Ecuador 2020 – It is GO time!

Heart for Ecuador

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”

-Bishop T.D. Jakes

“Go, Send, or Disobey.”

– John Piper

We talk about the Second Coming of Jesus, but so many have never even heard of His first. I cannot rest, I cannot wait. Until the whole world hears, here I am! Send me!

— Stephanne Marsh

Dear Faithful Friends and Supporters,

All I can say is WOW! I am so excited about what the Lord is doing, that I can hardly contain it! Last year, when we were unable to go to Ecuador because of all of the natural disasters (Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Florence) I was absolutely heartbroken.  I was so homesick that my heart physically ached.  I started praying scripture, specifically Ephesians 3:20. I thanked the Lord for doing exceedingly and abundantly more than I could think or imagine for our ministry in Ecuador. And He has!

As an update, Jon and I are in the process of working with an attorney and CPA in our church to form a 501c3 charitable organization for our ministry. The name that we have applied for is: Heart for Ecuador. We hope to have all processes completed in the next 6 months.  Please pray with us that we will complete everything necessary with perfection and that our application for 501c3, charitable organization status will be approved.  

In addition, I have also launched a website for our ministry.  http://www.heartforecuador.com

I encourage you to visit the site.  It explains our purpose and tells the story of what God has called us to do.  There are lots of pictures and videos from past years, stories that I have written that document my time growing up in Ecuador, as well as a blog.  I have been overwhelmed with the response to our new website. As of this writing, there have been over 5,000 unique visits to the website, and it has only been live since November 18th!

This year, we have a team of 54 people that have pledged to give 8 days of their lives away, to take the gospel to Ecuador. There are 6 physicians, 1 dentist, 2 pharmacists, 4 registered nurses, and 6 CNAs, along with 35 other people on the team. This is absolutely amazing, and definitely way more than I EVER dared to dream or imagine.  Many of the people are returning to Ecuador for their 2nd year, and 5 are returning for their 5th year in a row. 

In 2020, we are continuing the work that we began so many years ago.  We are planting new churches through the provision of medical clinics, we are hoping to build yet another kitchen/building for a feeding center that feeds over 1,000 hungry children a day.

Planning this trip and coordinating everything that goes along with having 54 people on the team has become almost a full-time job.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay anything, so I am still working another full-time job. J I truly believe, that with the interest that we have had this year, Jon and I could lead multiple trips a year.  My heart leaps at that chance, so now, we pray for the Lord to pave the way if that is indeed His will for us.  Won’t you join with us and pray for the Lord to show us exactly what it is He would have us do? We, along with many of you, feel an increased urgency to share the Gospel.  I don’t know how much longer we have before Jesus returns, but I want to spend every single second of the rest of my life telling others about Him.

It is only because of faithful supporters like you, that we have had the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with the beautiful people of Ecuador.  Do you realize that over the last 6 years a little over 8,000 people have heard the gospel and 87% of them (6,960 people) have given their lives to Jesus and are active in one of the 28 churches that we have planted ONLY because you invested in eternity by donating to our ministry in Ecuador?

In 2018, the statistics were staggering.  Allow me to share them with you:

Patients treated: 2,852

Reading glasses fitted and given away: 1,936

Prescriptions filled: 11,408

Churches planted: 3

Hearts given to Jesus: 2,481

One new feeding center was built and 400+ children are fed weekly

This year, we have a team that has doubled in size, which will allow us to minister to a larger number of Ecuadorian people. We are preparing and planning for 4,000. A greater than ever emphasis is being placed on evangelism.  We have a group of 4 team members that are dedicated to working with the new pastors to plan and help strategize for the success of the new church plants and the retention of the new converts. We are taking church and pastoral study materials with us to leave with the pastors. Our next desire is to buy Spanish Bibles to leave with each pastor of each new church. Buying a Bible is an extravagance that the average Ecuadorian cannot afford.  Very few people have a personal Bible.  Getting the Word of God into the hands of these new Christians is so important.  We are praying that the Lord will enable us to do what we feel sure He has laid on our hearts.

These are the current needs for this year’s Ecuador Mission:

  •  We buy our prescription medications through Blessings International.  The total cost for the medicine this year is around $7,000.  For $3, you can provide vitamins, antibiotics, Tylenol and parasite medicine for 1 person for an entire year.  We expect to treat about 4,000 people in 5 days.  Of those 4,000 people, approximately 90% of them give their lives to Jesus after hearing the gospel story.  These people are the people that make up our new churches.  We have pastors in place in each location, that continue to minister to and shepherd the churches after we leave.  We have started over 28 new churches over the last 6 years and every single one of them is thriving and growing.  Your gift towards the purchase of our trip medications has a priceless value, as you will be caring for physical needs and giving them the opportunity to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
  • We will be building a kitchen and covered area for the feeding program at one of the new churches.  This feeding program will feed approximately 1,000 children per week. We need approximately $4,800 to build the kitchen and put a cover over a large section of the lot they use. This will protect the children from the elements.  (Blazing sun alternating with torrential rain.) For about $.20 cents a day, we could feed a child one good meal per day.  $200 a week for one thousand children. $11,200 would feed them for an entire year.  How many of us spend $200-$400 a month on groceries for a family of 4? How many of us spend $50 when we eat out at a restaurant? Your gift of any amount can feed a child as well as give them the opportunity to hear about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 
  • Eyeglasses – We have been able to procure our reading glasses from the Lion’s Club this year, 3,000 pairs at $.44 per pair and 1,500 pairs of sunglasses for $.25 per pair.   The glasses will ship out the last week in February, and I will have 30 days to pay the invoice. With shipping, we owe $1812.  I wish you could see the faces of the people when their eyes light up when they are fitted with a pair of glasses and can read! Priceless.
  • Bibles – We can purchase Bibles in Spanish for $2.75 each in Ecuador.  It is much more cost effective to buy them there than to pay to have them shipped.  We would love to leave at least 100 Bibles with each pastor, so we need 500 Bibles total.  $1,375 would put Bibles in the hands of hungry new Christians.
  • Videographer – If any of you follow my blog or are my friend on Facebook, then you have probably heard about this need already.  I have been wracking my brain, trying to figure out how I could easily show someone what it is that we do in Ecuador.  The Lord laid it on our hearts to seek out a professional videographer.  Videography can be very expensive; however, the Lord knew what we needed, and He led me straight to a young man that is a professional videographer and his specialty is missions and missions’ trips! I sent him an email, bracing myself for a fee that was completely out of my reach, and instead, I got a reply that told me that if I could cover his trip costs, that he would donate his time for the week and donate the production of the video! I desperately need a sponsor for the straight trip costs for our videographer.  The costs for his flight, hotel, and food are $1975. I just know that this video will open doors for other people to see the importance of the work that the Lord has called us to do in Ecuador!

As a recap, the current needs are as follows:

             Medicine –                                   $7,000

             Kitchen Construction-                $4,800

             Feeding Program-                        $11,200

             Eyeglasses –                                  $1,812

Bibles –                                     $1,375

Videographer –                         $1,975

Approximate funds needed- $28,162

I know that the Word is clear, it tells us that we are called to go and share the gospel making disciples in ALL nations.  Ecuador is where He has called me and my family.  Not everyone is able to go, but everyone is able to contribute in some way.  Whether it is in prayer support (desperately need prayer warriors lifting up this ministry!), or a donation towards one of the areas that speaks to your heart, or perhaps you even feel a calling to participate in the trip, there is an opportunity for every single person to serve. As always, if you are able to make a monetary contribution, it is 100% tax deductible, and you will receive a tax receipt. You may donate online by going to GiveSendGo at this link. Or, you may contact me here, and I will be glad to give you instructions for mailing a check.

As always, I am eternally grateful for each and every one of you, and I thank my God for you daily.

After all, everything I do is for His glory.

In Him and in His Service for the People of Ecuador,

Stephanne Marsh

Soda Crackers and Fanny

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid

Before we get started with this story, let me remind those of you who are reading it, EXACTLY how much you love me…….my character, my integrity, my wit, my charm…….and for good measure, let’s just throw a picture of adorable 8-year old me in the mix. Keep this image in mind WHILE you are reading the story.

I remember this picture being taken. I was so tired.

I must have been about eight years old, because Keely was three.  I can recall with great clarity the story which I am about to share with you.  At the time, we lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  Guayaquil was and still is to this day, the second dirtiest city in the entire world; second only to Calcutta, India.  When I walk by a dumpster or an overflowing trash can, and that first pungent odor of spoiled milk and rotten garbage hits me, I inhale.  You read it right.  I inhale.  That smell, that rotten, garbage rotting smell; transports me instantly back to my childhood.  In my mind’s eye (as mine are closed, vividly imagining) I am standing outside on a street corner in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  There is nothing like it!

My mom and dad planted a new church (church planting = starting a new church body) in Guayaquil called Cristo Vive (Christ Lives).  There was a sweet lady who attended the church named Fanny Tocain (pronounced Fah-neee Toe-Cah-eeeen). She loved my parents dearly and was always a constant presence in our home.  My mom and dad travelled quite extensively, planting new churches, encouraging existing ones and speaking at various seminars, etc.  Fanny was our “niñera” (pronounced Neen-yeah-rah), or our babysitter, when their travels would take them out of town.  Fanny always arrived in a dress on the bus in the mornings and scrubbed our house from top to bottom with a broom and Deja (pronounced Day-ha) laundry detergent sprinkled everywhere.  Guayaquil is very hot and tropical.  It rains every single day.  Except in the rainy season, when it pours an agua cera (or a wall of water) every single day.  It is always hot and humid, very musty and just heavy!

Our home was a square, with a courtyard in the center.  There were two sets of doors that led out to the courtyard.  One door opened up from the living room and one opened up from the side, where the bedrooms were.  After Fanny would clean our bathrooms and wax our floors, cleaning every visible surface within the house, she would head out to the courtyard with her Deja, a broom and a water hose.  She would then proceed to scrub down the outside walls of the house and the red tiled courtyard. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-infamous-red-tiled-back-patio-1.jpg
The famous red-tiled patio. I think I was turning 9 and I had asked for a purple bike.

One day, Fanny had just finished cleaning the tile outside.  I asked her to make me cream of mushroom soup for lunch, and she made it too watery.  Now, you must understand that I struggle with the telling of this story, simply because this seems like a very ungrateful and bratty thing to do, and I was neither, ungrateful nor bratty.  I have no idea what possessed me to behave the way I did, I guess it was just an off day. I was angry that she gave me soup that wasn’t right.  I then asked for a snack of crackers. 

Keely and I went out to the courtyard to eat our crackers.  We were sitting on the floor, looking out at the grass and flowers, when Keely sneezed, and the cracker crumbs blew like a fine dusting of snow all over the tile floor.  Mind you, the tile was still slightly damp from Fanny’s vigorous scrubbing.  When I saw Keely’s crumbs and the way that they blew so beautifully onto the deep red tile, I immediately whooshed out a mouthful, on purpose.  It looked just like pictures I had seen, of snow dusting the hood of a car.  Keely started laughing and I laughed.  The more we laughed, the more crumbs we blew everywhere.  The red tile was covered!!

We looked at one another in alarm, because we knew two things.  One, we were in big trouble when our parents found out, and two, Fanny was going to be sad.  Still, it was very funny, and we were already going to get into trouble; so I got the bright idea to lock Fanny inside, so she couldn’t get outside to us.  We shoved our bicycles, the chairs, potted plants, everything we could physically move, in front of both doors. The doors were glass, so we knew that when she came back, she would be able to clearly see us, and we would undoubtedly, clearly see her.  Sure enough, it wasn’t very long after we barricaded the doors, that Fanny came to check on us. I can still, 30 years later, see the horrified look on her face, as she watched the two spoiled little gringas, chewing and blowing mouthfuls of soda cracker crumbs all over her beautifully cleaned tile.  We had a whole box of soda crackers.  We chewed and blew every single one.  Fanny beat on the door and pointed her finger at us.  Finally, she sat on the floor and looked at us through the spokes of the bicycle tires.  Wet tile, + a box of chewed and blown soda cracker crumbs is no fun to clean up.  Just ask Keely or me.  We can tell you first hand, it is a huge mess and back breaking work to clean.  Not to mention the tanned tails we got when our parents came home, and the disappointment visible on Fanny’s face.  To this day, Keely and I still crack up when we eat soda crackers.  Every once in a while, when no one is looking, (especially our children) we will chew lightly and blow cracker crumbs at each other.

Bananas with Brown Spots

By: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid and TCK (Third Culture Kid)

It seems like every day, there is a Facebook craze where people check things off of a list that they either will NOT eat OR exotic things that they HAVE eaten. You know the ones…..It starts out with “How many of the following food items do you hate? Is it more than 12?” Then you are supposed to copy it, paste it, and share with your personal response.

Those lists always send me into fits of giggles. It contains things like: green olives, bleu cheese, Spam, Vienna Sausages, liver, etc. Things that I think are kind of common and every day! The list of “exotic” food items is equally as funny to me. It contains things like: Sushi, Escargot, Grits (ummmm, why are grits exotic? I thought they were a staple food item?), Steak Tartare, Ostrich, and the list goes on with things that I don’t think actually deserve the “exotic” label.

Perhaps I find the food items on these lists to be comical because of the way I was raised, and the foods I grew up eating. First of all, let’s talk about foods people hate. I was never, ever, ever allowed to say I didn’t like something. I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened if I dared utter the words, “I hate…..”. I can pretty much guarantee that I would not be here writing this story. I would have ended up in the Sweet By and By before I even got the “t” sound out in the word hate. I always, always had to eat everything on my plate. I didn’t get to choose what got put on my plate, either. My mama cooked, and we gratefully ate whatever it was she placed in front of us. Luckily for me, my mama was an excellent cook.

Now, let’s discuss “exotic” foods. Unless the list contains things such as: monkey, monkey brains, grub worms, cow tongue, chicken feet, fish eyes, fish heads, guatita (commonly known as tripe, in English. If you don’t know what it is, I will spare you now and you can look it up later.) and cuy (pronounced coo-eeee, and commonly known as guinea pig in English) then don’t talk to me about exotic. Although, now that I am thinking about it, the items on my list weren’t exactly exotic when I was growing up, it was just what we had to eat.

There are truly VERY few things that I won’t or can’t eat. I have a stomach of steel and can eat just about anything. There are some things that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat, but if it is prepared for me and set before me, you can bet your bottom dollar I will eat it. Some of the things that I would prefer not to eat are: salmon in a can (I dislike the tiny bones very much.), liver (chicken or beef), gizzards, chitlins, and cow tongue (the more I chew, the chewier and bigger it gets in my mouth). But, if it meant the difference between hurting someone’s feelings and swallowing the cow tongue, I’m going to swallow the cow tongue.

So, at this point, I bet you are wondering what in the world it is that I WILL NOT eat. You only have to read the title of this story to know. Bananas with brown spots. Even just typing it out, I involuntarily gagged. I know you are looking at the two lists right above this paragraph and think I have lost my mind. Well, my dear reader, please, allow me to explain.

When I was about 8 years old, we lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We lived on a very pretty street, called Avenida Balsamos, in a pretty white house with a pretty little courtyard where my sister and Keely played with our kitten, our dog, and our parrot. This is indeed the very same house, with the famous red-tiled patio, in which the story of “Soda Crackers and Fanny” took place. (If you haven’t had a chance to read that, you should, and you can just by clicking on the link. I believe that was the only time in my life that I misbehaved, and I documented it for you. You are welcome.)

Life was slow and sweet. Guayaquil is extremely hot with almost 100% humidity. It is very tropical and our yard was filled with beautiful and lush plants and flowers and fruit trees of all sorts.

One of my favorite activities was watching the coconuts get harvested from the coconut trees in our front yard. Every so often, the coconut gatherers would come by and ring our bell and ask my mama if she wanted them to get the coconuts down. She would tell them yes, and they would shimmy up those trees faster than lightening, gripping the trunk of the tree with their bare legs and propelling themselves up with their arms extended and their legs pumping, and always, they had a huge machete gripped in their mouth! I always wanted to try climbing the coconut trees, but I am petrified of heights, so, sadly, I never did. Still, I would watch them go up and bring those coconuts down, and it was absolutely amazing every single time. I never tired of watching them climb the trees. The only thing better than watching them climb, was being given a coconut when they came down. There is not much in the world that could ever be better than drinking the sweet coconut water and eating the delicious coconut meat from those fresh coconuts that had just moments before, been hanging from our trees.

In Ecuador, when I was growing up, and even now, at times, there is a bit of civil unrest as the government attempts to strong arm the people by raising taxes or imposing new taxes. This unrest will generally result in strikes and riots. Here in the States, children have snow days and hurricane days built into their school calendar. In Ecuador, we had riot days built into ours!

At one point, during the year I was 8, there was a strike and the ensuing riots lasted for nearly 3 months. It resulted in a military coup and then the president of the country was over thrown, it was very exciting! But, while that is intriguing, bananas are what is important to this story.

My parents were amazing missionaries and were always very well prepared for any emergency that might arise. For instance, since we knew that Ecuador was prone to riots and strikes, my parents kept staple food items in big huge plastic drums. During riots and strikes, it wasn’t safe to venture out and we stayed hunkered down in our home. We had a red drum of rice, a yellow drum of beans, and a blue drum of sugar. It was always great fun running to the drums with a cup and a pot and dipping out enough for our supper! Keely and I used to fight over who got to dip out whatever it was mama needed. Well, as you can imagine, eventually, when a riot and strike lasts for 3 months, and you can’t leave your house, you eventually run out of rice and beans.

I remember the day that we laid the barrels on their sides and Keely crawled in to scoop out the very last of the rice and the beans. We ate dinner solemnly that night. I remember hearing my mama whispering with my daddy after Keely and I had gone to bed. She said things like, “What are we going to do? We don’t have any food left!” I could hear my daddy reassuring her, “I don’t know what we are going to do, but God knows exactly what we need and He has never failed us yet.” Then I heard them praying. I went to sleep soundly, not at all worried about what we were going to eat. The Lord would surely come through. I was excited to see what He would provide, and I went to sleep dreaming of waking up, grabbing a bowl and running outside and scooping up manna from heaven. He did provide. It wasn’t exactly manna, but it was a miracle just the same. The next morning, when I got up, we had a HUGE stalk of bananas in the kitchen. Our landlords, the Cucálons, had banana farms and somehow, they got some and brought us an entire stalk.

Now, I love a green banana. I always have! Ecuador has some of the best bananas in the whole wide world. Sweet and just absolutely delicious. Next time you go to the grocery store to buy bananas, look at the sticker! You have a 1 out of 3 chance that they are from Ecuador. If you have a choice between bananas from Ecuador or Guatemala or Costa Rica, buy the Ecuadorian ones. They just taste better. Trust me!

That being said, we were exceedingly grateful for the bananas that the Cucálon family brought us, but…bananas don’t stay green forever. And a stalk of bananas has SO many bananas on it. We ate bananas and ate bananas. They were really good, until they weren’t. One day, I woke up and the bananas had brown spots on them. By then I was getting really tired of bananas. The next morning, there were more brown spots, and when I peeled my banana, it was mushy inside. I tried to eat it. Really, truly I did. But I put that mushy brown banana in my mouth, and I gagged. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t chew, I couldn’t swallow, and I couldn’t eat it. And that was the first time in my life that my mama didn’t make me.

Luckily, the strike ended and the streets cleared up and my parents were able to get food. I can’t remember for sure if it was the day I gagged on the brown spotted banana or the day after, but it was very soon. And let me tell you, I have never been so grateful to eat food again in my life!

To this day, I love a green banana. But if it starts to turn yellow, and if there is any trace of a brown spot on the skin, you better clear out of my way. Because I am fairly certain you don’t want to see what happens next.

Balm of Gilead

My favorite books

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid

Growing up as a missionary kid in Ecuador, my books were my one constant. Every time we moved (18 times before I graduated from high school, but who was counting?) we sold the vast majority of our possessions because it was simply too expensive to ship them. The only things that my parents never asked me to sell were my books. My dad would look at my trunk of books and instead of telling me it was too heavy, he would say, “Books are valuable. Everything I know is because I read books.” I agree. Wholeheartedly. People always remark that I seem to know a lot about a great deal of things. In all honesty, I really do. And that is because I love to read and have always loved to read.

My dad taught me how to speed read when I was 3 years old. I would go to the church and lay on the floor in his office and read while he worked. My dad’s library has always been a treasure trove. I think he says he currently has over 3,800 physical books and more than 30,000 digital copies of books. I cut my teeth (literally!) on massive volumes of illustrated Bible stories. I would pull out different volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and read it from front to back. My dad instilled in me a voracious love for reading, and I am so grateful that he did!

Reading is my safe place. My escape. I read on average 5-6 books a week. (I read in my spare time which is hilarious, because I work 45-50 hours a week at my day job, and easily spend 25+ hours a week on missions and Ecuador. Hence, my spare time is usually in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.) As I mentioned, my dad taught me how to speed read. He had a board with letters, like Scrabble letters and it had a contraption that slid words back and forth very quickly and covered and uncovered them. I remember how excited he got when he realized I was reading everything he showed me, no matter how fast he slid it. People would come by the church office and he would say, “Watch this!” and then excitedly show them my genius abilities.

So, while I haven’t been tested in a while, I did take a speed reading test for a college class back in 2010, and I scored 100% comprehension and 868 words per minute for extremely difficult (beyond college level) texts. I tend to skim read, unless something is very interesting to me. I think that if I find the subject interesting, I actually read a little bit faster, kind of like drinking great big gulps of cold sweet tea when you are really thirsty! (I really don’ t know why I am telling you all of this, other than most people find it interesting, and if you know me, you know how fast I read!)

I have several books that are precious to me. My top favorites are ones I have had since early childhood. Anne of Green Gables was a gift from the sweet lady that ran the GMU (Gospel Missionary Union) Guest House in Quito, Ecuador. We stayed there for several weeks while we were waiting to find out where we were going to live for that 4 year term. All of our things, except for our suitcases of clothes, were in a container, on a ship, somewhere between Miami and Ecuador. She found out that I loved to read and she gave me access to her personal library. Once she realized how advanced my reading skills were for my age, she gave me Anne of Green Gables to read. I devoured it the first time in about 2 hours. I quickly read every book in the series, and loved each of them. When we got ready to leave the Guest House, she gave me the Anne of Green Gables book to keep for my very own. I have treasured it every single day since. You can tell, it is absolutely well loved and well worn.

This copy of my favorite book was printed in 1976

Now, let me give you a little more background information. I have always had a very vivid imagination. I have always been intrigued by pretty stories and love painting pictures with words in my own writing. My 8th grade English teacher was Mrs. Opal Bullington and she was the first person to tell me that I was a good writer. She said that I had a way of describing things in such vivid detail that it was like watching a movie anytime she read one of my stories. I never forgot what she told me, and even now, 34 years later, I haven’t forgotten her or her kindness to me. That being said, I absolutely, 150 million percent, attribute my writing style to Lucy Maude Montgomery.

Anne of Green Gables is my all time favorite book. I read it several times a year, even though at this point, after nearly 39 years of reading it over and over again, I can tell you almost word for word every single sentence in the book. Every time I read it, I get the same delicious thrills of delight. Anne spoke to me, deep in my very soul, I identified with her. I took to saying the things that she did, for instance, “I have but one lifelong sorrow, and that is my curly hair,” or when a day didn’t go as planned, I would say, “today was such a Jonah day,” or when I was sad or upset, I would tell everyone “I am in the depths of despair.” I thought that I was very much like her, and believe me, I got myself into just as many scrapes and mistakes as she did, usually because my imagination got away with me and I would lose track of time. The one thing that I DID NOT do like Anne, was set my best friend drunk. I am sure that my best friend was saved from that horrible atrocity just because my parents didn’t drink alcohol and I had no way to access alcohol whatsoever.

One time, just like Anne, I was imagining myself in a perfectly lovely story, while I was making cookies. Somehow, I left the flour completely out of the recipe. I thought they were a little runny, but chalked it up to the high altitude of the Andes mountains. They never did solidify, it was just a soupy mess on the cookie sheet. My mama was so upset that I had wasted so much sugar and butter and eggs! If I got told once, it was at least 25 times a day, “Get your head out of the clouds and for heaven’s sake, pay attention to what you are doing!” I didn’t mean to make messes or intentionally forget to do things, it was just that imagining was so much more fun!

I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with “Balm of Gilead”. Never fear my dear reader, I shall tell you before you are tempted to lose interest. But first, one more quick aside. I love Facebook memories. I look forward to them every day! Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. This morning, I laughed long and hard. On this day in 2008, my status was this: “I love words in italics…..they send delicious thrills of excitement down my spine. The bitterest drop of suspicion in my cup today, is the fear I may not use italics enough. Life is short! Italicize.” Can you imagine where I got that statement? You guessed it. Anne of Green Gables. What I found even more funny than my status was the comment from my sister Keely. She said, “Why are you so weird?” Now, I know that reading that has awakened the dormant creative ability deep down in your soul, and you want to go about saying things like, “the bitterest drop of suspicion in my cup today….” Can you imagine how much more interesting our world would be if we all went around speaking like Anne in Anne of Green Gables?

And, as you must have suspected, “Balm of Gilead” is indeed from Anne of Green Gables as well, although, it was actually in the Bible first. (Jeremiah 8:22 to be precise). It is actually used several times in multiple books in the series. My favorite way that LM Montgomery used it was to convey that even though there had been a huge and crushing disappointment in the story, there was yet a bright side, a “Balm of Gilead” was still to be found.

In my life, just like everyone else, I have had many crushing disappointments, sorrows, and failures. If you have read any of my previous blogs, you have heard me recount times where I felt lost, alone, and even out of the very reach of God. I have watched many friends and fellow missionary and third culture kids stumble, fall, and not get back up. Sometimes, when I am laying in my bed, unable to sleep, I wonder what the difference is, and how I have made it when so many others haven’t. Every single time, as I begin to think, I smile, and am able to turn over and go to sleep, because I know that it is the very Balm of Gilead that has healed my soul.

Yesterday, a reader made a comment on my blog about Keds (which if you missed it, you can read it here, Keds – Yes, the White Canvas Shoes). The reader’s comment was this: “I thank God you had a great mama and daddy and a Heavenly Father that had greater plans for you…for you to help heal those hurting, using the best ointment ever…the Balm of Gilead……..memories may last a long time. But memories like those reach heaven. Keep on sharing.” When I read her statement, I knew I had found the title for my next blog. It made me grin so big, because the “Balm of Gilead” isn’t something that you hear very often, but that old sweet phrase, upon reading it, brought me so much joy. When I say it out loud, “Balm of Gilead” it is so sweet, I can almost taste it, like honey.

Yes, you see, I have always had the Balm of Gilead to soothe and heal my heart and soul. My mama and daddy sowed into me, principles, morals, integrity, and most importantly, they made sure that I knew who the Author and Giver of Life truly was. They taught me, by example, to trust in, lean into, and fully rely on God. They taught me that no matter what I was facing, how difficult it seemed, how hopeless it appeared, that God had me in the palm of His hand and He would never leave me or forsake me; and that there was always healing for my broken heart, for my crushed spirit, and for my wounded and sick body, at the foot of the cross. The Balm of Gilead is what reaches far into every crevice of my thoughts, my heart, and my soul and I now know, the Balm of Gilead is actually the Blood of Jesus. All we have to do is call on Him, and He will show us and do great and mighty things. He promised us that He would (Jeremiah 33:3), and His promises never fail. (Romans 9:6-8)

So, yes, Anne. There will always be Balm in Gilead. Even when things seem grim and dim and you find yourself deep in the depths of despair, all you have to do is call on the One who loves you more than anyone, the One who shed His blood for you. Romans 10:13 – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I am so thankful for Jesus, the true Balm of Gilead.

I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I am for Lucy Maude Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables. Unquestionably, besides the Bible, that book has had great impact and influence on my life. And like Anne, I shall let you, my dear reader, decide if that is good or bad.

Now, I am going to say my prayers, place my head upon my pillow and dream lovely dreams of walking down the White Way of Delight beside the Lake of Shining Waters in my tafetta gown with gorgeously puffed sleeves. Perhaps I shall be lucky enough to encounter the Lady of Shallote while I am there, or maybe I will even have a picnic in Hester Gray’s garden, with tea cakes and raspberry cordial, surrounded by blankets of the sweetest roses.

KEDS (Yes, the white canvas shoes)

By: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid from Ecuador

These seem so innocent, don’t they?

Earlier this fall, there was a story about a little boy in Florida that was a HUGE Tennessee fan. It was spirit day at his school, and children were encouraged to wear a t-shirt to represent their favorite college or college football team.  This little boy took an orange shirt and a piece of paper on which he had hand-written “UT”, and pinned it to the front.  At that time, I read that story and my heart broke.  I sobbed like a baby.  I cried buckets of tears.  I cried for the little boy who had been so creative and so ready to participate, using what he had.  I cried for the little boy who just wanted to do what everyone else was doing. I cried for the little boy who did the best he could and then was ridiculed for it. I cried so hard, because this was my story, only it was a pair of Keds instead of a college football shirt. You see, I cried, because I know intimately what it is like to be teased and made fun of for doing the very best that you can do with what you have.  This story was very personal to me, because I had lived it. I started writing my memories down then, that very day, but had to stop, because I was so overcome with emotion.  

You see, I was a teacher for 12 years. I taught elementary, middle-school, and high-school, I made it my mission every single day to protect and shield children from feeling what that little boy felt. My first rule in my classroom was, “above all else, be kind, kinder than necessary.” It was because I knew how devastating it can be when people are unnecessarily mean. Because of my multi-cultural upbringing, in all of my pitiful awkwardness, I had this amazing and innate ability to observe, assess, and attempt to smooth things out for others in a big crowd.  I was very good at watching situations and running interference to keep things from escalating.  I could add tidbits in to make others feel better about something that was happening.  I still do this, to this day.  I am the room moderator in every situation I am placed in, most times unwittingly.  I truly believe that this is a gift.  Most people only see what they want to see.  Because of my upbringing, I am blessed to see multiple angles as well as a way to bring them all together. 

It was 1986. Admittedly, I was a backwards, mixed-up, ragamuffin of a missionary kid.  I had spent the majority of my first 12 years in the third-world country of Ecuador and had a Spanish accent on my English, a propensity to forget how to say some things in English, a total lack of style and ability to use what I had to fit in.  Long story short, I looked like an awkward, poorly dressed, poorly coiffed, kid. I just didn’t know it.  Yet.

We had come back to the States to itinerate (see Hatchback of the Datsun for a glimpse into itineration). It was only for a year, so my parents rented a house in Mauldin, South Carolina because that was a good base for traveling to different churches all over the southeast so that we could share our hearts for Ecuador. I was enrolled in Hillcrest Middle School, and naively, I was extremely excited to start 7th grade.  I wasn’t aware of it, but Hillcrest Middle was one of the more affluent schools in the Greenville County School District.  Therein, (the lack of that knowledge, and the lack of experience with wealth and material things) lay my downfall and my first experience with cruelty, that resulted in a destroyed self-esteem.  That self-esteem took a long time to rebuild.  It was only after I figured out that my identity was more than my appearance, my identity was in being the blood-bought and saved-by-grace daughter of the almighty God, that I was able to hold my head high. 

If you are reading this, your identity is not in what you own, what you wear, what you look like, or what you don’t look like.  Your true identity is only found in Jesus. You will never be content or happy until you figure this out.

The story goes something like this: All of my clothes were hand-me-downs from a cousin. I had a denim skirt, a striped button down shirt, a school-bus (color, not picture) yellow sweater, a pair of jeans that were about two inches too short, a blue t-shirt that said “BMA” (Business Mens Assurance) on it, and a pair of white canvas shoes that my mama got at K-Mart for $3.  I still remember her counting out the change of the total plus tax for the pair of shoes and her telling me that she had worn similar shoes growing up, and that they would “go with everything.” I also had a pair of patent leather black Sunday school shoes and a pink drop-waist dress that my mama had sewn for me, but those items were JUST FOR CHURCH! I wore a combination of the above clothing items every single day. 

One day, it was just after school had started, I was in the bathroom trying to fix my skirt.  The button at the top had fallen off, and the zipper kept unzipping.  I was wearing the striped button-down shirt that day, and it wasn’t long enough to cover the zipper.  I was pondering what to do, when I heard a group of the popular girls (I knew enough to know I was NOT a popular girl) talking. 

As I listened, I realized they were talking about me.  They were saying things like, “she wears that skirt LIKE THREE TIMES A WEEK!” “Seriously, like, gag me with a spoon, why does she do that?” And then I heard the following, and it was the first time I had ever considered this issue. I heard, “why does she wear those cheap plastic knock-off shoes? I mean seriously, get some KEDS!” They finished fluffing their hair, glossing their lips and left the restroom, completely unaware of how they had destroyed the fragile girl in the bathroom stall.

I left the bathroom, pulling my shirt down over my zipper and was walking towards my class, thinking hard and trying not to cry.  I found a rubber band laying on the ground, and I used it to loop my skirt shut by pulling the rubber band through the buttonhole and tying it around the first belt loop. 

There was a girl in my class that had a physical disability – severe scoliosis. She was hunched over and had to wear a cumbersome brace, but it didn’t bother her one single bit!  We had become what I considered to be good friends. This girl was sweet, kind, bubbly, and was always excited to see me.  She had the very best attitude and made my life bearable. She ate lunch with me and even eventually, invited me over to her house. 

I gathered my courage and asked her, “ummm, can you please tell me, what are “Keds”?” She laughed and pointed to her feet.  She said, “they are tennis shoes.  Like this. See?” And she twisted her foot around and showed them to me. I was very puzzled and said, “Mine aren’t Keds?” She asked me to show her the back of them.  I did, and she said, “No, those aren’t Keds because they don’t have the blue tag on the back. But don’t worry! They look just like Keds!” I didn’t have the courage to tell her what had happened in the bathroom.

I went home that night and sat in the dark, long past my bedtime trying to get up the nerve to ask my mama and daddy for a pair of Keds. Finally, my mama noticed me sitting in the shadows and she asked me what I was doing.  I went towards my mama and said, “Mama, could we please buy a pair of Keds?” My mama looked towards my daddy, and he shook his head slightly.  She looked back at me and held out her hand, beckoning me to come towards her.  She put her arm around my waist, smoothed back my hair and told me that I had just gotten new shoes that looked “just like” Keds.  She then said that we didn’t have extra money at that time to buy another pair of new shoes, but maybe for Christmas. I was sent off to bed, where I lay awake most of the night thinking. 

My mama woke me up for school the next morning, and I jumped out of bed eager to begin the day. You see, overnight, I had devised a plan!  I hurriedly got dressed, choosing the too short jeans and the blue BMA tshirt, grabbed my Keds and then opened my drawer. In my drawer I had a pack of markers.  I took my shoes and very carefully, drew a blue rectangle on the back of each of my shoes, and then carefully colored the squares in.  I was very excited! I had made my own Keds, and I thought they looked just like everyone else’s. I was eager to fit in and thought I had solved the problem.

I put them on my feet, and merrily went to school.  I was walking into school when I realized the “popular” girls’ carpool was walking in right behind me.  I tried to walk nonchalantly, however, it wasn’t very long before I heard them whispering, giggling and could hear every single word they said.  They were once again, talking about me.  “Good grief! What is she wearing today? Doesn’t she know her jeans are too short?” And then the giggling and whispering stopped and let’s just call the ringleader “Becky”. Becky and all of her friends stopped walking, dropped their backpacks and started pointing at me. They were literally falling over laughing as they pointed at me. Being as naïve as I was, I never thought to ignore them and keep walking.  I stopped and turned around. Becky walked right up to me and said, “You are such a freak.  WHO DRAWS A FAKE KEDS TAG ON THE BACK OF THEIR SHOES WITH MAGIC MARKER???” And then she poked her finger into my shoulder and said, “Oh yeah, you do.  The Ecuador freak does things like that.” 30 years later, and I can still hear their voices, their raucous peals of laughter, and her finger, poking into my thin shoulder. I can hear and feel every single word she spoke. 

I was frozen in place, frozen in time, when they finally decided they had laughed enough. They pushed past me, knocking my backpack to the floor and left me standing there completely wounded and undone.

At some point, I began to cry.  I cried so hard and so long that the guidance counselor finally called my mother to come and pick me up from school.  When she got there and I stumbled into her arms, I couldn’t even explain what had happened. 

When we got home, she sat me down and asked me to tell her what happened. When I finally was able to speak the words, I remember my mama’s beautiful green eyes welling up with tears.  She was wiping them fast and then they were flashing with anger.  She told me all of the right things, and she poured wisdom and love into me, but nothing could fix what had happened. 

She asked me to take off my shoes and she put them in the sink where she proceeded to scrub and scrub at then with bleach, Comet, and baking soda. She scrubbed until her hands were red and raw. As she scrubbed, she cried. I remember sitting in the chair in the kitchen watching her furiously scrub and cry, and I realized, my mama was hurting as much as I was.  Perhaps more, because she fully understood and knew there was nothing, she could do to fix it.

I listened to my mama and daddy whispering that night and my mama telling my daddy how much she wanted to go buy me a new pair of canvas shoes at Kmart.  I remember her crying again, and the slump and defeat in my daddy’s shoulders as he told her that he didn’t have $3 to go and buy a new pair of shoes, as much as he wanted to. 

My shoes turned a dingy yellow from all of the bleach and were still wet when I put them on the next morning. And that horrible blue tag that I had drawn, was still there. If anything, it was even brighter and more noticeable than before.  My parents’ hearts were broken sending me into that school that day.  If there was one thing I could change, I would make sure they never knew what happened.  That whole situation hurt my mama and daddy way more than it hurt me.

I walked into the school, and sure enough, there were those girls.  They made comments about how I was wearing the same outfit I had worn the day before, and I looked at them, and did what became my coping method for the remainder of my time in the USA.  I smiled sweetly and very calmly told them in Spanish something to this effect, “I know you think my clothes are ugly, and that is ok, because my parents have given me the best they have. Moreover, my heart is pretty, and yours are not.  I would rather have a pretty heart than pretty clothes, any day.”  Me speaking Spanish became my defense mechanism, and I used it quite often after that.  However, once they realized that their words and teasing didn’t get a reaction out of me, they soon left me alone. 

That Christmas, I received two presents. I got a name brand shirt from Express and a pair of Keds.  And do you know? 30 years later and I still have the shirt, and I have the box my Keds came in.  I wore those Keds all the way through college. In my Keds box are bits and pieces and memories from high-school.  I bet none of those girls ever had anything that they appreciated or treasured as much as I did my real pair of Keds. I now know exactly how much my parents sacrificed to get me those things so that I could “fit in”. What they didn’t realize was, they had instilled in me life-skills and character that were far more valuable than any “thing”.

One thing that no one else in this whole entire world knows except me, since my mama passed away in 1999, is that that very same year, it was school spirit week, and we were supposed to wear either Clemson or University of SC shirts.  I wanted to wear a Clemson shirt, but we didn’t have one. So, I took one of my daddy’s white undershirts and pinned a piece of paper to the front. I drew a big “CU” in orange marker on the piece of paper. When I came to the table for breakfast, my mama gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Steph…” I looked up at her and said, “Yes ma’am?” And she said, “You have done a great job on the t-shirt, but do you remember the blue tagged Keds?” I acknowledged that I did, and she said, “This t-shirt, even though it is the best you have, will be worse than the Keds.”

I learned a lot that day.  I learned that my mama was wise, that kids were cruel, and that I was smart for listening. 

From that day forward, I have made it my mission to run interference for others in my vicinity that are in danger of being teased. Call it what you may, it is a lovely gift that came from hard experiences. 

Always, always, always, be kinder than necessary.

A tiny side note…..I sincerely hesitated in publishing this story, because I knew that my daddy would read it and his tender heart would break all over again. Isn’t that they way good daddies’ hearts are? They worry about and have regret over things that weren’t in their control. That being said, I know I said it within the body of my story, but I think it is worth saying again in plain and clear English. My daddy and mama took us on the biggest adventure of our lives when they became missionaries. One of the greatest gifts that I treasure far above any material thing, is the gift my parents gave us by virtue of their example…..embracing and loving people of every skin, language, and nationality. Above that, my mama and daddy NEVER, EVER failed to point us to Jesus and remind us that Jesus was the answer to everything. So daddy, thank you for making my life richer than anyone can possibly imagine. Rich, all because you said YES to Jesus. I love you.

The Hatchback of the Datsun

By: Stephanne Morris Marsh

Itineration, or furlough, is something that all missionaries are required to do; and unlike the connotation of the name, “furlough”, is anything but a rest.  Instead, this time period, is hated by most and dreaded by all, at the very least.  Itineration, or furlough, is meant to be a time of rest and relaxation so that missionaries can rest up, recharge, renew and gear up for another four years on the mission field.  Instead, it is a tiring and exhausting time of rushing to raise monetary support so that they can go back to the mission field and continue giving or sacrificing, their very lives.  Itineration is essentially like a political campaign.  You can liken it very easily to a politician raising money and support for his or her campaign.  Same concept really, you dress up pretty, tell the audience or congregation what you are going to do with the money that they are going to so generously (or not so generously) give, make them feel guilty and admonish them to give even more.  Yep.  Exactly the same, except for campaigning for a political office, we had a much higher calling. We were campaigning for Jesus!

The first itineration round that I remember was when I was five years old and my sister Keely, was a tiny little baby.  We had a blue Datsun hatchback, which was perfect, because in 1979, car seats and seat belts weren’t enforced.  We rarely could afford a hotel room, and as such, we essentially lived in our car.  Usually, the distance that we had to travel between service locations was great, and the hatchback allowed my sister and me to sleep on the flat floor in the back of the hatchback, gazing at the stars and being lulled to sleep by the rolling of the tires, as the Datsun raced down the interstate from state to state.  Generally, we had three to four services a week.  Usually, there were two on Sundays and one on Wednesday, with a mission’s convention thrown in somewhere on one of the other days.  My mom and dad tried very hard to coordinate services so that at least the two Sunday services were in close proximity to one another.  This didn’t always work, and my dad would leave the pulpit on a run, shaking everyone’s hands, blessing the old ladies’ hearts, and the Datsun would hit the road again, to our next destination, sometimes as much as 5 hours away from our first service. 

My parent’s home base was the West Florida District of the Assemblies of God.  This was basically the area which encompasses the panhandle of Florida, however, we literally had supporters all over the country.  That little Datsun hit the pavement and drove thousands of miles.  We campaigned, errr, uuuummm, itinerated from Missouri to South Carolina.  From Indiana to Arkansas.  From North Carolina to Washington, D.C.  From Alabama to Louisiana.  My sister and I had both visited over 30 states before she was two and I was five.  We were lulled to sleep countless nights by the sound of the tires, the twinkling stars waving at us through the window of the hatchback, and the quiet murmuring of my mom and dad as they worried and wondered if they had enough gas to make it to the next service.  I heard them alternately worrying and praying, as they hoped that the next service’s offering and pledge of support would be “enough”.  And somehow, it always was.

The hatchback of the Datsun is also where we discovered that my sister was prone to carsickness.  As I am sure you can imagine, there wasn’t much time to stop to clean up throw up, after all, the show must go on! Wait, we weren’t circus performers.  The service must go on. To this day, I have a steel bladder.  I can drive from coastal North Carolina, to lower Alabama, 10.5 hours, without stopping for a restroom break.  I must say, my mother was the strongest and most resourceful woman I have ever known.  She tirelessly washed cloth diapers and blankets by hand, many times having to let them dry by rolling the edge up in the window and letting it flap in the wind as we raced down the road.  Once the Datsun started rolling, it didn’t stop unless somebody was dying!

I learned to read at an early age, and we were kept entertained by counting states and learning geography.  Spotting car tags and keeping record of how many states we saw represented was one of our favorite pastimes.  We played for hours at seeing who could spot the next mile marker first, my mother was fiercely competitive and it was always a tense game.  To this day, I can tell you just about any town or city and what state it belongs to.  I can tell you which interstates and highways go in which direction, the fastest route just about anywhere, and I never get lost.  If I’ve been there once, I can find it again. That talent has come in handy more than once in my life.   

My dad was always the romantic, and even though doing so brought on an attack of hay fever, anytime he saw a bunch of wild flowers growing beside the road, he would stop and let the three of us, his “girls” pick armfuls of the “pretties”. We may not have had much money, be we had lots and lots of love in that Datsun.  Our family was everything.  Looking back and thinking, I now see exactly the sacrifices my parents made for the cause of sharing the gospel. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world when my daddy let me stop and pick flowers.  I remember wondering at the other cars that raced past us and didn’t stop like we did, to pick the flowers.  My parents both worked really hard to make the littlest tiny things seem like the biggest privilege in the world. We may have sacrificed, but we were happy, in that little blue Datsun hatchback, racing down the road.

The least of these….

By: Stephanne Morris Marsh

She was 97 years old. She was wrinkled and hunched over. She didn’t have very many teeth, but she was strikingly beautiful. She had the most gorgeous black eyes that twinkled and sparkled. I saw her as she was walking across the grassy field towards our clinic, and it was almost as though time stopped and everything around me stilled as she drew closer. I stepped towards patient registration so that I could hear her name. It was Ana.

As they took her name and information and filled it in on her patient intake sheet, I desperately wished I had a chair to offer her. She held onto the little wooden make-shift table with tiny, wrinkled, work-hardened hands. I am only 5’2″ tall, and I towered over her. She was barely 4 feet tall. When they were done with her paperwork, I took her arm and escorted her to the waiting area. As we were walking, I could see the pain flash across her face and darken her eyes, and just for a moment, she grimaced. Instinctively, I wanted to protect her. If I could have handled it physically, I would have scooped her up in my arms and carried her. Then, just as quickly as her face had reflected the pain, it was gone, and she flashed an infectious grin.

She intrigued me. I was in awe that she was as old as she was, ancient really, and still so very mobile, almost spritely. She was sharp as a tack and didn’t miss a thing going on around her. While I don’t normally follow one patient from intake to evangelism, I followed her from start to finish. I was drawn to her. I wanted to do something, anything to improve her life . Truth be told, I wanted to take her home with me.

We had over 400 people in the clinic the day I met Ana. I remember many of the faces of the people from the clinics that we haver run over the years, but I will never, ever forget Ana. She sat patiently in her chair and hummed quietly to herself. I stood hovering over her, protecting her, from what I don’t know, praying for her and thanking God I had the opportunity to be there that day to meet her. When it came her turn to see the doctor, I gently took her arm and helped her walk to the waiting chair.

I told the doctor that I would translate for him, that Ana was special. He had me ask her why she wanted to see a doctor, or if she had any complaints. I will never forget her answer after I translated the question. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Well, I heard there were doctors here, and since I have never seen a doctor, I wanted to see what it was like. It took me almost 2 hours walking to get here.” Then she laughed. When I told the doctor what she said, he grinned and grabbed her hand. He had me ask her if she had any pain or anything specific she wanted to ask him about. I did, and she said, “well, my back and knees always ache, but I am used to it and try not to think about it. I have to do my work whether my knees are hurting or not!” He asked what kind of work she did. She replied that she was a sheep herder and that she cut and bundled grass to sell.

The doctor’s eyes welled up with tears, and mine did as well. He was still holding her hand, and he said, “I know that the evangelism team will talk to her about Jesus, but can I ask her if she knows Him?” I smiled and told him that was perfectly fine, that taking care of her soul was more important than taking care of her physical body. He was still holding her hands and he leaned in very close so he was eye level with her. He said, “ask her if she knows who Jesus is.” I did, and even as I was still talking, her eyes danced and her face was flooded with joy. She said, “Oh yes. Jesus is my best friend. He is with me every day, all day. I would not have survived this life without Him.” Her eyes were full and overflowing with tears and as they made tracks down the wrinkles in her face, she was truly the most beautifully radiant woman I have ever seen. By that point, the doctor was wiping tears, I was crying and we were all three connected, forever connected. In that moment, we were connected in a way that is impossible to describe, unless you have witnessed a similar situation yourself.

After we composed ourselves, the doctor asked me to ask her if she was taking any medications. 96 years old, and she had never taken any medication in her life. Not a Tylenol, not an aspirin, nothing. The doctor determined that she was suffering from arthritis, and he told me to tell her that we had something to give her that would greatly diminish her pain. I wish that I could describe for you the look that came across her face when I told her that we had something to help her. Her face was radiant with light and she giggled like a giddy school girl. It was at that point that I asked her if she minded if I took her picture. She told me I could, and that is the picture at the top of the story. It was taken right after I told her we could help her. As I was taking the picture, she was thanking us and at the same time, she was imploring God to bless us and return the gifts we were giving to us in double measure. I am pretty sure the doctor wasn’t ready for Ana to leave his chair, but there was a room full of patients waiting to be seen. Reluctantly, he shook her hand, his eyes welling up with tears once again, and watched us walk away.

I helped her to the pharmacy, where we got her arthritis medication, vitamins, and anti-parasitics. Tears once again coursed down her cheeks when I explained and she realized it was completely free. I helped her walk to the edge of the field, all the time hanging on to her arm and dreading the moment that I was going to have to let Ana go.

It came all too quickly. I had to go back to the clinic, and she had to go back to her sheep. She kissed my hand and I hugged her tight and kissed her weathered cheek. She turned and slowly walked away. I stood there for a while watching her. My heart wanted to run after her, but what could I do? Then I realized. We had already done it. We brought her hope, and we gave her medication that would temporarily ease her pain. We did what we came to do. We brought our meager gifts, oh, but Ana…..she gave us even more. She gave us a glimpse of joy in the midst of suffering. She gave us a glimpse of joy in serving her Savior, even though her life was, by our standards, excruciating and hard to bear. She gave us a glimpse of what it is to persevere and to keep on keeping on, secure in knowing who Jesus is and what He had done for her.

I believe that Ana gave us far more that day than we gave her. She left an impression on me, one that I will never forget. Remembering Ana has made it so that I know, I have nothing in this world to complain about, and everything to rejoice about. And…..I know that I know, I will see Ana again one day. I will be able to thank her for the gift of joy that she gave to me.

Matthew 25:40 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

I am fairly certain, that every single thing that happened with Ana, made Jesus smile.

The joy of the Lord is her strength

What is the big deal?

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Team Leader, Trip Coordinator, & Missionary Kid

Disclaimer: This blog is extremely honest, maybe a little raw, but also very real. Stick with me. I think you will be glad if you read until the end.

The biggest question I get, is, “Why do you do this? I mean it’s great that you take doctors and medicine and treat people who wouldn’t otherwise have care, but you are only there for a week. What good are you able to do in just a week? What is the point? What is the big deal?”

And then my TOP favorite question/statement from people, the one that Jesus has to help me remember that my purpose is to love people like He does, and to be kind, above all else; and to remember what my mama said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is when people say this: “You realize there is no real value to a short-term mission trip. It’s really just a glorified vacation.”

Times like that make me understand why Jesus flipped tables on the temple steps. For real y’all. Controlling my tongue is getting somewhat easier as I get older. It’s just my face forgets to fall in line and keep it cool. There is nothing that gets my blood boiling and my heart racing like someone telling me that short-term missions is a waste of time and money. I want to know what mission trip they’ve been on that was a vacation! Every single one I have been on has been hard! So very hard. But also, so…..very…..worth…..it.

I have seen the articles that are written and take a stance against short-term missions. The ones that say there is no lasting value. And that, that makes me weep. It breaks my heart! Because it is the furthest thing from the truth. John 8:32 says: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, let me share a little bit (or maybe a lot) of truth with you.

First of all, God doesn’t waste anything. Period. We as humans waste things. We get off track and sometimes we make a great big mess! What I know, is that God takes all of our messes and He weaves them beautifully together into a tapestry with purpose, if we will only let Him. My life is a perfect example of a broken mess made beautiful.

Let me tell you, from my perspective and my personal experience, about the value of the short-term mission trips I lead. First of all, the value on this side of heaven is incalculable. We won’t know, until we get to heaven and see the lines of people stretched before us, and they call out to us, “Thank you! Thank you! I am here because you gave….or went…..or helped send.” While that thought gives us all warm fuzzies, it is sort of hard to comprehend and assign value to, so let’s calculate the value of tangible things. Although, I am fairly certain, when I am finished, you will agree with me, that these all of these things are priceless.

Allow me to lay out for you the purpose of the Ecuador Medical Mission Trips. Our ultimate purpose is church planting. Medical Missions opens a door like no other. Bringing doctors and medicines into an area that doesn’t have access to medical care is amazing on many different levels, but that is just the beginning. Over and over again, the physicians that go with me say the same thing. People want hope. People want hope and compassion. And that, that is exactly what we take to Ecuador.

Our trips are planned out 1 to 2 years in advance. We carefully select areas that don’t have evangelical churches and that haven’t had the opportunity to hear the good news of the Gospel. We then find a pastor, usually one right out of seminary that is willing to go into this area to live. CEMAD (Centro Evangelistico Metropolitano de las Asambleas de Dios) is the “mother” church that I work through. It is a church that my parents started over 40 years ago, in the heart of downtown Colonial Quito. Over the last 5 years, we have planted 28 new churches that are still thriving today. All 28 churches were planted because we ran a one day medical clinic in that area. This year, we will plant 5 new churches. 5 new churches in one week. Let that sink in.

Allow me to further explain: Once we pick an area in which to hold a medical clinic, there is a lot that happens before my medical team hits the ground. The mother church, CEMAD, and the willing seminary student/new pastor, hit the ground in the area, telling them that a team of doctors from the United States is coming and will provide free medical care, complete with prescriptions. They visit homes, the town square, the corner store…..and they tell them that help is coming. Just knowing that they have the opportunity to see a doctor is life-changing for many, and offers HOPE to all. All of this ground work is going on sometimes for a full year before we arrive. Usually by the time we arrive to hold our clinic, the pastor and volunteers have visited individual families 4-5 times and have formed relationships with them.

When our team arrives at the location for the clinic, we will usually have about 200 people waiting in line. The stream doesn’t stop. We typically see about 500 people in one day. You can see videos of a few of our past clinics here and here and here. Every single person receives at the very minimum, vitamins and anti-parasitic medications. The anti-parasitic medications are life-changing, and we give them enough for two years. After the patients are seen by our doctors and go through the pharmacy, then they are given the opportunity to go speak with our evangelism team. This is where the statistics are staggering.

It is extremely rare for someone to choose not to visit with the evangelism team. What is amazing, is that roughly 87% of the people, after hearing the gospel message, give their hearts to Jesus. 87%.

Here are the statistics from our 2018 trip:

2018 Statistics

Patients treated – 2,852

Reading glasses fitted – 1,936

Prescriptions filled – 11,408

Churches planted – 3

Hearts given to Jesus – 2,481

I know. I know. Your next question is, “That is wonderful, but how do you follow-up with these people?” I am so very glad you asked. You see, every person that came through the clinic was invited back later that afternoon for a Bible Study. As we are packing up the clinic, the people are coming back in and the Pastor is prepared to give out Bibles and hold their very first “church” service. At the end, the Pastor tells everyone that there will be a church service that very Sunday and that everyone is welcome to come back. The vast majority, come back. Sunday after Sunday. And a church is born.

Heart for Ecuador’s involvement doesn’t end there. See, once a church is begun, there is still a lot of work to be done! We work to help find a permanent location to house a church. Then we help pay rent until the church is financially stable. If a church is really thriving, then we help find a piece of property and we take a team down to build a simple church building. Usually out of each new church plant, we also begin a feeding program for the street children. At some of the church plants, we feed over 1,000 children a week. For many, the meal they receive from the church is the only one they get all day.

So, you see, when someone asks me what the big deal about a short term medical mission trip is, or what value it has, you can understand why I have a hard time putting into words. The big deal is that the very souls of human beings are at stake. The value is eternity and you can’t put a price tag on that.

If you feel a tug on your heartstrings, and you want to know how you can be involved by going or helping to send, just let me know! I will be glad to share opportunities with you. It really is as simple as John Piper says it. Go, Send, or Disobey.

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him, who bring good news.

Lord, help my feet to never grow weary of bringing good news. Until the whole world hears.

How Grace Robbed Me of My Shame (and it can rob you of yours, too)

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh

How many of you (you don’t have to raise your hand or answer out loud) either struggle greatly with guilt over things you did in the past, or at times wonder if God could REALLY, truly, actually forgive you with no strings attached and never remember your sin again, or….lay awake some nights and think that surely, if people truly knew what you had done in the past or even in the very recent past, that you would be shamed, scorned or even shunned? I am going to share my story of finding Grace with you.  Because I have found that I am not the only one that satan has deceived with his lies.

See, I could have answered yes to all of those questions not so long ago.  My head knew all of the right answers.  I was the daughter of missionaries and pastors for goodness sake! If anyone else brought up these doubts, I could quote the right scriptures and talk them out of their guilt and shame faster than you could pop up some Jiffy Pop Popcorn! Other people weren’t held to the same standards as me. They sinned before they knew Christ.  I had known Jesus my whole life, and I sinned anyway.  In my mind, that made me out of the reaches of Grace. Grace was extended to those that found Him and then followed Him without failing.  I punished myself mentally for YEARS for things I had done.  My mind had twisted what I knew as the Gospel truth to constantly remind myself that I was “held to a higher standard,” I sinned knowing I could later ask for forgiveness, and that made me the worst hypocrite of all. I would literally lay awake and think through what I had done and explain to myself why I was worse than others because of my “knowledge” and therefore, it probably didn’t count for me. I know that sounds insane, but I wrestled with this for years! Somehow, Stephanne Marsh was beyond the grace and mercy of God.  That is a scary, lonely, dark and desolate place to be.  In this dark place, satan convinced me that I was unworthy of the calling God had placed on my life.  He convinced me that I was unworthy of my God given purpose, and that because I was such a sinner, I was unusable by God.  This is one of satan’s biggest and most successful tactics in keeping us from pursuing our Godly purpose and calling. He convinces us that we aren’t worthy.

Luke 15:11-32 -The parable of the prodigal son. How many of you are familiar with this parable?

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you,19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Jesus told this parable, not as a historic account of something that had happened, rather he told this story as a way to explain to us in a way that we could understand, that had familiar concepts that we could relate to.  He told this story to tell us that the FATHER’S love is always greater than any sin we can commit or have committed.

This is the truth that stares me in the face every time I read the parable of the prodigal son.  I cannot do anything to EARN His love, nor can I do anything to LOSE His love.  Thank the Lord, I am not that powerful. He knew that I was going to sin, yet he was so determined to get me back, that He came up with a whole elaborate plan that would cost Him His son. No matter what I have done, or how many times I have done it, He loves me so much, He is standing ready, waiting to pull me into His arms. The moment I ask for forgiveness, it is gone.  Forgotten, as far as the East is from the West….and He remembers my sin no more. 

Where I got stuck was in believing that I was outside of God’s ability to forgive, because I was worse than others, because I knew better.  I then got stuck in a vicious cycle of self-hate, self-punishment, and self-loathing.

What made the difference? What finally convinced me that I was the same as everyone else and allowed me to get rid of my guilt and shame?

It is simple.  I finally read His word with a starving heart, looking for the exceptions I had convinced myself were so real.  One day, I woke up and I cried out to God.  I said, “if you are really there, and you really love me like you say you do, then I need you to show me that I, too, can be forgiven.  I need you to show me that you love me with the same love that I tell everyone else you have for them.  I need you to show me, WHERE IT IS WRITTEN.”  And He did. 

I began reading the Bible, the verses that I knew so very well, but I read them with a starving hunger, to find something that would save the terrible wretch that was me.  As I pawed through the Bible, and drank it in, I was astounded! I couldn’t believe it! See, I had been confusing conviction with condemnation.  I believed the voices I was hearing at night were God and the Holy Spirit telling me why I was unworthy.  I asked forgiveness for the same sins, over and over and over again for years! I knew the difference between the two, was able to point it out to others, yet I was unable to understand or see the difference myself. 

What is condemnation?

Condemnation comes from Satan and is meant to tear you down. Condemnation continually points out what a failure you are, and how badly you’ve messed up. Condemnation is showing you the problem, but avoiding the solution.

Jesus did NOT come to condemn the world (John 12:47). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Satan on the other hand is KNOWN for accusing the brethren (Rev 12:10).

Why won’t you ever hear God telling you what a failure you are? Because Jesus said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47) 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it.

What is conviction?

Conviction is known in the Bible as Godly sorrow. God’s Word tells us that Godly sorrow is what leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?)

 Condemnation tells you, “You are such a failure! Look at what you did!” while conviction tells you, “Come to me… and I will forgive you!”

Not only is God willing to forgive your sins, but He longs (deeply desires) to do so! Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.”

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”

Romans 2:4, “Or are you (so blind as to) trifle with and presume upon and despise in your mind and inner man to accept God’s will?”Amp or NLT – Don’t’ you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is meant to turn you from your sin?

Conviction shows you the answer to your problem. Conviction shows you the blood of Jesus that wipes away your sins!

What is the difference?

Conviction shows you the answer (the Blood of Jesus, which washes away sin), while condemnation shows you the problem (the sin, the past and your failures). Condemnation shows you the problem, but conviction shows you the answer.

Condemnation shouts, “Your past! Your sins! You loser!” But conviction shouts, “The Blood of Jesus washes away sins! Come to Jesus and be forgiven of your sins! You can be forgiven! Your sins and past don’t have to be a part of you anymore!”

Romans 8:1 – So, now, there is no condemnation in those that belong to Christ Jesus.

Even though Romans 8:1 teaches us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, all of us still struggle greatly with guilt and condemnation. Because of our love for God, we want to do what is right, yet there will still be times when we will slip up, make mistakes, make wrong choices, and sin.  If you realize you have sinned, you should quickly and thoroughly repent, be willing to turn away from the sin, and do what is right in God’s eyes with His help.  Once you have repented and asked God to forgive you, you should not continue carrying the heavy burden of condemnation.  Jesus delivered us form both iniquity and guilt.  When we repent and ask God for forgiveness, He not only forgives, but he forgets and removes our sin as far as the east is from the west.  Psalm 103:12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

and Hebrews 10:17-18 17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”[e] 18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for sin – no other sacrifice is or EVER will be needed.  (Hebrews 10:11-12  11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand).

The guilt we feel when we sin is often our way of “sacrificing” to pay for the sins we have committed.  We think that somehow, if we are miserable and don’t allow ourselves to enjoy life, that our feelings of condemnation help balance the scales of justice.  This is a lie from the pit of hell.  One I personally believed for too long!

Guilt is an invisible burden that wears us out and does no good at all.  It actually prevents progress and renders us incapable of proper fellowship with God, because His word tells us that we are to approach Him with faith and with boldness, not with fear and guilt.  God promises us that He is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from them if we repent and admit our sins.  (1 John 1:9)

God never does anything halfway.  Jesus’ work on the cross is finished.  If you have admitted your sin, repented and turned away from it, then don’t believe your FEELINGS more than you believe God’s Word. 

Grace is not limited to Old Testament stories or New Testament Parables.  God’s grace is a present-day gift available to all of us, the sinner and the saint, the child who leaves and the child who stays, the one who runs to sin and the one who makes every effort to do the right thing.

Grace is the undeserved, unmerited favor of God. Grace gives you and me immediate access to a Holy God in our current state.  Grace didn’t just appear on the scene at Calvary.  Grace ALWAYS was.  Grace was in the garden in Genesis.  Grace gave Noah the opportunity to try to save some of humanity.  Grace made it possible for Moses to go back up the mountain and get a new set of tablets when he destroyed the first tablets in his rage.  Grace allowed King Solomon to take over the throne after King David’s family suffered the consequences of David’s sin.

If God knew that we would choose the wrong things, (Just like Adam and Eve and King David) why would he give us life? Why would he give us purpose, knowing full well that at some point we would all trip up and fail? The answer is as simple and as complicated as the question.  Free will.

The father in the story of the prodigal son knew that if he gave his son enough time and space, he would eventually find his way back home.  When the son finally returned, the father didn’t berate him for leaving, he didn’t force him to come in through the back door.  The father did the unspeakable.  He ran to meet his son and he covered him.  That is the perfect picture of what our heavenly Father’s love looks like.  His love reaches for you, wherever you are, and covers you.  Grace isn’t waiting at the door.  Grace runs up to meet you where you are and covers you completely. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8.

We must hide HIS WORD and promises in our heart so that when satan comes at us, we can remind him of what God’s WORD says about us.

For a long time, I thought that Grace had been over-used, abused, taken advantage of.  People had a license to do whatever they wanted because “everything was covered under Grace.” But what I have learned in this very personal journey is that true GRACE meets you where you are, but it never leaves you there.  A true understanding and revelation of Grace causes us to live Godly lives, turning down sin and temptation of all sorts.  A true revelation of grace not only forgives our sin, but also makes us want to turn from sin.  Grace can be found in every book, every story of the Bible. Grace provides freedom and restoration.  Grace shows us that even when we cross a boundary, we can always turn back.  Jesus is always waiting.

Romans 12:2 talks about the “renewing of the mind.” This is one of the greatest instructions given to Christians, and one of the greatest things that can happen to us.  To renew or change our minds is not only to think differently, but also to bring our thoughts into alignment with God’s thoughts. 

When Jesus became sin, He became the thief who stole our sin and shame from us.  Jesus also stole from satan.  He stole satan’s ability to taunt us with our shame.  Jesus stole our guilt, and in exchange, gave us new life, a life with purpose, a life that ultimately recognizes the glory of God and gives God the worship he deserves.  Our purpose is to bring worship to God!

Lose the idea that grace is for a select few.  Lose the idea that grace has to be earned.  Lose the notion that grace is a concept only relevant in Bible times. Grace always is because God ALWAYS is! When you seek God’s face, you will find yourself looking right at the source of Grace. 

The grace that the cross provided is actually the most scandalous thing that has happened in the entire history of the world.  The death of Jesus to atone for our sins is actually the biggest heist ever carried out.  The death of Jesus on the cross gave us the provision of grace, which has the power to rob us of all of our shame, if we just turn to and follow Him.  When we truly realize the magnitude of God’s plan and what Jesus did, it compels us to change from the inside out, becoming more like Him with each passing day.

New Year’s Reminds Me of Church

Since it is New Year’s Day, I really can’t let this opportunity escape me to tell you a story about a New Year’s Eve in my childhood. Growing up, my family went to church. A lot. As in, most weeks we were at church a minimum of 5-6 times a week. And that didn’t even count the Bible studies my parents held in our home during the day while Keely and I were at school.

So, New Year’s Eve? We never went to a “party”. We did something way better. We went to church. I think people here in the States call it “Watch Night Service”.

The best part about New Year’s Eve Service was that we got to eat afterwards! But before I tell you about that, I need to share with you how my kid brain operated. Trust me. You want to read this. This is funny.

You know how you had thoughts about things when you were a kid, only to grow up and discover that what you thought was totally off base and just plain out wrong? Yep. This story is going straight down that path.

There were several instances in our growing up years that my sister Keely and I truly believed that the rapture had happened, that Jesus had returned and that we had been left behind. That is an indescribably awful feeling. However, now, those stories are hilarious in and of themselves. I need to make a note to write those down to share!

But I digress. Back to New Year’s Eve. Keely and I were sitting in the service, listening to our dad preach and singing songs and trying extremely hard to pay attention and not get in trouble. We knew there was food that would be served after the service was over, and that was supposed to happen at midnight! And our growling and rumbling tummies did not let us forget.

This is where it gets funny. I had in my head that we were “waiting and watching” for Jesus to come back to rapture us to heaven. I knew the Bible said that no one knows the day or the time, but New Year’s seemed as good of a time as any, and a good number of the Bride of Christ was conveniently gathered in churches across the world AND what else were we watching and waiting for? (Please note this belief was not something my parents told me, it was something I assumed.)

Now, I know that we are supposed to long for the return of Jesus and long for heaven…but at my young age, I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old, I had storybook visions of heaven and I didn’t REALLY want to go, (shocking I know!) because I was not interested in wearing a long white dress, playing a harp and floating on the clouds. (My view of heaven and what it will be like has since changed drastically. If you think we are going to be floating on clouds and turning into angels with harps, I encourage you to read the Bible to see what it says about heaven…. or even “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. He is a very talented writer and has studied scriptures extensively. I recommend that book wholeheartedly.) I was also interested in seeing Jesus and God, and maybe Moses and Noah. I was also really curious about the pearly gates and the crowns of jewels, and I was anxious to see if I could walk on the Crystal Sea like Jesus and Peter walked on the Sea of Galilee. But not interested enough to want Jesus to come back before we got to eat pancakes and bacon!!

So, I spent my time, sitting in my chair, trying to be a good example and a great missionary kid, and I secretly prayed that Jesus would wait to come back until after we had the chance to eat.

If my mama and daddy had of known what I was thinking and praying…. I can assure you. I would not be here right now writing this story for you to read.

Isn’t it funny how we can take little things and twist them into our version of truth or reality? While ALL of my views on this have since changed, due to my personal study of the Bible and my personal relationship with Jesus, what I want you to know is this:

Jesus IS coming back. Do you know him? Are you ready? If you aren’t longing to leave this world behind and go to heaven, then I would wager to say that you may not know him quite like you should. But don’t despair! You can know him like that. He’s waiting for you.

To put it in simple terms, knowing Jesus can be compared to your relationship with your favorite person. Think about how you miss them when they are gone and long to hear from them. Jesus is the same way. He longs for you to talk to him, and you should miss him every second when you aren’t spending time with him.

Statistics are staggering regarding people’s viewpoints on whether they really want to go to heaven. Don’t get me wrong. They definitely don’t want to go to hell, but they want to wait to go to heaven until they are more mature and “ready” to sit on a cloud playing a harp. If you don’t really want to go to heaven because it sounds boring, then I encourage you to learn more about it!

Most importantly, I encourage you to ask Jesus to make himself real to you. He will. He did it for me, and he will do it for you. I started just like that. I asked him to show himself to me. I wanted to KNOW him. And he did. I started reading my Bible everyday and it was amazing. It was like he had a private conversation with me every single time I read. Before you knew it, I was spending all of my spare time listening to him and talking to him. My life hasn’t been the same since.

Do you know him?

Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’

Matthew 24:30

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Matthew 24:36-44

““Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels of heaven nor the Son — except the Father alone. As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away. This is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding grain with a hand mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. But know this: If the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and not let his house be broken into. This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Christmas isn't over….there is one last gift…..

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh

If you are like me, the day after Christmas is really hard! All of that build up, all of that preparation, and poof! It is done. Over. Gone. If you are feeling a little rumpled in spirit today (a little Anne of Green Gables reference for all of you Anne aficionados out there), remember that you still have a Perfect Gift that never ends. Jesus is the gift that continuously gives, with no strings attached. He gives us unconditional love, no matter what we have done or where we are. There is not one single thing in this world (or out of it!) that can make Him stop loving you. His love is perfect and unlimited and is NEVER subject to variations. He doesn’t love you less because of what you have done or even haven’t done.  We are the ones that put those limitations on His love, and those limitations are false, and completely without truth. Hang with me here!

I know that there have been many, many times in my life that I have thought that I was unlovable, or even worse, unforgiveable.  But those are lies, straight from the pits of hell.  If you think that you are personally capable of causing the God of the universe to love you any more or any less, let me help you.  You, my friend, are not that powerful.  Jeremiah 31:3 tells us that “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Everlasting means never ending!  He loves us with an EVERLASTING love. 

If you feel far away from Him, or feel as though He can’t possibly love you, I would wager to guess that you just might be basing it off of YOUR feelings and YOUR behavior. When we are unhappy with our behavior, we tend to feel unworthy of HIS love.  When we feel unworthy of His love, then we tend to withdraw from Him and spending time in His presence, and even though it was us that chose to withdraw, usually out of guilt, we tend to feel and tell ourselves that God is withholding Himself from us until we get back to where we need to be.  This is a vicious cycle; one I have found myself in too many times to count, and one I observe my friends in as well.

When you base whether or not you are loved by Jesus off of your feelings, then you open your heart and mind up to the lies and trickery of the evil one.  Think about the person or people you love most in the world. Think about your relationship with your children, or if you don’t have children, think about your relationship with your parents. Is there ANYTHING that your child could do to keep you from loving them? I would wager to say that there isn’t.  You might be disappointed with their actions, but I would bet my bottom dollar that you would still defend them to the point of death.  If you don’t have children, think about the love your parents had for you.  If you are still alive and kicking, I have no doubts that your parents sacrificed MUCH to ensure your success. The love our parents had for us and the love we have for our children is absolutely NOTHING compared to the love that God has for each of us.  It isn’t even in the same league.  We can’t comprehend the great and everlasting love that He has for us.  All we can do is read the TRUTH (the words He gives us in the Bible) and ask Him to help us receive and believe by faith that truth. 

Romans 8:38-39 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 13:5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

1 John 4:15-16, 18 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

He is always waiting on us to draw near to Him.  He is always waiting with His arms wide open.  He loves us with an everlasting love, no matter what we have done.  James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” So, crawl up in His lap today! He is waiting for you to press into Him, and lean on His everlasting arms, so that He can lavish you with His love. And speaking of LAVISH – (Lavish is one of my very favorite words!!)

Have you ever read Ephesians?? Just read Ephesians chapter 1 verses 7 and 8. I love the word lavished. It’s so luxurious!! In Jesus, God “lavished on us” (1:8) the “riches of God’s Grace” (1:7). There is no end to God’s favor. All of the riches of God’s grace are being poured out on you, now and forever. This doesn’t mean that you will be given everything that you want in this life. Not at all. What it does mean is that whatever comes your way, no matter what happens to you, Jesus will be there, working in each situation as long as you give it to Him. How insanely awesome is that?

I’ve been meditating on the Word of The Lord, day and night. I’ve been earnestly seeking His face. I can tell you, when you seek, you will find. When you ask, He will answer you. This is what I have learned:

Every answer we need, for every problem we have, can be found in God’s Word. When you are going through a tough time, it is not enough to know that God’s answer to the problem is “somewhere in the Bible”. Find the scripture in which God has promised the solution. Meditate on it until the truth of that scripture is revealed to you. If you don’t know where to start, google it! Seriously! The internet can tell you where to find scriptures for whatever you are looking for. It’s a great place to start. Or, look under key words in the back of the Bible. But be ready. When you search with an open heart, you will find what you seek, and oh, so very much more.

Proverbs 4:20–22
20 My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; 22 for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.

God has given us a sure way to receive the answers to our problems and challenges. It is His Word. Every answer or solution we need is found in the Bible. Find your answer today. Stop looking everywhere else. Go straight to the source and tell fear where to go. Let God lavish you with the perfect gift of His love today.

If after making it all the way through this blog post you still need something to lift your spirits and make you giggle, then might I suggest you read a story I wrote about a day when I was a very bad and naughty little girl? It is called, “Soda crackers and Fanny” and you can read it here.