Final Reflections from Thailand: Broadening our Scope

Philippians 4:19; “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

We started this journey asking that God would broaden our scope to see His victory over the tyranny of sin. Indeed, during the week, we witnessed in so many amazing ways that God is indeed claiming the nation of Thailand back for His kingdom. We witnessed how He uses His saints to reach into the darkness to pull souls out for Himself. Through the amazing work of ZOE, He is restoring the lost back into relationship, wiping the tears from their eyes and giving them new identity, much in the way He longs to do for us and through us for others--all according to the riches of His glory.

I have had the blessing and privilege of chronicling this journey as the team historian/blogger/chronicler. I pray that I have been able to portray an effective account of how our Loving Father offers provision in need, rescue in loss, and redemption in failure. For this final post, the other members of the team you sent will share how God touched them during our time at ZOE, this amazing city of God that serves as an advance signpost of our true hope: His ultimate, future victory over brokenness and darkness. We hope you are encouraged as you read! God loves you!

One day all things will be made new,
I’ll see the hope You call me to,
And in Your kingdom paved with gold,
I’ll praise Your faithfulness of old!  ~Keith and Kristyn Getty, When Trials Come

For our victorious God,
Jason (on behalf of your Evergreen ZOE team)

Carol Nakatsui

Sawasdee ka!

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved.” 2 Cor 2:15

People who follow God have a “pleasing aroma of Christ.” I had the privilege of witnessing this while at ZOE. They “smelled” like Christ: the testimony of Michael and Carol Hart, founders of ZOE International who depend on God for their every need; the weekly ZOE family prayer time of repentance and praise; the sweet faces of children being redeemed and restored by Christ; the joy of the Lord on the faces of the ZOE ministry students who wake up early and study hard because they run with perseverance to please their God, so they can tell others about eternal life in Him; the “house parents” who have a calm and a peace found only in Christ as they go about the difficult task of parenting their charges who have been rescued from unimaginable situations; the missionaries and staff who work tirelessly to organize gospel outreach events and raise awareness about human trafficking. My prayer is that I too, will take up the cross and spread the gospel, leaving a sweet fragrance of Christ.

Denna Jung

First, I give thanks to God for the honor and privilege to go on this trip to Thailand. It was challenging to see so many patients in a small amount of time while dealing with my own unexplained, worsening headaches, vomiting, and nausea, along with severe motion sickness, allergies and sleep deprivation. Yet in the midst of this, God demonstrated His faithfulness in answering prayers for strength to fulfill His calling.

My favorite part of the trip was providing individual care for the ZOE female ministry students, house parents and children. Each person that I had the privilege to meet and care for truly reflected God’s love, joy and hope. The ZOE house parents are such special women of great faith and quiet strength--each on the front line, actively fighting for the restoration of children who have dealt with the trauma of human trafficking and serious distress. They have taken up God’s calling to be parents who love these children as Christ does.

One ZOE house parent has nine teenage girls under her care, two of whom suffer from night terrors. Imagine what it would be like, helplessly watching your daughters go through this every night as a result of trauma done to them? These parents are truly the hands and feet of Jesus. At the end of each visit, I had the privilege and opportunity to pray for each house parent. I was able to bless them and convey that they are important, that their health is important in order to be at their best to care for their girls.

Regarding the ZOE children, a great spiritual battle is raging for the souls of these precious little ones. This battle is made evident in the difference I saw between children who had been with ZOE long enough for God’s restoration and healing to take hold, versus those who had arrived more recently. Those who had been there longer had light and life about them; those who had arrived only recently displayed an overall sadness and guardedness, lacking light in their eyes. Indeed, it was heartbreaking to see that while I examined their bodies, they would cope by gazing up and out to the side, mentally “leaving”.

One young teen reported pain in her lower spine area near her buttocks. Knowing the possibility of her having been a victim of trafficking, I cautiously asked if I could perhaps examine the area. She immediately let out a hysterical cry, shaking her head no. The interpreter and I immediately reassured her and calmed her down, but my heart wept upon witnessing her reaction. I can’t imagine how our Heavenly Father’s heart breaks for this child and others like her, subjected to the depravity of sin and robbed of their innocence and childhood. Moreover, though my heart could only imagine the depth of their trauma, I took comfort in knowing these children were in a place of hope. There is hope of God’s healing and restoration for them.

Again, there is an immense spiritual battle raging for these children. I was given an image of God and His armies coming from heaven to battle for these children. Despite the intensity of the battle, the awesome truth is our God is a God of Victory. This was clearly evident in an undeniable miracle we were eyewitnesses to:

Our second to last day, Jason and I were scheduled to see 55 ZOE children in 4.5 hrs.

4.5 hours for 55 children with two providers works out to approximately 5 minutes per child.

Comprehensive exams for new children in the US typically take 30 minutes, which meant that realistically, we would need almost four full, 8 hour days to see all the ZOE children. Upon making this realization, Jason and I were discouraged, realizing it would not be humanly possible to see every child before leaving ZOE. Then God answered our prayers by miraculously multiplying our time.  We were able to see all of the children in 5.5 hours before we left!

PRAISE GOD! He indeed is a God of Victory over the enemy. The Lord will accomplish His will.

I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support of our Thailand team. I personally give thanks for my faithful prayer partner people (P3) who covered me with their constant prayers. Most importantly, I thank God for the privilege and honor to go on this Thailand Medical Mission Trip.

To God Be the Glory!!

“Declare His glory among the Nations. His marvelous works and wonderful deeds among all the people.” Psalm 96:30


Fred Kawashima

Two things were notable to me:

1. The story of the boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish in John 6. The boy was present, he was there, he was willing to give all he had, and God multiplied what we consider scraps into food that fed over 5,000! That was me! What did I bring? Not a whole lot, but the Lord multiplied what I and everyone else brought: our lives, our hearts to serve, and some skills, for His glory! All the Lord asked us to do was to give what we had (to sow), and leave the rest to him (to grow).

2. Involved vs. Committed - the difference is glaring once you understand it. It's like the difference between the chicken and the pig relative to eggs and ham. The chicken is involved (gives what it produces) but the pig is committed (gives its life). In short-term missions, you are involved, but long-term, you are committed. The Holy Spirit brought this home in a very clear fashion. There is great cost and sacrifice in becoming a long-term missionary. For me it would be not seeing my family, my grandson, my friends and the way of life as I know it. Is this what I am to do? I believe the Lord may be leading us toward that; only time will tell as He prepares us for our next journey.

Irene Kawashima

When I first visited ZOE back in 2011, I was moved by the ZOE ministry students. These young adults from surrounding villages all exhibited a true joy for life that came from their deep relationship with God. Now seven years later, although the faces are different, I encountered that same joy and spirit once again! I asked a ministry student what he enjoyed most about his time at ZOE and his response was "going out and evangelizing about Jesus". This is a true testament of ZOE's ministry.

Pam Fong

The ZOE children are raising money for the children of another orphanage. They heard that these kids had never been to a zoo, so they put together a fundraiser to send them. These are children who don't have much, but what they do have is a huge and generous heart. These wonderful children are truly living out Philemon 2:4, "Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others." Precious!

Zohreh Wong

I loved the testimonies during Sunday worship service, when a 9 year old shared about his faith in Jesus: although he lost his parents (they were taken away in front of him) and bad things happened to him, he believes that Jesus is taking care of him and has wonderful plans for him. This really encouraged me! What faith this young boy has!

The weekly prayer meeting was wonderful. The children and the Zoe Ministry students have SO much freedom. It was as if all they could see was Jesus--no concern for anyone else in the room or what others might be thinking. They showered us with their prayers and they prayed for those toward whom God directed them.

Karen Tom

This was my first time serving on a short term missions team. The experience of serving alongside 7 brothers and sisters in Christ from my own church and partnering with brothers and sisters in another country was a humbling, heart moving, powerful experience. Even though I went with the thought of being a blessing to those in Thailand, I have come but came away from our time there receiving much more blessing in return.

A special experience for me was being able to be a part of the ZOE weekly prayer meeting. As I sat in worship, children would come up to me by themselves, in pairs, or in threes, lay their hands on me, and pray aloud for me in Thai. How sweet to receive prayer from little voices lifted to the throne of grace. How sweet to freely return the blessing by praying for the Lord to fill their treasure chests to overflowing. It was 3 days later that we were told that each child is given an actual treasure chest at the foot of their bed to place things of precious significance!

I am in awe of the vision and outpouring of God's LOVE and HOPE upon the lives of the precious children rescued from trafficking through the ZOE ministry. I am in awe of the Bible Ministry students who live out authentic, passionate lives for the gospel and are training to return to their villages to bring the light of Christ to the darkness of Thailand. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see and experience first hand, the wonder of the Lord's reach, rescue, and restoration of those who are in need. God opened my eyes to the wonderful work He is doing in the world and placed on my heart the compassion of His Heart.

The workers are few... Evergreen SGV/ZOE update 9/11 

Man, I'm so glad to see my kids. Now that I'm home, reflecting on this indescribable week, I'm overwhelmed with affection for the little ones God has entrusted to me to raise toward the light. I don't deserve them. They are a gift. As was this week. How do I carry what I saw this week forward into the life God has chosen me to live?  

I want to take a moment to fill in some of the picture of what we saw at ZOE this week and the evidence of God at work.  

I saw our team going above and beyond in constant and tireless humility to offer whatever they could to support the ongoing work at ZOE. Denna battled through allergies, motion sickness, and physical exhaustion to extend her medical expertise to all the female ZOE children and ministry students. She showed each one of them that they are worthy of time and personal care. Fred and Carol humbly accepted the role of medical assistants, keeping equipment clean and documenting findings so that each child could be seen in our short time there. Pam, Carol, and Zohreh helped paint a new dormitory during their scant down time. Karen and Irene met with and prayed life over the children's home parents, also interviewing them about concerns for their kids so that the visits would go smoothly. There was so much to do and so many wonderful things to partner in that I can't write about all the ways I saw this team extend God's love. Just know that these incredible prayer warriors and encouragers have been faithful to do a work that God will multiply over time within the larger work going on at ZOE. 

Speaking of the larger work going on there, one of the many ways ZOE is involved in redeeming Thailand for God is by helping to coordinate a network of pastors throughout the country in order to supply food and resources for those in need in their communities. Recall that under 1% of the Thai population is Christian, and that poverty is rampant in the rural communities. Not only does ZOE help coordinate the distribution of food and supplies to show the love of Christ, but they are also innovating and improving self-sustaining agriculture solutions such as an on-site pig farm (over 100 pigs bred from just two originally), a hydroponic fish farm (the fish water and feed over 70% of their own food), a mushroom hut, and sustainable gardening. This is not only a way to provide for the on-site needs at ZOE, but this knowledge is carried out to the community to help break the cycle of poverty. This is the Thai people equipping the Thai people. So many needs and so many ways to help.  

I haven't even talked about the ZOE children's home parents, these mighty warriors of the faith who show love day in and day out to the least of these. Please be in prayer for these saints. They are doing battle daily against the powers of darkness that would try to overtake these children's hearts, and only by the great grace of our God do they bear up under it. These people understand what it means to depend on Him day in and day out. They understand the fallacy of the self made man. Please. Be in prayer for these saints. I sit here in my comfortable life lamenting my parenting failures (and there are many), despondent and paralyzed in fear of that failure, while these indomitable saints plunge into the darkness in order to pull souls out for the glory of God. When I see these people, I realize that I deserve nothing that I have. It is all a gift.  

These people are living proof that when we choose to stare evil in the face, God stands before us in order to be our greatest victory. The Christian faith is about declaring Gods ultimate victory in the here and now. It is about us allowing God to show He is able to do the impossible through through the lives of His children. 

There's the groundskeeper, who walks over the entire 55 acre complex daily tending to this city of God. He carries his equipment, and his 59 year old joints are not as flexible as they used to be. But ZOE doesn't have money lying around to buy him a motorized cart. Any resources that come in are used toward whatever the donor earmarks it for. A cart for the groundskeeper simply isn't something anyone has donated toward yet. So many needs and so many ways to help.

We were asked to save our hotel amenities to give as a gift to the ministry students. Again, ZOE doesn't have money lying around to purchase such things for these future leaders who are going to claim Thailand back for Christ. The need at ZOE is as large as the problem they are tackling. So many needs... 

ZOE currently serves as home to over 50 children and over 30 ministry students. The vision they shared with us is that they would eventually expand to house 2,500 children in need and train 1,000 ministry students. I have no doubt in my mind that this is possible. I also have no doubt that the need is that great. My brothers and sisters, there are still kids out there! Kids in distress, and kids who are being victimized by human trafficking. Children whose every moment is drenched in the hopelessness that comes from not knowing if there is an end to the nightmare. Beloved children of God who do not know there is a God who knit them together in their mother's womb, because life has told them the exact opposite: that they are worthless, voiceless, and unlovable. 

We deserve nothing we have. It is all a gift. Why?

There is still work to be done! And this sobering thought strikes me: what if? What if it were my child? Lord, thank You that Hannah, Taylor, Avery, and Kellen will not have to be subjected to such horror. The horror I feel at the mere thought of one of my kids in such a situation is not even a fraction of the heartbreak God feels whenever one of his children is victimized by sin. Thankfully He has chosen me to be a conduit of His love and watch care over them. Lord, accept my failures and be my strength. 

It wasn't meant to be this way. We know it in our hearts. We are blessed to know God is a God of redemption and that He is working in the midst of great evil to bring about His victory. But these kids don't. Over 99% of Thailand doesn't. Someone in your life doesn't. How can I sit idly by when people remain enslaved by sin? When children are enslaved by sin? How can I possibly continue to marinate in my own laziness and selfishness? I will not. ZOE's mission is to reach every person, rescue every child. I want that to be my goal, just as it is God's goal: That none should perish and that none should be left blind to the fact that He loves them beyond words. 

The main thing I learned this week? It's all about God. The story He is telling revolves around the themes of need and provision, hopelessness and rescue, failure and redemption.  

When we realize our need for God, He is faithful to meet that need intimately, as only a Father would, be it spiritual, physical, material, or relational. He is Lord over it all. When we feel hopeless, God offers rescue, because you are His beloved child. When people fail, God shows us that He never fails. Don't fear failure, because failure on a human scale ultimately serves to magnify God's power.  

We had the chance to witness the confession of new faith in 103 kids due to ZOE's outreach this week. Over 400 have occurred over the past month. One person from our sister team came to Christ this week. The soil is fertile and the fruit is hanging low. The harvest is great but the workers are few; the blessing and curse of low hanging fruit is that anyone can pick it. The kingdom of God needs more workers to gather in the harvest lest these souls be taken by the enemy. We know the need, Lord, please fill that need. Show us how we can help fill that need. So many needs and so many ways to help. 

How do we help? 

The pat answer is always "prayer and financial support". I do not mean to trivialize these things. Yes. Please give of your money and prayers toward the work of ZOE. They can certainly use them. But I'm also sure God has more in store for you. He wants more for you! God has met each person on this team in a personal, intimate way, and we want that for each person at Evergreen SGV. Prayerfully seek the areas where God is gently tugging at your heart. Step out and go on a trip. See what Christian faith looks like outside of our Western box, see how our brothers and sisters around the world live out their faith and worship. See what God is doing and how He is moving. He desires an inheritance of nation's, and offers us a part in presenting Him that. 

He also has something for each of us where we are now. What evils do you face? Where is the point of need in your life? God wants to use you and draw you close in that need. The same God who is pulling Thailand out of darkness is pulling on your soul, wanting to give you deeper wholeness. Remember the bleeding woman from the gospels. To her, it didn't matter what others thought. She pursued Jesus with all her strength and she was healed. What do we need healing from? I need healing from my pride, laziness, and selfishness. I don't witness to others as boldly as I should. Thankfully, God still loves me and has used this trip to reaffirm His passionate pursuit of my heart. He can still use my broken heart for His glory if I let Him.

The harvest is great and the workers are few. Praise God, He uses imperfect workers to participate in the harvest. We are praying that you allow God to meet you at your point of need, and that He provides for that need with rescue and redemption in a way only our good Father can. You are His beloved child!

In His love,

Jason (on behalf of the Evergreen SGV ZOE team)

 

PS, if you are interested in partnering with ZOE, please visit their website. If you want to learn more about our trip, we will be presenting on Sunday, October 7 at 9:30AM at Evergreen SGV.

An abundant life, Evergreen SGV/ZOE Update, 9/9

So for Sunday worship we were back in the worship center where we had experienced the ZOE prayer meeting two nights prior. We had just enjoyed the cry-fest that was the ZOE debriefing process, and like a dummy I thought I wouldn't need any more tissue for worship service.

I picked a spot on the straw mat, between a few ministry students I had the immense privilege of locking arms with for a few days, the sun was streaming in through the window (the sunniest morning we've had this week), and Pidetch, a man I had seen working tirelessly as part of the outreach and prevention leadership, started tuning his acoustic guitar. Ministry school students poured onto the stage: drums, bass, electric guitar, five additional vocalists, Yaw on keys. It looked an awful lot like Sunday mornings at Evergreen: a group of Asian lovers of Christ preparing to usher their brethren into the courts of praise.

Then the first G chord struck, and I was a lost cause. It was a song in Thai, and there were no words on the screen--a worship aperitif, as it were. The staff and ministry students I described to you, these giants in the faith who every day plunge into the darkness to pull souls out for God, were there lifting their hands and praising the God who calls them, equips them, and smiles over them. The precious children you heard about yesterday were singing at the tops of their lungs for the One who is doing the work of redemption and restoration in their lives. And as the presence of the Holy Spirit was rising up in a tangible way, they transitioned to sing,

"I lay my life down at You feet, for You're the only one I need, I look to You and You are always there!"

Game over.

"In troubled times it's You I seek, I put You first that's all I need, I humble ALL I AM all to You"

These humble people who dwell in the presence of the Most High were communing with their Lord, declaring their dependence on Him. They continued to sing,

"You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we live by faith and not by sight for You. We're living all for You,"

Not an ounce of cynicism. No irony or hypocrisy. This is what they live. They live the constancy of Jesus. They see that He is always there, and that He will never ever change, no matter how troubled the times. When they sing "Lord I give You my life", as they did next, heaven smiles and affirms their worship. Their mission feeds their worship, which feeds their mission. That is the definition of integrity.

Next, they had words of encouragement from some of the children. A 9 year old girl strode onto stage with her Bible in hand. John 10:10,

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." This child of God who had lost everything she had on earth knows life abundantly because she is surrounded by the love of Christ. In her small but wise voice, she boldly declared "I know I have it, and I hope you have it, too".

By this time, I didn't care that I didn't have any tissues because wiping my tears away wasn't going to do any good anyway. How humbling to know that a 9 year old child knows more about God's provision than I do. She was one of the little ones singing at the top of her lungs, worship that was an outlet for the abundant life she knows in Christ.

God has placed eternity on our hearts so that we might desire something beyond the world we can see, that we might desire God Himself. ZOE is a place where this pan-dimensional tapestry that God is weaving into His love story folds in on itself and we can see a glimpse of the glory He is bringing about. Here is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven, where the broken are pursued and brought back into relationship, tears are wiped away, and the least of these are put in the place of highest honor. And this is all done because of His provision. Yes, He has and continues to provide for ZOE's financial needs, but moreover, He continues to open doors to ministry, raise up spiritual warriors, and bring hope to bear in these kids' lives. None of these things happen apart from the Lord; the ZOE family lives out that desperate dependence. 

Brothers and sisters, let me humbly encourage us to take a hard examination of the areas in our lives where we have become comfortable. As the history of mankind shows us again and again, comfort leads to complacency and then to selfishness. Selfishness keeps us desiring comfort and we become paralyzed in fear of losing what we think we deserve. Stealing a saying from Pastor Rocky, the enemy doesn't care how you're deceived just so long as you're deceived. How is the enemy deceiving you in order to keep you from doing something (no matter how big or small) for God? In Southern California, it's easy to become comfortable and ultimately forget who the Giver of all comfort is. Let's ask Him to replace our complacency and selfishness with an ever-growing desire for Him, whatever that may look like. Because when we make the Lord our desire, He fulfills that desire with life abundantly.

Humbly,

Jason (on behalf of your Evergreen ZOE team)

 

PS on the plane for our return trip tomorrow! I'll try to reflect and send a closing message in a few days. Please pray for our return trip. We are all spiritually filled but physically drained! Please pray that our re-entry goes smoothly and that the lessons we have learned this week stick in our hearts and make a lasting difference in our lives!

 

How I have longed to gather you under my wings... Evergreen SGV/ZOE Update 9/8

Wow, these kids. Each one at one point abandoned by society, cast aside, and stripped of worth. Each one pursued, rescued, and then ushered within these walls to be surrounded by the love of Christ. Each one on their own path to restoration. In the interest of preserving these precious ones' anonymity and privacy, I will refrain from sharing any details, but know that whatever you might imagine was taken from them isn't even close to what was lost. But thank God that He is a God of redemption. He can take the darkest tragedy and turn it into the most miraculous love story. These are the kids who through the love of Christ are in a place where they lay their hands on complete strangers in prayer. These are the kids who of their own accord put together a fundraiser to support the children of a nearby orphanage. Whatever the enemy tried to take away from them, God has redeemed. I do not mean in any way to minimize or trivialize the great loss and sadness each has been through, but by some miracle, God is bringing about beauty in their lives, and they are able to give from that overflow.

So it was these amazing kids whom your team was called to assist medically on this trip. These precious little ones who hold such a deep and sacred place in God's heart.

Over 50 kids, four hours, one pediatric nurse practitioner, and one cardiac anesthesiologist, with the help of your Evergreen ZOE team, the ZOE staff, and an army of prayer warriors. An hour went by, and we had seen...8 kids. With two practitioners, that comes out to 15 minutes per kid, pretty amazing by office standards (ask a medical friend). But with three hours, and still over 45 kids to see, that math just didn't pencil out (about 7 minutes per). I would be lying through my teeth to say I was champing at the bit to see what God was going to do through this impossible task. To be totally honest, I was downright moping. "God, why did you send me here to fail? Why did you make me fall in love with this place, and then display my inadequacy for all to see?"

But God seems to be shining a spotlight on my inadequacy (and pride) this week. Thankfully the Holy Spirit was able to wrestle quiet into my heart and speak into the chaos:

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
~Psalm 43:5

There's a reason half of our team serves on prayer ministry. God crafted this team in a certain way for a certain reason. Our prayer warriors got to work. Denna and I reconvened, prayed, and put our hands to the plough.

I got to ask each child about their appetite, sleep, school, and hobbies. I got to listen to each priceless little heart. I got to laugh as they laughed at their knee reflexes ("Oooh, magic!"). And I got to let each one know what a joy it was the meet them face to face. At the end of the final three hours, we had only 4 kiddos left to see (we will see them tomorrow)! Yes, we addressed some medical anomalies, but this was about Jesus doing His thing with two fishes and 5 loaves. And with the leftover baskets, Fred and I were able to assess and pray over one of the children's home moms (I had a little leftover time because there were fewer boys to be seen)!

Sometimes, when we sit at the foot of an enormous wall, we think to ourselves, "There's no way I can scale that." Then God says, "you're right, you can't." And with a twinkle in His eye He says, "but watch!"

Then the trumpets blast, and the wall comes tumbling down.

Sometimes, we sit in the darkness thinking God has left us. And suddenly we realize that we are the chick gathered under the mother hen's wing, held close to her heart.

What I had forgotten was that these are God's kids. The kids He found in the darkness and chose for His own. And He will provide for them according to His might, not mine.

My encouragement to you is this: you are God's child. He found you in the darkness and chose you for His own. And He will provide for you according to His might, not your own. So whatever wall you're facing, stand there with confidence and see how He will provide a way. Let Him gather you under His wing.

By His grace,

Jason (on behalf of your Evergreen ZOE team).

PS, one more full day at ZOE! Tomorrow we attend worship service with the ZOE family, finish out our medical exams, and teach the kids about dental hygiene. Please be praying for divine appointments and as many opportunities as possible to support the amazing people doing God's work here long term!

 

Living God's Victory: Seeing and Bearing Hope In the Darkness

(This post was written prior to the Thailand team departing for their trip, but is being posted now to explain the original purpose for partnering with ZOE.)

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you." Isaiah 43:2 (amplified)

It would be a gross understatement to say that we all face obstacles--what Isaiah refers to as waters, rivers, fires--in the form of various trials, struggles, and discouragements. Such is the plight of a fallen world placed under the dominion of fallen people. Practicing medicine in the US, we may think that children's health challenges consist predominantly of ensuring a healthy lifestyle (avoid overly processed foods, get outside for 60 minutes a day, limit time in front of a computer or smart phone screen). Parenting in SoCal, we may think the major challenges of parenting involve ensuring our kids develop gratitude, avoid a sense of entitlement, and not become bullies. Worshiping as part of the western church, we may think the Christian walk--the "cross" we are called to bear--is comprised of showing up in time for offertory, singing loudly enough that your neighbors know you're worshiping, but not too loudly as to be deemed "charismatic", and saying we'll pray for our missionaries.

This is not to trivialize such challenges. These are real and pressing issues that we must confront with integrity and good stewardship before God. In addition, though, may we never forget that just as we see throughout the story of the Bible (and in our own lives for that matter), the troubles we face tend to narrow the scope of our vision as to what God is doing with His creation on a grander scale. We forget that children around the world go to bed hungry and get sick every time they drink from their contaminated water supply. Families are stuck in a cycle of poverty that tells loving but trapped parents that it is a proper decision to sell one or more of their children into slavery. And in the midst of it all, God's church is called to do His kingdom work of bringing His redemption and restoration into the broken creation that He loves--to make His victory a reality by the power of Christ. 

God promises to walk through the waters and fire with His children. The same God who cares enough to walk with us through the struggles we face at home, at work, and in community has a heart that also breaks for the evils taking part on the other side of this great globe. Sometimes, His presence takes the form of His followers carrying His light into the darkness. The team you are sending to Thailand this September will be supporting the ongoing labors of ZOE international. Aside from witnessing firsthand what God has been doing through the amazing people at ZOE, we will be providing health assessments to orphans rescued from human trafficking and to the ministry students who are taking up the cause of breaking the cycle of evil. We will also be assisting in outreach to nearby villages to educate refugees and natives as to the perils of human slavery. We are humbled and thankful that God has placed the saints at ZOE in a position to shine His light deep in the heart of this evil.

In the face of such darkness, please partner with us by praying that God would walk with us, allowing us to show and see His presence. As we take up arms alongside other Christian soldiers in the spiritual battle, may God show His victory over the tyranny of sin! We will blog the ways we witness God at work during this journey; hopefully as you read, God will reveal the ways in which He is bringing about victory in your trials as well!

Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor's song:
To him that overcometh,
A crown of life shall be;
He with the King of Glory
Shall reign eternally

If you are interested in learning more about the work happening in Thailand through ZOE international, visit their website.

Insufficiency with gusto, Evergreen SGV/ZOE update, 9/7

Bear with me a moment as I explain the adrenergic system.  The body has signaling pathways that regulate the blood vessels, lungs, heart, etc.  Basically, this system is responsible for the function of the vital organs during the fight or flight response.  There are receptors that, when triggered, cause the blood vessels to squeeze down and deliver blood more quickly to the muscles.  Other receptors lead to the lungs to open wider, allowing more air flow and oxygen uptake.  Finally, some receptors make the heart to beat harder and faster.  At all times, an intricate dance of transmitters released into the bloodstream determine which of these receptors are turned on, depending on the needs of the body.

Hopefully this makes sense (there will be a quiz at the mission report meeting).  

Tonight we had the privilege of attending the weekly ZOE prayer meeting.  The entire ZOE family attends this event: administrators, staff, ministry school students, the beautiful children with their house parents, and long and short term missionaries.  Tonight, they formed a small walkway through the mass of humanity to give us visitors a celebrity's welcome.  The room has a concrete floor (very common here, due to the high humidity), but the floor is covered with woven straw mats to allow people to assume whatever posture of prayer they wish.  It is packed with more people than you can count (they keep moving around and the lights are low).  The music starts (English praise and worship music to accommodate us guests), at a high enough level that people can pray without being heard if they so wish, or they can shout above if they feel so led.  

And these giants in the faith I was telling you about are milling around, like transmitters waiting to trigger a jolt of life into the body of Christ.  Seemingly at random (but actually by divine appointment), when two people made eye contact, they would cling to each other in tight embrace and start praying.  Praying for each other's edification, praying against human trafficking, praying for the glory of God to be revealed in this world.  There were Wit and Yaw (whom I introduced you to yesterday), like epinephrine ready to stir the Church's heart out of slumber with their intercessions.  There was Three (yes, Three), a children's home parent: one of the only men to accept the job, a former Thai soldier, now helping out at ZOE's on-campus pig farm and agriculture fields, when he's not serving as a care taker and role model to the orphaned boys of ZOE.  He reminded me of norepinephrine, stirring the lifeblood of the Church through his humble servanthood to God's beloved and once-forgotten children.  There were countless others, breathing life into the church simply by living out their mission with passion and conviction.  In a country where under 1% of the population knows Christ, lukewarm Christianity simply isn't an option.  

And there I was.  I am like dopamine.  You see, dopamine isn't really part of the adrenergic system.  It usually exists only in the brain (there's a whole sidebar about head vs heart knowledge here I'm not going to delve into right now).  But somewhere along the line, someone discovered that if you synthesize dopamine and flood the bloodstream with a whole lot of it, it can cause similar reactions to epinephrine and norepinephrine.  But it takes much higher doses, and sometimes the signals get confused since dopamine is crashing the party.  

What was I doing amongst people who live and breathe every moment to serve the Cause of Christ?  How was I not going to mess this beautiful dance up?  What was I supposed to do when Yaw grabbed me and started thanking God for my presence in his life, and then all of a sudden it was my turn to pray?  Well, if the Holy Spirit told me I was dopamine, then He also told me that dopamine makes up for its awkwardness by showing up big.  So I prayed.  Loudly.  I didn't stop to think about the words I was praying (a nice bonus when the person accepting prayer from you doesn't speak your language), and didn't care that I was crying.  Then I prayed again with someone else.  And someone else.  Dear little children I haven't met yet placed their hands on me and prayed for me in Thai.  One child was praying in what I thought were Thai words I never learned, but turns out he was praying in the Karen language.  At some point, the lights went up and it was over.  They say it was an hour, and I accept that statement by faith.

There I was, an adoptive parent who was not able under my own power to provide my daughter, Hannah, with what she needed to thrive.  I was surrounded by people who minister to children with much darker stories than Hannah, and others who run into the darkness to seek them out to save and restore them.  Let's be honest, these are people who are wildly succeeding where I have failed (on a much smaller scale).  These are people who think about planning their next outreach to empower poor families and spread the gospel while I sit in my comfortable home worried about the next Avengers movie.  

But thankfully God and prayer in the largest possible sense don't work that way.  An answer for physical healing, for empowerment to fight evil, or for restoration of a broken heart doesn't depend on the power of the person praying.  These things strengthen the body of Christ, and as such are dear to God's heart.  The answer to such prayers is dependent on the God of Angel Armies.  I am not enough, and God knows that, and He loves me in that.  My failure on a human scale only sets God up to reveal His glory in my weakness, and gives me an appreciation for the many different ways he can tell His redemption story: a story that is playing out on a stage broader and deeper than I can see.  Like dopamine, I'm not sure what my presence at that meeting did, but I will trust that God knows, and that He will work by His immeasurable might. 

My encouragement to you, dear friends, is even when you feel like you're out of your element, even when you feel like you're unqualified, even when you know you don't have what it takes, step forward in faith, and let God work His victory through you.  The battle is the Lord's, and the Lord never has, never does, and never will lose a battle.  

In and for Him,

Jason (on behalf of the Evergreen ZOE team)

PS. Tomorrow we are spending the whole day with the children of ZOE!  They naturally place the children's safety as a top priority, so I will share what I can, even though names and specific situations will not be included.  Please pray for energy and efficiency!  We have a lot of children and staff to provide health assessments to!