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.







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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Scenes from Summer 2015

Summer seemed to fly by. But, of course, it always does when your life revolves around the school year. This summer was no exception! Following are some highlights from those few brief months…

May 2015.  Anna graduated from Asbury University!

May 2015.
Anna graduated from Asbury University!

June 2015. Len sharing about our ministry at WGM's International Celebration of Mission.

June 2015.
Len shared about our ministry at WGM’s International Celebration of Mission.







Reunited with Miguel and Vivian Rodriguez from Honduras.

Reunited with Miguel and Vivian Rodriguez from Honduras.


Phillips and Olsens together at last!







At World Gospel Mission’s International Celebration of Missions (Huntington University, IN), we were reunited with a special couple from Honduras. Miguel and Vivian were an integral part of the church we attended after first arriving in Honduras in 1996. We ministered to young married couples together and spent many hours together with our families. They are now pastoring a church in McAllen, Texas, and their youngest son is a student at Taylor University with our middle daughter, Abigail. What a blessing to see them again!

We also connected with another friend from Honduras while there. Angela Olsen served as a Volunteer in Action through WGM two separate times in Honduras, the second time actually living in our house with us for a few months. We’ve kept in touch over the years and are so excited to see how God has led Angela and her husband, Pete, along with their two beautiful children, to serve with WGM in Kenya! Abby and Luke were about the same ages of Angela’s children now (Ella and Sam) when she first came to Honduras! What fun for them to meet one another!

July found us traveling to Mount Vernon, Ohio, to be a part of Camp Sychar, a thriving holiness camp. We were able to be a part of the festivities on Missionary Day, as well as to share more about our passion for Christian school education, both locally and globally.

Missionary Day selfie at Camp Sychar

Missionary Day selfie at Camp Sychar

Donuts - a missionary day tradition!

Donuts – a missionary day tradition!








Len chatting with John and Trish Fraser (OMS, Hungary) and John and Beth Neihof (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS)

Len chatting with John and Trish Fraser (OMS, Hungary) and John and Beth Neihof (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS)

The yearly auction raises money for missions.

The yearly auction raises money for missions.









It was a great summer, all in all! Be looking for our September newsletter with info about the fall!

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What Color is Your Heart?

“Color My Heart Holy” was the theme for Elementary Spiritual Emphasis Week at the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center in April. I was so blessed to have been invited to return once again to lead this week of special chapels. As I prayed and sought God’s direction for the week, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to help these precious students understand that everything we do or say or think comes from our heart…and that’s where transformation has to happen. We have to change from the inside out. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We have to surrender our lives to Jesus and ask Him to change our hearts.       DSC_3943

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holy heartSo we began the first day by asking the question, “What color is my heart?” Just as a physician often looks at outward and visible signs of illness to diagnose a problem with our heart, so too can others look at us, our actions and our words, to determine the condition of our heart. As we read from Matthew 22, the verses known as “The Great Commandment”, we saw that God wants our hearts to be holy, or in other words, to be hearts that love God and love our neighbor.

We began the next morning by looking at the contrast between a fearful heart and a courageous, or brave, heart. Many of the students had colored their own versions of what these types of hearts might look like. As I shared the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), we learned that God wants us to be brave enough to love our neighbor. In the context of a school day, that could mean standing up and defending those who are being victimized in some way. Being brave isn’t easy when you are in elementary school. Actually, it’s not easy at any age.

fearful heart brave heart

Chapels continued the following day with a look at angry and humble hearts. Examples of both can be found in Scripture…Cain attacking Abel, Balaam beating his donkey, Jonah complaining to God, but also Naaman submitting to the prophet’s command to bathe in the Jordan River. Our refrain for the day was repeated often through our chapel service: “Oh no! Watch out! Don’t shout and scream! Don’t let being mad make you be mean!”

angry heart humble heart

Finally, we closed with a return to the idea of loving God and loving our neighbor as evidence of a holy heart. And we admitted we have a problem. We try to be good and to love, but we just can’t. But when we can’t, God can. We can pray like David in Psalm 51 and offer ourselves as living sacrifices as in Romans 12. I shared that doing so can keep our hearts spiritually healthy, just like daily exercise can keep our hearts physically healthy. As about half of the students came forward to pray, I read a paraphrase of the following verses: 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13.
“May the Lord make your love grow. May it be like a rising flood. May your love for one another increase. May it be just like our love for you, Jesus. May the Lord give you strength in your hearts to always love Him. Then you will be holy in His eyes. Then your hearts will be like His. Amen.”

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I am still praying those words for the elementary students at SCCLC. I am praying that as they wear the tie-dye t-shirts they made in art class – colorfully decorated to represent our hearts filled with God’s beautiful grace and gifts – they will remember to daily surrender their hearts and lives to Jesus. Won’t you pray that with me – for those students and for each of us? After all, we all need to be asking the question, what color is my heart?

t-shirts DSC_4005 holy heart 4

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As we all know, a takeaway is a point (or more than one) that we remember after hearing a message, reading a book, listening to a podcast, or arising from a discussion. It’s the idea we remember. Granted, it’s easy to come away from any form of communication with no takeaway at all! Just ask pastors how many members of their congregation can tell them what they preached the preceding week! I hate to think how many chapel messages I shared with elementary students that were forgotten by the time they got through recess. 🙂

But today I wanted to share with you a “takeaway” I wrote about recently. This is my takeaway from the past 18 months as we’ve transitioned to this season of life and ministry in the USA. We’ve not made a perfectly seamless transition nor have we perfectly defined how our current Special Assignment with the Global Resource Team of The Mission Society will work. But we are exceedingly grateful for the doors God has opened for ministry and look forward to all He has in store for 2015 as we continue serving through educational ministry opportunities.

So here’s a link to my article on the Seedbed website. Let me know what your takeaway was from my takeaway! Feel free to comment here or send me an email at len.phillips@wgm.org. I would love to hear from you!



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A Weekend in Mexico

That’s right. Len recently spent a weekend in Mexico. But it wasn’t to escape the winter weather and head to a resort or vacation spot. No, he traveled south of the border to spend eight hours on a Saturday teaching church leaders a course on Wesleyan theology. As part of our ministry through the Global Resource Team of The Mission Society, we want to support the educational ministries of missionaries currently serving on various fields. Mark and Serena Dunbar are World Gospel Mission missionaries living and ministering in Saltillo, Mexico. Part of their work involves coordinating several centers of theological education for the national church. It was a blessing for Len to be invited to be a part of this ministry, to spend time with the Dunbars (friends and fellow missionaries we served with during our time in Honduras), and to see how God is raising up godly leaders for the church in Mexico. You can read more about Mark and Serena’s ministry here – http://missionscentral.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/discipling-others/

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Another Celebration of Missions

The end of October we made a trip to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. No, we weren’t heading to the UGA vs. Florida game! We were spending the weekend at World Gospel Mission’s Southeast Celebration of Missions.

It was a small crowd, but represented in those numbers were years of faithful prayers and generous support of missionaries around the world. Many drove for hours to share this time together hearing of God’s call and His work transforming lives both here and abroad. We were blessed as we heard fellow missionaries share how God is moving in their countries and heard their heart for the people they serve. We were encouraged as we chatted with longtime supporters of missions and heard their heart for reaching the world for Christ. We were filled with joy to share a meal and memories with co-laborers from our years in Honduras. And we were so glad to spend this weekend with Len’s parents who have been a part of this missions conference for a number of years.

Below are a few glimpses of the weekend…


With fellow missionaries to Honduras (thanks for the photo, Sharon!)


Speakers Tommy and LaVern Anderson of Ireland. They hadn’t seen Luke since he was an infant!


Luke’s new friends, the Bowen boys from Paraguay!


It was a great weekend with Len’s parents.

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