Sunday, May 25, 2008

MERCY SHIPS--Hope and healing in Jesus' name

As I write this blog, I’m aboard the H/V Africa Mercy which is docked at Freeport, Liberia, just outside the capital city of Monrovia. in Africa. The International Operations Center for Mercy Ships is located in Garden Valley, Texas, just outside of Tyler, and it has been my joy over the past few years to get to know Don and Deyon Stephens. Don is the founder and president of Mercy Ships.
I’m part of a group of about 20 folks from Green Acres who are volunteering aboard the Africa Mercy for a couple of weeks. Our folks are doing everything from practicing medicine to peeling potatoes in the kitchen (the non-medical folks). But for all of us, it’s a tremendous experience.

The Africa Mercy is the largest hospital ship in the world. It sails to impoverished countries to offer free medical care to the suffering people. The ship was previously a ferry which could carry entire trains, so it’s enormous. It has been completely retro-fitted to accommodate the crew and workers (about 400 people). It has an entire deck devoted to surgical suites, labs, and hospital wards. All the medical personnel on board are volunteers who pay their own way to enjoy the privilege of delivering health care in the name of Jesus.

The Africa Mercy has been in port here in Liberia for the past 18 months and will stay here until December. Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. I’ve traveled to many parts of the world in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen the level of poverty seen here. The unemployment rate is about 75%. The country was torn apart by 14 years of civil war until 2003. The country is slowly but surely improving and stabilizing, but it still has a long way to go. Mercy Ships is here to offer hope and healing in Jesus’ name.

In case you don’t know the history of Liberia, the nation was established in the mid 1800’s as place for former American slaves who had been freed. The first boat of freed slaves arrived here in 1821 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The first settlers named their city Christopolos (city of Christ), but it was changed in 1824 to Monrovia after James Monroe who was then the U.S. President. There are American-sounding cities and counties in the country like Buchannan, Virginia, Maryland, and Paynestown. Although these American-Africans were the minority, they controlled the government until a coup in 1979 in which the tribal forces overran the country and caused widespread death and damage. The country is just now rising out of the devastation caused by the bloody civil war.

In spite of the bloody wars and the poverty, there is a spirit of hope and positive expectation in the eyes of the people. The nation is led by the first elected female president in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Serleaf. I had the privilege of meeting her along with other Mercy Ships leaders a few days ago, and she demonstrates a wonderful spirit of wisdom and patience as her country rises from the ashes of civil war. She is a committed Christian and I was able to pray for her. I encourage all believers to pause as you read this and pray for President Johnson-Sirleaf. She is a friend of America and is a key player in establishing stability on a continent where Islam is making aggressive inroads.

This week I was able to observe a couple of the life saving surgeries that doctors performed in one of the 6 operating rooms on the Africa Mercy. The first was a bilateral club foot release. That surgery isn’t performed much in the U.S. because when a baby is born with clubbed feet, they are immediately put in casts to correct the angle of the feet. But this little 8-month-old boy needed surgery to straighten out his feet. Because of this surgery, he’ll be ready to walk normally in a few months.

The second surgery was a cleft palate/lip/nose repair on a beautiful little girl who was only three months old. She was as tiny as a newborn because her cleft palate prevented her from receiving good nourishment. Dr. Gary, the chief of surgery (who has given 22 years of his life to this work), told me that he had performed somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 cleft palate repairs. Because he was able to close up the opening in the roof of her mouth, she will begin to grow as she takes nourishment. Toward the end of the surgery, there was a problem as the patient gagged and her tracheotomy came out. The heart monitor alarm went off as her heart rate decreased dramatically. A couple of us began to pray as the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses started scrambling. After a few tense minutes, the monitor because to record a regular heartbeat again. I must admit when she came out from the anesthesia and started crying, it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. Dr. Gary commented that even the sound of her cry was more normal than the pitiful sound she had made before the surgery.

These wonderful people are MAKING A DIFFERENCE one person at a time, and they are sharing Jesus Christ with these patients. I consider it a blessing to be a small part of what Mercy Ships is doing in Liberia.

For more information about Mercy Ships click on:

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MISMATCHED SHOES - God's perfect timing!

In March I brought a message at Green Acres from the passage in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Since not many of us live on farms anymore and don’t have a clue about what a “yoke” is, I chose to use an example of “mismatched” shoes to illustrate this truth. During that entire message, I wore a running shoe on one foot and a dress shoe on the other to express God's warning about staying out of mismatched relationships.

A few weeks ago, I received an interesting letter from Claudia Florian. When I read it, I laughed and could only shake my head at God’s timing and His sense of humor. ENJOY:

Pastor David,

I just had to relay to you what I call a "God Stop". It happened several weeks ago; but I am just now getting around to tell you about it.

A few Sunday's ago, my husband and I were getting ready to start to church. We come to the early service and drive from Rusk. As usual, I was running a little late. The week before had been quite unsettling as my husband, who has struggled with health problems all of his life (and never complains) had just been diagnosed with a melanoma on the bottom of his foot.

So this particular Sunday we especially needed lifting up from our Lord and brothers and sisters at GABC. So we made the trip and I dropped Sam off at the main entrance, as I always do (as he wears leg braces) and go park our vehicle.

I get out and start down to the church and look down and discover that I have on one black shoe and one brown shoe. Not even the same style (but similar). I was SO embarassed. What do I do? Sam is already in the sanctuary, so I have to go in. I hurredly made my way in, holding my umbrella in front of me trying to cover my fashion mistake.

Once in the sanctuary and revealing my snafu to my husband, we decided to go ahead and stay for the service and I would just kind of stay in my place and not "visit" too much and then just dash out to the car after the service. Well, we sang, we prayed and then you get up to speak and the first words out of your mouth were something like........"Do you notice anything strange about my appearance? I'm wearing two different kinds of shoes."

Well, you can image that we had to pick our mouths off the floor. After the service, I must say that I walked out proudly with my different shoes. If anyone noticed I'm sure they most have thought that I had some inside information on the sermon that day.

Well, Sam and I have talked about how God was definitely trying to tell us something from this. I have never gone out with two different shoes on in my life; and for me to do it on the very day that you spoke on this. WOW! I feel like one thing that He was trying to tell us was that He sees what's going on in our lives and He's always there. You have mentioned that in many sermons.

Maybe he was trying to tell us how much stronger we are being yoked together to fight this battle that we are facing with Sam's melanoma. But I do know that He definitely was sending us a message through one of my favorite messengers. I just wanted to pass this on and tell you that these past few week when we've been to one doctor after another and down to MD Anderson......I tell myself, "remember the shoes".

Thank you. It is an honor to have you for such a great teacher of the scriptures and a wonderful pastor. God is good.


Claudia Florian
GABC Member
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

AMAZING GRACE on a softball field

I shared this story in a recent message entitled "Grace-full Living." There were so many favorable comments I want to repeat it here for those in the blogsphere.
In a time when many of our sports stories are about steriods or high-profile arrests, it’s good to hear a sports story that stars grace.
It happened a few days ago at a woman’s college softball game in Ellensburg, Washington. The two teams, Central Washington and Western Oregon were playing for a spot in the league playoffs. It was the most meaningful game of their careers.
There was no score in the top of the second inning, when senior Sara Tucholsky stepped to the plate with two runners on base. Sara was a substitute outfielder who stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall and was batting only 3 for 34 for the season. Sara had never hit a home run in high school or in her four years of playing in college.
She was an easy target for the home-team hecklers who sat behind home plate. She took the first pitch - a strike. Then she swang at the second pitch and when she hit it she knew it was out of the park. She looked up to see the ball sail over the center field fence.

Sara was jumping with joy as she rounded first base - so much so that she missed the bag. So she reversed her direction to return to tag the base - and that’s when disaster struck. Sara’s tendon in her knee snapped and she collapsed on the field.

The two players on base had already crossed home plate, leaving Sara as the only offensive player on the field. She was crumpled on the ground a few feet from first base and a long way from home plate. The rules of the game stipulated that if any of her teammates or coaches touched her on the field of play that she would be called out. Sara was weeping as she painfully crawled to first base. Her coach thought the only option was to substitute a pinch runner for Sara, but since she had only touched first, that would take away the home-run and change it into a single. So, it looked like the only home run of Sara’s career would be canceled.

That’s when grace showed up. As the coach was preparing to substitute a runner for Sara, Mallory Holtman, the first baseman for the opposing team stepped up and asked, "Excuse me. Would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?" Mallory was the star hitter for the Central Washington team. She was also a senior and had been putting off a couple of knee surgeries herself until the season was over. Now with her post-season career on the line, she offered to help a player who she only knew as her opponent for the past four years.

The umpires conferred and agreed that while none of her teammates could touch her on the field of play there was no rule that prohibited the opposing team members from carrying her around the bases.
So Mallory enlisted the help of her shortstop, Liz Wallace, and the two girls gently picked Sara up and started carrying her around the bases. As the home crowd realized what was happening they started standing to their feet and cheering this act of graceful kindness.
As she talked about what happened Mallory said, "We all started to laugh at one point, I think when we touched the first base. I don't know what it looked like to observers, but it was kind of funny because Liz and I were carrying her on both sides and we'd get to a base and gently, barely tap her left foot, and we'd all of a sudden start to get the giggles a little bit."

When they arrived at home plate, Sara’s teammates met her with tears in their eyes as they congratulated her for her first and only home run of her career. The fans were standing and cheering as they carried Sara back to the dugout.

Then Mallory and Liz returned to their positions to try to win the game that would extend their softball careers into the playoffs. If Hollywood had been writing the script, then Mallory and her team would win and go to the playoffs, but they ended up losing the game 4-2 and were eliminated.
But Mallory didn’t regret for a second what she did. In fact she told a television reporter, "In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much. It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she needed help."
What a display of grace-living! My definition of grace is "God giving me what I NEED rather than what I DESERVE." Mallory and Liz didn’t give Sara what she DESERVED - a single and a record without a homer. Instead, they gave her what she NEEDED. They didn’t give her justice, they showed her grace.
Do you think that would have happened in a Yankees/Red Sox game? If a professional ballplayer was injured while running a base the opposing team would tag him out in a heartbeat and say, "he got what he DESERVED!"

I when I first saw the story of Mallory and Liz carrying Sara around the baseball diamond, I couldn’t help but think what a perfect illustration that is of God’s grace.
Like Sara, each of us has been tripped up and injured by our own sin. None of us could make it home on our own because we’re all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. The law is like an umpire that says, "You’re OUT!"
But Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, came to us and extended nail-scarred hands, and said, "Excuse me. Would it be okay, if I carry you home?" And it is because of His grace, and His grace alone, that we can arrive safely home.
As the beautiful old song says, "In loving kindness Jesus came; my soul in mercy to reclaim; and from the depths of sin and shame; THROUGH GRACE He lifted me! From sinking sand, He lifted me; with tender hand; He lifted me! From shades of night; to plains of light; oh, praise His name, He lifted me!" (Words by Charles Gabriel, 1905)
And that's just another reason why God's grace is so amazing!
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