Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Monday, April 24, 2017

What does the fact that I'm surprised say about me?

Enclos paroissial de la Martyre | La Martyre, Brittany, France:
Photo by Yann  Caradec 
It's funny how I'm suprised when I pray and God answers.

A few months ago I began studying the Bible book of Nehemiah.  One of the resources I'm using in my study is Kelly Minter's book Nehemiah, a heart that can break. From the start of the book, I've been struck by Nehemiah's heart that responds to the problems of others.  I've been moved as I've read about how he took the needs he saw to God in prayer and then acted. I've been praying that God would heighten my awareness of needs around me and how He wants me to respond.

Since I've been praying, God led me to Prison Fellowship Ministry and then to weekly luncheoning with my sister.

For the past several months my son Daniel has been talking about a ministry with which I was previously vaguely familiar: Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).  Today I went over to their website. I felt impressed to start setting aside time each week to:

  • Read a few paragraphs about a brother or sister in the Lord who is imprisoned for their faith. 
  • Pray for that person
  • Compose/choose 12 phrases that  VOM has set up to be in the receiver's language.
  • Print the 12-phrase letter
  • Address and set up the envelope for this letter 
  • Take the letter to the post office and pay and mail it
From start to finish it will take less than one hour per week.  Aside from the post office part I can do this at any time of the day or night.  This is a tangible way I can encourage and "make a difference" for a brother or sister in the Lord who's suffering for our Savior. Wow - what an honor.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The ministry I never wanted

My oldest sister used to live with my mom.  Her name is Pam. It's always been a question in the back of my mind as to where Pam would go when my mom would some day die.  She's rather flakey and never really held down a job. She's also stubborn & doesn't take care of herself.  She's one of those people who, when she's telling about life events, starts to add things to the account that aren't true.  As is frequently the case of many people of that type, she tells her stories so much that she actually believes them.

During my high school years Pam caused me a lot of pain and misery and we've never been close.  However, during the past 10 years or so I've come to a point where I just live in the immediate present where she's concerned.  Since I'm not able to change her behavior I don't mentally, or aloud, get into things I think she's doing wrong with her own life, my mom, or my mom's money. Since this change on my part, she and I have had positive encounters when I visited my mom. When everything is said and done she is my sister and I do love her.

As time went by Pam started receiving a small monthly check of around $560.  As my mother aged it became useful that she had Pam living with her. Pam is now age 70.

My mom passed away in mid March.  After much back and forth, Pam went to live with my niece Kara. Initially Kara had told Pam that her dog could come but it had to live outside.  They had a dog house for the dog and another dog already lives there.  The first day Pam moved in went well and the two dogs became friends. Pam convinced Kara to let Pam bring her dog inside.  However, the dog has some accidents and Kara reverted to her original stance of the dog needing to live outside.

I'd been meaning to go visit Pam but hadn't gotten around to it.  Ten days after she'd moved in with Kara I received this text from Kara:

"Well Pam wants out of there. I've been trying extremely hard to make this living situation pleasurable for her and she hates all of it. She is currently sleeping in our backyard with giggy (this is Pam's dog's name) when I asked her not to. It's just giggy that needs to sleep outside b/c he is ruining our house by going to the restroom inside. She wants to move out as soon as possible so if you have any alternatives that would be great! She has been name calling, lying to me, and going behind my back. She hates me and wants out as soon as possible."

Kara was at work when she sent me this text so we couldn't really talk then.  I called another niece and talked with her. This niece gave me the details on what had been going on. I let Kara know I'd come take Pam to lunch the next day and talk with her.

As I thought about what I'd say to Pam when we talked I had a desire to just confront her and tell her that no one would be giving in to her tantrums as my parents had her entire life, that she needed to learn to give in to other people's needs.  I wanted to emphasize how reasonable Kara is being and that Pam's not gonna find any place she can afford that will let her even bring her dog.  I wanted to make her go take a shower the moment I arrived.  But I prayed that God would give me wisdom and His words for Pam.

As it ended up Pam was waiting on the house steps when I arrived.  I took her to a salad buffet place and basically waited on her since she has a knee that won't bend, she walks super slowly, and getting up & down is difficult for her.  We had a nice lunch and sat for close to 30 minutes just sipping tea & talking when we'd finished lunch.  I didn't end up being confrontational.  I did manage to slip in that Kara has the right to make her own house rules, that it's warm in so Cal and her dog is fine outside, and that I don't know of another place she can find that would allow her to bring giggy.  I was extremely diplomatic in the way I presented these things.

My husband John is out of town right now and we texted a bit later that evening.  One particular text that he sent me really hit me:

"As you have done to the least of've done it unto ME"

How I treat Pam is how I'm treating my Savior.

I never planned on having much to do with Pam after mom passed.  But I felt impressed to, for the time being at least, go see her weekly.  I believe that having someone befriend her and take her out once a week will assist her during this transition time.  On the one hand since I'm not working right now I have time.  On the other hand I don't have a lot of money.  But still...I feel like this is what God's saying. He's the one who supplies my money ultimately any way.  Also, the truth is that I do have enough money to do this for right now.  Plus, we're going to inexpensive lunch deals.

So I guess for now I'm having weekly lunch dates with Pam and praying that God would somehow use me to make things better there

Prison Ministry Fellowship
Photo from FAC
I wrote a while back about being impressed to pursue ministering to prisoners or ex-prisoners.  The day I thought God was speaking this to my heart, I went online and looked into what was going on in this regard in my community.  I came across a group named Prison Ministry Fellowship.  I was familiar with this group because when my children were small we sometimes donated to the their project angel tree at Christmas time. So I contacted them and was emailed by Audrey, who is the southern California field director for this group.

It's been a process:
  • First I completed a PMF volunteer application and had to obtain 3 references, one of whom needed to be a leader or pastor at the church I attend.
  • Once my initial application was accepted, I was set up to complete 4 online courses.  Each of these courses had 4 modules and each module had between 3-6 lessons. ( I was super impressed with these courses. They taught about prison culture, how to teach, how to mentor, and the TUMI program.  They also provided relevant case studies that gave a clearer view of what this type of ministry would involve.)
  • Then I had to get a PPD.
  • Then I had a face to face interview with Audrey yesterday.
The interview was set for 1:30PM and I expected it would be an hour.  But we ended up talking and lost all track of time.  When I followed her into an office area to print off some paperwork for me, we were both astounded to find that the clock indicated that it was 3:45PM. It was a wonderful time together.  This woman has such a heart and passion for prison ministries and a testimony that almost made me cry.

It was interesting because I'd indicated all along that I have a desire to serve so I can work wherever is needed, but my big interest is mentoring women who've been released. When we met and actually discussed the needs, I found that they have a huge need for programs in the local men's prison. The local men's prison, CRC, is a medium level II correctional facility. They have a specific program CRC started back in November where young men ages 18-21 are somewhat separated out from the rest of the population. They need instructors to teach PFM pre-release curriculum to these inmates. The curriculum involves practical skills so the inmates have better chances of success when they leave the institution.  Topics include such things as job seeking, interviews, job maintenance, healthy relationships, personal goal setting, time management, etc. Audrey explained these courses as practical life classes with God at the back of them. PMF already has topic related experts who volunteer and teach courses on boundaries and anger management.

I have some mixed thoughts about working with that group.  On the good side I know they need the programs, they're scared children on one level, if they can get their lives together now they have such a better prognosis for their lives, and I've always had a soft spot for young men (most likely because I have 3 sons, who are currently ages 28, 24, & 23).  On the down side I'm guessing this group is less quick to open up and share because of their fears, they are more likely to think they already know it all, they are extremely testosterone-fuled, and I'm not sure I'd appeal to this group.  However, maybe I could be a positive mother figure for them.  I don't know.  I'm praying about it.

Audrey has a super great relationship to the warden there, so she said she'll get me a provisional clearance for the month of May. I just had to complete a provisional clearance form to be run by CRC.  Then I can go in and observe the pre-release classes for this age group, pre-release courses for the regular population, and TUMI curriculum for both groups.  TUMI is an acronym for The Urban Ministries Institute.  I looked over that curriculum and was very impressed. It covers college level Bible courses and is set up so that even people with low reading skills can do the work.  This curriculum was developed by a man who has a calling from God to equip ministers to work in urban areas.

I'm praying and waiting on the Lord regarding what He wants me to do.  Audrey felt convinced that if I come in and observe I'll find if I am meant to be involved in prison ministries.  She also has no doubt that when I observe, it will be really clear to me where I'm meant to minister.

There's a several page application I still need to complete so that CRC can clear me to volunteer there and I would need to go through a 4-hour CRC volunteer orientation that is offered once each quarter.

Right now I'm just trying to do what I think God is leading me to do and taking it one step at a time.
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