– II Chronicles 20:12b
It’s not the first time I have been in this place and I am certain it will not be the last. When you decide to follow Jesus, you decide to put yourself in the position of absolute dependence on His power and grace to accomplish His will. Reason, wit, talents or luck will never be enough to get the job done. Never.
Prayer, bold and persistent steps of faith, all the while calling others to join you in what God is doing will.
I do not believe God will reveal a need and open a door of opportunity that He will not provide the people and resources to get the job done. Since RAM’s inception 3 years ago He has always provided. I don’t have adequate words to express my gratitude for His provision because every year since our beginning He has revealed more needs and opened more doors of opportunity to bring His truth and grace to rural America. But it is an uphill battle all the way. So many students have so many options for their summers; so many possibilities outside our borders. And yet, there is so much to be done right underneath our noses. Just beyond our front door.
This summer, in less than 5 months, we have the privilege of meeting the following needs and opportunities:
As of today we have:
To the God who parted the Red Sea, shut the mouths of lions, raised the dead and saved the likes of me, this is small stuff. Our eyes are on the Lord, but we are reaching out to you. God’s got some work to do. Won’t you join us as we join God in another amazing display of His power and grace this summer?
Contact us at: email@example.com or 405.615.8792
(God’s stories of grace and redemption are often played out through the ministry of His body the church in some of the most unexpected places. The following is one of those stories. Kim serves alongside her husband Tim who is one of the shepherds of the Seymour church of Christ in Seymour, TX. This is her personal account of how God can still be found in Nazareth expressing His grace in the rural communities of our nation. As this year closes and a new one is upon us may you find inspiration in the following story and join us in bringing more and more of Jesus’ truth and grace to “the least of these” in rural America! – Jim)
For the last three years the Seymour church of Christ has had an after school program for children in Seymour two days a week. The last week of the school year we have a hot dog supper and awards. Our RAM group had just arrived and as usual jumped in to help wholeheartedly. The boys were playing basketball with the kids when a boy I had never seen before rode up on a bike. He had on shoes at least 2 sizes too big with holes in them. He joined in the game and stayed to eat. He was invited to and attended every activity we had that month. He was exceptionally polite, but seemed defensive and would quickly retaliate for anything he felt was unjust. He often looked unkempt and wore the same clothes day after day. He formed a very close attachment to RAM member Nathaniel Hensley who was also our youth intern and happened to live with us during the summer. His name was Billy.*
Nathaniel worked with Billy and would bring him to the house to play and to spend the night whenever his mother would not be home. He blossomed under the love that Nathaniel and the RAM team lavished on him and soon his defensive stance faded. He attended every service and with his outgoing personality soon won the hearts of many in the congregation. As the time approached for Nathaniel to go back to college Billy wanted to know if he could move into Nathaniel’s room. I told him he was welcome anytime, but we had to make sure his mother knew where he was all of the time.
When it was time for school to start several church members collected money to buy him some basic clothing and shoes and others donated clothes their children had outgrown. He came to my house to get them and I have never seen such excitement of a little boy over a pair of Nike shoes. Two days before school was to start Lee Skelton our minister was talking to the school principal about Billy and he found out he was not enrolled in school for the year. Lee and the principal went together to Billy’s house and visited with his mom. She then brought Billy and his older brother to the school to be enrolled.
The boys had attended 4 different schools the previous year and Billy had not passed the 5th grade. He had already been held back in the past so it was decided to put him in 6th grade. At this time I felt a calling to help him with his school work. I really tried to fight it, but God just kept putting him and this need in front of me. On the first day of school I went to the principal and asked what I would need to do to be able to pick him up every day and help him with his homework. He said he would get his mother to give me permission and by that afternoon I was allowed to pick him up.
Billy wanted to do well and would do anything I asked him to do regarding his school work, but we struggled to find ways to help him. The world Billy lives in is so different from mine. I realize that I have lived a sheltered life. His life experiences have not helped him develop a very wide vocabulary. We’ve gotten advice from many teachers and have made great strides. He has passed all but one subject this past semester!
We have had a few rocky times, but have been able to love Billy through them. I have developed a relationship with his mother and she has given me permission to take him to the doctor and the dentist. He spends at least 75% of his free time at our house. He goes with us on family trips, but we recently went on a vacation and our church family stepped in to take care of him while we were gone. As I write this he is asleep on the sofa because my whole family is in for a late Christmas. He has been such a blessing to our lives and I pray we have been to him. The time that stands out to me as most precious is one day when he had on his Seymour church of Christ T-Shirt that the church recently got for our youth rally. He said, “A few months ago I didn’t know anyone here and now look at me,” as he pointed to his shirt. He knows he belongs!
*The details of this account are true, however, to protect his privacy, Billy’s name is fictitious.
The Holy Spirit continues to open more and more doors of opportunity for us to introduce Millennials to the rural mission field! Next summer we are targeting rural communities in 4 different states. For the past two years we have had our eyes on the northeast part of the US hoping to partner with Ohio Valley University in targeting rural communities in the Ohio Valley Region. It appears that God is opening that door for us in 2016 as the pieces are coming together to recruit, equip and send a team to Rittman, OH. Take a few minutes to pray for each of the following communities where we are planning to send student teams in the summer of 2016. Please pray for the Lord to provide the 20-25 students we will need to man these teams and pray for the leaders who will lead them. Praise God for all that He has done so far and for what He is about to do next!
Mission point: Cordell, OK
Pop: 2921 souls
County: Washita – 11,000 souls
County Seat: Yes
Host Congregation: 4th & College Church of Christ
Team Leader: Chris Perry
4th year participant
Mission point: Seymour, TX
Pop: 2652 souls
County: Baylor – 3614 souls
County Seat: Yes
Host Congregation: Seymour Church of Christ
Team Leader: Lee Skelton
2nd year participant
Mission point: Belle Plaine, KS
Pop: 1681 souls
County: Sumner – 24,132 souls
County Seat: No
Host Congregation: Belle Plaine Church of Christ
Team Leader: Ed Burrows
1st year participant
Mission point: Rittman, OH
Pop: 6491 souls
County: Medina & Wayne – 287,403 souls
County Seat: No
Host Congregation: Rittman Church of Christ
Team Leader: TBD
1st year participant
Jesus inaugurated His ministry quoting Isaiah 61;1-2. It begins with, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . ”
Us humans don’t fare well when in captivity, whether it is of our bodies, minds or souls. Today in rural America, Satan is taking alarming numbers of people captive through meth addiction. According to a study by the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, meth use is twice as prevalent among 18-25 year olds as it is among their urban counter-parts. It is a scourge on our land and a ruthless taskmaster dragging our youth and young adults to destruction. But what an opportunity for the church to kick in the gates of hell where it would really hurt!
Coming up against this stronghold of the devil is no small matter. It will cost us. We will have to embrace the addict with an unconditional, and yet, firm love. It will take opening our hearts and arms, while not enabling continued abuse. It will force us to re-evaluate our priorities and convictions as Christians. It will require our time, our money, our comfort and especially, our hearts which we so carefully protect.
I recently sat in the living room of a dear friend and brother in Christ. Since I have known him he has taught me some deep lessons about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, especially as it relates to my own moral brokenness and undeniable need for His grace and power. This brother has been an addict for the majority of his life. In the latter part of his life he became a Christian. His transformation from addict to Christ-follower has been gradual, but powerful and inspiring. He has had stretches of great progress and periods of great struggle. I was in his living room this time because he had been struggling. Old demons had sung their haunting strains like sirens near the reefs, luring him towards disaster. When he found himself broken on the rocks they raised their ugly, guttural voices in self-condemnation and loathing that easily morphed into anger and judgment that he slung at those who truly love him. Until that day. And the days that have followed.
Since then he has opened his door and his heart to more of his brothers and sisters in Christ who remain in his life and invite him into theirs. They are loving him with heaven’s love, and there are few on this planet that can resist it if they are open to its influence; including him.
Meth has taken many captives, but Jesus will set them free. Church, bring the Kingdom of God to rural America. Set the captives free!
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. - John 17:20-21
Our quest for unity as believers does not begin in the halls of debate where human pride and will prevails and divides. No, it begins in an upper room round a table of fellowship and a basin of dirty water; it begins in imitation of the humility and brokenness of God as revealed in the prayers of Jesus, son of man son of God, pleading for the unity of all who would believe in Him as Lord and Christ. If our Lord began in the humility of prayer, why would we do any less?
If the proof of Jesus’ Messiahship to the world is the unity of all His believers, where is the effort and energy being spent to see it happen? It appears that our greatest opportunity for evangelism is through our unity in Christ as His followers. If this is true, where are the Christian leaders who have made this their passionate pursuit? Shouldn’t we be joining hands and bowing knees before the cross of our Redeemer and King and at least beginning with this prayer be unified? Why aren’t our public and private prayers continually echoing our Master’s plea for unity? Before we have another gospel meeting to win the world why don’t we insist on prayer meetings among ourselves begging God to forgive us of our pride and indifference and pleading with Him to make us one in Christ? Do we really believe in the power of prayer? Do we really want the prayer of our Lord and Savior to be answered? Do I love my God and my fellow man that much? Or should I say, that little? The absence of our prayers for His divine intervention betrays our feeble desire for His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven regarding unity.
The undeniable example of our Lord reveals that unity is of divine origin. It begins in heaven within the perfect unity of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the source of our inspiration and power to attain the same; both with our God and ourselves. Prayer is the conduit to the divine power of heaven and the will of God. Prayer positions us before the cross and enables us to humbly receive the grace, power and wisdom of God that will bring about the unity we have so far failed to attain:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. – Ephesians 1:16-18
Perhaps by uniting first in the humility of prayer, God will forgive our arrogance and divisiveness and open our eyes to the error of our ways, whether in doctrine, deed or attitude. Who knows what degree of unity is awaiting us if we will prayerfully humble ourselves in expectation of the Spirit’s power to enlighten our eyes and soften our hearts?
We have failed our Father far too long. Our failure has prolonged His anguish and delayed, obstructed, or I fear, even prevented the redemption of our fellow man. There is not another minute to waste. To some, the walls between the “children of God” appear insurmountable. But if the prayer of Jesus is to be answered, it must begin in the humility of our prayers. Who among us that claims to be His disciple will begin to beat the doors of heaven until by His power we are brought to complete unity?
“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” -John 17:23
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6
This is the second time we have shared our home with a RAM student. We do life by doing the next right thing. Housing a RAM student just seemed like the next right thing. There was no real discussion. We just did it. This time our RAM student stayed on as an intern for 4th and College for two additional months. The time flew by. Summer in Oklahoma is a busy time. During RAM, our students spent most of their time working in other surrounding communities with other RAM students which only further strengthens the bond they have in Christ and with one another.
We are empty-nesters living in a small house that gets warmer than most in the summer. Why do we do it? As parents of three grown children, we would want someone else to do the same thing for our children in a similar situation. Yes we were strangers, but we no longer are. Basically all they need is a place to sleep and a place to clean up after a hard day. Anyone with a spare room has exactly what is needed. You need to be understanding and caring; and respect their privacy. You need to be willing to allow them to be who they are and flexible and tolerant enough to accept some inconveniences. They are college students. They probably will not eat or sleep at normal times. But the blessings far outweigh the inconveniences.
RAM students bring life and joy back to struggling congregations. Each one of them has a special gift to share and their own reasons for participating in RAM. Stop by and just ask them, they are here for church members as much as they are for the community. Take them for a meal and spend some time with them and you will catch a glimpse of that joy and probably want just a little bit more. In one such visit this year one of the girls said that she came from a small town church and all she sees there is apathy, but she did not see it here. The difference here is a caring circle of people who take time to know the students while they are here; share in their victories and share in their struggles. They help us so much more than we could ever offer them.
Yes as a house parent you might have to deal with normal emotional troubles that come along. It seems like when RAM students arrive and begin touching lives, so does Satan. There will be car problems, illnesses and deaths; rain storms, tornadoes and floods and all sorts of other complications to the plans we have made in advance for the RAM students to help with. So be prepared to be flexible because things will not go as planned. Bathe everything you do in prayer and strive to do the next right thing.
This year, during the actual RAM month we barely saw Janelle, she was busy and gone doing something that entire month. She sat at our dinner table once when she arrived and not again until after RAM had ended. However, we did from time to time meet up with various RAM students for a meal wherever they were working. This time we were committed to meet and spend time with as many RAM students, in various towns, as possible because we believe in the mission of Rural America Ministries. We were lucky enough along the way to connect with other RAM host families who had similar stories of being blessed by their presence. It was nice to know there are others who share our goals for this ministry. Due to the busy summer season, however, we were not completely successful with this plan. We will visit the Seymour congregation on our way to Abilene next month. We will commit to the same challenge next summer. We regret that we were unable to meet the two female RAM students at Seymour. We are afraid that being friends on Facebook is not the same as meeting them in person.
So when you feel that little tug on your heart when asked to help with housing a RAM student, step over those fears and see the blessings that are ahead. We end this summer, looking forward to the next RAM adventure in Southwest, Oklahoma.
I vividly remember standing in the Lubbock Christian University student union building with Jim, quickly scribbling notes on a flyer he gave me before running to class because it was already October and I could not afford to be late anymore. When I got back to my dorm room later that afternoon I pinned my Rural America Ministries flyer, with the nearly illegible notes and all, on the cork board next to my desk so I would see it every day and remember to pray about the adventure that I would soon embark on. I heard about RAM my freshman year but had already committed to an internship that summer. However, when sophomore year rolled around, I knew that RAM was something not only I wanted to commit to, but something I truly felt God had been calling me to and preparing my heart for. Halfway through the spring semester I started to experience what I can only describe as a, “calm before the storm,” type of feeling. It was completely unsettling and exciting all at the same time; I knew that whatever it was that I would be encountering this summer would be important because of the way the Holy Spirit was speaking to me during that time of prayer and preparation. Shortly after those feelings began, I found out that I would be spending my thirty day mission in Seymour, Texas.
Some would say that I am a “big city girl”, and having been born and raised in El Paso, Texas, I would have to agree. When I first came to college, Lubbock was a small town to me, and I was told that Seymour was much, much, MUCH smaller than Lubbock. That in itself was a little unsettling, but I was excited for a new experience. When I thought about going to Seymour, I was not really expecting to see more (what a fun pun, am I right?) of anything. Little did I know that throughout my time in that special place, God would continually give me glimpses of how He saw that place and show me more than I could have ever imagined. Throughout our mission, we started every morning with a debrief time where we would study God’s word and pray together. The first thing we did in those debrief times was reflect over the question, “How did you see God yesterday?” All of those hours of studying, praying, and discussion helped me grow in my faith so much; it is incredible how quickly we were able to see God’s hands moving in different situations and people’s lives when we took the time to be still, tune in for God’s voice, and reflect over that question. That question is something I try to ask myself every day now; life can get tough, and in the difficult times, as well as days that seem slow and mundane, it can be difficult to see God working. Even in the good times, we often forget about what precious blessings those happy moments are from Him.
Whenever I have told people about my time with RAM, many have asked me questions that all amount to, “How did you see God in Seymour?” and to be honest, that is my favorite question to answer. When answering that question I get to open the box in my mind that is full of warm smiling faces, sunsets over windmills, children’s laughter, the melodies and harmonies from spontaneous worship, the smell of home cooked meals, and the stories from God’s children; the people who stole my heart. How did I see God in Seymour? It would be easier for me to tell you how I did not see God in Seymour. I saw God in the way our congregation immediately took us under their wing; welcoming us and claiming us as their own from very early on. I saw Him in the conversations I had with widows while we did chores for them around their houses, or sat on the floor and listened to them share their life stories with us. I saw Him when I sat in my host family’s backyard and stared at the thousands of stars that lit up the night sky. I saw Him in the people that we met while canvasing in different parts of the town. I saw Him in their stories; how quickly some people dumped the load they had carried on their shoulders for far too long, not knowing or understanding that God would willingly take that weight from them. I saw Him when I sat in church with my sweet elderly ladies; when one would grab my hand and hold onto it just to feel close to me. I saw Him in the tears that poured down the faces of teenagers who shared the pains in their hearts. I saw Him while riding in a golf cart around a church member’s ranch, looking at the cattle and listening to the life lessons they had to offer. I saw Him in the relationships I made with my teammates and in the tears we shed when it was time for us to say goodbye. When I took the time to ask myself, “How did you see God today?” He was always faithful to open my eyes and show me how He walked and talked with me all day long.
In John 1:46 Nathaniel asks, “’Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ and Philip replies, ‘Come and see.” Going into RAM, I remember sitting atop Elk Mountain alongside the other eleven RAM students while Jim read this passage with the biggest grin on his face. He told us that when we came down from that mountain we would be going into our own versions of Nazareth. He was right, not many people would have thought much could come out of the tiny little towns that became our homes for those 30 days, but God showed us otherwise. When I left Seymour, my own Nazareth, I left with more incredible memories than I could have imagined I would when I went into the mission. I left Nazareth with a restored spirit, a strengthened faith, a new outlook on the extreme need for Christ in rural communities, a deeper understanding of ministry, a closer relationship with God, and a place to call home. I left Seymour with a new family. I have been lucky enough to return to Seymour a few times this summer, and even go on a mission trip with the Seymour youth group. For me, the mission did not stop at the end of the thirty days, and I praise God for the opportunities I have had to continue serving and building relationships with the people in that place.
Right now, I am missing Nazareth, the place and all of the people; I truly hope and pray that God will continue to use me for His special purposes there. However, as I prepare to start my junior year at LCU, I look forward to seeing friends and classmates that I have not seen over the summer. I look forward to catching up and talking about our summers and the things we are excited for this year. I am excited for the new adventures God will take me on, and the doors He will open. However, at the moment I am very excited to tell people where I spent a significant portion of my summer. I am excited to see their confused faces and give them an answer to, “Why in the world did you spend your summer in Seymour?” I am excited for the opportunities I will have to let a grin stretch across my face while beckoning others to, “come and see.”
“We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.” -Tertullian
Through its infancy, from Pentecost to Constantine, the church endured the flame and sword. Instead of decimating Christ’s bride, she flourished. God purified His saints through their suffering, and as Tertullian poetically stated, multiplied their number with their blood. From the darkness Christ’s disciples rose with such persuasive and indestructible power that even their persecutors were convinced and converted. The bride of Christ was beautiful and the world took notice.
Today in America it appears that Christ has been jilted by His bride. She has been seduced by wealth and comfort and her greater desire is for the protection of these false lovers than for the joy of her Beloved. Secluding herself behind the walls of her buildings, she has exchanged her true and vibrant identity for lifeless brick and mortar and made herself undesirable to the lost and spiritually lonely. She, who as the bride of God Incarnate and recipient of heaven’s tender affections could move the world to equally yield to Christ’s advances has lost her relevance in an increasingly godless society. She has become more an institution and protector of religious dogma than the catalyst of spiritual and moral revolution. Fortunately for the church and the rest of humanity, God is not done with His wayward bride in America. No different than the early days of their romance, He is devoted to her good and intent on her purification. Unlike the first three centuries, instead of persecution, could it be that today He is using the increasing godlessness of our society to provide the cleansing His church most desperately needs? How is this?
Attending services or reciting verses makes not a single disciple of Jesus. Cloistered members cannot salt or illuminate a world rotting and darkened by sin. Churches that define themselves by anything less than a devotion to obedient discipleship to Christ risk the road to extinction. Only churches whose leaders restore the church’s mission of making and maturing disciples of Jesus will embody the redemptive power of Christ’s death and resurrection so desperately needed this hour in America. Those churches that will dare to wade into the muck because they have resolved to remain at the foot of the cross will again become the beautiful bride of Christ to an increasingly godless generation. Instead of losing their relevance, these churches will find it. Instead of extinction, these churches will flourish as they become vessels of living water poured out to the barren souls surrounding them.
Persecution will always be an instrument of purification for the church, and is likely coming to Christ’s bride in America. Until then, it appears that the purification has begun with a call to obedient discipleship rather than attending and reciting because nothing short of it will cause godless America to take notice and embrace her beauty.
OpportUNITY. When the body of Christ unites as one, God provides opportunities for His body to be Christ to the world. Jesus said that our unity as His disciples would be proof to the world that He is our Messiah and Savior. So when the body of Christ comes together as one it makes perfect sense that God will give His body endless opportunities to reflect His glory and story to the world He died for to save.
He certainly did this for our team of students this summer! Our students came from a diversity of universities, states, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. They brought with them life experiences that each contributed a wealth of insight and perspectives that were not all the same. BUT, what united all of this diversity was their unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The divisions that began to creep into the church at Corinth were rooted in a shift of focus from Jesus Christ to men. Paul mentions Christ by name 10 times in the first 10 verses of the opening chapter of I Corinthians. He concludes this powerful repetition with verse 10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” In light of the context, what would that “same mind” and “same judgment” be but that Jesus Christ is Lord?
Every one of our students this summer united under that confession. Every one of our students were devoted disciples of Jesus. Intent on following in His steps and keeping in step with His Spirit, God brought them opportunity after opportunity to share His truth and grace with others. Not only did they share this truth and grace with others, but they discovered more of it themselves. That discovery was the result of their own humility and desire to continue growing in their personal discipleship. Their shared discipleship to Jesus as Lord brought them through their differences and presented them as one body of Christ to the rural communities they served. Each of them, on bended knee at the foot of Christ and His cross, gave undeniable proof of the truth and power of that cross, and the One who died on it for the salvation of us all.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Christ for allowing me to witness the power of His gospel in the unity of our students this summer. I pray that this same unity will prevail throughout the body of Christ, so that the world will believe He is Lord and Savior, and we are the answer to His prayer!