The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three

The further into this Start Experiment I go, the more I am filled with wonder and anticipation at what God is doing in my life and in my marriage. The second round is already proving to be more amazing than the first, and I think part of that is simply due to the fact that I have been able to figure out my dream. The other part is that this community of people continues to grow closer together and the momentum continues to build. We’re all in this together.

So far, I am 4.5 lbs down from when I started this project, which isn’t impressive considering that it has been a month. However, I wasn’t as strict as I wanted to be during the first round. I admittedly didn’t try as hard as I should have. But, that has changed. I have newfound determination.

To give myself a visual goal, I hung a dress on my closet door that I want to wear on our anniversary. I currently cannot fit into this dress, but I love it. I really want to wear it on November 6th. But, in order to wear it, I need to lose probably 20 more pounds in the next 83 days. That is a little over 11 weeks from now, and if I lose the recommended 2 pounds per week, I can lose more than 20 by then. That will be about half of my weight-loss goal.

So this is my audacious health-related goal: to lose 20 pounds by my anniversary so that I can wear the black dress.

I have nearly finished my photography portfolio and already submitted it to one organization. I am working with a new friend to finalize captions and things before she helps me submit it to people who might be able to help me reach my audacious dream of being a travel photographer.
Here’s the link to my portfolio: http://www.flickr.com/lesabrackbill

I am also going on a mission trip to Guatemala in February!

God is definitely moving in our lives, and I am SO excited to see what happens.

Book Review: Bold as Love

bold as love book“Bold as Love” is a refreshing antidote to our society’s “political correctness” and the constant worrying about offending people–which causes us to never talk to people who are “different” from us in any way lest we say the wrong thing. It is also right in line with missional living and with the example Jesus gave us for how to do missions. Pastor Bob Roberts teaches his readers how to reach out and form genuine friendships with Jews, Muslims, or any other people group, and gives encouraging stories about how his own church started doing this. 

Living in the United States we truly have the world at our fingertips. Migration has brought people from nearly every country on earth to the U.S. and they are our neighbors, co-workers, friends. But, this migration often creates fear because of misconceptions of those who are different from us. We are taken out of our comfort zone and we all too often opt to return to “safety” rather than engage someone from another culture.  

While there are so many quotes that I want to share, I will use just one:

We want security; God wants exposure so that he’s glorified. We want ready-made plans for every challenge; God requires faith and trust to follow him. We want faith without risk and ministry without pain. But what we’ll find is that the most difficult times of life are often the most fruitful times (page 52).

We are here to glorify God and to make Him known…so what are we afraid of?

I have had the privilege of being on the “launch team” for this book, which enabled me to participate in a live chat with the author and the other team members…and I am so thankful for this opportunity! It was so amazing to see that there are so many like-minded Christians out there who are ready to change the status quo. This book is one that I am SO excited about because it falls in line with the passions God has given me and with the Great Commission that He has given to each of us as believers!

Truly, this is a MUST-READ especially for pastors, missionaries, church planters…but this book truly can benefit anyone of any culture/religion as the principles apply cross-culturally. If you are ready to be used by God in a new, fresh, and exciting way, then pick up this book. Being uncomfortable is an exciting way to live 🙂

This book is available starting 12.04.2012 but you can pre-order it on Amazon.

(You can read more from Pastor Roberts on his blog)

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson/Handlebar Marketing in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual Discipline

Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual DisciplineThere is so much that I could say about this book. It is so rare that a book resonates my own heart’s desires and passions. As I read it my heart felt like I was visiting with a friend who completely understands the desire that God placed in my heart over a decade ago…a wiser and more experienced friend. And this is just what I needed to read.

Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual Discipline is written by Seth Barnes–the founder of Adventures in Missions. The book is phenomenal and is a must-read for any Christian who feels like something is missing from life. Seth begins by presenting the problem currently present in my generation: the sense of entitlement to a comfortable life. We are consumed by a worldly desire for success, yet there is a great sense of discontentment and lack of fulfillment when we are considered to be “successful” in the world’s eyes. In the Church, we force ourselves to practice Spiritual Disciplines (which are important), only to find that the change we expect to find eludes us. Seth poses that this is because we have neglected Jesus’ primary teaching tool: the Kingdom Journey. Jesus did spend some time teaching with words, but His primary teaching tool was His own life and example. Jesus was constantly going and sending His disciples out, and they never returned unchanged.

I know from my own life that this is true. I constantly fail at being a “good Christian girl” in terms of many of the Spiritual Disciplines. I go to church and a Bible Study regularly, I read books in addition to reading the Bible. But none of these things have impacted me nearly as much as actually GOING and serving, especially in different cultures. When you leave the familiar, your heart is able to be changed in amazing ways because you are forced to rely on God and on the community with whom you travel. My 10+ mission trips (ranging from 1 week to 3 months in length) have radically impacted my life and my faith, and I feel so alive while I am serving. When I am on a “Kingdom Journey”, I know that this is what life is all about. I feel fulfilled and can see God at work so much more clearly. This book has awakened my desire to live like Jesus and to not live a safe, comfortable life (despite the fact that our culture drags us into such a life).

 Seth masterfully mixes real life stories and Scripture to create a compelling argument for missions/Kingdom Journeys. I highlighted so many quotes and have so much to continue to ponder and live out. Some of the quotes I loved are:

“Restlessness is an itch that, if left unscratched, is a curse.” (pg. 45)

“We can’t be fully transformed in our own backyard. We need to journey.” (pg. 47)

“Routine is normal, even healthy, but if the ruts go too deep, our spirits begin to wither.” (pg. 57)

“Through discomfort, I’ve learned to depend on God when my natural instinct is to rely on my own skills and talents.” (pg. 57)

“For a spiritual discipline to be worthwhile, it must create space for God to change us from the inside out.” (pg. 62)

“You can’t be remade until you first allow yourself to be unmade.” (pg. 63)

“A Kingdom Journey is most effective when we abandon what we think we cannot abandon. With less, we discover the core of who we are.” (pg. 82)

“In the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine–and before we know it, our lives are gone.” (pg . 82)

“People need pain to grow. So much of spiritual maturity has to do with how we process pain. Discipline entails embracing the painful or unpleasant in the short-term in order to realize long-term gains.” (pg. 87)

And those are only my favorite quotes from the first 100 pages! This book is filled with wisdom that convicts. Seth speaks biblical truth and it needs to be considered by all who truly want to live like Jesus did.

I have already written too much…buy the book. Prepare to have your perspective changed–if you are open to it. Adventures in Missions offers short-term mission trips (Kingdom Journeys) that range in length from a week to a year. I traveled with them to Haiti in 2010 and it was truly an incredible experience. If you want to experience missions in a fresh, biblical way, go with AIM. If you are really looking for adventure, go on the World Race: 11 countries, 11 months, traveling just like Jesus commanded His disciples to travel. I have a friend who went on the World Race and her life was radically transformed.

Get the first chapter for FREE here: http://kingdomjourneysbook.com/

Thirty-One Online Party for Missions…

Both Brennan and I have a passion for serving others, and that takes different forms in our lives. His job is to make people feel better (massage therapy) and he loves knowing that his hands can impact others positively. He is always quick to help people whenever he can. I love to serve people in daily life, whether that means taking a meal to a family in need, listening to a friend who needs encouragement, or using my talents and abilities to serve others however I can. I also have had the privilege of participating in mission trips to Tunisia, Haiti, Brazil, the Navajo Reservation, and even Pennsylvania. Missions is a major part of our lives.

Four months ago, Brennan and I became certified Disaster Relief responders through the Southern Baptist Convention. With the training that we received, we are now able to go whenever our state’s teams are called up, and we will be able to help people during their greatest time of need. In the past, Pennsylvania teams have served not only within our state, but also in Mississippi (Hurricane Katrina), Florida, Iowa (after flooding) and many other states.

We are trained in three major areas: mud-out (assisting with flood recovery), feeding unit (our mobile kitchen can feed thousands of people each day), and chain saw (helping cut up and clean up fallen trees).

While we are very excited to be able to serve others in this way, we are also beginning to prepare financially for when the call comes. We are responsible for paying our own way whenever deployed (gas, food, etc. for the trip there and back). Once we get to the area, we will be housed and fed. But, getting there requires finances.

We never want lack of money to keep us from being able to serve! Because of this, we are beginning to set aside money into a “Missions Fund” that can be used whenever God calls us to go into the mission field—whether that be a Disaster Relief deployment or a mission trip somewhere.

To kick-start this “Missions Fund” we are hosting a Thirty-One party! My mom has offered to help us build this fund by donating part of her commission to us, which is so incredibly generous!

Please take a look at the catalog/website. I personally own so many Thirty-One products that I use all the time. They are practical and durable, AND they are really cute! Their products make great gifts, as well…and Christmas is coming! 🙂

Thank you in advance for your support!

One Month Later…

Five days after I returned home from Haiti, I left for São Paulo (Brazil). I knew that it wouldn’t be enough time to process anything, and I pushed Haiti to the back of my brain so that I could fully engage in our mission while in Brazil. And it worked. When I returned, I spoke at church on both mission trips, and had to refresh my memory as to what had happened in Haiti!

But now, God is bringing it all back, and I am finally beginning to process it all…and as I looked through my pictures today, tears came to my eyes. My heart is re-breaking for Haiti, and I can’t wait to return…and I can’t wait to see what God continues to teach me through this experience.  I am ready.

“I saw what I saw, and I can’t forget it…” –Sara Groves

“Something on the road cut me to the soul…” –Sara Groves

(http://www.youtube.com/eastshorebaptist#p/a/u/1/fMvvz1xNi5Y –the video put together by D. Jostenski of my photos…)

(http://eastshorebaptist.org/sermons/2010%20Sermons/Audio_05_23_10.mp3 –the audio of my “talk” on Haiti and Brazil…)

Greater Things Have Yet To Come: Haiti (part one)…

As I sit down to blog about my Haiti experience, I am still not sure exactly what to say or how to say it. I will break this up so that it’s not an overwhelming blog. 🙂

It is astounding how six days can change your heart forever.

I’ll begin with my time in the Ft. Lauderdale airport before boarding my flight to Port-au-Prince. I was sitting in the waiting area when a group of 20 college-aged white people walked in with a guitar…it was very clear to me that they were on a mission trip 🙂  So I asked one of them, and they confirmed my suspicion.

One of the girls began talking to a Haitian man who was sitting across from her about the earthquake, and I overheard most of the conversation. I wrote in my journal two quotes from the man: “I don’t think we’ll ever get out” (in reference to recovering from the destruction). “They never finish the job” (in reference to the international community starting in really strong at the beginning with help, but never staying to see it to completion). I pondered this as we flew into Haiti…

…even from the plane, we could see tent cities for miles. As we drove through Port-au-Prince to get to our house from the airport, it was hard to not be overwhelmed by the piles of rubble everywhere (and by the seeming lack of driving laws!). We passed many tent cities sponsored by several different nations. The devastation was and is incredible–yet, people are making the most of it. Shops are open on the street in front of the buildings in which they once operated, amidst the piles of rubble. There is so much color, everywhere–buildings, umbrellas, clothes, fruit, flowers…and it provides a stark contrast to the gray piles surrounding everything.

I immediately began to ask the question, “where do they even begin to rebuild?” Everywhere you look, all you see are damaged/destroyed buildings…I was brought back to the comment made by the Haitian man in the airport, and I joined him in his sentiment…at first.

We had an orientation on Sunday night to Haiti, to what our week would look like, etc. We were told to be fluid, not flexible, because flexible can break. What a great concept, especially for what was ahead!

The missionaries told us about a conference that was held in November 2009, a conference that had a greater impact on Haiti than they ever imagined possible. A group of 2,500 Haitian pastors met together to pray for their nation. They specifically prayed that God would “break the spine of Haiti”, and “shake the things that could be shaken.” They asked God to remove the corruption from the government, to get rid of the voodoo influence, and bring revival. We all got chills. About two months later, God answered that prayer in a mighty way! Wow…

This year, Haiti cancelled Carnival (a voodoo festival) and called for three days of prayer and fasting. Haiti is a country that made a pact to serve the devil for two-hundred years, and voodoo is a very real thing there. So, the fact that this festival was cancelled is incredible! Hundreds of thousands of people gathered! The Lord is shaking people’s hearts daily…and the spirit of darkness, fear, oppression, and anger is disappearing…

Adventures in Missions (the organization with which I went) has been working directly with Haitian pastors to empower them to help their people, which I think is the absolute best approach. Many of the pastors, when asked what they most needed, said that they need discipleship–not food, not water, not buildings. And they said to start with them. In a country filled with so much need, so much desperation, these pastors recognize that man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of the Lord, and that was so encouraging!

Haiti is a magnet right now–God is bringing people from all over the world here to “help Haiti”, but these people are leaving with a new sense of spiritual hunger and desperation that they are taking back to their homes. God wants to bless the nations through Haiti, and I can definitely say that my experience is in line with that! People are going home infused with an urgency and a desire to serve Jesus more!

God is working in Haiti, and we were so encouraged, so inspired by the joy and determination of the people…

And I’ll write more later… 🙂

Greater Things Are Still To Be Done: Haiti (part two)…

Many people have asked what we specifically did there, so this post will focus on that.

We worked with a man named Pastor Theodore, who serves in a community filled with hungry people–physically and spiritually–near Carrefour. We went down there each morning for a couple of hours and prayed for the Lord to lead us. One thing I loved about our trip was that it was so Spirit-led. On Monday morning, we were split into groups of two or three, with an interpreter, and told to walk around the community and do whatever God led us to do. At first, it was quite scary! I am used to plans, details, specifics. But I quickly learned that allowing the Holy Spirit to work and lead is the best way to go!

We started out prayer-walking, and made our way down the main “street” in the community. We approached an intersection, and my teammate, Ola, felt compelled to pray right there, so we did. Our translator (Pierre Louis) told us then that intersections, or crossroads, are where voodoo practices often take place. Interesting that she felt compelled to pray there! We prayed for two people who were very sick; one of them, a man with TB, told us that he hasn’t been able to take his medicine because you have to take it with food. I had a bag of crackers in my bag, and I felt compelled to give them to him. When we saw him later, he was sharing those with his family–so precious to see him unselfishly sharing! 🙂

It was hard to look around the community and grasp that this was real…that this is their reality, their daily life, and they can’t easily escape.

We would go home for lunch (for two reasons: one, because we can’t just eat in front of them, but also to allow us a time of rest after working in the extreme heat). We would also prepare during that time for our small-scale Vacation Bible School that we did for the kids, which consisted of a group game and/or song, a story (that we would act out as it was narrated, because they loved that!), and an activity like coloring or making things out of pipe-cleaners. We had at least 150 kids each day!

Random memory: as we walked through one afternoon, inviting kids to come to VBS, I heard a girl singing, “Na na na na, you are the music in me”–which is from Disney’s High School Musical! Even in the poorest of countries, High School Musical has made it’s appearance. 🙂

Another random note: I ate goat meat down there–without knowing it. It was actually really good! I thought it was beef until the missionaries said, “this is the best goat we’ve had so far!” 🙂

Our house had electricity–when it was on. I quickly became so accustomed to flickering lights, or non-existent electricity that coming home to constant power has made me more thankful than ever for the simple things we enjoy.

Toughest moments: As we drove to our site each day, we drove past a section of homes in the median of the road…they have no where else to go, so they live in the five foot (my estimation) median in the middle of a busy street. Heartbreaking. The kids play in the space between the curb and the tires that their parents have set out about two feet from the curb.

We saw children who live with absolutely nothing, who make toys out of garbage. Oh the contrast to American children…

I had a child ask me if I could get him a passport so that he could come home with me to America…several asked me for food because they were/are hungry…

Yet, in the midst of this extreme poverty, the Haitian mindset is not what you would expect! The pastor told us that they essentially say “I know I’m hungry, and I know my house fell down, but I know that in Jesus I have everything I need.” Wow. They rejoice in what they have, not like the developed world which so often becomes “depressed” because of what they do not have.

“Your grace has found me just as I am, empty-handed but alive in your hands.” –Majesty, by Delirious

More to come…