Wednesday, October 3, 2018

6 Years and Counting

Emily - 2012
On October 2nd, 2012, we boarded a plane bound for a new world. On October 3rd, we arrived in Kiev, Ukraine. We were scared, we were excited, we were every emotion in between. I never expected that 6 years later, I would still be on this crazy ride.

Before we moved from Colorado to Ukraine, our missions' pastor back home had told us that we needed to commit a certain amount of time to missions before the Lord, and his recommendation was to give missions a minimum of two years. I remember him saying, the first year is the honeymoon, the second year is when reality hits. If you quit after one year, you never really gave it a chance. 

We prayed about it and decided to commit two years to the Lord, and boy was it a good thing. I remember our first week in Ukraine, laying on the couch, unable to sleep, and thinking to myself, I may have made the biggest mistake of my life. Our internet wasn't working, we had no idea how to feed ourselves (none of the foods were familiar), we could barely speak Russian and then ended up living in a city that only spoke Ukrainian. If we hadn't had that 2 year commitment in mind, it's very possible I would have just grabbed my bags (They were still packed, I was too depressed to unpack them), booked a train ticket for Kiev, and caught the next flight home.

Byron - 2012
Fortunately for us, our first week in Ukraine was really one of our worst weeks in Ukraine, and it got much better from there. Overall, we've loved our time here, and I'm really thankful I didn't quit right away. And now, six years later, I can say that we completed our two year commitment, and we're just living day by day, waiting for the Lord to tell us what happens next.

But that first week, and many different situations over the last 6 years, have all taught me a very valuable lesson - it's easy to agree to do something when you think it will be easy, or at the very least, not that bad... Which brings us to the idea of faith.

Is faith really faith if you if you step into the unknown only because you suspect the path ahead won't be that difficult (Yikes, chew on that sentence for a minute...)? Yes, I'll do it, but only because I'm sure it's not going to be that bad.

I've learned a lot about faith over the last 6 years. What it is, what it isn't. And most of my definition of faith has come from defining by the negative as I've processed the mistakes and wrongful assumptions about faith that I've made in my own life.

Faith is not:
-Seeing and believing
-Doing something because the people around you support you
-Doing something you're guilted into
-Doing something begrudgingly
-Stepping into the known
-Having an end in sight
-Being able to control things
-Doing the most logical thing
-Counting the days until it's over
-Magic that eliminates suffering in your life
-Agreeing only if you can do it on your own terms
-Trusting yourself

I'm still learning about faith, and I don't have it all figured out. But I am so thankful that the Lord decided to bring me to Ukraine so that I could really experience faith. I often joke with people that the Lord didn't call me to missions because I'm some super Christian. He called me because I was willing, and also a little too stubborn to allow the Lord to fully captivate me while I was in the States.

Byron and Emily - 2018
I think the Lord has even used the mission field to teach me about faith and marriage. I had my own idea of what marriage would look like when I entered into that covenant with Byron. I believed marriage was two people who loved each other and both worked 9 to 5 jobs, had dinner together on the evenings, spent time together and went to church on the weekends, always with a 10 year plan in the back of their minds.

But instead of my marriage playing out in America, the Lord brought me to Ukraine, where He changed my understanding of marriage, love, and even what a healthy marriage should look like daily. We spend our 9 to 5 serving in ministry side by side, eating ALL our meals together, and not being able to plan more than 2 months ahead! Our marriage is nothing like what I had imagined, but it is so so so much better, and it's all because of faith in the Lord. Of the nine years that we've been married, three of them were in Colorado and SIX in Ukraine! The Lord has used missions to redefine every aspect of life, even my preconceived ideas of what marriage looks like. And honestly, I'm glad.

Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye
I'm glad that my life is different than I imagined because I have this simple finite mind! And as I let go of control more and more, I put my life into the hands of the One who created the heavens and the earth. That's pretty cool actually, and His creativity will bring something way more special into my life than my own, frail, human creativity could concoct.

2018 Emily would definitely tell 2012 Emily to go for it, to follow the Lord. And I'm telling you that too. Go for it, follow the Lord! Don't hold onto your own preconceived ideas of what your life should be. Don't do ministry or missions on "your terms." Just go for it. Enjoy the breath that you have and chase after the Lord's vision - we just don't have time enough time in life to simply walk - Run after everything the Lord has for you.

Here's to completing our 6th year of missions, and by faith, many more!


Friday, September 14, 2018


Over twelve years ago, Emily and I walked into a church service held at a middle school in Aurora, Colorado. We were in high school and recently just started dating each other. Looking back now, the Lord’s sovereign hand was guiding us right into this church. For a number of months, as our relationship was growing as a couple, we realized that we needed to find a church and make it our home. Bumper stickers, signs on the street, and even coworkers all said one thing: Calvary Chapel Aurora. God had caught our attention.

A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

The Lord so clearly directed our steps specifically to Calvary Aurora.

I remember two things about our first visit to Calvary Aurora: 1) Pastor Ed was teaching from the book of Romans and 2) I heard the phrase, “Win - Disciple - Send.” 

At that point in my life, I wasn’t really walking with the Lord, but He was starting to get my attention. Pastor Ed's teaching verse-by-verse of Romans really opened up my eyes to how Jesus wanted to speak to me, even that very morning, through His Word. Also, I had no idea that little phrase “Win - Disciple - Send” would become such a part of my life, specifically the word “send.”

As we made Calvary Aurora our home church, Jesus began to do an incredible work in our hearts. Our hunger and thirst for the Word increased. Our love and passion for Jesus grew. We started serving in various ways. I got baptized at Calvary Aurora. We got engaged and began pre-marital counseling at Calvary Aurora. We got married there. Jesus was building our lives upon Him and His Word. 

Early on, God stirred our hearts every time the word “send” was mentioned. Pastor Ed was always faithfully teaching us that the church should be a sending church. We wanted to be a part of sending people out. But we also wanted to be sent ourselves. Our prayer became, “Lord, how do you want us to serve you? We’re ready to give everything to you.” 

God was working in our hearts, something that only He could do. A heart for missions. A heart to be sent. 

Also I head the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8

As God developed our calling, He used the local church to equip, encourage, and send us out for Jesus Christ. 

It’s so cool to see how the Lord works. Because now I am in a place, pastoring a church that the Lord entrusted to me, and He has the same vision for our church. Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye is a sending church. Our vision is to look unto Jesus as we win, disciple, and send for Jesus. The Lord sent us out years ago and now He is using us to equip, encourage and send people out for the Gospel here in Zaporozhye, Ukraine! 

We were in America over the summer. We spent as much time as we could at our sending church, Calvary Aurora. And the Lord is still faithfully sending people out through that church. Jesus continues to be glorified as they faithfully teach the Word. And Pastor Ed and the pastoral staff continue to pastor and care for us, as we pastor and care for the people in Zap. Just because I am a pastor now, doesn't mean I don't need a pastor myself. I am so thankful for my pastor. 

When the Lord directed our steps into that church so many years ago, I never would have believed what the Lord had in store, even if you would have told me.

Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5

I am so thankful for my pastor and our sending church. The Lord has used them in incredible ways in our lives and in so many other’s lives.

Pray for your pastor. Pray for your church. And watch the Lord do amazing things in and through His church, worldwide! 

Keep looking unto Jesus,

Friday, August 4, 2017

When You've Been Robbed of Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of life. You can't just stop sleeping, even if you try. Eventually, your body will require sleep. It's not something you can simply give up, like going on a "sleep fast" or quitting sleep "cold-turkey." Sleep is necessary, and that's a fact!

Not too long ago, there was a video going around Facebook about the different stages of sleep deprivation. If I remember correctly, after 5 days of not sleeping, you start hallucinating, you start having heart issues and respiratory problems, and then by day 6, you die. YOU DIE! Too long without sleep equals death! That's how seriously we need sleep!

Sleep has always been hard for me. Let me be clear - I love sleep, and I need about 8-9 hours a night or else I just don't feel good. But throughout my life, I've struggled with nightmares, night terrors, and weeks at a time when sleep eludes me. 

My first night terror, that I can remember, happened when I was 15 years old. I had gone to see The Passion of the Christ at a movie theater with a group from my church, and I had a night terror every night for a week after seeing the movie. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was terrified to go to sleep, but my body was desperate for rest. By the 6th night of having night terrors, I remember bringing my pillow and comforter into my parents room and sleeping on the floor next to their bed, desperately hoping for safe sleep. Even though I knew my parents couldn't protect my mind while I was asleep, I still felt safe simply being near them. 

After that week, I had nightmares, but didn't have another night terror for a few years. 

What's the difference between a nightmare and a night terror? Maybe it's different for each person, but for me, nightmares are just really scary, vivid, bad dreams, and I don't know I'm dreaming while I'm having them. And when I wake up, I understand they were just bad dreams and I can fall back to sleep afterwards. 

But night terrors are exactly that - terrors. Whenever I start having one, I can feel it coming on, and once it begins, my whole body feels paralyzed. They're almost always real memories, or take place where ever I'm living (IE: my night terror takes place in my apartment), and they always have demons in them. Usually, I consciously know I'm having a night terror while it's happening, and I beg my body to wake up, but my mind stays trapped in the terror, and I can't wake myself up.

After I was 15, the next night terror came when we first moved to Ukraine. We were living in Ternopil and I had a night terror about my grandparents. I was back in their house and everything was so vivid. I was walking around their home, watching them live their lives, and remember special moments between us. But the special memories passed quickly, they got old, and died. It was just like it happened in real life - like I was reliving every detail of them getting sick and dying. And the grief I felt in my night terror was overwhelming, as I had to experience them dying over and over again. All night long, I kept reliving their death and the emotional pain that followed. The grief that I felt in my night terror was so strong, I started weeping. 

I was crying so hard in my night terror, it passed from my mind to my reality, and I started weeping in my sleep. It woke Byron up, and he understood something was wrong. He started shaking me, trying to wake me up, but I couldn't pull myself out of the terror. I could feel him shaking me, I knew he was trying to wake me, but I was stuck, paralyzed in this world of grief and fear. Finally, I was able to will myself to open my eyes. It was a dream, but it was also very real, so much so, that I continued to cry for a few minutes after waking up. 

Over the last few years of living on the mission field, I've been able to start making connections between night terrors and spiritual things happening around me. And since I've been able to make that connection, I've been able to learn how to pray during my night terrors (Because I'm aware that I'm having a night terror while I'm having one). 

Last year, I had a night terror where demons were clawing at the unlocked front door of my apartment, trying to get in. This was the first time I was in the middle of a night terror and realized I could pray. In my night terror, I cried out to Jesus to help me keep the door closed. Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the corridor of my apartment and locked the front door (still all during the night terror). I was safe, the door was sealed, and I immediately woke up. I don't always remember to pray when I'm having a night terror, but when I can remember, I'm able to get out of the night terror faster. 

When we're sleeping, we're in our most vulnerable state. We can't control what we hear. We can't really control what we think. We're pretty helpless. And when you have a bad dream, or something wakes you up, you feel like you've been robbed of your sleep, you feel violated, and you suffer the effects of that for days afterward. 

This summer has been particularly hard for me when it comes to sleep. Because it's hot, we sleep with the windows open. But over the last month, there has been activity in the courtyard of our apartment complex almost nightly, and the sounds of whatever people are saying or doing outside creeps through our window and into my mind as I sleep. After about a year of no night terrors, I've had two this summer, and a few different nightmares too. The fear of having another night terror, or the lasting effects of just coming out of one usually keeps me from sleeping the rest of the night. 

And lately, I don't even need dreams to steal my sleep. If I fall asleep with the window open, strange sounds from outside will simply wake me up, preventing me from resting at all. 

As I write this, I'm already at 3 days with little sleep. My eyes seem unrecognizable to me, with dull colors and dark rings hang under my eyelids. My body feels weak and my mind feels foggy. I feel emotionally unstable and just generally exhausted. 

But through it all, the Lord's lovingkindness has reached out to me. Yes, I feel frustration and exhaustion, but because of this hardship, I've been blessed to experience love and comfort from Jesus. Just yesterday, I was reading in the Psalms and Proverbs, and every chapter I read had Bible verses about sleep! What a sweet gift to know that the Lord sees and understands my need for sleep, and that He cares enough to speak to me through His Word.

Proverbs 3:24-26 says, "Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught" (NKJV).

Psalm 3:3-6 reads, "But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around" (NKJV). 

And finally, Psalm 4:5b-8 states, "Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say, 'who will show us any good?' LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (NKJV). 

I am certainly not the first person to have sleep problems. And judging by what we know about David, he probably had more sleep issues than I do. People actually sought to kill him, whereas I am just having bad dreams. But the main idea stands for David, for me, and maybe even for you... we all need sleep, and there's only One Person that never sleeps and can stand guard over us - Jesus Christ. And I can't think of a better Shepherd to watch over me while I sleep. 

I'm hopeful that tonight will be full of sweet rest for me, and I pray this post finds you sleeping well, committing your steps to the Lord, and encouraged.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hello Goodbye

Six weeks in the States might not seem like much, but it's a lot - or at least enough to remind us how much we miss our families. Usually, we keep these emotions inside of little boxes, tucked away in our minds so that we can keep going. But after six weeks with our parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and niece, the boxes have blown open and the emotions are stirred. 

It's a strange thing when you feel such deep love for two different places. And not only that, but two places that are thousands of miles apart. When I'm in Ukraine, I can't imagine a life anywhere else. And when I'm with my family, I can't imagine leaving them again. And yet, here I am, writing a blog from my apartment in Zaporozhye, only 24 hours after getting off a plane that put distance and time between us and our families. 

It's raw and it's painful, remembering the deep conversations I had just mere hours ago with my mom, dad, and brother, and then now facing the realization that those conversations will only happen again through a garbled internet connection.

My eyes sting with tears thinking about the goodbyes I said to my nephews and niece, who will all be a foot taller and years more mature by the next time we see them again. Even more painful are the goodbyes I didn't get to say. People that passed away while we've been on the mission field, or worse, ones that have walked away from the Lord and aren't interested in seeing us anymore.

Wounds are supposed to heal with time, so why is it that every year we're away from home, these painful goodbyes ache with a deeper hurt, one that seems to being all the way down in my soul?

And yet, with all this hurt, with all this sadness and emotion, am I willing to give it all up? Am I willing to let go of Ukraine and go home?

I guess this is the part that might seem a little backwards, but I believe that giving up Ukraine and moving home would be the same as giving up on the promises of the Lord. As hard as things are, as much as the goodbye stings in my heart, I know the promises of the Lord and I know the callings He has placed on my life. He is close to the broken hearted, and that means He is close to me right now. And I know he's close to our families too. 

"And He [Jesus] turned and said to them, "if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish?' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.'" - Luke 14:25-33 (NKJV)

This passage used to be a stumbling block for me. I used to really struggle with what was written, that we should hate our mother and father? What could this possibly mean? I don't think I could really understand the meaning of these verses until recently. It's not that I'm to hate my family, but that I'm to choose the Lord over them. It sounds backwards and wrong to those that don't follow the Lord, and even some that do follow the Lord would argue with me on this. But the Lord is supposed to be in the first place of our lives. And if He really is kept where He belongs in our list of priorities, our lives will show that and our decisions will reflect it. If God is really in the first place of my life, I can't be in Colorado, no matter how much I want to be there. I MUST love God the most, more than Byron, more than my parents, more than my family, and even more than my own life. I must forsake all. 

I know it sounds radical, but it's true and it's fact. That is the life that we, Believer, are called to live. And if we're not willing, we're just lukewarm, and that's a life I refuse to live. 

I'm reminded of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 6. Jesus had just said some pretty radical things to His followers and skeptics, and it offended a lot of the people around Him. 

John 6, verse 60 reads, "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'" 

And just a few verses later, we read, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more (John 6:66)."

I know the context is a little different, but doesn't that kind of sound like some of our reactions to the "hate your father and mother" verses? It can offend us and rub us the wrong way. What do you mean, hate my mother?! But do we really trust the Lord? Do we really believe that He withholds NO GOOD THING from His children? That He has GOOD PLANS for us? If the answer is yes, then we have probably had a conversation with Jesus in our prayer lives similar to the one between Jesus and Peter had right after many of the other disciples walked away from Jesus.

"Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:67-69). 

To whom shall we go?

It brings me to tears just typing this out. I understand Peter completely! Yes, the words are hard. Yes, the command is difficult. But WHO ELSE has the words of life? Where could I possibly want to be more than in the will of God? I have come to believe and know that He is the Christ, and because of that, my life must reflect that. I must live out my response. I can't live with that knowledge and not be changed. 

So with that, there is comfort for me. Sometimes, it's hard for me to let people into my life because I know that so often my hello quickly becomes a goodbye. But with the eternal hope of life with Jesus in heaven, I know that most of my goodbyes aren't goodbyes forever. And as much as I can care for my family, I know that Jesus is a greater caretaker and protector than I could ever dream to be. 

Luke 9:62 reads, "'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"

I want to be fit for the Kingdom. And so, I cast my cares upon Jesus, giving Him my emotions and my pain, trusting the Lord to care for my heart like no one else can. I will keep my hand to the plow and continue following the Lord, for I believe and have come to know that He truly is the Christ. 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Year 4: Ministry Update Video

Wow - so awesome to see how the Lord has been so faithful to us over this past year... and the years before. We hope you guys are blessed as you watch this video.

Jesus is doing great things in Zaporozhye!

Byron & Emily

Year 4: Ministry Update from Byron Johnson on Vimeo.

Monday, December 19, 2016

4 Life Changing Lessons from the Last 4 Years

In October, we hit our 4 year completion mark on the mission field. It's crazy looking back - the feelings and emotions we had when we first left Colorado were so intense. It broke our hearts to leave our friends and family. And yet, just a mere 4 years later, we've experienced enough life to completely change our outlook and most things, and mold us into new people. Seeing that the last 4 years have been marked with personal growth, I want to dedicate this post to the things we've learned since moving onto the mission field. Поехали!

1) I'm Not Really That Wise
If we're honest, we all can probably remember moments in our lives when we really thought we were wise and mature, and then later looked back on the moment and realized, wow, I wasn't really that wise or mature! If I've learned anything over the last 4 years, it's that I'm really not that wise and I still have some growing up to do. The Lord has been teaching me that all good things come from Him, including wisdom and understanding. 

Proverbs 2:6 says, "For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding."

Any wisdom that I have, any of my maturity, it all comes from the Lord. Whatever wisdom/maturity that I do have, it's not from my own efforts - they're gifts from the Lord. Especially over the last 4 years, I've learned that I am totally out of my depth with most things in my life, but as it's promised in James, the Lord gives wisdom liberally to those who ask, and He gives it without reproach. I've learned that in all things, it's best to think of myself with humility, not with pride, and to recognize that I desperately need daily wisdom from the Lord to know how to minister to others. 

2) The Bema Seat Is A Reality
Bible Prophecy Timeline by Charlie Campbell
A few years back, Byron and I bought Charlie Campbell's Apologetics Library (which we highly recommend). We were watching a DVD about the end times and the rapture, and Charlie Campbell described the Bema Seat. That I could remember, I had never heard of the Bema Seat before, so what Charlie Campbell said really hit me hard. 

I had always thought that once I was saved, I was exempt from any judgement. And it's true, I will not be subjected to the wrath of God. My sins have been removed and when death comes, or when the Lord comes back for His Church, I will get to spend eternity in the presence of God. But, all Believers will still stand before the Bema Seat, not to determine their salvation, but to judge their works. 

Our faith is dead without works (James), but the motivation behind our works is just as important as the works themselves. When I stand before the Bema Seat, God will judge me (and all other believers) according to our motivations behind our "works." And if we were ministering with pure motives as unto the Lord, we will be rewarded. But if we were serving out of bitterness, anger, pride, etc., those deeds that were motivated by impurity will burn away. 

Here's what the Bible says:
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has build on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." - 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

We will all stand before the Lord and give account for what we've done. In regards to the Bema Seat, I can pinpoint times in my life over the last 4 years when I know that I was serving myself more than the Lord, and I know some of the ministry I've done will burn away because I did it out of pride or bitterness. Of course, the Lord can still use that ministry, regardless of my shortcomings, but it's really sobering to know that ministry and service isn't enough - I need to be serving the Lord with a joyful heart. For me, it's the idea of being all in joyfully, or not being in at all. Give it my best as unto the Lord, or just don't do it. There is no middle ground - I can't just go through the motions. 

3) Jesus Is Coming Back Soon
This is an easy point to forget, especially being married. I am totally in love with Byron and super happy with my life here on earth. I love Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye, I have awesome friends and family, and I love the ministry the Lord lets us do. With all of that in mind, I often forget that Jesus is coming back, and maybe He'll even come back today! When Jesus' return isn't at the forefront of my mind, I forget to live life and do ministry with urgency. 

Here's the reality. Jesus is coming back. Judgment is coming. Hell is real. Heaven is real. And every day, I meet people who have never had an opportunity to hear about Jesus. It's not my job to make them Christians, but it is my responsibility to give them the choice. When I meet people, am I ministering with urgency? Is time, or the lack there of, always in my mind? Every conversation I have with someone could be the last one. That's the hard truth - life on earth is not eternal. Do I ministry with the kind of urgency that shows that I understand that?

I remember one time last year, I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to bring a Gospel tract and a Bible with me while I was walking around Kiev doing errands. But my bag was already pretty full, and I ignored the prompting. As I was making my way around the city, I met a woman who was really interested in church and Jesus, but my poor language skills prevented me from being able to invite her to church and tell her about Jesus. If I had had that Russian Bible with me, we could have opened it together and she could have read different verses in Russian for herself. And I could have just handed her that Gospel tract so that she would have had all the info she needed to come to Jesus, if that's what she wanted. We parted ways and I never saw her again.

You might be thinking, Wow Emily, don't be so hard on yourself! And you're right. I'm not telling this story to condemn myself, but to make a point. Of course, God doesn't need me to save that woman. But because I didn't have urgency in my heart that one day, I wasn't able to share Jesus with that woman, and I missed out on something that could have been super awesome and encouraging.

"Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." - 2 Corinthians 5:9-10

4) A Relationship With God Is Exactly That - A Relationship
Especially over the last year, I've been so busy, some days, it's hard to even find time to feed myself. And by the way, I know this is a problem, and it's something that Byron and I are actively seeking to change (by adjusting our schedule and delegating ministry demands). As demands on my life increase - both external and internal, I'm understanding more and more that just like any other relationship, a relationship with God needs work. 

How can I ask God to show me His daily will for my life and for ministry if I only pray once a week? To have a real relationship with God, I need to communicate with Him and hear from Him daily - through prayer and the Word. Sometimes, it's really hard to make this happen, but it needs to happen. My relationship with the Lord is more important than any other aspect of my life. And like other things, I get out of the relationship only what I'm putting into the relationship.

It's like trying to get in better physical shape. If you buy a gym membership, you don't become healthy. But if you go to the gym everyday, your body and your health will drastically change. If I go to the Lord with my needs or my praises every once in a while, nothing will drastically happen in my life. But if I go to Him daily, that's when I really hear from Him and will know how to move forward. 

I listened to a message from Pastor Dominic Dinger, and he was saying that "first thing's first." And that first thing needs to be our time with the Lord - before anything else, first thing's first. 

Over the last 4 years, the Lord has really been showing me the importance of a "first thing's first" relationship with Him. He has to come first. I have to go to Him first. I have to communicate with Him first, and often. 

What's the Lord been teaching you over the last 4 years? It's always a great idea to pause and reflect before entering a new year. Feel free to add your life lessons in the comments


May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may we all grow closer to Him, casting off every weight so that we can run with endurance. 


Monday, September 12, 2016

A Summer of Festivals

Our kids' fest team
It's hard to believe we've already been living in Zaporozhye for 5 months - and the time has gone by really fast! There have been different points in my life where time felt like it never moved. But these last 5 months have felt like a blink of the eye. I am absolutely shocked by the realization that it's already September, summer is over, and leaves are falling off the trees. And, as school beings, I am faced with the realization that our summer of kids' festivals has also come to a close.

It all started with one sweet young woman in our church. She felt the Lord call her to organize a two day kids' festival at Oak Park (here in Zaporozhye). The whole church was really excited to see her passion, and so we banded together, did our best to prepare, and hosted the festival.

We all prayed a lot for the festival and worked hard to prepare for the event. We were so excited at first, but once the festival began, various roadblocks came up, some of our planning unraveled a bit, and not very many kids came. As the festival came to a close, a lot of us felt a little disappointed. We had so much hope and faith, that the festival was going to be this huge thing with 50-60 kids. But, this just wasn't the case. We went home that night discouraged.

Inviting people to church and English Club
The next day, the Lord really spoke to me, and I think the other servants too - that success isn't in numbers, results, or even in our expectations being met. Those are just worldly standards. True success is rooted in faithfulness and obedience. The young woman that organized the festival was so faithful and obedient to the Lord, and the servants that helped gave their time and energy as unto the Lord. With all that in mind, I realized that the festival was a success, even though I couldn't see any immediate fruits.

Little did I know, the Lord designed this first festival to be far bigger than just a one time event. And not only that, but this first festival ended up opening up unbelievable ministry doors - all the more proving that God's ways are not our ways, and His ways are always SO much better.

A few weeks later, we were on the bus and the director from Oak Park was on the same bus, saw us, and recognized us! He got off at the same stop as us and started talking to us about Ukrainian Independence Day. As the conversation continued, he mentioned that he liked what we did at our first festival, and if we were interested, we could do another festival on Independence Day. We were totally shocked and blown away by God's faithfulness in this.

We started making plans and were able to organize another festival with crafts, songs, games, raffle prizes, an English Club and evangelism table, and we also shared the Gospel with the kids (and with many adults too!). There were tons of people at the park on Ukrainian Independence Day! It was such a cool opportunity and we got to invite so many people to church and tell them about Jesus. Honestly, I have no idea how many kids filtered through the festival, but we gave away tons of Gospel tracts, English Club invites, and got to serve our local community in Jesus name.

After our second festival, I was so excited! All of my expectations had been exceeded and I was satisfied. But again, the Lord wasn't done yet!

We were contacted this last week by the director and were invited to do one more festival. We didn't have very much time to plan this festival, but our team really banded together and worked hard. It was so cool to see our team work as the body of Christ. We had to organize the festival quickly, which meant all the planning had to be delegated, each team member trusting that the next team member did what they agreed they would do. And the super awesome part is, everyone did what they said they would do, we worked together well and in unity, and we were able to put on a third kids' festival.

We were all flexible and sensitive to the Spirit, and the festival was great. Truly, I couldn't be prouder of Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye and the awesome men and women at the church who just love the Lord so much and deeply desire to have a positive impact on the community here (in the name of Jesus!). People freely and willing gave their time and energy to this outreach, and I really believe the Lord already has, and will, use these festivals to further the Kingdom.

Ira sharing the Gospel with kids at the park
The Lord is so good and faithful! He used one young woman's faithfulness (the organizer of the first festival) to open the door for our whole church to reach out to people here in Zap and bring them the Gospel. As I look back and reflect on these festivals, I don't feel tired at all. I feel stoked that the Lord is doing a fresh work here in Zap, and I do believe that the best is yet to come -- the Lord has more crazy, awesome, amazing things planned for CCZap.

"Look among the nations and watch - Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe though it were told you." - Habakkuk 1:5