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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Freedom!” His unnaturally high-pitched voice echoed throughout the jail’s cold, cinderblock chapel after the chaplain had asked his audience, “What does every man want the most?” When my client’s announcement was met with shocked silence, he turned to me and signed angrily, “Tell him what I mean!”

With my hands corresponding with my voice, I explained to the audience that my client — we’ll call him Caleb — believed no man could know what he wanted if the person was not free. Mentally, I reminded myself he meant free from the jail cell he was confined in. He wanted freedom; he didn’t seem to know how to want God.

After my explanation, Caleb patted me on the back in affirmation that I had interpreted his anger efficiently. He seemed proud of himself for speaking up. He no longer wanted me to interpret the service and sat there annoyed and impatient, waiting for the guard to come and return the inmates to their cells.

My heart ached when I left work that day. Caleb may have had deaf ears, but he had a jaded and uninformed mind when it came to things about God, love, and true freedom. The week prior, I had asked him to define words like “salvation,” “grace,” “love,” and “sin.” None of his definitions made sense. None of his explanations came with conviction. He’d told me rather nonchalantly, “I don’t really know what these things mean, I just know you want to hear me say them. You are a Christian after all.”

I was reminded during my time with Caleb that often times people who need truth the most long for freedom, but don’t know how to ask for it. Such a reality means we as Christians — freedom and truth holders — must be watching for them and be willing to pour into them. 

They may think they’re free, but are they?

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I used to make a big deal out of prayer cards. Back in the day when fridges—not phones—were filled with prayer reminders, I thought it was my duty to make sure our family stayed up-to-date on every missionary’s prayer card. It was so much fun giving my mom new pictures every so often. In my seven-year-old mind, it didn’t matter that the people in the pictures were strangers.

They were missionaries, and my job was to pray for them. I rarely remember giving Jesus specific prayer requests as I looked at my treasured photo collection. To be honest, I’m fairly certain I barely grasped why praying for missionaries was important. I just knew praying for them made Jesus happy, and that’s what I wanted to do more than anything.

Don’t you love that we serve a God who listens to the hearts of children? Isn’t it amazing that the naïve, uninformed prayers of a child are treasured just as much as the wise prayers of a weathered saint? I grew a joy for praying for ministries as a young child because my parents encouraged my desire to talk to Jesus. They understood that my childish grasp on Jesus was enough because Jesus doesn’t wait until we reach a certain level of maturity to pursue us. (In fact, He pursues us even if we don’t return the favor!)

May we never squelch the childlike faith of the younger generations. Who knows where their pure desire to know and please God could take them in the years to come. 

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I couldn’t believe they weren’t twins. I had seen them many times playing together when I drove by. Then they showed up at our after-school SMM. They had lived next door to each other and had played together their whole lives. Now in first grade, they were inseparable.

Then one day one of them told me sorrowfully, “I can’t play with Mary* any more.” She went on to explain that they’d had a fight and her mom told her, “Just stay away from her if that’s how she’s going to be.”

As leaders, we tried to help the girls work things out. But they were too afraid of their mothers’ wrath if they spoke to each other. I hoped it would blow over, but it never did. They wouldn’t interact in SMM, although sometimes I saw wistfulness as one looked furtively at the other. Eventually one of them stopped coming.

That was over 20 years ago. I remember thinking at the time, “I hope the rest of their generation isn’t being raised with that philosophy.”

Sadly, I think they have. All it takes is one non-PC statement and people are writing each other off. It seems like the cultural norm has become, “If your opinion is different from mine, you must be a bad person.” In our society, I am the only one who has a right to free speech. And you will be condemned if you don’t agree.

As God’s people, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. Our world desperately needs examples of gracious people who know how to bring warring factors together in the presence of our Lord. If there’s one way we can demonstrate Jesus, it’s by knowing how to be agents of change through reconciliation.

*Name changed  

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~ Written by Viki Rife

“Blame my dad.” That was my answer when a friend, somewhat annoyed, said, “Do you have to spiritualize everything?”

To my dad, everything was an illustration of a spiritual reality. He took his cue from Jesus, turning anything in life into a teachable moment. Even when I was too young to fully understand it, he would point out a butterfly and tell me about how its time in a cocoon transformed it. Packing our barrels for the mission field became a reminder that we must prepare well for our spiritual journey (any other MKs remember taking jars of peanut butter or else we wouldn’t taste it for the next five years?).

Dad was a master at object lessons. Our evening family devotions included healthy doses of them. I still remember when he put different powders in water until it turned black, then poured in some red liquid and the water became clear again. My young heart embraced the illustration that Jesus could remove all sin.

I couldn’t yet have been five when he used an illustration that has deeply affected my life. He borrowed a spool of black thread from Mom and had me hold out my wrists. He wrapped the thread around them once and asked me to break out. It was a bit hard, but I did it. Then he wrapped the thread around my wrists five or six times and asked me to break out again. It was impossible.

He went on to tell me that sin was like that. You try it once and you might be able to escape. But it might make you overconfident, and as you continue to allow it in your life it will trap you. He used the object lesson to help me understand the meaning of the word “addiction.” It left me with a healthy fear of dabbling in something that could entangle me.

As a parent, Dad took seriously the command in Deuteronomy 6 to teach God’s laws to his children. It sounds as if maybe God meant for us to spiritualize everything!

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~ Written by Cassie Harris

There were two men in my life. They both wanted to officiate my wedding. They both decided – separately – that if they never met the man I married, I wasn’t allowed to get married. Both Terry and Ray jokingly-but-not-so-jokingly fought each other as they planned for my future wedding together. Who would get most of the limelight as the officiator of my wedding? Who would get to kiss my cheek first? Who would get to harass my groom the best?

Usually, I just laughed instead of focusing on the confusion their bantering created. I was loved, that’s what I remembered. I was 16 and both these men had higher dreams for my future than I did. When I nearly ruined my life with childish decisions at 19 years old, they both spent hours almost daily on the phone talking me through my decisions and asking me hard questions no one else wanted to ask.

Both of these men passed away within a year of each other. It didn’t hit me until recently neither of these men get to see my wedding. Neither of these men get to ask me the hardest questions of all: “Can you support your husband when he seems unsupportable? Can you make him laugh when all you want to do is make him cry? Can you show him Christ when all you want to do is show him yourself?”

Even at 16, Ray and Terry warned me about those questions. They told me what they wanted the answers to be and what they would do if my answers didn’t represent Christ. They were futuristically minded when I couldn’t be. They cared more for my future than almost any other non-related acquaintance ever had.

They didn’t plan on not being around to help me grow up, but they prepared me for the future just in case they weren’t.

What if we discipled like that more often? What if we strove to be involved with our mentees but prepared them to be just as godly, wise and prepared without us as they are when they are with us? What if we didn’t shield them from hard things but rather taught them they can prepare for a storm before it comes?

What if we discipled in such a way that those we disciple don’t pine after us after we’re gone but rather strive to emulate the Christ-like characteristics we focused on the most?

(Adapted with permission from author’s blog Defining My Sanity.) 

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~ Written by Viki Rife 

I admit it was rather crazy. Trying to climb a mountain in the dark with only a flashlight can be unnerving. There’s no way to get the big picture of where you’re going. You take what looks like a way around a big boulder only to meet up with an enormous cactus. You have no choice but to turn around and try the other side, with no assurance that it will be any better. Sometimes you end up going sideways, for what seems like an eternity, hoping to eventually break through and get a little bit higher. The whole time you’re hoping your flashlight is enough to keep the mountain lions at bay.

The climb up the mountain from our camp was an annual tradition for our youth group. I remember the alarm going off at 3:30 and the temptation to wimp out and stay in a nice warm bed. I did not like the uncertainties of the climb. But each year I dragged myself out of bed and made the trek. Why? Because of the exhilaration of standing at the summit and watching as the first rays of the sun began to touch the mountains. Their beauty was breathtaking. We would stand until the sun touched the valley below. It truly felt like the top of the world.

My life often reminds me of that climb. I don’t have the big picture of how to get where I’m going. I encounter obstacles that seem insurmountable. Sometimes it feels like I’m not making any progress at all. And I live with the uneasy feeling that something is about to attack.

But someday I’ll reach the summit. When I see the Son, the hardship of the journey will seem insignificant. I’ll be so glad I chose to take this adventure toward knowing God! 

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~ Written by Nicole Miller

The story was not a new one, but on this day it resonated with us in a way that amazed us. We were sharing with our SMM (Sisters Mentoring with a Mission) girls in our after-school discipleship ministry the story of Abram. God asked him to leave his homeland and go without knowing the details. We asked them, “What do you think his response was?” They had a variety of answers ranging from “maybe he had questions” or “maybe he hesitated.” They landed on the answer, “Abram said yes!”

As we asked the girls what their responses would have been, many of them replied that they would have said yes too, even if they had questions. It’s easy as young people, and even as adults, to hope, even believe deeply, that we will always respond “yes” when God asks us to do things. Knowing this, my co-leader Santina and I wanted to draw in a bit of our own story and tie it into the 7th grade girls’ lives.

We had previously asked the girls how important SMM was to them now that they are in middle school. The answer was unanimous: “Very important.” So we shared with them, “Last year when you asked us to have SMM in the middle school we could have said no.”

The look on their faces was showed their shock. They couldn’t believe we could have made that choice. When they asked about it in the elementary school SMM last year, though, we had no idea how to make a middle school program happen. But it felt as if God was asking us to do it. So we answered yes without knowing how it would happen. Through our efforts, but mostly God opening doors, we were able to start our after-school SMM in the middle school this year.

As we retold this story, we wanted to share the complete picture with our girls. So we kept going back. If Santina hadn’t decided to serve in SMM several years ago, she would not have met these girls when they were in 4th grade. In fact, if she hadn’t said yes to going to Grace College she would not have been able to say yes to SMM.

Following this line of thought brought us back to a series of “yeses.” If I hadn’t said yes to leading the elementary SMM, there would never have been a program in the first place. On and on, the series of single “yes” moments went. A simple opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to God may seem like a small moment, but you never know where one “yes” will lead. This train of thought was a great lesson to teach our girls, but ultimately it gave us as leaders joy and hope.

Sometimes ministry can begin to feel tedious. It is easy to lose sight of how big God’s story is. As we took time to connect to these girls’ lives, God moved our hearts to recognize how precious our “yeses” have been. We have had the chance to know one another, to know our girls, to serve God, just because of a mindset of simply answering yes when God asked. 

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