Monthly Archives: December 2013

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Tue, December 31
Mission Partner: Mission Board, written by Chad Holtz, board member
Scripture: John 13: 12 – 15

“After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”

Imagine yourself in a garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico with a team of fellow Hope missionaries serving the poorest of the poor in Mexico for a week.   Some people from your team brought about 50 pairs of shoes to distribute and you are sitting on a dirt road surrounded by hundreds of people who are in desperate need of those shoes.  One by one you try them on the children, some you can help, some you cannot, but all are appreciative and greet you with a smile and hug and a timid “gracias” whether you had a pair of shoes their size or not.

Now imagine yourself in South Africa, working with “Hopesters” and Blessman Ministries staff, and, quite literally, on your knees washing the feet of the needy and fitting them with shoes obtained through a partnership with Samaritans Feet.

These images may make some people uncomfortable or think, “I could never do that”.   These are real examples of some of Hope’s Missionaries literally living out the example that Jesus set for us to “wash” one another’s feet.   And if you ask those that participated, they may very well tell you they never imagined doing that either – but, they did.   And you can, too.

Not everyone who reads this will go to Juarez, or South Africa, and you may never actually wash the feet or try shoes on someone in need – that’s not the point.   The question is, as we start a new year, how can we re-commit ourselves to follow what Jesus has instructed us to do?

Jesus, our teacher, Lord, and Savior became the servant, so much so that he actually washed the feet of the disciples.  West Des Moines, Johnston-Grimes, Ankeny, Des Moines, any of the suburbs, the state of Iowa, throughout the country, or around the world – what can we commit to do in 2014 to put ourselves in a servant role to those who need it?  Hope has many mission partners that could use whatever time, talent, ability you have.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Mission Partner: Meals from the Heartland, written by Jana Fackrell, volunteer
Scripture: John 15:16-17

“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”

It seems like a simple thing to do as we are asked to do… to love each other. But what does it really look like to love each other as Jesus loves us?

A few years ago, I decided to stop working after a long career. I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to devote my time to volunteering. But I soon discovered I was not sure where I belonged! I prayed for guidance but for a long time felt I was not receiving an answer. But gradually over many months, I realized the issue that really breaks my heart is the overwhelming problem of hunger in this nation and around the world. I finally understood this was the area that I was called to serve. God was choosing me!

This realization led me to become involved with Meals from the Heartland. This is a Christ-centered organization right here in our community which is led by devoted followers of Jesus. I had done meal packaging at Hope and at the large annual events. But in the past years I have been privileged to go deeper with my involvement. I have joined a group of core volunteers to help with smaller packaging events that go on throughout the year.  The staff coordinates the events and we sign up to assist them. My contribution is small. But, I know that when my effort is combined with that of many others, we make a huge impact on the lives of many people. I have seen children in Jamaica eating packaged meals and I know they are being blessed.  I have given the meals to my neighbors at a local food pantry and I know I am showing them that I love them just as Jesus loves me. I watch news reports of meals being distributed in an area devastated by a natural disaster and I thank God I had the chance to help in a small way.

On the bookmark in my Bible is the quote by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times: if necessary, use words.”  Volunteering with Meals from the Heartland gives me a chance to do just that.

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Mission Partner: Meals from the Heartland, written by Shellie Billings, Administrative Assistant.
Scripture: Matthew 11:25-26

“At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!”

One of the biggest handicaps we have as adults is that we have lost the ability to be like children. We respond with our heads instead of throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into action. We analyze, calculate and rationalize, and before we know it, we’ve lost the joy and excitement of responding with our whole self.

Consider for a moment the things we enjoy most about children—

  • An all-out, whole-body belly laugh
  • Flights of imagination
  • Simple honesty
  • Transparency (it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to know most of the time what a child is feeling)
  • Compassion… a hug from a little one brings light into an otherwise dark day

The season in these days after Jesus’ birth gives us an opportunity to re-learn the qualities that help us follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We can be present in the moment. We can have fun and find joy in helping others. We can show our need to rely on God by opening our hands and giving more than we receive.  We can be more honest, sharing our doubts and fears with our loving Father. Like a child we can crawl into His lap, allowing Him to comfort us and give us His peace.

The individuals involved with Meals from the Heartland share a vision to alleviate life-threatening hunger. In simple terms, we bring together volunteers to package meals. We give people an opportunity to love others while following the mandate in Isaiah 58:10:  Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.

There is nothing better than watching kids at our packaging events. They instinctively ‘get it’. They love scooping and pouring ingredients into bags that will feed another child who is hungry. Each year we have children who have chosen to celebrate their birthdays by packaging meals. They have asked their friends and family members to donate money towards meals for the hungry instead of buying birthday presents. As one 10-year-old said, “I wanted to give because toys are over rated.”

As adults, we get bogged down in all the reasons why there are hungry people in the world. We become discouraged at the number of people who face food insecurity. We worry about having enough to care for our own loved ones. But the example of a birthday boy gives us a fresh perspective, a jolt of enthusiasm, an ability to be present in the moment to do something about the problem, not just talk about it.

Let us take time to reflect on the qualities that make us more like children. Let us give more easily, laugh more heartily, love more fully and be present in every moment. Let us give with abandon until the enthusiasm spreads and no one goes to bed hungry. May it be so.

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Mission Partner: Lutheran Services in Iowa, written by Nicholas Wuertz, Director of Refugee Services
Scripture: Matthew 7:24-25

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”

Shortly after the wise men came to worship Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take his wife Mary and son Jesus from Israel to Egypt to escape from King Herod who was trying to kill Jesus.  They were to wait there until the angel told them it was safe to return. They left for Egypt in the middle of the night and escaped the killing of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years and younger (Matt 2:13-16).

Jesus and his family became modern-day refugees – persecuted and forced to flee their country because their lives were at stake; waiting to return home, wondering how long they would have to stay in Egypt, foreigners in a strange new land, wondering if Herod would find them there.  Would his armies pursue them across the border into Egypt?  Did they wrestle with guilt and wonder why they were so lucky to escape the mass-killings, while the children of their neighbors had not?  Did they struggle to figure out how to survive in a new land and new culture, contemplating if they would ever live in safety again and return to some sense of normalcy?

For modern-day refugees from Afghanistan, Burundi, Bhutan, Burma, Congo, Eritrea Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, their stories of persecution and escape are not all that different from that of Jesus’ family.  They’ve waited to return to the homes and lives that they’ve had to leave behind.  Some have waited in refugee camps as long as 35 years, uncertain of the future, and unable to work because they are not citizens of the country in which they now reside.  In some cases, these refugees live as prisoners, unable to move beyond the fences that enclose the camps, struggling to provide hope and nourishment for their families.  A small number of the world’s 15 million refugees around the world get a chance to start a new life in a new country. Many have already come and many continue to join us in calling Iowa home.  They are learning a new language, culture, climate, and a new sense of normal.

As we await Christ’s return, we are reminded that we already have the opportunity and privilege to encounter and serve Christ in welcoming refugees and others who are new to our community.  Jesus describes his return in Matthew 25:31-46 and explains that as we visit the prisoner, feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger, we are doing it to him as well.  For we are all strangers and foreigners here on earth; longing for a better country – a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:13-16).  May we remember the millions of people around the world who wait on the uncertainty of tomorrow.  And may we approach our lives as though we lived in Egypt, just on the other side of the Israeli border in the years after Jesus’ birth, reaching out to those who are new in our communities and welcoming each and every person with anticipation that we are welcoming Christ himself.

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Mission Partner: Joppa, written by Joe Stevens, co-founder
Scripture: Luke 2:28-32

Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Simeon faithfully manned his temple post night and day, watching and waiting…longing to see Jesus. He was a dedicated servant of God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, first revealed Christ by recognizing the baby Jesus as the Son of God. His prophecy was not only a confirmation to his parents, but also a paradigm shift in announcing that the promised Messiah of the Jews would not only deliver Israel, but would be for outsiders too—for all people regardless of their status or history. This brought hope to the whole world!

Christ demonstrated the ultimate in unconditional love when he died for everyone, even the outsiders. This includes homeless people, murderers, thieves, drug addicts, drunks, deadbeat dads, sex offenders and the mentally challenged. We are to love them all, as Christ loves them…just as they are.

There are over 200 verses in the bible that instruct us to help the poor and downtrodden. While we wait and long and prepare to see Jesus, we can be faithful servants by helping those in need and by bringing them hope.  Prepare for your King by learning to recognize Jesus in the faces of people who need to feel God’s love.

“In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor.” Acts 9:36

The Lord has come among us.  The shepherds have relayed the message of the angels, “the Savior is born!”  Simeon has confirmed the message by recognizing God’s Messiah.

When Jesus appears to you, when Christ demonstrates his grace in your midst how will you know it?

This is how the Joppa community knows it: in spending time with homeless people this winter. Being a beacon of hope to those who need it most this season. Providing a warm meal, a heart-felt hug and the love of Christ to the outsiders in our own community.

Jesus says, in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Sat, December 21
Mission Partner: Wildwood Hills Ranch, written by Teresa Garacia, volunteer
Scripture: Isaiah 12:5-6

“Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things. Make known his praise around the world.  Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy! For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.”

Many people in this world find themselves in situations where they need God to rescue them and for him to show up in a glorious way. They may be in bondage from being mistreated or feeling like there is no hope and worst of all – that no one cares. There is no one that feels more helpless in these type of situations than our vulnerable children.

Do you remember how small your world seemed and how big and overwhelming those type of problems felt when you were a child? Do you remember how helpless you felt when you were overcome by someone who was mistreating you? At Wildwood Hills Ranch, they remember and they want all of us to remember, too.  For disadvantaged children of Iowa, Wildwood Hills Ranch seeks to replace neglect with care,  abuse with kindness and meanness with love.

Working with these children isn’t always easy, but as a volunteer I’m compelled to help, because I want these kids to know just how great God’s love is for us. Wildwood Hills Ranch has been in operation for over 13 years. Over those 13 years they brought joy to the children they served through tangible acts of God’s love. Child, volunteer, and staff alike experience the wonderful things of the Lord, who makes his presence among us; and visible are the fruits of labor as the children grow into young women and men.

When God calls you into his kingdom, we are all given a chance to be his hands and his feet, but most of all we are to be in his heart. We go where our hearts lead us. The announcement of Christmas morning is almost upon us.  Where will God lead your heart as a new day dawns?

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Friday, Dec. 20
Mission Partner: Wildwood Hills Ranch, written by Matt Moeckl, Executive Director of Community Outreach
Scripture: Psalm 146:1, 7-8

“Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry.
 The Lord frees the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
 The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down. The Lord loves the godly.”

In life, especially around Christmas time we can become enslaved or “imprisoned” to the things we think will set us free.  A new set of golf clubs, a nice pair of shoes, or for my two-year-old, a Curious George DVD…or ultimately, stuff.  Many Americans rack up debt around Christmas that they are enslaved to pay off well into the New Year. The Lord sets prisoners free! The Lord uses his bride (the Church) to give food to the hungry and to help lift up those who are bowed down.

In the verses leading up to this passage, David (the Psalmist) says we should not put our trust in princes and human beings who cannot save, but in God.  If we allow God to be the music that fills our soul he will uphold the cause of the oppressed, give sight to the blind because he loves the righteous.

At Wildwood Hills Ranch, I have seen this passage in action. Wildwood and its volunteers work to make God’s love alive for at-risk children and youth.  As students have learned to praise the Lord, he has set them free and rescued them from their oppression. He has given sight to those that were blind to him and is now lifting them up and putting them on a new path.

This season, let’s focus on Christ and the cause of the oppressed, giving food to the hungry. This will help us avoid our own imprisonment and be an act of worship that will fill our souls with music.

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Thursday, Dec. 19
Mission Partner: Lutheran Services in Iowa, written by Molly Harrison, volunteer
Scripture: Philippians 4:4

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!”

Six years ago I began volunteering through Lutheran Services in Iowa’s Refugee Community Center to assist refugee families settling in the Des Moines area. Today, I still volunteer with several refugee families and also work part-time at the Refugee Community Center. This has allowed me to meet people from Burundi, Rwanda, Iraq, Bhutan, Burma, Liberia and Eritrea.

I have organized a wedding (fun), set-up apartments (really fun), and given lessons in driving (scary), English (challenging) and Citizenship (I learned a lot!). I have had many opportunities to be an advocate for families having difficulties with landlords (often disappointing), government agencies (some good, some not so good) and utility companies (lots of being on “hold”).  I have done my best to explain Valentine’s Day, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day (also challenging).

In return, they have entertained me with song and dance, welcomed me into their homes and fed me food that I never thought I’d eat. They have hugged me, prayed over me, and invited me to festivals and ceremonies. They have trusted me enough to share stories of their past lives – lives filled with terror and tremendous loss.

I consider the time I have spent with these families to be among the greatest blessings of my life.  They have taught me to be grateful for all the things I so often take for granted: flush toilets, clean water that is readily available, schools with real walls and trained teachers, washing machines and a community where they feel safe. Through them I have learned the true meaning of the word “rejoice”.  The dictionary defines rejoice as “to feel joy or great delight.”  These are families who were forced from their homes either for ethnic, political or religious reasons and have known tremendous despair. However, they have faith that rejoices in a God who has never left them. They believe and receive with a grateful heart – they rejoice and so does God.

Currently at the Refugee Community Center, refugees 60 years and older meet four mornings a week for English, Activity and Conversation class.  In the hour prior to class, students gather to have a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy a time of socialization. Each day, without fail, a group of 6-8 men play a game of cards. None of the men speak more than a few basic words of English.  Between them they speak four different languages.  Somehow, they all seem to know the rules of the game.  Each day, their game includes laughter. To hear the sound of their laughter has become the favorite part of my day.  I hear their laughter and it reminds me of the small joys of each day and the many blessings I know.  It tells me to  “Rejoice.”

To rejoice gives me a taste of Advent, preparing for the arrival of our Lord, when all despair of the whole world will give way to grand laughter for eternity!  “Rejoice!”

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Wednesday, Dec. 18
Mission Partner: Mission Board, written by Anna Pena, board member
Scripture: Isaiah 12:2

“See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”

There are many ways to worship the Lord, through prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, serving others, tithing and sharing your faith. For many, worshipping through music is the most powerful way to praise the Lord. Throughout scripture, we are encouraged to worship the Lord through music whether it is by singing at the top of our lungs with thousands at a church service or listening prayerfully to Christian music while driving in your car. Through music, God can speak to us at the times that we need it the most. When we are hurting, God can heal through the lyrics that are sung; if we need an encouraging word or a way to lighten our load, God is there through music.

There are many reasons as to why Christians should sing. Among them, are to express prayer and praise to God. Music can also be used to teach scripture. Think of the first songs you learned in church as a child or the songs your children are learning and how they are teachings of scripture in a package that a child can understand. Songs also let us testify God’s greatness and do so in community with other believers. Music can also be used to help us commit to what God wants for us in our lives.

The next time you feel disconnected from God and aren’t sure if he is really listening, find music that worships the Lord, and you will know that you are not alone – that God is always with you even though we sometimes forget.

go(serve) Daily Devotions

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 17
Mission Partner: Children & Families Urban Movement, written by Dina Remington, volunteer
Scripture: Luke 4:18-19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

The season of Advent is upon us. I can always tell it is near when the Salvation Army bells start ringing and Christmas Carols overtake the airwaves. Advent is meant to be a time of great joy and preparation for the celebration of our savior’s birth. Often times, the true meaning of Christmas is lost in the stress of buying and wrapping gifts, writing Christmas cards, attending parties, baking, and cleaning the house for company. The joy gets lost in the never-ending list of the things we have to get done before Christmas arrives.

What if this year, we reclaimed the Joy that God intended for us? What if we spent daily time in the Word and quiet time in God’s presence? What if instead of letting Christmas carols and bells ringers fill us with stress about how many shopping days are left, we soaked in the words and melodies and let the music fill our souls?

So many of our activities this time of year flow from all the “things” we have left to do, and all the “stuff” we don’t have, but that we want.  The Advent news is that God is about to arrive, not with things, and not with stuff.  It is God, himself, who is love in person, that arrives.

The thing God wants us to want and to be busy about is love; that our hearts would be open to receive his love, that our hands would be open to share his love.  Everything else about this season in just a sideshow.

My guess is it’s not news to anyone, that this season is about love and not stuff.  However, actually living that message is a different story.  How could Advent preparation for Christmas be any different?  Would we even know where to start?  There’s still shopping to do and feasts to make, right?

A change of scenery always does a soul good. Sure, I do all the same holiday preparing as anyone else.  But, I also let God show me what all the Christmas carols are all about, by getting me in places I wouldn’t otherwise be.  As a volunteer at Children & Families Urban Movement (CFUM) in Des Moines, I’m reminded how simple all this love stuff is, and how unnecessarily complicated we pretend it is.

When I spend time serving, God shows me I’m not as “busy” as I think I am; and God shows me that loving our neighbors, whether right in our own backyard, or across the world, is as simple, yet powerfully life-changing as sharing breakfast and conversation with children at CFUM’s Breakfast Club, or helping students with homework, or providing CFUM’s clothing closet with clothes that people really need.

Advent is hearing all of the songs of this season, letting the music soak into our souls, and preparing our souls for God to fill with the courage to believe that the world will not be changed with stuff and things, but the simple sharing of kindness and the good news of God come to earth!