The founder of Gan Sabra HIV home for children, Lucy can often be found educating government leaders, educators, and families about the reality and the myths of HIV. "My perspective has changed so much over time," Lucy shares. "I remember one of the boys in the home asking, 'When someone has HIV, do they get boils all over their head?' I answered, 'Yes, that is something that can happen.' He began to cry. 'I remember now, my mother had boils even in her hair. No one would help her treat them. My relatives would stare at her through the window. No one would care for us.' I use to have pity but I didn't understand fully the pain. Now I walk the road of pain, and I am seeing healing."

In partnership with Orphan Outreach, Lucy and Gan Sabra now provide sponsorships for 23 families affected by HIV. For Lalsangsawti and her sons, sponsorship includes cancer treatment, food, the care of a social worker, and educational support for her sons. Her eyes glisten with tears as she shares, "Without the support from Orphan Outreach, there would be no hope." And for Liana and Haemi, the sponsorship has been a life-saving one for their boys. "We receive educational support and food, and because Lucy helped us when my wife was pregnant to make wise decisions, our young sons have tested negative for HIV." The formula program is cause for celebration to Lucy. "I believe we can reduce the mother to infant transmission rate to 0. And I believe our formula program can be done in other states in India as well."

The impact of the Gan Sabra community program has proven to be eternal as well. As Laemi tucks his youngest son in for a nap in the bed the family shares in the unfinished warehouse, he considers the value of what his family has been given. "We may live in poverty, but we are at peace. And that peace is enough." And in the timber and tin hut, Lalsangsawti beams at Lucy as she reflects on what she's learned through the Christ-centered care she's received. "When my kids are happy with each other, I am happy. And now, I am happy in God. I call on Him and He is with me. I have joy inside. I have joy."

Sometimes orphan care isn't about an orphanage at all. Sometimes it's about helping children stay in homes with families who are struggling. The Gan Sabra community program in India does just that.You can be a sponsor now, which covers support of the family by a social worker as well as food, educational support, and medicines not covered by the government.

Families are more than blood. Be family today. Sponsor a child.

Learn more about Orphan Outreach here.

Renae's Story: Orphan

By: Renae Niebergall

*This story was originally posted on November 7, 2014

Orphan. This word usually creates a picture in peoples’ minds. What does your picture look like? Do they look hopeless? Unclean? Hungry? Sick? Could they look strong, loved, hopeful and confident? In my world they can. I think any child that is considered an orphan has had a hard story. A story that most people would rather not hear because they don't know what to do with the pain in creates in their hearts. Those children have probably felt hopeless, unclean, hungry and sick. But these do not define the orphan. Could the orphan be more? Could the orphan be here for YOU? What a thought.... A thought I was challenged with since being in India this week. I don't mean "Could the orphan be here for you" in a selfish "it's all about me and my needs" way but in a complex story of God's love and redemption being played out in a way that makes no sense but then you look closely and all of a sudden it makes complete sense and is the most beautiful act of love you've ever seen.

Imagine yourself in a room of 24 children from 18 months to 20 years. They've had "hard" stories in their lives. They have been thrown away, starved, infected with a deadly disease, abused... As you sit in this room you see joy, healing, deep scars, love and hope. As you sit there you hold a stack of envelopes in your lap. There are so many you can barely hold them all. The children look at you with big eyes because they hope that just one of those envelopes just might have their name on it. You start passing out envelopes and each child’s mouth drops as you approach them and not only hand them one envelope but 4 or 5 or 6. They can't believe it. They wait patiently for everyone to get their envelopes carefully checking to be sure all their "brothers and sisters" were included. And then carefully they begin opening the envelopes to reveal letters. Letters written with love from people they know and some they've never met but they know their names. Excitement fills the room and an overwhelming feeling of God's love. The room is silent for who knows how long as the children are in awe of the love they are receiving. They don't understand why they are loved but they are thankful for it. After some time the room begins to buzz. They begin sharing with one another their letters and they are so happy for one another. And then one quiet boy who rarely speaks says quietly. "We are so blessed. We have so many who love us. We have everything we need. But, there so many others that don't have anything. They don't have people who love them. We should not forget about them and we should pray that someday they too would receive the love that has found us." He is right.

Almost this exact story happened. I was in awe of this boy’s words and of his ability to see those in need greater than his. He lives a basic life but a good life. He has all his needs met and has love. Lucy, the director of Gan Sabra says to me - "the children are so blessed because of you all. Their lives have changed because they know they are loved and cherished now. They do not doubt your love for them. You come back, you show them love, you write letters - they are the luckiest children." I in turn tell Lucy how changed we are when we return home. That our lives are never the same and how much God uses our time with the kids to reveal more of himself. And then she says something I'm not soon to forget...."God has a purpose for them to be orphans - maybe His purpose was for you." For me?? For you?? "No! No! No!" is what my head wants to scream. I don't want that. I don't want to be the reason. But in Deuteronomy God says "Justice and ONLY Justice you shall seek". It doesn't say sometimes or when it is convenient or when we are comfortable we should seek justice but it pretty clearly states that we should seek it always. What if God's great plan is not only so that those living in injustice can have relief from their afflictions but so that you can be changed. A change that could never happen until you've heard the story of the orphan, until you held their hand as they cried tears of healing, until you prayed so hard for their AIDS tests to come back favorable, until you've had to say goodbye not knowing if you would see them this side of heaven again and until you've received the phone call that they've gone to be with Jesus and you won't get to hold them in your arms again before eternity. What if He knew that to mold you into the person you needed to be you needed to meet them as the orphan? The weight of that weighs heavy on me. But there is beauty in it. Through each other we find more of God. Without them I wouldn't be the person I am right now and without me they wouldn't be who they are either. We found each other and through that found God together - side by side - multiplying his great love, the redemption story in each of us and His mercy. Through tears and breathlessness I ask God tonight am I their purpose...

 

"Multiplied” by Need to Breathe

Your love is like radiant diamonds, bursting inside us, we cannot contain.

Your love will surely come find us, like blazing wildfire, singing your name.

God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to your design.

May this offering stretch across the sky, these hallelujahs be multiplied.

 

*Renae has served as Westport's Global Missions Director since 2008. The October 2014 trip to Gan Sabra was her last serving in this leadership role. Her heart and passion will be greatly missed in this ministry.

The Hartzell Community Group: Taking Steps of Faith

By: Ciara Hartzell

*This story was originally posted on September 26, 2014

When our community group began our partnership with Reedville Elementary last year, it wasn’t a radical leap of faith; it was a quiet act of obedience.

But what God has done since then?

Well, that has been pretty radical.

We were entering into our third year as a community group, and feeling both encouraged and challenged by the steps we had taken the previous year. We’d volunteered together at Northwest Children’s Outreach and taken some small steps toward the community at Reedville, participating in winter and spring events in the complex near the school. Looking back over the previous months, we all agreed that the times we’d served together had been the highlight of our year. So, as a group, we set a goal: to spend one evening a month engaged in service directed towards Reedville Elementary.

At first, the projects were small and simple, and didn’t require us to step outside our comfort zones. We spent a couple of evenings in the Scott’s living room, cutting out shapes for teachers to use in their classroom, not really interacting with the teachers themselves. By late winter, we had moved from the living room to the school, spending several evenings organizing and reorganizing the school library. During those times, we made tentative connections with a handful of staff members or volunteers.

By spring, we had begun to regularly volunteer at school events that brought us directly in contact with the staff, students and parents. We served pizza and cookies at a school reading night, and taste-tested authentic Mexican salsa at their Salsa Competition (some of us may or may not have tried our hand at the salsa dancing, too). Some members began to volunteer at the school outside of the times when we were there serving as a group. We began to connect directly with some of the kids, and recognize the faces of their parents.

Around this time, the discussions in our group started to change. Two of our members had recently returned from a trip to Gan Sabra, alight with passion and the desire to make an impact. Individually, we began to recognize a call to do more, to sacrifice more, to step outside of ourselves more. As a group, we encouraged and affirmed these steps of faith. When we wrapped up our group for the season in June, again we heard the same feedback we’d heard the year before: that serving together, as a family, had been the best thing we’d done all year.

Late in the summer, as community group sign-ups approached, FUEL came forward with the request that Matt and I help facilitate Club RC, the after-school outreach program that our FUEL students run. We were excited by the idea, but knew that participating in Club RC would mean we’d have to give up leading our community group. We prayed and agonized over this decision and what it would mean for us and our group.

Finally, we decided to bring it before the group and ask them to join us. We laid out what we knew: instead of meeting in a living room, we’d be meeting in the school. Instead of focusing on connecting with each other, we’d be focusing on connecting with the parents of Reedville students. Instead of staying in the place we felt most comfortable, we’d be stepping into a place where we might feel awkward; where we might even struggle to communicate. But, we’d have the opportunity to truly, genuinely connect with the community at Reedville. Yes, it would be hard. Uncomfortable. Scary. But, it will be worth it. They were all in.

As I look back and look ahead, our story reminds me a lot of Matthew 14:22-33, when Jesus asks Peter to place his trust in him and walk on water. One popular worship song expresses it this way:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior.”

Over the last year, with tiny and obedient steps, Jesus has beckoned our community group to the edge of the boat. With every step, He has encouraged us and strengthened our faith. Now, he is asking us to step out onto the water; the great unknown. It may seem scary, but He is faithful, and so we begin another season of community groups in much the same way we have done before: with a small step of obedience.

Alicia's Story: Who is Jesus to Me?

By Erin Wallace

*The story was originally posted on July 17, 2014

“But who do you say that I am?” – Jesus in Matthew 16:15

At Westport Church, we exist to help people encounter Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  At some point, every person has to decide: do I believe Jesus is who he claimed to be.  Who we believe Jesus is will cause us to either put our trust in him and receive hope for eternal life, or dismiss him as a good man who lived and died over two thousand years ago.

For Alicia Lamon, the definitive decision about Jesus came in November of 2013.  She had always felt a void in her life that she couldn’t seem to fill.  Though she knew about Jesus, she still had a lot of questions about him and about the Bible. She had tried to find answers on her own via Google searches and reading through the Bible on her own. “It’s difficult because there’s not a directory that tells you where to find answers…the Bible is really long and you start in Genesis and by the time you get a few chapters into Exodus, you just still have so many questions.”

Her search for answers went into high gear in October of 2013 when her fiancé, Derek, called her from work saying he felt strongly that they needed to find Jesus and make some changes in their lives.  They asked Alicia’s sister and brother -in-law, Lisa & Chris Lilja, about joining them at a Westport worship gathering. “The first time we attended our kids loved it and we left feeling stronger as individuals and as a couple.” Alicia filled out a connection card indicating she wanted to talk with someone about starting a relationship with Jesus. Within a few days, Alicia was connected with Chris Woodgate and they made plans to begin meeting to talk about her questions.

“I had so many questions about differences in religion and everything. I’ll never forget when Chris explained to me that being a Christian is not a religion but a relationship with God.  Right then was when I decided to put my faith in Jesus.” Chris describes Alicia at that time being ready to receive Christ, she just needed some information to fill in the gaps. Chris described the process saying, “All of this was God calling Derek and Alicia out of a lifestyle where there was no hope.  The Holy Spirit drew them to Christ.”

Since November 19th, 2014, the day Alicia committed her life to Jesus, Chris and Alicia have met regularly to walk through some basics about the Christian faith as well as to learn how to read the Bible and have a relationship with Jesus.   Chris has helped Alicia see that from the beginning of creation, God’s plan was to have a relationship with her. Chris’ husband, Bruce Woodgate, began meeting with Derek as well to help him through the same basics of the faith.  Alicia describes Bruce and Chris as instrumental in their growth, “They have been so welcoming and non-judgmental. They’ve helped answer our questions. They’ve been committed to us all the way.”

The last few months have brought big changes for Alicia and Derek as their relationship is now built upon a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Alicia says Derek has stepped up to be the spiritual leader of their family and he often leads her through Bible study and they pray together. She’s begun the journey quit smoking and Derrick is over six months sober. They’ve also gotten engaged and plan to get married this summer. “We’ve grown closer and stronger. We’ve always been a great team but now we’re a great team even when we don’t want to be,” says Alicia. She describes her biggest personal change as giving up control and trusting Jesus for everything. “It’s a process and every day I remind myself that I’m not perfect.” 

Bryan's Story: Reedville Cub Scouts

By: Erin Wallace

*This story was originally posted on March 26, 2014.

“…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself.” – Luke 9:23-25

Admit you’re a sinner. Accept God’s forgiveness. Love Jesus and love others.  Sounds easy enough; count me in.  Put others first. Sacrifice your desires. Give your life away. Wait…what? This doesn’t sound so easy anymore.

Following Christ when He calls us to uncomfortable places is never easy.  It’s where the rubber meets the road in our faith. So what happens when you step out in faith and give your life away? According to Bryan Burke, over time you see life change in others and in yourself that is beyond your imagination.  Almost two years ago Bryan found himself wrestling with a sense that God was calling him to step out in faith and start a Cub Scout Pack in the Reedville area.  Years before he had been given the honor of becoming an Eagle Scout. It was only recently he’d begun to feel impressed that the rank meant nothing; it was what he chose to do with the gifts he’d been that given meant everything. After months of wrestling and despite worries about financing, level of interest from the community and his own self-doubt he sprang into action and began taking steps to start a Cub Scout Pack. In the last year and a half what started as a small pack of five young boys has grown into 18 young boys and their families from the Reedville/Butternut Creek area experiencing life together.

 “My vision is to be guided by God to provide an alternative resource for the boys of Reedville to become godly men…to transform these boys for the better by helping them learn who God is, building their character, and developing stronger families that communicate, worship, and play together.”  Bryan’s vision is being lived out every week through this missional community that has had a ton of fun in the outdoors.  The boys have learned archery, how to build snow caves, first aid, camping techniques and more. Last year the Pack even shared a week long camping excursion that included an outdoor church for the boys to worship and pray together.

Over time, the change Bryan and the parents have seen in the boys has been inspiring. “Moms and dads have approached Susan and me to let us know of positive changes that scouting is having on their son. For some, it’s discipline and better listening skills. For others, it’s a renewed sense of curiosity leading to better questioning and ultimately better school work and grades.” But the change doesn’t stop there.  Bryan has seen changes in his own life. He says his heart is more open to others and he’s developed a greater level of patience. “I can’t take credit for what is happening- it is truly the Spirit of God working through me. Without God, none of this would be possible…” The cub scouts and their families have become so dear to Bryan that he considers them to be part of his extended family. You see, Bryan has found that in giving his life away, he’s gained so much more than he ever dreamed.

-Bryan and Susan Burke faithfully lead Cub Scout Pack 226 with the help of Taylor Grover and several scouts’ parents. But there’s plenty of room for more! If you’re interested in serving the Reedville Community, Pack 226 is a great opportunity.  They currently have several volunteer positions open on their committee as well as Den Leaders and Assistant Den Leaders.  Want to help? Contact Bryan Burke on The Table.