Christmas Carols Tell the Christmas Story

Today I participated in a Christmas party sponsored by Shelby County Christians United Against Drugs for people in the Drug Court Program. This party and other events provided by SCCUAD are done as an encouragement to people who are walking a new road to sobriety.

During the party we played a game based on Christmas carols and everyone was given copies of the carols to place in a booklet to take home. We sang some of the carols and then I was asked to share a devotional based on the carols. Here is what I shared today.

Christmas Carols Tell the Christmas Story
The Bible is a book written over hundreds of years by many different writers who were inspired by God to tell His story. The Bible begins with creation, tells about how sin entered the world, about the growing sinfulness of mankind, and then of God’s decision to call one man to begin a nation that would be His chosen nation. Chosen not because He loved them more, but chosen for a task, to make Him known to the nations. God established a covenant with this people but they broke the covenant many times. The old covenant included the sacrifice of animals as a means to seek God’s forgiveness of sin. In the first part of the Bible, what we call the Old Testament, prophets wrote that one day a Messiah would come who would establish a new covenant, one written on the hearts of people.

In the second part of the Bible, the New Testament, we learn about Jesus, the promised Messiah. People who study the Bible have made lists of the prophecies about the Messiah that were fulfilled when Jesus came. One of those prophecies was that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is about the town where Jesus was born, fulfilling that prophecy.

Luke chapter 2 records the Christmas story, the story of the birth of Jesus. I encourage you to read Luke 2:1-20 aloud and never lose the wonder of the story found there. There are many Christmas songs, also called carols, that tell parts of the Christmas story as found in the Bible. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Bible tells us that he was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Thus the carol “Away in a Manger” reminds us that the King of Heaven was born in a barn and first laid in an animal feeding trough for a bed.

The night Jesus was born, shepherds were out tending sheep at night, keeping watch to protect them from predators. Shepherds were pretty low in society, but they were the ones God chose to send angels to announce Jesus’ birth. The words of “Angels We Have Heard on High” are what the shepherds told people they met that night. The chorus, “Gloria in excelcis, Deo” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest.” The second verse is what people asked the shepherds – “Shepherds, why this jubilee?” meaning why are you so happy?  So in the third verse the shepherds respond and say, “Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing.”

The Bible says that God is spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Yet the Bible also teaches that God took on human form, what we call the incarnation, to come to earth, live among us, be the once for all sacrifice for sin, and then rise again to conquer death. This is why the angels were singing. God had come to earth and was born as a baby.

Various Christmas carols point to why Jesus came. The song “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” says “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” Verse 4 of O Little Town of Bethlehem says: O holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to use, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today! We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel. The song “O Come, All Ye Faithful” invites everyone to come and adore Jesus. The song recounts the angels singing and gives glory to God. Verse 3 is very important in what it says about Jesus: “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”

The response of all who encountered Mary and Jesus and the baby, Jesus, was joy. The carol, “Joy to the World” reflects that earth must receive her King and that hearts must prepare room for Jesus.  Jesus does not force himself into our lives. We are so busy and think we are self-sufficient. But the reality is that we all need a Savior and the question in every generation is: Will you receive Him? Will you make room for Him. Make room not as just one more thing in a cluttered life, but will you cast out everything else for Jesus.

The shadow of the cross was on the manger. We forget that sometimes as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We must always remember that Jesus was born to die, to be the sacrifice for our sin, and proved that it was all true through the resurrection. Hundreds of people saw Him after the resurrection. At His ascension into heaven, Jesus promised He would come again and until then, we are His witnesses, we are to keep telling the story and invite people to believe in Him.

God’s design at creation was good but sin messed things up. We try many things to fix the brokenness – alcohol, drugs, overwork, shopping, etc. None of them fix the brokenness. So God came to earth as Jesus, lived a sinless life, was crucified for our sins, raised again on the third day. Those who trust Him as Savior and seek His forgiveness of sin can experience restoration and discover God’s plan for our relationships with Him which is good. If you have never personally invited the Holy Child of Bethlehem into your life, there would be no better way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Make these words from the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” your prayer to Jesus: “Cast out my sin and enter in, Be born in me today.”

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Let’s Make it a Week of PRAYER

Years ago when I began Bible study in earnest, I found things that caused reflection (and still do!). One was found in Matthew 6:19-21 where Jesus says,  “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I wondered, if you “can’t take it with you,” then how do you store up treasures in heaven?

Well, study the Bible enough and along the way you discover the interconnectedness of Scripture.  One day I read from Revelation 4-5 the vision of heaven given to John. He describes the throne room of heaven in chapter 4 and the scroll and the Lamb in chapter 5.  Notice Rev. 5:7-8.  “He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne. When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

The prayers of the saints. When we pray, we lay up treasures in heaven. My friend Larry Martin likes to refer to these as “prayers on deposit.”

In Revelation 14 we read again about the Lamb and those who will be in heaven and those who will not be.  Rev. 14:6, 13 says: “Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, with the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people…..Then I head a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so they will rest from their labors, since their works follow them.’”

The deeds of the saints. These are the ministries we do in Jesus’ name which includes giving as well as all the types of things listed in Matthew 25 where Jesus said,  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”  (Matt. 25:40 CSB).

This is the Week of Prayer for International Missions. At one time WMU groups would gather daily and pray.  Unfortunately, we don’t do that much any more.  Today I asked myself: Why?

First, we believed the lie that we could just pray on our own and that would be enough, missing the point that there is intensity when we gather with others to pray.  (This thinking is prevalent in most of our churches. Just look at the number who gather to pray each week.)

Second we jump too quickly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and focus on the amount raised. The offering is vital, but this is first a week of prayer.

If you look at the 2017 Week of Prayer brochure, you notice that the way it is folded shows just half of the man’s face on the front. But if you open it and lay it flat, you see his entire face. I noticed on the brochure that one side says Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the other says Week of Prayer, providing an illustration that our international missions emphasis is not complete without both prayer and the offering. We need both the prayers of the saints and the deeds of the saints!

The Day 8 reading in the prayer guide is a message from David Platt which reminds us that prayer matters.  He says, “It isn’t just a rushed or mechanical exercise. God has ordained our prayer as a means to accomplish His purpose in the world. We’ve got to be aware that our praying for boldness for missionaries is actually going to affect whether or not they have boldness. When we pray, God works.”

So this week, let us pray. And it is my prayer that praying will then inspire giving sacrificially that the gospel will go forth to transform lives around the world.

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Remembering our missionaries

The offering at the Kentucky WMU Annual Meeting each year is designated for Kentucky WMU Ministries to Missionaries. These ministries include a $50 Christmas gift to all IMB missionaries from Kentucky currently serving as well as emeritus IMB missionaries.  We also provide online subscriptions to the Western Recorder, gifts for Missionary Kids attending college in Kentucky, a missionary parents fellowship, and travel expense for college bound MKs returning from the field to attend the MK Re-entry Retreat.

At the Kentucky Baptist Convention a few days ago, one of our emeritus missionaries came to our display and thanked Kentucky WMU for the gift each year. “It’s not the amount,” he said. “It’s that you remember us!”

This week I signed checks for 100 missionaries on the field and 62 emeritus missionaries.  Yes, we remember!

We remember and are grateful for the years of service of our emeritus missionaries.  We remember those that are on the field, who may feel isolated and lonely.  We remember, we pray, and we give.  And YOU are a part of remembering our missionaries through your offering at Annual Meeting as well personal notes, emails, packages, gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and through prayer.

This week we hosted our annual Volunteer Luncheon as a way of saying thank you to the volunteers who work in our office counting out envelopes and prayer guides, filling orders for week of prayer materials, and countless other tasks.  Those who came made handmade Christmas cards for us to send to emeritus IMB missionaries along with the Christmas check.  (Those on the field receive a letter by email with a message from our president and each of our staff. Checks are then sent to their bank account in the USA.)

Paul said when he wrote: “Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3a MSG).

You can contribute to Kentucky WMU Ministries to Missionaries throughout the year. Please visit our web site for more information and online giving.

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Learning from missions history

I am taking the course “Missional Living: A History of Missions and How It Impacts Missional Living Today” through the Christian Women’s Leadership Center. The videos and reading are reminders of the passion and sacrifice of those who advanced the gospel to unreached people in their day. Missions work today is built upon the legacy of these missionaries and missions leaders.

While I have been familiar with names like William Carey, Ann and Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and Hudson Taylor, the course has introduced me to them again and I have learned things about them that inspire me. I have also been introduced to missions heroes previously unknown to me, but who had great influence in the spread of the gospel and the development of missions.

George Liele was an African American who took the gospel to Jamaica in 1782, long before the Judson’s left for Burma in 1812, making him America’s first international missionary. Liele was also significant to Baptist history in America as founder of America’s first Black Baptist church in Savannah. While life circumstances played a big part in his going to Jamaica to escape being enslaved again after the Revolutionary War, it was his faithfulness in Jamaica in spite of persecution that inspired me. I have also been reminded of the amazing faith displayed by people who were enslaved in receiving the gospel from the very people who enslaved them. I am grateful for Paul’s words in Scripture to slaves to encourage them to be faithful to the Lord in their slavery. Liele was faithful, preaching to slaves in Jamaica, establishing a church and a school, being jailed and persecuted in Jamaica, yet continuing his ministry to proclaim the gospel. While legal slavery has been abolished in most of the world, illegal slavery continues through sex trafficking and other forms of human exploitation. I pray for bold voices who have been freed through Christ to proclaim the gospel to others still enslaved. I pray that those who have never known slavery will yet be voices for the abolishment of all forms of human exploitation.

Another missions hero that was new to me was John Mott who founded the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. As a college student, a sermon and conversation on seeking the Kingdom of God changed his life. He was one of 100 young men who, after hearing the preaching of D.L. Moody, took the Princeton Pledge, “We hold ourselves willing and desirous to do the Lord’s work wherever He may call us, even if it be in the foreign lands.” While Mott never served as a missionary, he was influential in hundreds of students going out as missionaries through the publication of the book The Evangelization of the World in this Generation in 1900. In the future, as I attend IMB missionary appointment services and see the young adults who are appointed, I will be reminded of John Mott. God continues to call out young adults, fresh out of school, starting their families, to take the gospel to the unreached people of the world. The dream of evangelizing the world in this generation lives on!

Let me encourage you to take courses through the Christian Women’s Leadership Center. The Leadership Certificate program includes nine courses and each one will inspire and challenge you. The courses are not difficult and the time spent in reading and learning will expand your leadership skills and knowledge. The courses that I have taken thus far have all been timely and helpful. Whether you consider yourself a leader or not, you will find that the courses have great application wherever you serve.

Missional Living is a lifestyle. We can and should learn from those who went before us as we continue to share the gospel every day.  Join the movement!

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WMU, chocolate cake, and gospel conversations

Doug Williams, Missions Strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, caught me in the hall and said with excitement, “Let me show you this picture!”  He proceeded to pull out his phone to show me a picture he snapped in Salt Lake City.  After I heard the story, I wanted the picture!  Here’s what Doug said when he sent me the picture:

Here is the picture of the Kerns’s home pantry. I was in their home this week, as I took a group of KBC church leaders to meet planters and hear the vision of reaching SLC with the gospel. We sat around their table eating chocolate cake and listening to the testimony of a couple who they won to Jesus, coming out of Mormonism. Because WMU featured the Kerns family in September and it mentioned that Stacie loves to bake, they continue to receive baking goods. Oh, did I mention that the chocolate cake we ate was from a mix sent to them by someone from WMU?! Thank the Lord for mission education through WMU! Who would have thought that chocolate cake could be used for gospel conversations!!

Doug told me that these baked goods had come from Girls in Action, Royal Ambassadors, Children in Action, and other WMU missions groups. If you sent items to the Kerns, thank you!  To all who prayed for the Kerns and shared their story with your missions group, thank you.

Teaching children about a missionary, then leading them to pack a box of baking items and send them to a missionary, might not seem significant to some.  But we know that when you do this, it has an impact on the missionary AND on the children who learned and responded.

Yes, WMU teaches missions and provides chocolate cake for gospel conversations.

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Reaching out to teachers from China

Our 2017 Rise Up and Shine state missions emphasis has focused attention on Kentucky Baptist ministries with internationals. It is our prayer that the focus has made us more sensitive to the internationals we meet and how we might befriend them. It is friendship that opens doors to share the gospel.

Earlier this year I posted a blog about welcoming Chinese teachers who are teaching in Kentucky to gain experience in our schools. I received a follow up email this week providing us with an updated list of school districts with teacher from China. These teachers need friends, help with shopping, and above all, a gospel witness. They would love to be invited to an American home for a meal and often will be open to attend church with your family.

This ministry is first of all a ministry of friendship. “We treat our teachers like family whether they go to church with us or not,” says Dreama Ruley who works with teachers in her district. “We can show Jesus’ love in other ways besides going to church, and after some have returned home, they contacted us with questions that they did not seem to be interested in while here. We plant seeds and let God worry about the harvest.”

The following districts have teachers from China. Would you prayerfully consider volunteering to meet a teacher and befriend her/him this year?
Butler County
Barren County
Bowling Green
Warren
Daviess
Muhlenburg
Cloverport
Meade
Hardin
Oldham
Logan

If you are interested in getting involved, Dreama Ruley will provide additional information to help you in making contact. If emailing, please put “Chinese teachers” in the subject line  Email: [email protected] Phone: 270-586-7632.

May we Rise Up and Shine to befriend these teachers from China.

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Summer 2017 In Review

“We facilitate missions involvement” is more than a catchy phrase for Kentucky WMU. When we plan our work, this is what drives us. We are constantly thinking, “How can we involve more people in missions?” Our 2017 summer events have reflected this passion.

Kentucky Changers worked in Shelbyville, Harrodsburg, Albany, and Greensburg this summer. Statistics from the four weeks show:
Churches represented: 81
Job sites: 68
Participants (students/chaperones): 632
Volunteers (crew chiefs, assistants, food service, etc.): 271
Total participants: 902
Total decisions: 85, with 16 for salvation, 39 for call to ministry, and 30 rededications.

What these statistics tell us is that 902 people were involved in hands-on missions. They came to help with many aspects of the ministry, from construction to clean up, from cooking to delivering supplies, and everything in between. By sponsoring and planning Kentucky Changers, Kentucky WMU made it possible for 902 people to experience missions.

In June, Kentucky WMU sponsored Mission Adventure for Kentucky Kids (MAKK) in Louisville and Lexington. Through age-appropriate missions activities, boys and girls learned that they can do missions. Their chaperones/leaders encouraged them and were their cheerleaders as the children stepped up to serve. Thirty six children and leaders participated in MAKK Louisville and 58 participated in Lexington. Children did a variety of helping projects in the community and collected paper products for the Ronald McDonald House. In Louisville the children worked at the Baptist Fellowship Center and with Fern Creek Community Ministries. In Lexington they served at the Ronald McDonald House, Lexington Rescue Mission, Mission Lexington, Hope Center, and nursing homes.

A team of 12 Kentucky Acteens Activators served for a week in Knoxville, TN where they worked with over 80 children in day camp. The Acteens also served in a food ministry, Love Local, where snack packs were delivered in an area where 100% of the children receive free lunches during the school year. Acteens also spent a week at the Haven of Rest in Inez where they helped with Vacation Bible School and served in the community.

In cooperation with National WMU and Central Baptist Association, we were host to Familyfest in July which brought us over 150 volunteers from Kentucky and beyond. These volunteers participated in different ministries in the Lebanon/Springfield area including Backyard Bible Club/VBS, light construction/repairs, servant ministries, social ministry, several block parties, prayerwalking, senior adult ministry, evangelism, sports camps, and health/wellness ministries. It is a special week as families serve together.

Royal Ambassadors and Challengers gathered at Camp Courage July 28-29 to learn about missions as they also raced cars, learned knot tying and other outdoor skills.

The Mission Friends and Girls in Action Leaders Retreat August 4-5 was a time for leaders to learn and share ideas for enhancing missions for preschool and children.

We wrapped up the summer with a mission team of 12 to Swaziland to deliver Baptist Global Response Hospice Care Buckets. These buckets had been packed and sent by Kentucky Baptists. The team saw 31 professions of faith during the week. In addition to bucket delivery the team led revival services in two churches each night, led a three day camp for 75 children, provided WMU training for the Swaziland Women’s Committee, and had a day of training for pastors.

As seen in these and other events and activities, WMU points people to a world beyond themselves and facilitates missions involvement. WMU challenges people to be involved in the mission of God and provides avenues so that everyone can learn, pray, give, and go!

This is why I am so passionate about WMU and starting WMU in every church. WMU is a movement that gets people involved in missions. Too many church members are content to show up for a service once a week and do little else. For WMU, this is not what being a Christ-follower is all about. WMU will not rest until the gospel is proclaimed down the street and around the world. We teach missions. We do missions. Join us!

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MAKK Impact

Mission Adventure for Kentucky Kids is a three-day mission trip for children in grades 4-6 and their leaders. During MAKK we have Bible study, crafts, games, drama, and music. A missionary shares their work at each location.

I was able to join in the MAKK experience this year in Lexington. In our closing session, participants were asked to write on Post-It Notes things that they were thankful for. The notes show the impact of MAKK on the children and adults who participated. Here are some of the things they shared:

  • Kids with big hearts
  • All of the friends I made
  • Meeting all the people and getting to go to the rest home
  • Being able to fill sack lunches for the homeless
  • For the Lexington Rescue Mission
  • I am thankful for the kids learning how to show God’s love to others. And for meeting new people that we helped
  • For nursing homes
  • For the many volunteers to help share Christ with kids
  • Telling people about Jesus at the nursing home
  • Helping seniors
  • Two salvations!
  • Getting to see joyful faces on the people at the nursing home
  • I got to go on mission and serve others in God’s Name
  • That we helped tell people about Jesus at the nursing home
  • For all the ministries we got to experience this weekend
  • Chance to serve Miss Shirley at the nursing home and pray with her. We said John 3:16 together.
  • Being saved by Jesus!
  • The way we worked to show God’s love to others. Very rewarding.
  • I’m thankful we got to go to Mission Lexington and help the people
  • Baking for Ronald McDonald House
  • Serving the Lord with other Christians. Meeting new people
  • I enjoyed loving on the patients at the nursing home
  • Talking and working with the nursing home patients
  • For making new friends and baking
  • That we got to help clean
  • Lots of fun
  • A great week

The thankful note that made me smile the most said “We got to conquer the world!!” Sending children and adults out to prayerwalk on Thursday (in the rain!), serve in area ministries on Friday, and have Bible School nursing homes on Saturday might not seem like conquering the world to some, but I understand what this child meant. Through MAKK, children conquered fears of new places and people. They conquered fears that they were asked to do a ministry they had never done before. And we know that whenever we go in the Name of Jesus, Satan is conquered. Yes, to the child on the Green team who wrote the note, we conquered the world in Jesus Name.

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This is the perfect time for the Christmas Backpacks project!

Did you know that 17.3 million children in the U.S. live in poverty? You can help through the Christmas Backpacks Project. Kentucky Baptists are filling new backpacks with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, food and clothing for children. These will be distributed at Christmas events in December where the gospel will be shared.

Christmas seems a long way off for many, but this is the perfect time to be shopping for the Christmas Backpacks Project. School supplies go on sale over the summer at many stores. And because Christmas Backpacks need to be delivered in October, churches can get started over the summer. It makes for a great VBS missions project or a Back to School ministry. Each church is asked to register the number of backpacks that you will prepare with the KBC and download gift tags to mark each backpack with the age and gender child to receive it.

Here is how to participate and the Backpack Collection Timeline:

How to Participate & Pack

  • Register online the number of backpacks your church is committed to pack and share.
  • Begin with a NEW, zippered backpack.
  • Determine the gender and age for the backpacks, then mark a label for each backpack accordingly.
  • Fill the backpacks with NEW gifts (item list).
  • Securely tape the labels to the outside of the backpacks.
  • Pray specifically for the child receiving the backpack and his or her family.
  • Deliver the backpacks to your designated collection site on the assigned day (associational collection site list).

October 16-20, 2017
Churches deliver backpacks in boxes to associational collection sites.
Each church must:

  • Ensure that each backpack is packed with toys, clothing, food items, a copy of the “Christmas Story” leaflet, and a copy of the Mailbox Bible Club postcard.
  • Ensure that each backpack has a label specifying the age and gender of its contents.
  • Pack four to six backpacks each in 18″x18″x16″ cardboard boxes (available at Lowes, Home Depot, Staples, etc.), keeping those designated for the same ages and genders together when possible.
  • Transport the committed number of backpacks to its designated associational collection site.

October 23-27, 2017
Associations deliver backpacks in boxes to regional collection sites.
Each association must:

  • Ensure backpacks are labeled and packed (four to six backpacks each in 18″x18″x16″ cardboard boxes), keeping those designated for the same ages and genders together when possible.
  • Transport boxed backpacks to its designated regional collection site.

October 30-November 3, 2017
All boxed backpacks will be picked up from the regional collection sites and distributed to the requesting ministries and church plants.

The great thing about this schedule is that churches deliver the Christmas Backpacks in October. The schedule does not interfere with the collection of other Christmas ministries (such as Operation Christmas Child) which are usually due in November. Also, by participating in the Christmas Backpacks, your church can provide a gospel witness to a child at Christmas right here in the United States in addition to participation in international projects.

So, start watching for school supplies to go on sale. Look for bargains on new clothing, toys, and other items. Our Kentucky goal is 5,000 backpacks. Half of that number will be used in Kentucky, and half will go to Cincinnati, a Send City with the North American Mission Board.

Join us in sharing the gift of love and the gospel with a child in need this Christmas!

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Missions Education Still Having an Impact

A recent email made me smile.  My friend Ann had noted a Facebook post by a friend and they had been texting each other about an upcoming mission trip. Ann was eager for me to know that things learned in missions as a child were still having an impact. She even sent a screen shot of their texting with each other.

Ann wrote:
Last night a friend from Oakland Ave Baptist Church posted on Facebook about about getting ready to go to Ecuador for her 12th year. I asked what group she went with, etc., etc. Tonight I was reading in Genesis where God blessed Issac and he reaped a hundredfold of what he planted. I prayed for a hundredfold for WMU age level organizations at Lone Oak First Baptist Church in terms of mission education and future missionaries and for a hundredfold on the mission trip to Brazil from LOFBC that I’m participating in.  I wondered, “how can we have a hundredfold?”  Then the Lord reminded me of the conversation with Judy from Oakland Avenue Baptist Church last night!  Attached is a screen shot of the last part of our conversation.  Judy and I are part of the hundredfold that Dorothy Crace and other leaders at Oakland Avenue reaped! Praise the Lord!  

If you are a missions education leader with preschoolers, children, or students, thank you! You have no idea what will be the outcome of your investment today in the lives of those you teach.

Heather Keller, Children’s Consultant with National WMU, asks churches what outcomes do they want to see in 20 years in the lives of the children they are reaching. What do they want their children to value as adults? That is taking the long view of what we do today!  The online conversation between Ann and Judy shows that Heather is on to something!

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