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PRAY: The Panama Papers, #5 (Candy Girl)

“How did passing out candy become my job?”  “Surely God brought me to Panama to be more than a candy supplier.” “I’m not sure we should be handing out candy anyway!” The afternoon before, all these thoughts ran through my head when I received a minor rebuke for not bringing out our bag of candy soon enough. Someone had given us a giant sackful of miniature Tootsie Pops®, and Dr. Walker Moore wanted us to use the treats in ministry. I knew we could use them. But this former dental hygienist didn’t want to be the one to do it. Still, I’ve spent years teaching my children the value of proper authority, which God places in our lives to provide both protection and direction. And as not only Awe Star’s president but also our trip leader, Walker’s words mattered. I confessed my inner grumbling and promised God I’d become the Candy Girl, joyful in sharing the treats He supplied. He didn’t wait long to bless my new attitude. The next day found the team rising early to eat, have a quick Bible study, and head out to a school at the edge of the Panama Canal. A previous Awe Star team had visited the same school  to minister to older students. This morning, our team had the privilege of sharing “Freedom” with a younger group. The Panama heat radiated up from the concrete as we set up to begin our ministry. Dozens of curious children milled around us, pointing and asking questions. We engaged them with a quick line dance. Soon, performers and audience were good to go. Once again, I felt blessed to pray through the drama and ask for the winds of salvation to blow through tender hearts. Awe Star never presses children—or anyone—for decisions, but we understand our responsibility to share God’s truth. As the team poured out their hearts in the drama, I poured out mine in prayer. But I didn’t anticipate what happened next. When the drama concluded, the students hurried out in their ministry teams, and I pulled out my big bag of candy. I still felt a bit concerned because I knew the students would follow the sweet treasures. Would this keep them from responding to the gospel? But I remembered Walker’s direction, and lifted the giant sack. Before I could decide where to take it, a cluster of children surrounded me—so many, in fact, that I feared I might stumble. Amid the clamor, I held the bag high. Then suddenly, God gave me an idea. Perhaps I could use the candy to share my story! I sat down, holding the treats close as my new best friends surrounded me. I pulled...

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PRAY: The Panama Papers, #4 (Casca Viejo)

French Embassy, Panama City, Panama Am I really in Panama? As I followed the line of students down the sidewalk beside the narrow brick street, this question kept returning to my mind. We’d spent the morning in ministry at two different schools. Now, in the early afternoon, our bus delivered us to a new and (for us) unexplored area of the city. I gazed upward at columns and arches. I peered through wrought-iron gates into tiny courtyard gardens. Charleston? Perhaps. New Orleans? Maybe. Panama City, Panama? Surely not. I learned we had entered the area of Panama City commonly known as the French Quarter. In truth, it is Casca Viejo (“old part”), a section rebuilt in the 17th century after pirates destroyed the city. It boasts a curious blend of French colonial and Spanish architecture that made me feel as though we’d traveled through time. We moved to a small plaza overlooking the ocean, flanked by more beautiful colonial buildings that included the French Embassy. Our now-familiar routine allowed for a sooth setup. Students, not Awe Star Ministries staff, introduced the drama and shared their testimonies. And once again, I stepped back from the presentation to pray. A guard on the embassy steps caught my eye and heart. He couldn’t hear the drama from where he stood, but I could tell he was watching. “Move him closer,” I prayed. My gaze traveled to other onlookers, but when it returned to him only seconds later, his spot at the embassy doors was vacant. He had already come closer—and kept doing so throughout the next few minutes. At one point, a man in a business suit appeared at the embassy door, and the guard hurried back to his post. After a brief conversation, the other man moved to the parking lot, then turned to walk away. Our guard stepped back to a spot where he could see and hear the drama once again.. Next, two more men in uniform (complete with berets) appeared. Soldiers? Policemen? I wasn’t sure. I added them to my prayers as the eighteen-minute drama unfolded. After the presentation, I saw one ministry team move straight toward the security guard, a second to the two other men in uniform. My prayers intensified. As the teams came back together a short time later, they brought joyful news that all three—along with several other onlookers—had prayed to receive Christ. I thought back to the Bible stories of guards and soldiers who encountered Jesus. Today, God had moved these protective servants to the right place at exactly the right time. Familiar with authority, they now served a new one. And His kingdom endures forever. As we climbed back into the bus to...

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PRAY: The Panama Papers, #2 (Cinco de Mayo)

Students share the gospel along Cinco de Mayo. Imagine a flea market, a discount strip mall, and a busy downtown street crammed together. Hear the bursts of Latin music, loudspeakers promoting various businesses, children crying, gears grinding, and vendors pitching their wares. What do you have? Cinco de Mayo—not the Mexican holiday, but a pedestrian mall that forms the end of Avenida Central in Panama City. What else do you have? A constant stream of spectators. Back in May, the team I came to serve had learned Awe Star’s pantomime drama, “Freedom,” which shares the gospel from creation through resurrection to the accompaniment of a musical and (in this case) Spanish-language track. The evening they arrived in Panama, the team spent time refreshing their parts. And now, after a morning of worship at La Communidad Church, the group ate the first of many PB & J lunches and headed out for the first afternoon of official ministry. On my last Awe Star trip, I’d played a part in the drama. This time, I had the privilege of watching and serving the team. Heat radiated from the concrete as we set up the first drama site in front of a busy market. Fingers fumbled as masks, streamers, and other basic equipment traveled down the line of missionaries. Before each presentation, one person introduces “Freedom” and another one or two share a personal testimony. At the drama’s close, the introducer also explains the drama and how it relates to the gospel. Students then head out in teams of three to share the message of Christ with those who want to hear more. Today, Awe Star leadership did most of the speaking. Tomorrow, all that would change. We knew team members were nervous about their ability to remember their parts and perform well. But we also knew they had to push past their fear so the message could go forth. What a privilege to watch that come to pass! Of course, the day’s performances weren’t polished or perfect. But I loved watching the students and adults give their best efforts. I loved seeing them walk up to people who didn’t speak their language and attempt to share what God could do in their lives. And I loved the unseen part of my assignment as well. Yes, I folded streamers, passed out ministry packs, and did other tasks that helped the team move smoothly through the streets. But my special task that day—and every other day—was praying for the team as God moved in and through them. I had the quiet joy of looking out at audience members and asking God to touch their hearts. I had the privilege of standing against the...

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PRAY: The Panama Papers, #1

Some West Palm Beach team members at the Miami airport “You must have lots of stories from your trip.” “I can’t wait to hear your stories.” “When are you going to tell us about your trip?” After a summer of missions, I do have stories. Most of the Ecuador ones belong to SUSIE Magazine. God did great things in Quito, and I have a full notebook—and heart—to prove it. My Panama trip, July 30-August 7, 2011, rose from my relationship with Dr. Walker Moore and student mission-sending organization, Awe Star Ministries. This year, they invited me to minister alongside them in the beautiful country of Panama. Since God and I often talked about my desire to serve there, I received the invitation as His answer. ************************************************************* “Engage the culture!” Dr. Moore emphasizes this truth in Awe Star’s missionary training. In order to prepare the way for the gospel, a missionary must get involved with the people by any means possible. As his writing partner, I knew the teaching. But I didn’t know God would provide early-morning, in-my-face instruction. I’d left home at 3:30 am, so as soon as I landed in Miami, I headed for the restroom. My goal: to brush my hair and teeth, switch glasses to contacts, and otherwise make myself presentable before I met the team. As soon as I entered the restroom, though, the whispers began. “Wait! She has the same shirt we do—but it’s a different color!” “I wonder where she’s going!” and finally (not whispered), “Are you on an Awe Star trip?” So much for making myself presentable. I paused only long enough to inform my questioners that I was on an Awe Star trip—theirs, in fact. Outwardly, I smiled. Inwardly, I scolded myself. Why hadn’t I spoken first? What about “engaging the culture”? How could I do on the mission field what I wouldn’t do in the airport? God has ways of making His point. And this time, I got it. A few minutes later, I left the restroom prepared to engage the thirty-plus member team. When I reached the gate, I introduced myself to the adult leaders. Then I circulated among the students, asking questions here, speaking a word there. I received some stares. But I also received smiles, questions, and the beginnings of the relationships I’d asked God to build. As I looked around the group, I recognized all the levels of excitement, anticipation, and fear I’d experienced on my first mission trip. And I realized anew that one of my constant prayers for this trip would be the one I’ve prayed for several years, “Lord, let me decrease as You increase in my life. Hide me behind Your cross so...

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Pray: Why Missions?

Team Latvia, 2011 (Karissa in front row, second from left) “Wow. That’s great for your kids. I just don’t  think our family could do that.” That’s the most common response I hear when people find out that we said goodbye to both our youngest daughters this past weekend. One left Saturday and the other Sunday for the training step of their five-week mission trips. Although they’re both in Dallas for training, on Thursday, Melanie (14) and her team will head to Peru and Karissa (16) and hers to Latvia. This trip marks Melanie’s third missionary journey and second summer in Peru. And Latvia makes Karissa’s (counting on fingers here) fifth mission trip and fourth summer overseas (she’s served in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Panama in all). And yes, we could list similar countries and numbers for their older siblings. Missions matters to our family and, by God’s grace, has become a treasured part of our lives. Team Peru, 2011 (Melanie in second row, far right) I’ve read some negative things about short-term mission trips that focus more on the needs of those who go than the needs in-country. I count many fulltime missionaries as friends and understand something about the work these trips involve for them. But I will continue to help my children (and others) go. Since I hear many questions about our family’s mission activities, I thought I’d share my responses to a few of the more frequently asked. Aren’t your kids missing out on normal summer activities? In a word, yes. But I don’t have a problem with that. My children have grown up knowing that what was right for everyone was not necessarily right for them. Their youth group’s going to a fantastic camp this summer. My girls are sad to miss the adventure and praying for their friends who attend. But at the burden to take the gospel overseas outweighs any desire on their part for sun, sand, jobs, or a great camp experience. To say they’re missing out is like saying the person who dines on steak and lobster has blown the opportunity for a fantastic Happy Meal. How can you let them go for so long? Our children serve with Awe Star Ministries which provides a 35-day (3 days training, 30 days in-country, 2 days debriefing) missions experience. In the beginning, these were rite of passage trips for them both. The trip length has been specifically designed as an intentional step from childhood to adult. Now, they love the five-week format and the intense discipleship/missions experience. I miss my daughters, but I rest easier at night knowing they’re with an organization I trust doing work that counts for eternity. How...

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The disclaimer posted on my blog informs readers that sometimes I receive free books in exchange for reviews in the READ portion of my blog. I don’t allow this to affect my review, but I want people to know the truth. Today, I want to give a similar disclaimer about PRAY. For some time, I’ve known God had made me an intercessor—or, as Henry Blackaby puts it, a “knee” in the body of Christ. The same creative, perceptive qualities that make me a good writer also make me a sensitive intercessor. My reading, writing, and prayers have long been intertwined. That’s how the READ.WRITE. PRAY brand came to be. BUT (this is the disclaimer part): I’m not a prayer expert.I have a deep concern that I not be seen as some kind of super-spiritual person, a person who knew God in way others couldn’t or didn’t. Jesus makes Himself accessible and available to all. He leaves none of us as orphans; He comes to us (John 14:18). And once we know Him by faith, the Holy Spirit gives us constant access to His ear and His heart. So Marti and her prayers are only as special as everyone else and theirs. This disclaimer follows a sad occurrence. I’m preparing to teach about prayer in November at iGO, Awe Star Ministries’ annual missions conference. It’s one of my favorite events of the year, one where I gain more than I give. But as I prepare, I face battles. Apparently, I need to recognize what I don’t know so I can teach it. Yesterday, God made my inadequacies all too clear. In the midst of a busy day, I received a phone call. I’d already shuttled children back and forth to work and classes, taught my daughters, and needed some solid writing time. I knew I only had an hour at home before I had to leave again. The person who called me had a health concern. Now, she often has a health concern, and often blows it out of proportion. I had a busy week with multiple writing assignments looming. I had those excuses—not my Savior or my caller—first in my heart and mind. I listened with half an ear, gave some pat answers, rolled my eyes, and hung up as quickly as I could. And then—God grabbed my heart. And what He said left me unable to write for the remaining time I had at home. Marti, you plan to teach about “the least of these” and how prayers for them connect to my heart. Don’t you know the one who called you is the least of these? Dear child, if the call had come from a close friend,...

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