Category Archives: Missions

How Should Christians Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

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vday1Valentine’s Day… dare I say it’s probably a more loathed holiday versus a loved holiday, contrary to its theme and modern intent?  Christians have been very bold in their disgrace towards the commercialization of Easter and Christmas; why are we not as vocal about Valentine’s Day?  And should we?  Although it is a holiday aimed at sharing love with those closest to us, is it a secular celebration?  What are the origins of Valentine’s Day and are there really Christian foundations in this holiday? Is there any harm in cupid, red hearts, candy, flowers, and romantic dinners?

At one time, a pre-Roman pastoral festival known as Lupercalia was observed from February 13th through the 15th.  This three-day festival time of celebration was acclaimed to refine the city, deter evil spirits, and increase health and fertility.  As Christianity continued to grow, the festival was adapted over time by different cultures and people began to add their own customs.

The patron St. was a priest and physician in ancient Rome and was well-known for his kindness and generosity towards others.  He spent much of his time caring for the poor, performing good deeds, and healing the sick and afflicting.  He was arrested by the Roman emperor Claudius Gothicus (268-270 AD) during the time of Christian persecution.  During his time under arrest he healed his attending officer’s blind, adopted daughter which led to the officers’ family’s conversion to Christianity.  Gothicus heard of these “deeds” and ordered St. Valentine to be beheaded on February 14th.

While the Lupercalia festival was still highly respected, it was Pope Gelasius who officially added February 14th as a holiday on the church list in 496 AD, known as St. Valentine’s Day.  From that point forward, this day was honored and celebrated in memory of St. Valentine for his life of service.  The new name of the Lupercalia festival was easily adapted and new elements to the holiday were quickly added into the fold.  The emphasis on the holiday was never meant to reflect romantic love but to honor St. Valentine and mirror agape love and goodwill towards all people.  It was never about cards, flowers, and chocolate candy.  But somehow the commercialization has managed to taint the holiday and steer our focus away from loving others in need.

God is not opposed to us loving others; it’s quite the opposite.  He commands us to love others unconditionally.  God wants us to show love to others through words and actions, Let us not love in word or talk bur in deed and in truth,” 1 John 3:18.  While God wants romantic love shared between a husband and wife, He wants us to show love to others as well.  We should be doing both year-round, not just on a single day when an overly-commercialized holiday says we should be showing love to our significant other.  It should be our mission to love others at all times and make sure our actions show God’s love.

Romans 15:13 says this, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This is the highest and most respected form of love.  As Christians, we certainly need to love and honor the spouse God blessed us with, but we need to do away with our love for “things”.  Let’s celebrate the holiday in memory of Saint Valentine – by doing something special and anonymously for someone in need.  Spend the day and your money modestly on others.

Click HERE for some Valentine family games that celebrate God’s love and HERE for Valentine devotionals.

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A Jesus Lovers New Year’s Resolution

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newyear2It’s the end of another year and the majority of us are eagerly awaiting the chance for new beginnings and blessings.  We certainly never look at the new year as a time for added stress, pain, or sickness.  In our anticipation and hope of new things to come, we tend to make new year’s resolution – to lose weight, cut out caffeine, go to the gym, work less, sleep more, find a new job, etc.

The question I ask of you as we close out 2013…. What does Jesus want from you?  He very well may be calling you to cut calories, lose weight, and exercise.  He may be tugging at your heart to work less and be at home with your family more.  But what does He want from your heart?  How can your life glorify His name in this coming year?  What changes does God want from you that will ultimately lead you to a closer relationship to Jesus Christ?

Here is a list of New Year’s resolutions all Christians need to work on in 2014:

Forgive more – As a forgiven sinner, you are required to forgive sinners.  Let go of other people’s mistakes and shortcomings, even if those decisions directly affected your life.  Satan will remind you of the pain others have inflicted on you but YOU are a forgiven sinner and are called to forgive the sins of others.  Remind yourself that you have not always been a Christian and that you too have hurt others.  We have all fallen short and we will all fail again.  Pray for those who have hurt you, that they are blessed by God and that those blessings change their lives.  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

Pray always – It’s so simple to say “pray more” but the thought of praying all the time can seem very daunting.  Rest assured, if you miss an opportunity to pray, you must not give up!  Begin by praying every morning or evening and slowly add in other specific times in your day devoted to prayer.  You will soon notice how your prayers shift from specified times to daily conversations with God throughout your day.  Make sure you also add a few minutes of reflection time to listen to what God says to you about your prayers.  “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Quit worrying – We begin to worry when we feel as if we are not in control.  The truth is, very seldom do we have full control over anything.    When we allow worry to seep into our lives, we are saying to those around us that we are helpless and have no one to turn to.  But as Christians, we must have faith in God and faith in His plan.  Find the good in every situation and be thankful for what God has already blessed you with.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Give more – Give more of your time, your money, and your effort.  Pray about this specifically and see where God wants you to give.  Does he want you to give more of your money to your church or a mission?  Does He want you to give more of your time and volunteer efforts?  Does He simply want you to give your family more quality time?  Whatever it is that He leads you to give, give wholeheartedly and give as if you are giving to the Lord.  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7

Go to church – Attending church should not be a Sunday morning visit when times are hard.  Church is a time for weekly reflection and an energy boost.  It’s a time for us to put aside the craziness of life and refocus on Christ and His will for our lives.  Church is a time for Christians to fellowship with other believers and together build the kingdom of God.  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Learn more – Read your Bible this year, start a devotional, or commit to reading that book your spouse has asked you to read.  If you’ve already read the Bible in its entirety, read it again to gain more knowledge.  You cannot go wrong opening your Bible and reading scripture!  But there is power when reading with other Christians and discussing life together.  “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

Judge less – Learn how to judge righteously and ask God to show you when you’re sinfully judging.  Practice the art of judging the sin and not the sinner.  Find the good in every person and in every situation, even if it’s simply acknowledging that God will use that situation for His glory.  Remember that we have all sinned and fallen short in the eyes of God.  We will all stand on even ground before God one day; your sin is no less than any other man’s.  “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24

Be more gracious – Again, find the good in every person and in every situation.  Treat others with kindness and respect.  Even if we don’t think they deserve it, they really do.  Don’t assume the worst in others, even if their track record shows otherwise.  Give people the benefit of the doubt, always.  Complement those who frustrate you, and add a smile.  Work on changing your heart towards others and people will begin to seem far less threatening to you.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Plant seeds – Write down a list of people who are non-believers and commit to praying for them over this next year.  Make it your goal to talk to them about Jesus Christ and his unending love for them.  Invite them to church, offer to pray for them, connect with them regularly and allow them the opportunity to see how Christ is working in your own life.  The outcome is amazing to see how God uses YOU and your everyday circumstances to change the lives of others.  You plant the seed and watch as God grows new believers.  “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Go on a mission – Your mission trip doesn’t necessarily need to be across the world to a third world country.  While that is definitely an incredible experience, your mission field can be right here in your hometown.  Your mission field is the path you drive to work and the places you run your errands.  To be on a mission for Christ is to tell others of Christ and bringing His Good News to non-believers.  Begin by asking strangers, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”  Spend time everyday preparing for your mission work and ask God to show you where your work needs to be done.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 19-20

To put our focus on Christ rather than ourselves is ultimately what God wants for our lives.  He wants us to depend on Him.  When we do these things, our lives begin to take on a new meaning and good things begin to happen.  We will still suffer loss and heartache, setbacks and pain.  But life becomes bearable when we walk with our Savior and allow Him to lead the way.

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Nefarious: Merchant of Souls REVIEW

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Nefarious: Merchant of Souls is one of the most horrendously difficult and yet incredibly inspiring movies that documents human trafficking and the sex slave industry.  Benjamin Nolot, director and narrator, lays out his heart and exposes the dark secrets of sexual slavery, which was once thought to be abolished but is quickly becoming an increasing global problem.  It’s estimated the sex trade industry has claimed an estimated 27 million victims around the world.

The heartbreaking and moving film offers a very deep, real and honest look at sex slavery as the film makers follow women, men, children, and families from various parts of the world.  The film reveals the realities of the growing number of orphans in Eastern Europe, the sad family dynamics in Southeast Asia, the legalized prostitution in Amsterdam’s red light districts, the demand and desire for sex and prostitution in Sweden, and the attraction and excitement of sex in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The reality that these women, men and certainly the children are not doing this by choice is made very clear; rather a well-crafted lie by satan is now revealed with the truth.

Several interviews are included in the film for the purpose of education as well as the redemption and love that can only be provided by Christ.  Former pimps, current brothel owners, psychologists, social workers, law officials, and reformed johns and prostitutes all discuss the problem of sex trafficking and their search for an answer to this horrifying crime.  Viewers will see the evils of grooming, kidnapping, selling, and entrapment of victims.  The violence these victims encounter is recreated in the film to give viewers a glimpse into the struggles and psychological abuse as they become slaves to their captors.  You will see women beaten and forced to submission, stripped naked, auctioned to the highest bidder, and sold multiple times night after night for the simple pleasure of a stranger.

The documentary serves as a testimony of these enslaved victims and addresses the global problem of this tragedy.  The answer to the problem is clear… Jesus Christ, who frees these victims from the evils of sexual slavery.  It’s a sad reality when people turn their backs on the Gospel and fall prey to lust of the eyes and flesh and the ripple effect this has on society.  The film shows the problem is much deeper than poverty and that the fingers of evil are entwined throughout every aspect of this unfathomable “business” and this un-chosen way of life.

Produced by Exodus Cry, the film proves the complex issues and horrors of modern-day slavery and will capture your heart and lead you on a mission of hope to end sex trafficking.  With the facts presented in the documentary, we cannot ignore the need for change but must press forward with hard work and a desire for justice.  The film offers hope for these victims being rescued and redeemed from this evil darkness.  There is a lot of work to be done, lives to be saved and ministered to – and it starts with you and me.

Watch the preview of the film below:

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

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Fact: Every 30 seconds, a person becomes victim to human trafficking.
Fact: Over 2.2 million children are sold into the sex trade annually.
Fact: There are currently 1.39 million victims in sexual servitude.
Fact: Approximately 30 million modern-day slaves currently reside in our world.
Fact: Nearly 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across borders every year.

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Sex trafficking is an extremely fast growing form of enslavement of our children (male and female), women, and in some cases even men.  It is the commercial exploitation of children under the age of 18 as well as adults with the use of force, fraud, or coercion.  This form of trafficking in the sex industry includes street prostitution, online escort services, residential brothels, and secret brothels disguised as various businesses and some under the category of ‘massage parlors’ or ‘adult book  stores’.

Countless victims are transported across state and country lines on a regular basis and especially during major world events – Olympics, Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, and many others.  Due to the influx of tourists during these special events, trafficking in those cities is a huge problem.   Traffickers have even been known to rent people’s homes during such events for the sole purpose of trafficking.  They put children in suitcases disguised as luggage and tote them around as objects.  Victims are often times tattooed and branded like animals as their traffickers claim ownership of them.  These traffickers continue to get more creative as they steal these lives away from so many.  Trafficking is not just a problem in third world countries, it happens in our own communities and across the globe to the other side of the world.  Our children are being taken from the playgrounds and being robbed of their childhoods.  Our children are being sold by their own family members hoping their children will be educated and provided for.

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Serey was eagerly getting ready to start her fourth year of high school in the Philippines.  Her parents could no longer afford her schooling and with their permission, she headed off to work as a salesgirl at a large department store in Manila.  Instead of working in the department store, she was immediately taken to a local brothel hidden within the appearances of a bar.  She spent her darkest hours hidden inside a room with many other girls, each from a different province.

At 23 years old, Sabine’s family sold her to another family as half-payment for a car.  For three years she lived as a domestic servant and sex slave.  She spent her days caring for the family’s children and nights chained to a filthy shed with food scraps thrown at her to eat and sold to men for sex.  Sabine was burned with irons and cigarettes, beaten with iron bars and sticks, and sick from insufficient care and inadequate nutrition.  She was dumped outside a Paris, France hospital weighing just 84lbs with no teeth and with mutilated ears and nose.

Theresa and her parents had just moved to Michigan, United States.  She was a shy teenage girl, unsure of herself, and desperately seeking friends and popularity.  A boy offered her a ride home but before taking her home, he made a quick stop by his house where he raped her and secretly had pictures taken of her.  Once under his trap, she was threatened with those photos and her family’s reputation if she didn’t do as he commanded.  For two years Theresa was sold to numerous men, drugged, and abused before her family was relocated to another state for work.

In Brazil, Samantha was poorly educated and lived in poverty.  She was sexually and physically abused by her father.  With nothing to lose, she ran away at the age of 15 searching for something love, acceptance, and a hope for her future.  She met a woman who offered her a job as a maid but that job opportunity was disguised as a sex slave in a brothel.  Samantha was forced into drug addiction and prostitution.  She continues to run from various government programs and agencies that have tried to help her, and from time to time still sells herself for money.

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Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by abusing and victimizing millions of innocent people both stateside and abroad.   This heinous business is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.  In October of 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was signed making human trafficking a federal crime.  Under U.S. and international law, commercially sexually exploited children found in the sex trade are considered to be victims of human trafficking, even if no force or intimidation is present.

Fact: Children as young as 4 are being abducted or sold into prostitution.
Fact: The average age of trafficking victims is just 14 years old.
Fact: The average lifespan of a trafficking victim is just 7 years.
Fact: These are our people.  These are our children.

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The Cost of Being a Disciple

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dare-to-be-a-discipleLuke 14:27 says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Ask yourself…

What does this mean?  What is the cost of being a disciple?

It shouldn’t be surface level.  It isn’t just about smiling to someone, tithing, going to church, or even praying before meals.  It means carrying your cross.  Can we carry our cross full of our sins, no matter the weight, and still have faith in God?  Are we willing to accept Christ in our lives fully, knowing that Satan is going to challenge us at all costs?  Are we willing to accept life-altering circumstances (a death in the family, loss of our homes or jobs, cancer, or perhaps even our own death) and still be faithful to Him?

I certainly hope so!  We should be searching for Christ in all circumstances – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We should be very real with Him – real about our pain, anger, frustrations, joy, thankfulness, love.  We need to come to Him in everything, bearing all of our emotions knowing that He will continue to love us even after we’ve shed tears in frustrations.  But we rest in knowing that afterwards, He will speak to us and lead us through our next steps.  Our Heavenly Father will listen and then be obedient to us, never leaving our side.  He allows me to talk so candidly with Him and I love that He also speaks to us without reserve.

For me, being a disciple is being prepared as a follower of Christ to do the hard things and still put my faith in Him.  It’s about listening to Him with open ears to His plans for my life.  He may call us to do big things such as taking a stance for a controversial agenda, becoming a missionary and leaving behind everything we know, enduring cancer or a tragic death in the family.  It may be staying home and raising your children, standing alongside your spouse, or working in the church nursery.  Whatever the mission field, we must be prepared to follow Him and continue to spread His word.   We must be a disciple and know that in all things, Christ is with us.

2 Timothy 4:7 says this, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Being a good disciple is accepting Christ in our life and being faithful in ALL circumstances, even in the midst of trouble or feeling the weight of my cross.  For me, being a disciple is being able to say I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept up my faith.

But we are still here, we haven’t finished our race.  Are we keeping the faith?

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Missionary Q&A

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1. Why would you want to live with the poor and sick and risk getting sick yourself?  The poor are often pushed aside and thought of as demented, mentally challenged, or simply lazy.  We don’t know how they became homeless or sick.  We don’t know their circumstances and it isn’t our place to judge.  It is our place to love and serve.  Everybody needs a chance to hear of Jesus’ love and redemption.  We are all called to serve the poor, the destitute, and the sick.  Paul says in the bible “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”  The sick need help, they need medical intervention and they need someone to pray with them and offer hope.  The poor have basic needs that need to be met.  Any missionary will say, “Why not me?  Why shouldn’t that person be me?”

2. Why would you want to leave your family behind and what if a family emergency happens, how would you afford to get home?  Missionaries serve individually, serve as a group, or together as a family unit.  Either way, they often leave their extended families behind.  It’s important for missionaries to have their family support back home, knowing there is someone always praying for their safety and well-being and even for God’s will to be done through their family member.  Communication back home is oftentimes hard to maintain but through modern technology and with the help of social media, families can stay in touch.  If an emergency happens, everyone must remain faithful that God will provide, whether it be timing that communication can be made, a plane ticket home, or support from a nearby friend to offer comfort.

3. Why can’t you just help the sick and poor in America?  It is definitely true there are still poor and sick people right here in America and right here in our own cities.  Missionaries are called all over the place – local and overseas.  There are many organizations that provide help locally for the poor and needy and many times church groups will volunteer time to serve daily or short-term mission work.  It is far more time-consuming and costly to serve overseas and because of this,  serving locally may be your only option.  Missionaries who travel abroad want to serve where there is less help with less fortunate circumstances and God has provided them with the means to do so.

4. Why in the world would you want to give up money year after year and never earn a dime in return?  I would think all missionaries lean on scripture and faith knowing their God knows their needs and will provide.  Matthew 6: 31-34 says, “So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Missionaries have such incredible faith, knowing God will always provide, even for their basic needs.

5. How do you really know that God is calling you to missions and you secretly don’t just want to travel around the world?  I don’t think the mission field looks anything like a tourist vacation spot!  Missionaries do not have the funds to travel the world.  They raise the money needed for their plane tickets and once they are at their destination, any traveling they do is by foot.  A vacation to a missionary resembles a hot shower, any food other than rice and beans, and electricity.  You can tell in a missionaries eyes the passion they have and the desire they have to live just like those they are helping.  Who really wakes up and WANTS to live not knowing if they’ll eat that day, if they’ll get a foreign disease, or even if they’ll get to bathe?  Only those serving God truly desire to sacrifice those necessities and live faithfully that God will provide.

6. How do you live without money?  The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God provides basic needs through various means.  Churches and nonprofit organizations support missionaries and there are people who commit to supporting an individual person or family while they serve long-term.  Short-term missionaries often host fundraisers for their trips.  If you ever get the opportunity to support a missionary, do so.  The Bible says in Matthew 25:40 “‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”  When you support a missionary, you too are caring for the poor and needy, you too are bringing people to Christ.

How will you serve?

Missionaries

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The purpose of a missionary is to be God’s servant, to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  We are all called to “The Great Commission” –

Matthew 28:16-20 – “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There are missionaries in your local community, some who serve nationally, and even those who commit to serving overseas.   There are missionaries who serve short-term missions and those who dedicate their entire lives to serving God.  Those in the mission field can be found taking donations for their local food pantry or crossing geographical boundaries to live in jungles or with tribes.

Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “’Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

Missionaries give their time and energy, their heart and soul, and often times their entire life expecting nothing in return, other than the fact that they can stand and say there were obedient to God’s call.  They literally become the hands and feet of Christ with every breath they take.  They do not receive a paycheck for any service they provide whether it is food, medical care, or the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.  They rely solely on God’s word that says He will provide for all their needs according to the riches of His glory (Philippians 4:19-20).  Long term, life long, overseas Missionaries are often the most misunderstood Christians.  The outsider looking in doesn’t get it, they literally cannot grasp why someone would give up everything they own, move to the other side of the world from their families, and rely on “others” to support them.  When God said He would use the least of these, He was and is literal.  He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.  And let me back this up by saying I have been a witness to this first hand on more than one occasion now.

God wants the Good News of His word told to everyone and missionaries make this happen.  The Bible says in Matthew 24:14, “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” We are not all called to serve as a long-term missionary but I do believe we are all called to do mission work.  Our mission may be to love and show Christ through our actions at work or school, it may be to support a local organization, you may be called to become an advocate for a national charity, or you may very well be called across borders to a lifelong journey of spreading the gospel.  In addition, we are also called to support our missionaries.  You can do so by donating money to the youth going on a Spring Break mission trip, providing items needed for your local non-profit organization, committing to supporting missionaries who are serving fulltime, or simply give your time and energy to a cause.  For many of us, the “mission field” we are called to is right in our own back yards.

If we all work together with our personal abilities, if we all actually answered with a resounding YES to what He has called us to, just imagine the amount of work we can all accomplish for His glory!  We all have different gifts and qualities that make us unique and together we are ALL the body of Christ.  We are the hands and feet and it’s up to us to share His good news.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 19-20

What is He calling you to do?  Have you answered YES?  Keep in mind, when we don’t answer or we wait too long to answer, He will move on.  He will find someone else who says YES and then we lose – we miss out on the blessing that He had planned for us!

Read our Missionary Q&A blog.

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