An Unexpected Journey

Not long ago we asked for your prayers for clear vision and direction. Thank you for praying! Your prayers, and ours, have been answered. God is leading us to Albania!

Jesus has provided an exciting opportunity for us to serve at the GDQ International Christian School in Tirana, Albania. Len will put his almost-completed Masters of Education to use through administrative duties as Middle School/High School Principal. Betsy will step into teaching Middle School Bible classes and will also coordinate Lower School Chapels.

GDQ  was founded in the fall of 1993 to support the efforts of the evangelical Protestant missionary community in Albania by providing a Christ-centered, academically enriching international education. Currently, about 75% of the student body are the children of missionaries serving in Albania and the remainder represent expatriates involved in the international business sector. Students and staff represent more than fifteen different mission sending organizations and come from Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America. The vision of the school is to instill in students a God-honoring Christian worldview so they might have maximum influence for the glory of God in and through their lives.

Albania itself borders the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. A long and complex history, including centuries under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, ended with Albanian independence in 1912. Following World War II, Albania emerged under communist rule that lasted until the 1990s. During those years, Albania was declared an atheist state and all centers of worship were closed. Today, Albania and its population of 3 million boasts freedom of worship, with fifty-seven percent of the population identifying as Muslim and the remainder as primarily Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or nonreligious/undeclared. Evangelical Protestant Christians make up less than 1% of the population. Ministry at GDQ International Christian School  will allow us the great privilege of joining in the efforts of those bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people of Albania.

Please continue to pray for guidance at each step, for God’s’ abundant provision, and for our hearts to be open to all He has in store for our future as we follow His call to Albania.

If you want to partner with us on this journey by providing financial support, through either a one-time donation or ongoing support, please visit one of the links below. We can’t do this without you!

Len and Betsy Phillips at World Gospel Mission

Len and Betsy Phillips at TMS-Global (missionary ID #0514)

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Praying for Clear Vision

When’s the last time you had your eyes checked? Personally, I’ve tried to be diligent about a yearly eye exam, even though that’s meant I’ve had to reluctantly accept the inevitable. First it was reading glasses. Now it’s glasses fulltime. Every year the prescription seems to get a little bit stronger. Though I would prefer to turn back the clock and return to my pre-glasses days, I am honestly grateful to have decent vision. Every morning I put on my silver-framed lenses (which coincidentally now also match my hair color) and suddenly the world around me becomes much more clear and focused. img_1552-2

How I wish there were lenses that allowed me to see God’s plan as clearly as I can now read the instructions on my bottle of multivitamins!

Since returning to the United States in June 2013, Len and I have continually sought to discern God’s vision for our ministry. We had perceived His hand leading Len to study for a Masters of Education (with an emphasis in Administration) and we sensed that these years were a season to stay in the United States. God led us clearly to a new ministry serving as resources in educational ministries, on Special Assignment through World Gospel Mission to serve with the Global Resource Team of The Mission Society, now TMS-Global (see note below). We’ve been eyewitnesses to how faithfully God opened doors for ministry here and internationally and to how faithfully He has continued to provide through a team of many who pray and give sacrificially that we may serve.

Now we are again in a period of seeking; seeking God’s vision for what is next. In consultation with both our mission agencies, we are actively exploring opportunities for a return to international cross-cultural ministry. As we do so, we pray for clear vision. We pray not only for clarity to see the path God would have us take but also for a growing vision for all He has in store for us.

Won’t you pray with us? Pray that the Lord makes our way clear. Pray that we will discern His guidance. Pray that we will walk by faith, trusting for His provision as we take these next steps. It’s clear to us that your partnership makes a difference in our lives and ministry!

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Late October 2016 found us traveling to McAllen, Texas where World Gospel Mission has been in ministry since the 1940’s.  Len shared a devotional with teachers and staff at Taylor Christian School and Betsy led chapels with this year’s students. We observed, discussed and listened with the goal of encouraging, resourcing and strategizing with those serving in educational endeavors. We also learned more about the ministries of Taylor Community Center and the soccer program outreach. As we met with several of the missionaries serving on the border, we sensed their heart and vision for impacting the surrounding community for Christ.

It was also a few days of joyful reunion! Several of the missionaries currently serving in McAllen had previously served in Bolivia. One evening during our visit we all shared a Bolivian meal complete with fantastic grilled meats, fried yucca and linaza (a flax seed drink). We also spent time with Miguel and Vivian Rodriguez, longtime friends from our years in Honduras, who are now pastoring a church in McAllen. God was so good to allow us to renew such precious friendships!

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Miles and Ministry in Mexico

Mexico! It’s a relatively short flight from Atlanta to Monterrey, but we still put in our share of miles (or rather, kilometers) traveled during our eight-day trip.

Mark and Serena Dunbar picked us up at the airport and drove us back to their home in Saltillo – and what a home it is! The aptly-named “WOW” house is a beautiful and spacious ministry center God provided for the work in northern Mexico. While we were there, the center was used to host a visiting work team from Iowa as well as to host a theological education by extension class. It’s a blessing under a red-tiled roof! (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo!) Saltillo itself is a beautiful and modern city, as you can see from the above photos.

The day after we arrived, we, along with the Dunbars and their summer VIA (Volunteer in Action), Brianna, climbed into their car to head south. The highway infrastructure is impressive, as are the rest stops offering Papa John’s, Subway, Church’s Chicken and delicious typical Mexican fare. Lots of tollbooths though!

Our first stop was at a church pastored by Dany and Carminda Pineda. The Pinedas were students at the El Sembrador Bible Institute in Honduras when Len served as Director and Betsy taught classes. After graduation, they ended up pastoring the church in La Esperanza, Honduras, which we attended. For the last number of years, they have been ministering as missionaries in Mexico. What a joy to see how God has blessed them, along with their two sons, with a fruitful and growing ministry in Queretaro!

Our next stop was Irapuato (self-proclaimed strawberry capital of the world), where we ran in to Dennis and Twana Johnson, who had brought three of their grandchildren to see where they had lived and worked for several years. We caught up over a lunch of delicious taquitos!

That evening we were part of a meeting of church members from Irapuato and Leon who are interested in starting a Christian school. Len led them through some thought-provoking questions on vision, mission, goals, and finances. We will be excited to see how God helps them realize their dreams!

We made our way back up north to Saltillo on Tuesday, a trip made a bit longer due to some unexpected tire problems. But we made it back in time to shop and prepare for the arrival of the work team on Thursday. Friday was an excursion day that led us to beautiful waterfalls and through some incredible canyons.

On Saturday, Betsy taught a course on “The Christian Family” to students in the theological education program in northern Mexico. These men and women commit to a three-year course of study, taking ten classes each year, in order to prepare for ministry. Len also taught during the day, leading our devotional time and covering part of the material. We were impressed by the thoughtful discussion and exemplary presentations and projects each student provided.

We are thankful for open doors for ministry God provides while serving as Professional Resource Consultants with The Mission Society (on Special Assignment from World Gospel Mission). Who knows where He will lead next?

 

 

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Life in the Kingdom. It’s Elementary.

Not long ago, I traveled back to Bolivia. This was the third year in a row I was asked to lead the Elementary Spiritual Emphasis Week at the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center. Apparently they aren’t tired of me yet! The Lord blessed with a wonderful week of teaching, praise, friends, food, and prayer. I’m pretty sure the students enjoyed it too! 🙂

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This year our theme was Life in the Kingdom. Monday saw us Meet the King, learn how a monarchy operates, and discover how our King is distinct from earthly kings. When a young volunteer was asked what he would do if he were king of SCCLC, he replied, “I would make less homework, keep everyone safe from robbers, and add a swimming pool!”

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Tuesday’s lesson was on the Keys to the Kingdom: repent and believe the good news. In this chapel we looked more closely at John 3:16 and Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Wednesday found us studying parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. We talked about the “now and not yet” aspects of the Kingdom and How to Live a Kingdom Life today. Our takeaways were to: 1) Love the King, 2) Obey the King, and 3) Plant Seeds for the Kingdom. Each student then took a “seed” and wrote how they could plant seeds for the Kingdom each day at school. Some thoughtful responses are shown below:

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We studied Ephesians 6 and the Kingdom at War/Stand your Ground on Thursday. It was a chaotic and noisy chapel with plenty of visuals and volunteers to illustrate how to defend the Kingdom! Friday was a calmer as we discovered how to be Ambassadors for the Kingdom. I read the students a book, The Topsy Turvy Kingdom by Dottie and Josh McDowell, with the pages projected up on the screen. The story shows what can happen when we forget to live by Kingdom principles and how it takes courage to be the one to stand and remember those principles.

Preparing for these lessons provided timely reminders for me as well. As we endure another election cycle here in the USA, keeping a Kingdom-centered perspective is especially needed. I needed to be reminded that God, our sovereign King, is still on the throne. As subjects of His Kingdom, we must learn to live in the balance of the “now and not yet”, standing our ground against the forces at work in this age while serving as faithful representatives of a good, just, loving and merciful King. It’s elementary, after all.

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Lessons from the Rainforest

As part of The Mission Society’s recent Americas Regional Gathering in San Jose, we visited a Costa Rica rainforest, riding through the lush greenery in gondolas that could seat up to seven people. I eyed my gondola a bit warily though after realizing we would be covering a distance of 2 1/2 miles all while hanging from a single cable high above the ground. Seriously? The dense tropical foliage is beautiful, but I knew it wouldn’t exactly break my fall from 95 meters up!

Spurred on by the peer pressure of the entire group of 90+, valiant children included, I boarded the tram of death. Our guide, Carlos, assured me were safe and sure enough, the leisurely pace of about 2 kilometers per hour soon lulled me into a (apparently not false) sense of security. So I sat back and began to enjoy the view. Following are three lessons I learned during my death-defying meandering through the rainforest and through five days of life-giving worship, teaching, preaching, study, and community with fellow servants of the Kingdom.

First, I need to lift up my eyes to regain perspective. We began our tour in the cool, darker environmIMG_0880ent of the understory, where plants grow larger leaves in hopes of catching some of the precious little sunlight that penetrates the canopy. As we drifted through, I kept my eyes focused on what was directly beside or beneath our gondola. There was so much to see! But, as we almost imperceptibly ascended, I was suddenly bathed in sunlight as our gondola rose above the dense green canopy. The panoramic view from higIMG_0878h above the treetops was stunning! I lifted my eyes to see the distant mountains, the brilliant blue sky, the scattered clouds, and the glorious sun, the light that those broad-leafed plants so far below aspired to find.

Many times during our days together I was reminded of how much I need that panoramic perspective in my life. Though teaching on the necessity of Sabbath renewal to preaching that challenged reflection on the state of my soul, I was inspired to take my focus off the immediate, to lift my heart in worship, and to aspire to rise to the stunning panorama of  God’s perspective on life, ministry and the world in which I live.

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Second, relationships between two organisms benefit the whole.  It was amazing to see how interconnected the life in the rainforest appeared. Flowering plants and mosses hung, sometimes precariously, from tall thick trees. Our guide assured us they were not parasites, as they didn’t actively harm the host plant. To me they were like ornaments adorning the trees, much like a Christmas tree, but lit by nature and not artificial lights. In the many different and biologically diverse ecosystems of the rainforest, it was easy to see how relationships between two organisms could affect the whole. Whether those relationships are symbiotic, parasitic, mutual or competitive, they affect the whole.

Such is true with the Body of Christ. As we studied together the book of Ephesians, and saw the absolute importance of growth, both individual and communal, I was reminded of how each of us plays a part in the Body. Sometimes it’s easier to think of the “Body” as a huge complex organism and believe that I, by myself, cannot really affect it much. But when I begin to examine my personal relationships with other members of the Body, the truth comes home.

Third, I cannot multitask intimacy with God.  That actually was a quote from Frank Decker, TMS Vice President for Training and Developmenet. He referred to the rush of devotional times, praying in the car, listening to praise music while exercising, the Bible on audio while ironing. To find true intimacy and pursue a vital relationship with Jesus, I need to turn all my attention on to Him. Teaching on Sabbath renewal and the importance of cultivating space and time to know God also challenged me.

Back to the rainforest analogy, if I had been multitasking…checking email and texts, editing photos, listening to music, even busily chatting with my husband, how much would I have missed? To sit quietly and take it all in was all I needed.  That’s what I need with Jesus. To quiet myself, to set aside distractions, to focus my attention on Him. Funny how I can easily set aside and hour and a half to enjoy a rainforest but find it hard to set aside half an hour to enjoy my Savior…

So those are my lessons from the rainforest. Those are my lessons from a time of formation in community with others whose greatest desire to is follow God’s call, to obey His voice, and to serve for His glory. Risking life and limb in a suspended gondola was worth it!

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IMG_0104My Aunt Lurline loves to tell stories. It’s absolutely amazing the details she can remember about people and events from fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago. But, bless her heart, she cannot tell a story in a straight line to save her life! She might begin to tell me about the time I visited her at work in downtown Atlanta, then digress to mention her daily commute, or take a detour to remember how my parents were part of a bowling league when we were little. Sometimes her “parentheses” in the middle of a story seem to have little to no relevance to the story she’s telling!

Nonetheless, each parenthetical detail adds richness and depth and meaning to the story…enhancing the background, the characters, the relationships, the history of each memory. I keep telling my kids we need to videotape Aunt Lurline telling her stories so we never lose the rich heritage and treasure trove of family memories she can recount. Unfortunately, she hates to be in front of a camera so we might have to resort to some old “Candid Camera” technique to make it happen!

Thinking of “parenthetical expressions”, I remember a blog post I wrote a year ago about our return to the United States for a season. (You can read it here: http://seedbed.com/feed/how-to-survive-coming-home-from-the-mission-field/). In that post, I described how I often viewed our furloughs in the USA as “parentheses”, in between “real” life during our terms on the mission field. I noted that now we found ourselves in an open-ended parentheses, not knowing when or how this season would end. At the time I wrote that post, I was still grieving leaving the field and viewed the “not knowing” with sadness, anxiety, and even fear.

A year later, the Lord has taught, and is teaching, me that He doesn’t tell a story in a straight line either. Life is filled with parenthetical expressions. We see ourselves going in one direction, only to suddenly encounter a detour that takes us in a decidedly different direction. But so much richness and depth and life and meaning can be found in those parentheses if I will only pay attention. God is in all the details and the detours, whether I see their relevance to the story at the moment or not. Bless my heart, I can be pretty dense sometimes!

110_0025My prayer for 2016 is that I can truly believe that, as Paul told the Athenians, “…in Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28) I want to pay attention to God’s activity around me at each moment, to become more aware of His presence in each, even seemingly insignificant, parentheses. I want to walk through this year, the story of 2016 He is unveiling in my life, awake to each detail. Then next January, I want to be able to look back and tell the story of another year like my Aunt Lurline, remembering that each parentheses makes the story that much better!

 

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