Mustard Seeds

Mustard Seeds

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Digging In: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

I started memorizing scripture this week using the "Topical Memory System" (given to me by my good friend Loretta). This book/card system gives you pre-printed, themed scripture cards to carry with you and it also recommends you read every verse in its full context first (which I love). I got so much out of it that I decided I am going to share my discoveries with you as I work through memorizing scripture.

I am calling it 'Digging In' for two reasons. One, because by sharing God's word with you we are digging deeper into the Bible together and two, because my blog is called mustard seeds. We can't plant mustard seeds of faith throughout our lives unless we prepare the soil first by digging into the word of God. So here we are... preparing our lives to be fruitful and faith filled for the Lord, together.

A couple notes: (1) I will be using the English Standard Version (ESV) of the bible for all of this, and that is all I ever use. (2) I am adding into this series whatever God shows me and how He applies it to my life, so I am keeping it open and honest. What God shows me in my time with this book, I am showing you on my blog. Unless He tells me His words at that time are only for me of course. =) So it begins...
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Contextual Verses: 2nd Corinthians 5:14-21
Memory Verse: 2nd Corinthians 5:17 -- "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

Digging In: Take a look at verse 16. It says we are to regard every person as a spiritual being, seeing them for their relationship with God as either lost and in need of salvation or as a brother/sister in Christ. People are not just numbers, they are souls that need Jesus. This gives me a proper perspective on the world and those around me... salvation is the most important thing in people's lives. Over food, over shelter, over anything. In light of that verse 20 should be our plea and heart for the world, that they would all know and be reconciled to God with Christ's blood. Don't forget these verses, God's sacrifice, and your salvation!

My Meditations: When I understood God's grace in my life, I gained hope after being without it for years. I gained love in many places after feeling I had no one who loved me. And I gained perspective on myself, people in my life, and God where all I could see before was darkness. What a blessing that is and how often I forget about it. Help me Lord to see your beautiful hands in my life everyday. And help me to be a new creation and your hands in the lives around me everyday.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My New "One For One"

Let me tell you about a discovery I made this week that put a huge smile on my face. It involves a one for one movement (no it is not Toms) and a game I have learned to love even more over these past months. The company/movement is called Little Feet and it is a company that hands out a soccer ball to a kid in need (this includes the USA, Haiti, and Mexico) when you buy one of their soccer balls at Sports Chalet or online. The balls are well made, have cool colors, and have a message: that soccer is not only about winning, it is about building community and giving kids a productive outlet for their energy. They have donated over 100,000 soccer balls to children in over 50 countries around the world since 2006. Their website also states that "In 2010, Little Feet began building soccer fields for communities in need and completed our first field at a remote coffee cooperative in Las Capucas, Honduras. In the Spring of 2011, we completed our second field, this time a futsal field, in Huacas, Costa Rica..." My conclusion? If you are going to buy a soccer ball, buy theirs and know you put a smile on a lot of kid's faces... and mine. =)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home Base

Have you ever been somewhere and known that you were more loved than you could ever imagine by everyone around you? I have and being that supported is one of the most wonderful feelings. So I would like to give a shout out to a group of people that supports me in more ways than I can count, Stone Creek Bible Church.
I have known the majority of the people in our church for my entire life and I know that wherever I go they will be right there to pray for me and support me. They truly care about what God is doing in my life and are always so excited to see me when I come home. If I ever feel loved, it is with my Stone Creekers. I can't even begin to thank them for the prayer coverage, encouraging coffee dates, and financial support no matter where I go in the world. I know that whenever I come back to Temecula I will be coming home to my support base where I am always refreshed and built up. So thank you to every family that is a part of our wonderful church and thank for your support and guidance no matter where God takes me. I really appreciate it!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Johnson's

Exciting things are happening in the Johnson household!!!

Sheryl Johnson {mom} - My mom just acquired a new mini cooper four-door that quickly booted my car (Aunt Bee) out of the garage. When you think of her new car being a celebration of my mom's successful open heart surgery it is quite exciting indeed.

Tim Johnson {dad} - My dad also just acquired a new toy that he uses daily, a bicycle. Let's applaud him for a moment silently for being a stud. He also is dominating his yard work to do list to get ready for Amanda's wedding. I think he deserves an audible slow clap for that...

Kimberly Johnson {little sister} -We found out yesterday the Kimbo is carrying on the Mustang Legacy and going to Cal Poly! It took all of two seconds to see she made it in for her to click accept. So come fall we are shipping her off to good ole' San Luis Obispo. Time for another one of these pictures? I think so!
Amanda Johnson {older sister} - Amanda and the wonderful Kenny Fietz are getting married in January and I am so excited for every part of their wedding and marriage (except for maybe the four inch heels I have to where for the wedding). We recently had her shower and I was pleased with how much love was poured onto Amanda. It was a hit! Here is one of their engagement pictures and some shower pictures...
 Her first bouquet (half way done) and her first mixer (half way unwrapped).
 Party favors (lavender sachets) and the moms (mine on the left and Kenny's on the right).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankfulness: Developing God's Heart

This season I am thankful for all of the usual things: my amazing family, my friends that God has so lovingly provided, my new ministry in Mexico, his providence in caring for me, my churches in Temecula and Porvenir, and for the daily blessings God uses to love on me. But I am also thankful for the huge heart change that God has wrought in my life. If you haven't read my post about Haiti (called The Important One) than this might not make much sense but I hope I can get my point across either way. These past few months God has been showing me what it looks like to have His heart for the world. I thought I had that figured out but He has been showing me that I don't really have a heart for the world in the way He does. Here is a letter I wrote that should explain it better:

---- "You said that I came to Mexico to develop ‘Your Heart’ Lord. This weekend at Shipwrecks you told me that to do that I need to have a bigger heart for people’s souls to match my passion for meeting their temporal needs. You showed me that in order to truly understand your heart I need to understand the cross... I need a heart for the lost to start developing your heart for the world. As far as head knowledge goes, I know what you sacrificed. I understand how much physical pain you went through. I know how much sin you had to bear. But I don’t really understand it. I can read about it all I want but until I see it in life I can’t grasp it. My salvation is still just a concept to me and I don’t quite see the gravity of your sacrifice. I take it for granted to the point of not truly desiring your salvation for everyone.

Except for today when you gave me a glimpse of where I would be without your grace. Without your grace I would be a hot mess. Without something higher to live for I would be chasing after all sorts of things that would destroy me and disappoint me. Why do I choose to not chase after sin? Why do I choose to redirect my thoughts when I am distracted from you? Why do I become patient without a husband instead of being frustrated? Because of my salvation and because I have something to live for other than my sins. I have your grace, your guidance, and your plan to rely on. I have your kindness and love that surpasses all worldly relationships and I have your promptings in my life to focus on you and follow you. Without these things I would be beyond frustrated with not getting to follow my plans to the point of living for myself and giving into sin more than I should. Thank you for saving me, for choosing me to be in your flock. Thank you for protecting me from myself and from a dark empty life. Thank you for helping me see, in this small way, how your large sacrifice affects my life and how hard my days would be without you in them. Help me transfer this gratitude to a passion for telling others about your love." ----

God may have taken away Haiti in my future or he may be giving it back to me. Either way I can see now why I need to follow Him no matter where he sends me. He has given me salvation! I can't desire for other people to know him enough. And yet I forget about the darkness people live in without Christ. That is what he wants to develop in me: eyes to see people's spiritual needs over their temporal ones and a heart to have compassion on those without Christ. I need to be broken for those who do not know the saving love of God, Haitian or not. I need to give Christ my whole life to be used how he can use it best to bring people to Him. I am ready to be sent wherever He desires, and that is huge. I am so thankful that He has shown this to me this season and I hope he will continue to work on me to develop His heart in my life.

Quotes That Spoke to Me on This Topic:
“Now, in my extreme weakness, I glimpsed what I would feel like all the time apart from His compassion and indulgent care. Under these circumstances, I faced poverty and absolute need for Him to work.” –Jean Fleming (“Feeding Your Soul,” pg 96)

“I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardor—personal holiness, and the honor of Christ in the salvation of souls.” –Rev. W.C. Burns (“50 People Every Christian Should Know,” Warren Wiersbe, pg 83)

“It is a solemn and most momentous truth that our every act in this present life—and our every omission too—has a direct and important bearing both on our own future welfare, and on that of others. And as believers, it behooves us to do whatsoever we do in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.Very early in the course of His ministry, the Lord Jesus taught His people that they were to be the light—not of Jerusalem, not of Judea, nor yet of the Jewish nation, but—of the world. And He taught them to pray—not at the heathen, who use vain and unmeaning repetitions; nor yet as the worldly-minded, who ask first and principally (if not solely) for their own private benefit and need: “For,” said He, “your father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” After this manner therefore pray ye:
“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done: as in heaven, so in earth.”
And it was only after these petitions, and quite secondary to them, that any personal petitions were to be offered. [...] Instead of honoring Him with the first-fruits of our time and substance, are we not content to offer Him the fragments that remain after our own supposed need is supplied?” (“China’s Spiritual Need and Claims,” Hudson Taylor, pg 3)

Coming Home

I arrived home this past Monday for a loooong winter break. I am in Temecula for 6 and half weeks and I am not sure how I am going to fill my time. I have a few goals (practice spanish, practice soccer, and grow closer to the Lord) but I still don't know how I am going to integrate those things into my life and relationships. Spanish is proving to be harder to practice then I thought already and I am sort of lost trying to get better at soccer on my own. But the Lord will use this break whether I am fluent in Spanish by the end of it or I only know three more words... prayer for diligence in seeking Him and following his daily plans for me would be lovely if you think about it! I also just wanted to share some more pictures of this last week of Mexico life in this post so here you go:
Here is a random video I have not shared yet about our food shopping days: Grocery Shopping in Mexico

We went to the Baja 1000 this last weekend and while I was bored after seeing two cars go by I am glad I went to experience it. I also got to hang out with my friend Laura's family who came down to see it. Her brother found me and didn't even know I was going to be there. =)
We went to a dinner together as a staff the second to last day and it was so good to send each other off to break that way. We had amazing food and really fun gift exchange. This is my lovely roommate Monique (Moma)... she is such a blessing to me!
This last week someone came on our property, siphoned our gas, and cut a foot long section out of our fuel line. So the guys rigged this system up with a garden hose so we could still use the van. It is so missionary! The second picture is everyone in the van on the trip home... before we had to go through secondary border checks. =)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mis Nuevos Amigos

You are probably wondering what my friends look like down here, or if I even have any? Well I finally have pictures of us from some of our outings and work days at church so let me introduce you to them. First off, the whole group at our 11/11/11 Cowboys and Indians party...
 Caleb
 Israel - one of my closest guy friends... this is at trash pick up day
  Yukiko (Caleb's sister) - my closest girl friend
 Adrian and Fabio...
 Sukye (I don't know how to spell that) and Simha (Caleb's other sister)...
Alisha and A.J.

Teaching Foibles

When you are in charge of 25 plus five-year-olds for an hour, three times a week, interesting things are bound to happen. I don’t know how teachers do it all day but I have learned to just shake me head, tell them to sit down please (seitate por favor!), and smile. Here are a few example of what I am talking about:
1. For our numbers unit we used jump-ropes to practice counting. Shelbi instead found herself trying to prevent the boys from tying the ropes around each others necks.
2. One of our Ventana students was playing a flashcard game with the kids using dice and found himself trying to prevent Carlos from choking on the dice after Carlos tried to swallow it.
3. They are constantly tattling on each other too, “Teacher, Teacher! Axel ????” I’ve adopted the phrase, “Oh, lo siento. Esta Bien.” Also known as, “Oh I am sorry, it’s ok.” I smile of course and they commence with whatever they were doing before.
4. A group of kids jumped on me all at once and were so overwhelming that I fell over. Not a very graceful thing to do as a teacher. I got them back in their seats but had to be very stern in Spanish which was hard.

Overall they are adorable, fairly well behaved, and unique kids. I know all their names and a lot of their quirks now and was sad to say goodbye to them since I will have some of them next semester but most likely not all of them. Here are some of their beautiful faces:
Uriel - one of my best friend's nephews
 Jesse - he eats markers
Josefh - I don't think he knows any English after this class.
 Alfredo - He surprises me every day.
 Ximena - The first to learn my name. =)
 Suelle - I told him to sit down about ten times a minute.
 Carlos - The trouble maker of the class.
 Christian - He learned the words in seconds.
 Uriel again... he is just too cute. =)

Shipwrecks

A few weeks ago we ventured a few hours south of Ensenada to what we loving call Shipwrecks to spend the weekend in some tents and trailers at the beach. It was farther south than I have ever been in Mexico, which I thought was a worthy accomplishment. =) It is named shipwrecks because there is an old ship on its side in the cove rusting and providing a home for many types of fish and sea anemones. It made for cool pictures and a really epic beach scene.
 The tide was really down in these pictures and there were amazing tidepools.
We found a sea anemone that had caught a fish... we were impressed. =)
This weekend was not just a weekend of crazy scavenger hunts and dune buggy races though. (see video here) God was working in my heart in heavy ways this past weekend. When he brought me to Mexico He said that I was here to develop ‘His Heart’ for his people. This weekend at Shipwrecks He told me that in order to develop that I need to have a bigger heart for people’s souls to match my passion for meeting their temporal needs. He showed me that in order to truly understand His heart I need to understand the cross. I need a bigger heart for the lost to start developing God’s heart for the world. As far as head knowledge goes, I know what Christ sacrificed and I understand how much physical pain He went through. I have a sense for how much sin Jesus had to bear. But I don’t truly understand it. I can read about Jesus’ sacrifice and my salvation all I want but until I see it played out in life I can’t grasp it. My salvation is still just a concept to me and I don’t quite see the gravity of your sacrifice. I take it for granted to the point of not truly desiring Christ’s salvation for everyone. Since that weekend though God had been faithful to show me what my salvation means and how important His grace is to everyone’s lives. I am now really in the process of developing God’s heart and I am finding that I like it a lot better than my own.
I got up two of the mornings before the sun and it was worth it! God’s majesty displayed:
 Day One
 Day Two
It was freezing in the mornings...so we layered up.
 This is Mo and Shelbi...

Pogs

Do any of you remember pogs? The little cardboard circles that you would hit with a slammer (a large plastic or metal circle) to flip them over? It was my generation’s version of marbles. Well, they are back in Mexico. Almost every bag of chips or cookies you buy at the store has a pog. Except here they are called Tazos (pronounced tasos) and there are no slammers. There are thin cardboard Tazos and metal ones with rims but you can only play with one kind at a time. I think it is a funny blast from the past. Especially since Brock thinks they are a new game that just came out. The guy students are all collecting them “to play with Brock” but while some of the guys won’t admit it, they think Tazos are just as cool now as they were in elementary school when they went by a different name. Here is what they look like, (they all have Spanish slang on the backs):

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Living in Mexico

I have been trying to think of things to write about that would give you a sense for what life is like down here. But I couldn’t think of anything since life is just that... life. I am so used to living here that it all just seems so normal and natural to be here. But I realized that the normalcy of it all is exactly what I should write about! I think it is a huge deal that I feel comfortable enough here that I will run to the copy store and have a conversation with Malena, or that I would go to the coffee shop and my friends would be there to hang out with, or that I would go to church and feel that it is my church. God has blessed me so much with community (both with the gringos and locals) in Porvenir and has enabled me to fit in and become close with people. I still have a long long way to go with my Spanish and I could be a lot deeper with people, but I already feel such a part of this city that I don’t want to leave for break. If I didn’t miss my family, friends, and home church (and the ability to communicate with people easily) I don’t know if I would come back at all.

Can you believe that? I personally am blown away that this is home for me though I can hear my parent’s saying, “I told you that you would like it.” But after everything with not wanting to give up Haiti and dragging my feet as God brought me to Mexico, to finally be glad that this is where God has me is huge. Starting with Haiti this summer, God has been showing me that to be a missionary does not mean epic outreach adventures everyday. It is all about the day by day relationships and tasks that go towards making an organization or group run well in His name. This life just requires living for God, where God has placed you. So what is life like here? Completely and wonderfully normal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

English Class Video

Monique filmed our English class this week and made a very funny video, complete with made-up quotes and some very happy faces. I decided to share it because it makes me laugh and I thought you would all enjoy seeing some of my adorable kids.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Important One Continued: Further Revelations

Written October 16th:
Usually when I attend church on Sunday I understand about a fourth or what is being said and I start to fade halfway through the service. (Our pastor kindly bought me Dr. Pepper for the snack shack though so the past few weeks I have bought some caffeine to sustain me when my brain shuts down from translating.) But this week I understood over half of the message from the traveling pastor and God knew what parts of church today I needed to understand because every time I knew what was going on He spoke to me.

ONE. For starters worship was incredible and the songs (though in Spanish) really spoke to me. Here they are in English...

“Now is the Time to Worship:”
♫ Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are to worship.
Come, just as you are before our God.

One day every tongue with confess you are God.
One day every knee will bow.
Still the greatest treasure remains for those,
who gladly serve you now. ♫

How could I sing this song when I don’t gladly serve the Lord even now? My heart longs for every knee to bow to the Lord and for everyone to experience God’s love. But I myself am not bowing to the Lord. I am resisting God instead of experiencing His love and providence. If I am unwilling to serve Him how can I expect other people to be lead to serve Him?

“Cuanto Nos Ama:”
♫ And all of a sudden I am unaware,
of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.
And I realize just how beautiful you are
and how great you affections are for me.

Oh how He loves.
How He loves us. ♫

Compared to God’s glory my struggle with following the Lord seems small and pointless. The Lord loves me (and you) more than anything. And that is all I really need to know. God’s love and glory is all that really matters. I just need to believe that.

TWO. The visiting pastor was from Oaxaca, a place in Southern Mexico with a large indigenous population, and he showed a video of his family’s ministry with those local ethnic groups. After seeing the video I wrote this in my journal:
“Ethnic groups. Is that it? Is that where you have my heart? I felt you move in my heart when they showed pictures of the ethnic, local groups in Oaxaca. Is it not so much Haiti as it is the poor, out of the way, ethnic groups that you are calling me to? The 10-40 window groups? Indigenous groups? What was your purpose in moving my heart so suddenly and strongly towards those people? I sense it was not for nothing.”

THREE. God convicted me in today’s message with this question, “Who is the King on the throne of you life?” Matthew 6:19 says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Not my will be done, but God’s will be done. God’s kingdom, not Stephanie’s kingdom, come. God’s will is already being done in Heaven, so who am I to say that God can’t have his will done in my life on earth?

Who belongs on the throne? Solo Dios.

The Important One

Only after praying about it, did I decide to post this blog. I felt it would be prudent to bring you along for the ride as I figure out my life, instead of journeying alone and then informing you of the outcome of my struggles after they are over. The more prayer cover I have the better anyway, and who knows what God can do with my openness with you all. So here you go, the newest struggle and season in my life...

Written on October 15th:
It was such a simple phrase, one that I have heard before. But this time God and Satan both had something to say about it: “There are more missionaries in Haiti than there are cockroaches.” Hearing that, especially from a Haitian, was like a load of bricks thrown on my heart. The load is still there days later but I am starting to see the dead weight of those bricks take shape into something productive.

Let’s go back to this past Thursday night (10/13/11). A new missionary couple, who just moved here from Florida, came to eat dinner at Ventana by invitation of Carrie Vomsteeg who is in the wife’s bible study in Ensenada. I was extremely excited for their arrival since the husband, Theo, is Haitian and I couldn’t wait to talk with him all about Haiti. Theo’s ancestry is amazing, stemming from one of the first missionaries to Haiti who married a French plantation owner’s daughter, all the way down to him, his lovely Puerto Rican wife and their three beautiful blond daughters, who we offered to take off their hands whenever they would let us steal them. The family is such a wonderful testament of what it looks like to serve and follow the Lord and they were amazing to say the least.

I was intimidated by this family who travels to Haiti a few times a year to visit Theo’s family in Port-au-price and who call Haiti home. My love for the country seemed small and strange in comparison to people who know Haiti in a whole different way. So when Theo said that “There are more missionaries in Haiti than there are cockroaches” I felt like I was an outsider invading on the Haitian’s homeland and that my heart for Haiti was stupid and unneeded. There is where I identify Satan working in the situation. But that one line has continued to rock my world this week for reasons bigger than the feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness that Satan tried to sneak into my heart.

God is doing something in my heart that I am not sure I want to let him do. He is trying to change my stubborn mindset of, “I am going to live in Haiti for the rest of my life” to the flexible, trusting attitude of, “I am going to live wherever God chooses to send me.” But I don’t want to live where God wants to send me... unless it is Haiti. Just writing that makes my throat close up and my tear ducts spill over. I can’t imagine being sent anywhere else. I even told God when he brought me to Mexico that I would come on the condition that I get to go to Haiti next year. I refuse to stay here, I refuse to go home, I refuse to be sent to any other country. Because those were my conditions and I am sticking to them.

I feel that, just to get me down here, God let me think that I could determine where WE would go and that He would just follow ME wherever that is. But I also think that he brought me down here to break me of that mindset. I am here, in Mexico, because God wants me here. But I am also here, in Mexico, because I told God where we were going to go next. It scares me that even with the knowledge of my stubborn heart I am still not willing to give up Haiti. I am, at this moment, not willing to follow God anywhere else.

You may wonder how my brain went from hearing Theo’s one phrase to processing all of this. First, God. He intended for me to think through this. Second, I thought, if there are so many missionaries already working to lead his flock in Haiti, why would I need to go to Haiti? Wouldn’t it be better for me to be sent somewhere where there are less people who know about God and where there is more of a need for missionaries? Because let me tell you, even though my heart daily longs for Haiti, it would be a sacrifice for me to move there. I would be giving up a lot of comfort and a lot of things my heart loves and longs for in America. So if I am going to trust the Lord and sacrifice my worldly desires wouldn’t it be better for me to sacrifice for a place that needs me more? This idea is what really got my brain going.

Maybe God just wants me to be willing to serve him anywhere and then he will give Haiti back to me. Or maybe he is challenging me to trust him so that he can send me somewhere entirely different. I don’t know the answer but then again I don’t need to know the answer. I just need to trust him. That’s it. Just trust him and place him at the forefront of my life instead of my plans.

Here is the real problem that God has just revealed to me as I write... I love Haiti to the core of my being: the culture, the people, the landscape, the language, the kids. But do I love Haiti more than I love God? Since I am only willing to serve God if he takes me to Haiti, does that mean I love the country more than the Creator of that country? More than the Savior of those people? My heart weeps at the thought of that being true. I don’t enjoy crying but this week I have been brought to my knees in tears every day wondering if I have forgotten who I serve. It scares me to think of my stubbornness and lack of trust in the Lord. But it also rips my heart in two to think that loving the Lord might take me elsewhere than Haiti. This sounds dramatic, but for me to give up Haiti feels like I am giving up my family, never to visit or talk to them again. (I also feel that I should take my parent’s off the pedestal I have placed them in my life. Because, believe me, I would have just as hard of time letting my family go as I would giving up Haiti. This also shows a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty and reveals a lot of my sins of idolatry. He is giving me a lot of food for thought today.)

Processing through this by writing it out has brought clarity to my thoughts as I let God guide my fingers, and I am sure reading this over again will reveal even more to me, but I still feel so far from acquiescing to God’s call on my heart to follow him. He never said “follow me for I will make you fisher’s of men wherever you want to go most.” He said “follow me... leave your homes, your businesses, and your families, and follow me. Put your hands to the plow and don’t look back. Pick up your cross and follow me wherever I send you, for my burden is easy for you to bear if you trust me.” (Luke 9:59-62; Matthew 4:18-22; 11:28-30; 16:24-26)
[Quick side note: Those verses were all just given to me from the Lord and I am amazed at this moment that He spoke those into me that way. His words really are powerful and I guess you never know when He will use them! Gracias Dios... Gracias.]

Anyway, it seems that I am caught between serving God and serving myself. What I once saw as good, my heart for the Haitian people, has now become an idol. What God once intended to bring me closer to Him in prayer has now become something I define my life with. What I was once stubborn about letting go is now something I am still stubborn about letting go...

I guess for now that is it. I’ll leave being as stubborn as ever but with proof that God is working in my life to show me where I have been sinful in ways I never would have seen on my own. I’ll leave this letter not knowing if I will ever post it on my blog but knowing God spoke to me personally through it in more ways than anyone reading it will know. You have no idea how scattered my brain was before this and how burdened my heart felt. I have some direction now and I feel a tad more peaceful with you Lord. Meci Jezi.

And I'm Off!


We finally started our English program this week! After jumping through many hoops we finally got into the classroom this week and I am in love with my students. After hearing my name once in the parent meeting most of the little girls knew my name on the first day of class. I was so excited to hear them yell, “Estephanie, Maestra!” The hard part is that there are 25 of them. We planned on having 15 kids but I guess God has other plans of who he wants in our classroom, especially since we are starting this program to reach the parents as well. We hope that through loving on the kids that we can show the love of Christ to their parent’s as well. So prayers that our efforts will reflect Christ would be incredibly helpful.

One additional blessing to starting the class is that the classroom we are blessed to use is air conditioned. It isn’t cold but it takes the edge off when we are teaching and it is so nice to not be distracted by the heat when you are trying to focus on the kids. I could use prayer over my lesson plans. I want to be as effective as possible with our time while making it accessible to 5 and 6 year olds. There was definitely a learning curve this week that I hope to be on top of this coming week. After seeing what worked and what didn’t work I have quite a few revisions to make in my plans. I also need to get started on future plans since I only have three weeks done for now. Prayer for time management on my part and that I will use the proper materials to teach the lessons would be appreciated as well.

I hope to have pictures of some of my kids by the next post about my class but for now just know that they are darling and have the best names (Ximena, Feather, America, and Ana Gabriella are just a few). I need to make some permanent nametags but I think I almost have all of their names down pat. Also know that they all seem excited to be there and I am so excited to be doing what I was hired as an intern to do. Maybe I will see more of what God wants to teach me here, through the eyes of these kids. I have already learned this month that I am much more of a kid person then I ever thought. =)

Passion and Purity


I recently listened to a talk by Elizabeth Elliot (Sound familiar? She was married to the missionary who was murdered by the people he was trying to witness to, Jim Elliot. Elizabeth later went back and brought the village to Christ.) per recommendation of Loretta Lambert. It was a good suggestion and I now want to share with you some of what I gleaned from it. (Random fact about me: I dislike the word gleaned. But it fits here so I am going to use it.)

This summer I reached a point of true contentment with being single, and even though I have never struggled with singleness too much, it was freeing to see that God wants to use me for his kingdom whether or not I have a guy by my side. On that note, I still got a lot from this sermon about purity. Before you run away thinking this is going to sound like a purity seminar that you’ve heard fifty million times, please give it a chance.

First off she asked three questions all pertaining to the way we live our lives: What are you aiming at?, Who is your master?, and Whose are you?. In other words, we need to think about what our goals are and who we are serving in the attainment of those goals. Also, who are we giving our minds and bodies to when we try to reach our goals? Just keep these in mind because I think they are valid questions to be asking yourself whether it regards purity or any other aspect of your life.

What I really want to share with you all, especially those of you who read my blog that are not married, is that our purity is not a half sacrifice. Abraham was willing to fully sacrifice his son on the altar for the Lord and God brought a lamb in Isaac’s stead. Our commitment to purity is the same, it involves full surrender. Staying pure has glorious rewards in marriage. But we must not forget that in our lives there is the blood of Jesus, shed for sinners. God is in the business of repair for those who have made mistakes with their purity. Don’t be discouraged by the Devil, who is always after us, but rather put on your armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and declare your freedom from sin in the Lord.

We CAN be strong in the Lord. And not even strong in the Lord till you are married five or ten years down the road. You only have to make it one day at a time, with your purity and in every other decision. God will give you the strength you need for each day as you trust in him.

Another quick tid-bit from the talk, that I think worthy of repeating, is that God doesn’t need dating or our searching to bring people together. Over long distances of space and time God will bring together who he wants to bring together. Don’t ever forget that God will work things for good in your life. You just have to be patient together with me. =)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Necesitamos Pelotas para Fútbol

(we need soccer balls)
When you think of Mexico what sport do you think of? Fútbol.
When you think of soccer what equipment do you think of? A ball and goals.
We have the goals (and a whole indoor court) but the locals do not have any balls that will stay pumped up. How crazy is that? I was shocked when they asked me to bring our ball to the game the other night. So I thought... we bring tons of soccer balls to Haiti every year, why can’t I get some for down here?

Here is where you all come in (specifically you in Temecula since I can get them from you easily). We need soccer balls! I would love to be able to give one to each of the people we play with every week so they don’t have to ask for a ball every time they play. Altogether that is less than ten soccer balls. If you know of anywhere you can get them donated or if you are willing to buy one, that would be an incredible blessing and such an awesome gift to these guys.

You can drop them off at my parent’s house if you want to help out. Let me know if you drop them off though, so I can make sure they get picked up when our director goes to the States. He will be in Temecula the next two Fridays so before then would be incredible! Thank you so much for your prayer cover and support already! I love you all!

Refreshing Bonding

This past weekend was a very refreshing one for me for so many reasons and I feel blessed beyond measure by God. I have been feeling attacked about not speaking Spanish well enough to connect with the youth in our community but this weekend God showed me all the ways I can connect without deep conversations. So here is my list of blessings de un fin de semana (from the weekend):

1. Learning Spanish – On Friday, a few past Ventaneros came to stay with us. At first I was super intimidated to be around all of these people who have already done a year of Ventana and who know what they are doing down here. They had relationships built, spoke Spanish like pros, and knew more about the program than I did. Then I realized that instead of being intimidating they were encouraging. They had also started the year not speaking any Spanish and now they speak it almost fluently and they have strong friendships with people down here despite starting out with no Spanish. I realized there is hope for me!
2. Playing Soccer – Saturday night after college group one of the guys came up to me who tends to not like gringos and who I felt I have not connected much with. He asked if I wanted to play soccer with them. Me! Stephanie Johnson! The gringa girl who hasn’t played soccer for ten years and who kicked him in the ankle the last time we played! So of course I went (Robbie came too) and I wasn’t half bad compared to all the locals. I received a lot of compliments about my defensive skills and whether they were just being nice or thought I really was good, for a gringa, my spirits were boosted. I bonded with a lot of the guys that night and they have asked me to play with them again. They also were amazing and took the time to explain the different rules of indoor soccer which means there are no offsides! Whoo hoo!
3. New Fancy Restaurant – Yesterday, Doug (our director) invited me to dinner with his family to celebrate Micah’s first place win at his race in Ensenada. Who knew his legs were so fast! A group from Kenya even invited him to come train with them and he is only ten! It was a proud moment for Doug and Carrie and I was blessed to be integrated into their family for that moment. Besides, the food was incredible. We went to San Antonio to a place called “Ochenta Pizza.” It was strait out of the Temecula wine country except it had an even better view and it was cheap. (Family, we will be eating there when you come down. You will love it, especially Amanda and Kenny.) It was lovely to eat without having to clean dishes or cook and it was refreshing to have some of the things I have missed this month: green olives, feta cheese, iced tea, woodfire pizza, and garlic bread. Oh and I forgot to mention that we saw a proposal at the restaurant! Check witnessing strangers getting engaged at a restaurant off of my bucket list! It was really cool to see two random people be so happy.
4. Worshipping con dos Lenguas – Last night was like icing on the cake. I knew that music was a quick way to reach the heart of the locals but I was really made aware of that last night. One of the girls that we hang out with a lot, who doesn’t speak or understand English, asked me to play the guitar. So I got it out and we worshipped in Spanish and English all while talking about music and singing correctly and a lot of other things I didn’t think I could communicate. It was so much fun. Then Caleb and Israel (the soccer guy) came back form pizza and we talked about the difference between Spanish chords (they use a roman numeral system based off of the scales) and my chords (letters). We talked about guitars and strings and all sorts of things while singing. I might join the worship team soon but I need to practice a little bit first with my Spanish and the new songs that they sing. Long anecdote short, I felt like a lot of bonding was done over my attempts to speak Spanish and our mutual love for music.

Gracias a Dios por música y fútbol y nuevo restaurants!

....I’ve Got God and a Dr. Pepper


Today I looked up the definition of cast (or casting) and was surprised to find that it has multiple facets. Not only does cast mean to throw or send, which is what I think of when I think of getting rid of demons, but it also means shine, radiate, emit, and spread. If had read that last week I would have thought those definitions couldn’t possibly be connected. How does cast mean both throw and shine? Now however, I see that they are not so much the same words as simultaneous actions. As the devil and his darkness are thrown out, God’s light is radiated and spread to all the previously dark areas. As you cast yourself on the Lord he will cast out whatever does not bow down to himself. This concept became even more apparent to us the day after our first encounter with the devil’s demons.

After dealing with a demonic presence in our room the night before, Monique, Brooke, Shelbi, and I (the Ventana girls) had a desire to pray over our entire house because we had all been feeling fearful of the house at night, especially the hallway and back donation storage room. It is interesting to note that every year of Ventana our house has struggled with heavy spiritual attack and with demons being in the house. What we are experiencing is nothing new for this ministry. Our directors think demons are more commonly felt in our house because of the sensitivity of girls to the spiritual realm and to fear. Satan does not like what is occurring on our campus for God. So he tries to get his foot in this campus anyway he can. This week he has decided to be especially apparent in our house but after how thoroughly God dealt with him I don’t think he will be as open about his attacks for a while. We still need to be on guard and are still in prayer over our house but anyway, I digress.

So Thursday night we prayed for over two hours throughout our entire house. We started in the storage room and spent most of our time there. I felt at least three demons leave that room but it took much longer for us to feel peace there and to feel that we were victorious. We moved to the hallway where being out in the open left us feeling vulnerable. But we were not vulnerable. God had it under control and he simultaneously gave each of us the same worship song to sing. So we prayed and sang worship songs and hymns until we were peaceful in the hallway. We then prayed over our bedrooms and bathrooms and we finished with singing more hymns in the living room.

It took a while to feel that we were victorious over Satan’s attacks on our casa. But eventually through many answered prayers and many powerful nudgings from God we came to realize that for that night God was victorious. We do feel however that Satan is not done with us or this campus. So we asked our pastor to also pray over our house sometime this week. God wants to move in this place and if we are faithful to trust in Him and pray to Him we will get to be part of His movements “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2nd Timothy 1:7).

Our house is now peppered with note cards of quotes and verses that Satan cannot ignore (thank you Brooke!). Everywhere you look is another promise from God that he is mighty, faithful, risen, and full of glory. We are victorious because Christ is victorious! And because of that we slept soundly last night without fear of attack. God is present in our hearts forever and nothing Satan can do will make that untrue. Te doy Gloria!!!

Satan’s Got Nothing On Me...


Until this year my experience with spiritual warfare has been limited to Satan spewing lies into my life to bring me down and away from God. I have however, come to know how to recognize and combat those attacks fairly easily after 20 some odd years of the same tricks. More tangible spiritual warfare has not been part of my experience until this past summer when I went to Haiti. I now realize that my experiences there, however tame they might have been, were vital to preparing me for what Satan threw at me this week.
 
Short time-out: Readers, I have a deep desire to show you the power of God without causing you to stumble over my wording or the idea that I am speaking about demons being in close proximity to me. I know many people are not comfortable or even aware of the spiritual realm, especially the war between angels and demons that is happening all around is. (If you are not, I recommend the novel, “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti. It is eye-opening to what spiritual warfare is, to say the least about it.) If you are not comfortable with what I’m talking about please know that I am not describing all of this with the intention of scaring you or making you feel alienated from me. And know that I definitely don’t want this account to be one that will make you feel awkward. But I do want to challenge you, in the way I have been challenged this week, to acknowledge the spiritual realm. I challenge you to open your heart to the Holy Spirit for more that just answering prayer requests and helping us make decisions. And I challenge you to recognize that, just because we don’t experience demonic and angelic presences in America the same way other countries tend to, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge that spiritual battles are in all of our lives, whether we choose to address it or not. I am pretty new to all of this as well and I don’t have much figured out but I do know that everything about this story should be for God’s glory and God’s glory alone. Please read on with an open mind.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to Haiti... in Haiti an amazing woman on our team, Jackie Conroy, showed me what it looked like to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. While anointing the house of a newly saved witch doctor I felt the Holy Spirit move to drive out the evil presences that were still dwelling on the property. Demons that had once been invited to dwell there, through voodoo, were eradicated because of God’s power through our answered prayers. Before that experience I had no clue what it looked like to trust God to cast evil spirits from anything so I still wasn’t fully open to what God was doing but I still saw how powerful He can be against the power of the devil. Without this trip to Haiti I would never have learned what to say, what to do, or even how to respond to a spiritual attack of that caliber. Thankfully though, I watched Jackie, and her walk with God, like a hawk. And I learned. I learned how amazing open communication can be with God and I saw how important it is to be aware of the battle being waged all around us for the world. So if you are reading this, thank you Jackie for preparing me for what I had little idea was coming. Your faith helped prepare me to fight with God in ways I never even knew I could. Though I think you knew that I needed to be prepared for this all along. =)

Now let’s go to the less distant past: this past Wednesday night. After being in bed for half an hour, I heard my roommate say my name. I responded and flicked on the lights after she said that she had felt something and was scared. I knew before she explained further that something bigger than us was going on. Monique explained that she felt something push down on the end of her bed and thought it was me. I was in bed the whole time but she did not make up the fact that her mattress had been leaned on. It was instantly apparent that the fear we were experiencing was not groundless. I began praying semi-confidently against whatever Satan had sent to our room. My faith was low and my apprehension was stronger than my belief in what God could do. Thankfully God’s “power is made perfect in weakness... for when I am weak then I am strong” (2nd Corinthians 12:9+10). And God had plans to show his power despite our weakness.

Praying without faith barely did anything to change my fear though so I went to the word.  God wasn’t done teaching us or helping us rely on him. I looked up the word “casting” in my bible and instead of finding verses on casting out demons I found this:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1st Peter 5:6-11).

I don’t know if you can imagine the strength we drew from these verses as, for maybe the first time in my life, God’s word came alive and shed light into our room. I could feel the devil squirming under these promises from God. Promises that God will establish and confirm us, that His dominion of light (not Satan’s dominion of darkness) will reign eternal, and that God cares for us. Nothing can come between us and these promises. So we prayed again, this time casting our cares on God. This time knowing Christ would spread his dominion of light into every nook and cranny of our room and house. This time in confidence that we would succeed when we told the demon that was scaring us to leave. Because we “are a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1st Peter 2:9).

I experienced this prayer physically as well as spiritually. As I prayed against the demon in our room I felt the struggle taking place. My skin was crawling and I could feel that what had come to harm us was not leaving easily. So I kept praying God’s promises over our room and telling Satan to get out. Satan has no right to be where God’s people can be found. So I told the demon that. I also told it that where God’s light is no power of darkness can live, when God’s children are casting Satan out no power of his can remain, and where God’s angels are there is no room for fear. As the demon left I could feel the heaviness of the room and the weight on my body lift. I knew that God had won and was now the only presence left in the room. Where before I was nervous to move and felt that my body was pinned to the bed I now felt free to move anywhere. I continued in praying by praising God because in that moment that was all I could do. I had never experienced freedom so tangibly. Monique experienced God’s power less physically and more visually. She explained to me that as I was praying she saw through her closed lids a vision of a dark figure walking in our room. When I got the point where I felt in my body that the demon had left she saw the dark figure walk out of the door. I couldn’t ask for more confirmation that God was battling for us in that moment.

In what seemed like minutes (we were actually up for an hour all together), our fear was gone, our spirits were raised, and our hearts were glorifying the Lord. This, in my opinion, is what it really comes down to; how God can be glorified through our lack of faith and our prayers. God also be praised that after encountering and casting out a demon we were at peace and slept soundly through the rest of the night.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mi Nueva Familia - Staff

I want to introduce my new family since they are the people you will be hearing a lot about from now on, not to mention I have already talked about some of them. Sorry I don't have pictures for all of them.

Doug – our fearless leader and teacher who makes everything a hilarious adventure
Carrie – the organized half of the head team with a heart for service and people
Brock – the five year old with more cute facial expressions than I can count who loves to talk about his passions (below in grey)
Micah – the intelligent older brother who loves to be involved and is very attuned to what goes on around him (below in red)

Jason – the gracious returning intern who knows everything about Ventana but is patient with my many questions and joyful always
Monique – (known also as Charlotte and Megan and Monica) my adventurous, yet grounded roommate who has a huge heart for India and people in need

Allison – the caring, organized mom who loves her family to death and who is more than willing to serve others
Kevin – a great dad who makes you feel safe with a passion for getting things done combined with a tender heart
Kaylee, Zach, and Andrew – the trio of Whitted kids who I can already tell are troopers, servants, and outgoing loving individuals

Almost the whole crew of staff and students (with Oliver and Diego):

An Ensenada Must Visit

There are moments when you are away from home that make you feel like you belong here. Seeing how the landscape around our town looks like Haiti was one of those moments. Entering ‘Caffe Italia’ was another.

This coffee shop could fit into SLO in 5.3 seconds and do quite well. Three doors down from the Starbucks in Ensenada (note that there is only one Starbucks there, unlike the five found just on Temecula Parkway) it is a little haven for missionaries and coffee lovers. The owner is a Christian and gave us some free drinks and cookies both times we went in there this week. She makes a mean strawberry banana smoothie and has some amazing pastries. If you are in Ensenada please walk down the road to this place instead of going to Starbucks. It is tucked back off the road right in front of the movie theatre. You won’t be sorry. =)

You might be wondering how this place could fit in so well in hipster coffee shop central. Let me take you on a tour with pictures:
 The bathroom is up this flight of crazy spiral stairs on a small platform. Sketchy but so wonderfully Mexico.
 There is art everywhere... oh and ignore Jason's creeper pose.
 My favorite nut cookies... the owner gives me a free one everytime. =)

 Local artist who uses a really interesting combination of watercolor and pen.
 Monique and Jason at the coffee shop. A lot of art and fun drinks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our Home

Apparently our trailer has looked the same for the past six years. This means that no one ever took it upon themselves to rearrange the furniture from the corners of the room or decorate. This year Monique and I took our casa by storm and decorated like crazy and this week the girls moved the furniture around to make our living room more like home. I love the change even though our house is still so missionary. Here are some pictures of our digs. =)

 This is something Monique and I really want the girls to learn this year. God is all they need to be complete and all that will ever make them complete.