Our team has been so blessed to connect with various ministries who are being shaped by Mending the Soul in East Africa. On the team’s next to last day in Kampala we went to a ministry for at-risk children and youth. The founder is a former street kid, and the ministry is twenty years old, well developed, and funded. The founder thanked us profusely for MTS and our resources. He said that they have been feeding, clothing, and paying school fees for hundreds of children, but overall “the kids weren’t getting any better.”
Several months ago he asked Jumah to come do a By His Wounds trauma training for their staff. Due to pressure from their secular European funders, they had previously removed all faith components from their program. The founder told us that he wishes he had found out about MTS ten years ago because they would be a very different organization if they had. He said Jumah’s training has revolutionized their staff (eight of whom came to faith in Christ at the end of the training!) He said they now understand trauma, and he concluded by saying that the most important thing he learned from MTS is that you must include a strong, spiritual component to effectively care for at-risk youth.
Jumah told me the sequel to this story. When he came and trained this staff, their primary European funder was in town. She heard some of the training and was very angry that Jumah used Scripture and spoke of Jesus’ healing love. She confronted Jumah and declared that this was unacceptable. But Jumah refused to be intimidated, and told her that while MTS will gladly help anyone regardless of their religious beliefs, we will never hide Jesus; He is the healer of souls. Jumah suggested that if she couldn’t respect the Christian faith of Africans then African ministries didn’t need her funds. Jumah then encouraged the founder to trust God to provide, and not accept this disrespectful secular demand. Sure enough, God soon provided a new funding source from American churches.
We went away from this meeting praising God for allowing us to help other ministries not just give food and clothing (as important as they are) but offer healing for wounded souls.
Last week we completed our last training at the National Rehabilitation Centre, the juvenile detention center for non-capital offenders for all of Uganda. They have up to 300 youth there at a time. This is an incredible opportunity to train key government workers who serve a most vulnerable population.
Jumah trained a few of these workers three months ago. The director was so pleased with the tangible fruit in her staff that she asked us to come train more staff. We only had two days to train 35 people, but we went full-throttle and God potently guided us.
They were (understandably) skeptical the first morning, but soon loosened up and really began to engage. We fixated on addressing our own trauma before we can help youth with their trauma. Steve taught on the nature and effects of trauma and on Gods original design. Kelsey taught on the biology of trauma and on strategies for trauma reduction. Jumah led application exercises. The staff was so hungry for the practical strategies that they refused to let Kelsey stop teaching!
Jeffry, the assistant director, told me at one of the breaks that until Jumah came and taught, their only strategy with the youth was to cane (beat) them. He said now that they are starting to understand trauma, they are no longer using this force treatment, but are instead helping the youth using ministry tools they have received. He said they are so encouraged with the results of this new strategy!
Many of the staff told us how much they appreciate our encouragement and our understanding that they as staff members have also experienced great trauma. It is amazing how deeply God puts the need to be respected and understood into the human heart. By your prayers we believe we were able to do this strongly with this staff. Praise God for this amazing opportunity. Please continue to pray that Jumah will be able to do a full training for them soon.
God is on the move in East Africa!
Finally, before we headed back home to the States, we spent some time with our daughter, Abby, her husband David, and their children. In partnership with API (Abby and David’s ministry in Kampala) the ladies of Hope House were able to go through Mending the Soul and Princess Lost curricula over five years ago, and they are still doing well. They are now employed by MTS making the Ugandan signature paper beads, and are able to put their children through school with the income. Princess Lost saved their lives, and they’re SO thankful for their healing!
When this program started, Abby thought she would have three ladies come to Hope House. Instead over 18 came and finished the two year program! That first year was so overwhelming to Abby, that she said, “God always tricks us into the big stuff.”
It was great spending time with these beautiful women.
Thank you to all our prayer partners during the conference this week. We could truly feel the reality of your prayers! Here’s a summary of how we spent out time with the African leaders at this conference.
Summit Day One
Pastor Moses gave us a report from South Sudan. It was heart wrenching but inspiring at the same time. God is alive and well and is doing a miraculous work here. MTS now has a key denominational partnership through Bishop Jumah and Pastor Moses, the evangelical free church. Just last year this denomination planted 32 new churches in South Sudan alone! They’re waiting on our MTS training teams to come this May. Please be in prayer for the key trainers God is prompting to serve Him there.
Today there are 3,000,000 refugees in northern Uganda and these compassionate leaders are moving forward to bring them trauma care through the peace and hope of Christ’s love. Please pray for these courageous, compassionate men as they move forward in faith.
From Bishop Jumah:
In Rwanda we were invited to come and taste and test. We are wanting the whole MTS model for our churches and refugee camps because:
People are divided around tribal lines
Families are divided because of poverty
Children stand in line all day for one meal
Women are raped while waiting in line for water
There are 3,000 children in one classroom
Men are shot and killed right in the street
MTS is helping us know God as the One to help us recover. We have lost everything, but God is still on the throne. We Christians must act love and not just talk it.
We will form training teams that can then move around and train others. This will move trauma care through our churches and camps. We will organize the trainers into departments. People are dying of cancer in the camps because it is not caught early. MTS is our solution and will equip our people and we’ll find hope and help. God is the God of the miraculous and we’ll trust Him for the saving work He is preparing us to do.
God’s time for us is now. We’re not beginning we’re continuing!
What other African leaders shared at the conference…
“I first attended By His Wounds Training in Rwanda, and was like a butterfly drinking from water from the Nile. Where to start? I decided to start with my family. I realized that I was an abuser as a father and husband. My child was failing in school and I was the problem. Then I began confessing, first in my family, then in our churches. Then Jumah came to do the MTS training for our leaders. I was learning how to listen and to know how to facilitate healing for them. We was more! MTS will be coming in spring 2018 to our refugee camps in northern Uganda. MTS brings peace and healing and begins with me.”
“In 2013 I found myself in a refugee camp. What am I? Am I Ugandan or Sudanese? Why? Where do I get medicine for my heart and mind? MTS… they are bringing us medicine.”
“We have now taken in 18 children from the camps. MTS helped heal my temper and has given me capacity to care for my extended family and ministry. MTS is helping me solve my problems personally and in ministry. The Holy Spirit’s presence is there.”
“I’ve now incorporated MTS resources into our ministry for children and adults. People who don’t know the gospel are burning up.”
Summit Day Two
Thanks so much for your prayers. It’s incredibly humbling serving these East African caregivers. There are four countries represented: Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
We begin each day with worship. Here is a short clip of worship so you can get a glimpse of the joy and passion in this room.
Most of the participants needed armed escort to get to the conference center on day one. Bishop Jumah, from South Sudan shared how he passed just minutes after ten soldiers were killed beside the road. Most of the leaders at this summit have lost multiple family members due to war and violence, and yet they still stand in faith, declaring the goodness of God. They’re compassionate caregivers who put their lives on the line to offer trauma care in the name of Jesus.
Bishop Jumah is also a denominational officer for the evangelical free church. He describes MTS and By His Wounds as the gospel of healing.
“I’ve tried and tested it and am thankful MTS has helped me. Now I want it for my teams, my pastors and then for my churches. I thank you for coming!”
Thank you for helping us serve them. Because of your support MTS can offer these 25 top tier MTS trainers who have come to this conference compassionate care, good food, beautiful lodging, pastoral and clinical support, and advanced training. How right this is!
Summit Day Three
Mama Abia has been one of our partners for the last decade, and has attended every training we’ve offered in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2007. She is the founder of CEPIMA which runs five mental health rehabilitation clinics in Butembo, Beni, Oicha, and Bunia, all within the “triangle of death” in the DRC.
She is full of joy and overcomes fear daily as she offers trauma care in the context of war and violence. On day one of the conference, she described the relief she felt crossing the Congo border into Uganda; it was the first time she felt physically safe in years.
Mama Abia thanked us repeatedly for investing in her and her staff, who are now trained in MTS and By His Wounds, so they can care for and treat 3000 patients in CEPIMA’s five clinics each year.
On day three of the conference, she shared about the significant difference MTS trainings and resources have made in her in-patient population. In the last two years, the average inpatient stay has decreased from three months to two weeks!
Mama Abia is now one of our MTS trainers and facilitates trainings in hospitals, churches, and nongovernment organizations. She asked us to come to Bunia, the corrupt border city of the DRC, next year and train the pastors, doctors, and nurses in that area. Of course, we told her in faith, that YES, we will come. God will make a way.
What a joy it has been to offer these heroes of faith refuge, healthy food, beautiful clean beds, and advanced training. Half of the participants have been MTS partners for eleven years, and the other half are new since bringing Jumah on full time as our African director.
Jumah now has a small team of trainers, and they continually train leaders of faith and government organizations in both By His Wounds and Vulnerable Child (VC). The demand for VC is very high in Africa, since 60% of Congo’s population are children. Being at this conference and hearing these stories drives us forward to finish the Vulnerable Child curriculum as quickly as we can. We are currently piloting it in Uganda and Congo, which will help us to finish the final contextualization for all of Africa once we have published VC in Spanish and city and faith versions next November, Lord willing.
Who would have dreamed that MTS would be chosen by God to provide trauma training and biblical resources for God’s choice leaders? Thank you for your support and for helping us help them.
He himself bore our sins on His body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed
Summit Day Four
The South Sudanese pastors, Jumah and Moses, led worship to begin the day. It was quite an experience having two pastors who have literally lost everything they own and live in impoverished refugee camps, sing of Jesus’ goodness. They were both ecstatic about the conference, saying it has given them training they’ve never received to help them heal from trauma they’ve carried their whole lives.
Pastor Jumah oversees dozens of churches. He was so grateful to get the reference books we gave him. He told me he lost his entire library when he fled South Sudan, and has so missed having books to prepare his sermons and lessons.
Jumah and Moses can’t wait for us to come back and train their pastors in the camps this May. Jumah had to leave early to travel back to South Sudan to help with some severe church needs. This is an incredibly dangerous trip, and many have told him not to go, but he says Jesus said he must go so he will. We so admire their faith, and we are honored to assist them in every way we can!
Summit Day Five
We finished our five-day Africa summit with 24 attendees from four countries, representing 16 different ministries! Collectively these organizations minister directly to thousands of people each month. Thanks so much for your prayers for the attendees’ safety as they traveled to and from the conference, and for your financial support. It was off-the-charts successful!
Dr. Gerry Breshears taught each day on the Psalms, and Kelsey Hawk taught on trauma, and the front-line workers in attendance ate up the teaching. As one of our Congo partners put it “we will scoop out all of this MTS training and use it for our people.”
The timing was perfect for them. Congo and South Sudan keep getting worse, and they so needed the encouragement and training. David who came from Beni, Congo missed a fatal rebel attack on the road near the Ugandan border by mere hours. Please pray for them as the travel back home.
Over and over all who attended thanked us, and said they felt so loved by God that we would come give them this training. Every single person shared how MTS curriculum has miraculously helped them heal, and so many spoke of the amazing fruit they are seeing in their ministries, attributed it directly to your prayers. Thanks for standing with us.
Thank you for supporting this summit with prayer and financial investment. God is rapidly expanding MTS borders. The fruit of our investment in East Africa in the last ten years is increasingly evident. May God direct us in the days ahead to know how best to support these MTS teams.
Celebrating a faithful and compassionate God!
With gratitude and love,
Steve & Celestia
Would you like to partner with us financially to help the work Mending the Soul is doing in East Africa? Please consider a donation today!
Through God’s provision, MTS has equipped local and global leaders from California to Virginia and Asia to Africa!
If you are a church or organizational leader who is serving individuals with complex trauma such as human trafficking this training is for you. It is experiential, practical, and interactive. In only ten weeks you will be certified in MTS’s Princess Lost & Found model to respond to complex and co-morbid issues in a healing way within community contexts.
After completing our training, you will be:
Equipped to implement MTS’s Princess Lost & Found curricula for use in group or individual settings
Connected to a support community of certified Princess Lost & Found caregivers.
These weekly trainings are done virtually through your computer. For more information and to register, click here. But hurry; space is limited to only 25 participants!
The Princess Lost & Found training utilizes the beautifully crafted curricula written by Steve and Celestia Tracy, authors of Mending the Soul. Addressing the needs of sex-trafficked survivors and their advocates, this training provides psycho education on the devastating effects of exploitation and complex trauma and provides practical exercises to connect with survivors.
This research-driven training, rooted in real-life experience provides a pathway for mentors, social workers, therapists, and leaders to anticipate and respond to the needs of survivors. Through safe relationships, advocates offer hope for healing and redemption from the horrific effects of abuse specific to sex-trafficked individuals. MTS instructors bring both professional and mentoring experience with sexually abused and exploited men and women.
What others are saying about PL&F:
This training has been a blessing both for my organization and me personally. Bekah makes things practical and applicable. I also loved learning from all the participants – it truly feels like a support community. I highly recommend this training for anyone working with survivors.
Topics like re-exploitation and using a survivor’s story are so important! Thank you for addressing these and providing a safe place to process.
—Nonprofit Director and Survivor
As a survivor myself, and as our house mom is also a survivor, she and I are MOST grateful that we started with PL and NOT MTS…Something that is not in the book but that you have done so well in the training is giving concrete examples and giving us the words to say in situations. Your examples have been life savers for my staff! God obviously guided this process, and it has been amazing.”
—Survivor, advocate, and Non-Profit Leader
Our program is endorsed by:
Rejuvenating Women, Omaha, NE
International Justice Mission
Free Ever After, Tucson, AZ
Adorned in Grace, Tacoma, WA
Grace Matters, Vancouver WA
North County Abolitionists
DV Shelters, Phoenix, AZ, CA, WA, OR
Mentor Support Collaborative, OR
Free Ever After Int’l
Blue Water Mission, HI
Free at Last, Dallas, TX
Church Organizations in CA, AZ, WA, VA, TX, LA, OR, NE, Thailand, Russia, Asia, Africa, and India
Non-Profits in OR, WA, CA, AZ, PA, LA, and TX
Please contact Bekah Stines to add your organization to our growing list for 2018!
Please join us this February! For more information and to register, click here.
But hurry; space is limited to only 25 participants!
In a few days we will be leaving for a short-term ministry trip to Kampala, Uganda. This will be our first partner summit. We have invited two dozen of our most strategic African partners from the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda to join us in Kampala for a five-day conference. We will be teaching and serving these amazing leaders for five full days. All of these leaders have attended a By His Wounds trauma ministry intensive, and this conference will offer additional teaching on a biblical theology of suffering and lament, biology of trauma, ministry to the traumatized, and self-care for care givers. Our team plans to offer individual pastoral counseling, individual and group prayer times, and receive ministry updates and conduct strategic planning with our partners.
We will be working with top leaders, most of whom oversee large ministries that serve thousands of people. This will be a most important time to strengthen front-line ministry leaders and further equip them to train their leaders. After this conference we have the opportunity to train 25 workers at the National Rehabilitation Centre, the primary government agency that works with institutionalized street children and juvenile offenders. This is an incredible opportunity to bring Christ-centered trauma healing principles to staff members working with one of the most difficult populations in Uganda, staff who have never received training like this. This will be a very intense and full two weeks. We greatly need prayer support.
Our Team Members Are:
Jumah Patrick (trip coordinator and teacher)
Gerry Breshears (daily Bible teacher)
Nora Poling (daily sharing her own story at both conferences)
Kelsey Hawk (teaching on the biology of trauma and care for survivors)
Ethie Gebeyehu (team and conference prayer director)
Celestia Tracy (teaching and pastoral counseling)
Steve Tracy (team leader, teaching and pastoral counseling)
Our Trip Schedule is:
Jan 20-21 US team travels to Uganda
Jan 22 Team preparation for conference
Jan 23-27 Conference with 25 African trauma ministry partners
Jan 28 Ministry in local church
Jan 29-30 Training for Rehabilitation Centre staff
Jan 30-Feb 5 Steve and Celestia visit with their daughter and son-in-law, Abby and David, and their children, Tashia and Shalom Kakeeto
Jan 31 Rest of team returns to US
Feb 5-6 Steve and Celestia return to US
God will give our team physical and emotional stamina, good health, and great sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit will prepare the hearts of those we are serving for the conferences, and He will speak to them and encourage them during the conference. Pray especially for the nine Congolese leaders who will be traveling to Uganda, as the Congolese roads to the border have become very dangerous with rebel attacks.
We can be a great encouragement to our partners on the front lines of trauma ministry in their communities. Many live in very poor, violent areas with constant stress and overwhelming needs.
We will have a strong gospel witness to the Rehab Centre staff, and this will be an influential conference leading to expanded future ministries.
Celestia and Steve can be a great encouragement to Abby and David in their beautiful, challenging ministry to Ugandan street children, especially as they are in the midst of moving the ministry to a new location several hours from Kampala to greatly expand their work among the poor.
Thank you for your commitment to MTS and your prayers. We will provide updates and more specific prayer requests as often as we can on the conference, ministry leaders, and trainings. Please subscribe here so you can receive these updates directly to your email inbox.
Author: Shanell Bender, MTS Facilitator Support Manager
Do you make New Years resolutions?
Resolutions to bring about a whole new you, and start the new beginnings we hear people talking about. That was my experience year after year, or sometimes Monday after Monday during the year. It was this goal to somehow forget the “old” and have that bright “new” beginning.
I would resolve to no longer remember or to rise above that pain, rejection, and hurt I experienced. In fact, I would resolve to “Move on” and “Get over” or even “Forgive,” so I could have my “New Beginning.”
However, this just didn’t seem to work for me.
Instead, old feelings would spring up at the least expected time, and before I knew it, words and actions in response to feelings of resentment and hurt would come pouring out of me to heap coals of fire upon those closest to me. Those are the people who bears the brunt of our traumatic past, the ones God has placed in our homes, in our families.
Where were my “New Beginnings?”
They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.
– Isaiah 61:6 (MSG)
This passage changed my perspective on “New” Beginnings. Rather than attempting to forget the past, stuff it down, and move on, building upon the “past” with all its brokenness, pain, and ugliness is where “new” beginnings emerge. Integrating past experiences and utilizing the wisdom afforded from those experiences allows for processing through the feelings.
Resentment and hurt changed to insight, and yes even gratitude, as I realized what an incredibly deep, wide, and thorough foundation was possible for my “New” beginnings, out of the most horrendous trauma I had experienced.
I hope this inspires you in this new year, and I pray that God uses the rubble of pain and abuse in your past as the foundation for the healing and whole new city He has planned to through you in 2018 and beyond!
Shanell is the Facilitator Support Manager for Mending the Soul. Her favorite part of life is behind a wife to Roger Bender and mother to their seven children. She has ten plus years working with survivors of trauma. Her previous roles included Victim Advocacy, Trainer/Educator for Darkness to Light and Facilitating for Mending the Soul.
As we reflect on Christ’s birth this Christmas we are reminded of how much we have to be thankful for. Christ is our Immanuel, He is God with us. Always. His heart is the heart that beats in ours. His hands the hands in ours. His words of comfort in our mouths. His healing power made visible in our relationships. We praise Him and thank Him for allowing us to be His ambassadors of compassion.
Together, this last year, we have…
Preached good news to the poor,
Bound up the brokenhearted,
Proclaimed freedom for the captives,
And release from darkness for the prisoners.
… comfort all who mourn.
And together, in the coming year we will see Christ transform our brokenness as He…
Bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
And together, in the coming year we will be called…
Oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;
They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Thank you for your prayers and partnership this past year. We wish you a very Merry Christmas!
With love and gratitude,
This is part of our Advent Blog Series. To read the rest of the posts in the series, click here.
The past three weeks of Advent we have been exploring the much darker and infinitely better side of the Christmas story; first, that God loves us too much to give us what we expect, second that Jesus is the King our hearts long for. This week I want to express that Jesus our King will powerfully use us if we humbly open our hands.
Almost all of our human relationships are based on reciprocal agreements; I will do this if you do that for me. I will work for you if you pay me this much per hour. I will be your friend if you respect our relationship. I will vote for you if you support the issues I believe are most important. Rarely do we even enter into a completely open-ended agreement with someone where we give them complete power over our lives with no limits. But this is exactly what Mary does with God in Luke 1:35-38.
She calls herself a “slave girl of the Lord,” and simply says, “let it happen as You have decreed.” She isn’t hanging on to anything and she isn’t holding back. Keep in mind, she has just heard the most confusing and disturbing message imaginable. Gabriel told her that she was about to be miraculously pregnant with Jesus. Mary lived in a Jewish culture in which adultery was punishable by death. Mary’s humble obedient heart is incredible, and so is the way God used her in salvation history.
While God, being all powerful, doesn’t need us to help him accomplish His plans, He delights in using weak humans who are surrendered to Him for great kingdom purposes. Mary epitomizes this truth. I love the way Hudson Taylor, one of the greatest, most influential missionaries of the modern world put it: “God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him.”
The account of Gabriel coming to Mary and announcing that she would give birth to the Son of God is surely one of the most astounding passages in Scripture. This is what Advent is really all about; God giving us not what we expect but exactly what we need, and this message is exactly what we need this Advent season.
In our culture, Christmas is largely about getting gifts on December 25. Maybe you already have your list of gifts you hope to give or receive, but I would like to deconstruct our cultural approach to Christmas and remind us that the best imaginable gift God could give us has already been given. King Jesus has come. What is your response to this gift? Mary gives us a beautiful example of embracing God’s gift with open hands. How have you responded to Jesus? Maybe you have never put your faith in Christ as your Lord and Savior. Or maybe you consider yourself a Christian, but if you are honest, simply haven’t really surrendered your life to Christ the way Mary did. Satan wants to rob you of God’s priceless gift this Christmas. I want to encourage you, implore you to surrender to reconsider and respond to Jesus.
So I’ll close this Advent blog series with the admonition Jonathan Edwards gave his congregation in his sermon on the excellency of Christ:
What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he cannot save you; or that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than ‘the mighty God as Christ is called in Isaiah 9:6?
Is there a need of greater than infinite strength? Are you afraid that he will not be willing to stoop so low as to take any gracious notice of you: But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be beaten and spit on by them!
What is there that you can desire should be in a savior that is not in Christ? Or, wherein should you desire a savior should be otherwise than Christ?
What excellency is there lacking? Whatever there is that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning…which is not found in the person of Christ?
Over the past several years Mending the Soul has found itself with the inability to keep up with the demand for facilitator training. Until recently, most Mending the Soul training has taken place in-person or by DVD. As the demand grew, we realized there had to be an easier and more accessible way to train our facilitators. This fall we began taking the exciting first steps to move our MTS basic training online.
These last few months have been a busy and invigorating time as we hired an expert in the field of online education, researched the best online learning platform for our classes, chose the course design, and worked to identify the best way to move our current curricula online. As a team, we spent time in Phoenix brainstorming these ideas together and strategizing for the future. We filmed facilitator teachings for use in our online course, as well as “mock groups” which will allow those we train to see the do’s and don’ts of running a Mending the Soul small group.
Our goal is to soft launch our first online, “Beta” course in February, which we will offer to our certified trainers first, and then to our current Mending the Soul facilitators. We can only accept fifty individuals for this first, four-week test, so if you are a trainer or facilitator, watch your email for the registration link, and secure your spot fast! Once the beta test completes and we gather constructive feedback, we will launch monthly online facilitator training and certifications to the greater public in March.
As we work to move our training online we are driven by three main goals:
To provide anyone in the world with an internet connection access to MTS training
To create a high-quality online course that is engaging and informative
To transfer the heart and community of Mending the Soul into an online environment
Here is just a small, sneak peak of what we’ve got planned for the look of our new, online Facilitator Training course:
We are confident in the success of this new training, and it is just the first step! In the future we plan to implement further online training for our other curricula as well as advanced facilitator trainings. The opportunity that online training gives us to reach many more people is astronomical, and we are excited to see how God grows Mending the Soul’s reach through it.
Want to partner with us as we take these next big steps? We are still seeking year-end donations to help us fund our 2018 endeavors. Donate today and see the difference your contributions make!
This is part of our Advent Blog Series. To read the rest of the posts in the series, click here.
Last week in our Advent Blog Series, we talked about God loves us too much to give us what we expect. In saying that God doesn’t give us what we expect, we don’t want to lose sight of how beautiful the Advent message is. What does the human heart long for? We all long for an all-powerful person who will deliver us, yet one who is just and merciful. Look at the interest in super heroes in contemporary movies as well as the myths which go back to ancient times of powerful heroes.
In Luke 1:32-34, Gabriel goes on to tell Mary that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High, sit on the throne of David, and have an eternal kingdom. “Son of Most High” is the same as Son of God. “Son of God” or its equivalents (“the Son,” “my Son”) occur 124 times in the New Testament, where “Son of God” had Messianic connotations. For instance, in Luke 4:41 Jesus casts out demons who acknowledge that He was the Son of God. Finally, Gabriel says that Jesus would be the king of an eternal kingdom, the kingdom of God. The child born to Mary would be the eternal King of Kings and would usher in the kingdom of God. He would be unlike any human king they had ever known or heard of.
This king would have all power for He would be divine. He wouldn’t reign for just His earthly lifetime, but for all eternity. This king would rule with perfect justice and mercy, which was emphasized in Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. Notice for instance:
“Then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.” (Isaiah 16:4-5)
“He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.” (Isaiah 42:3-4)
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
You and I certainly long for this kind of savior. For instance, think of our human politicians. I know the current political scene is a mess. It is very hard to find a politician who is truly a public servant. But even when you find the very rare truly honest, gracious, just politician, what can he or she really do? Can this person stop the next hurricane from hitting our shores? Can they eliminate world poverty? Can they wipe crime off the face of the earth? Can they bring perfect justice to every square inch of the universe? Can they heal every human heartache for the rest of eternity? Can they abolish death? Of course not. But Jesus can and will do all these things. He is the perfect king our hearts long for.
Jesus is strong but gracious. We can trust Him. He is everything our hearts long for. So how do we respond to the truth that Jesus is the King we long for and is God’s provision for everything we truly need?
Advent comes from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming,” and it is our celebration of the coming of Christ; both His past and future coming. Since the 4th century, the Western Christian church celebrated Christmas on December 25, perhaps because this was the Roman winter solace celebrated by pagan festivals. It also marked the shortest and darkest day of the year, a fitting day to celebrate the coming of King Jesus who Scripture calls the “bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
Christmas is such a profound, complex season, full of celebrations and memories, both happy and dark. Most of us have various happy connotations of Christmas—gifts, parties, carols, special traditions, and special foods. This is by far the biggest holiday in the western world, but what is the advent season really all about?
Christmas is so much richer, darker, and more beautiful than we can imagine. I hope as this Advent blog series reflects on the richness of Christmas, that Jesus will become that much more beautiful to you this year.
Jesus came to set the slaves free. In Luke 1:26-38, we read about the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to tell her that she will bear the Christ child. This will not be the warm, fuzzy Christmas story we might expect—it is much darker and infinitely better. There are three main points I find in this account, and we will explore them each week of this Advent blog series.
The first point for this second week of Advent is that God loves us too much to give us what we expect. He always gives us what we need. (Luke 28-31) At the very outset of this passage we have something unexpected and unbelievable. From the outset, Advent is shocking. In fact, humanly speaking, there is almost nothing in this story that we would expect, specifically:
Gabriel’s appearance was unexpected.
Gabriel is a messenger angel whose name means “the mighty one of God.” He has the special task of announcing God’s truth, especially concerning the Messiah and His kingdom. Angelic appearances is not something I experience, nor is it how I expect God to answer my prayers (although there are approximately 270 Old and New Testament references to angels).
We often think of angels in terms of loving guardian angels, but the text tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” at this angelic encounter. She didn’t understand why the angel would greet her as “O favored one, the Lord is with you.” The latter phrase “the Lord is with you” was probably the most troubling to Mary, since this phrase was used in the Old Testament not as a wish, but as a statement to indicate God’s presence with someone He has called for divine service, like Gideon, David, or Asa. Mary would never have expected God would be calling her to service with the same phrase He called the great judges and kings of Israel.
The setting and recipient are totally unexpected.
Gabriel comes to a peasant teenager living in a tiny, poor village in a backwater area on the fringes of the mighty Roman Empire. Jewish girls at this time could be engaged at age 12, and were typically married at 14-15. Nazareth was such an unremarkable village that it isn’t mentioned in any Jewish literature of this period. In fact, some atheists argue that Nazareth wasn’t even inhabited in the first century. We know this is incorrect. In 2009 Israeli archaeologist, Yardena Alexandre discovered a house in Nazareth from the time of Christ. It was a very modest house with no glass or imported products. This house and older discoveries of nearby burial tombs suggest that Nazareth was “an out of the way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres, populated by Jews of modest means.”
So let’s put this in modern terms; I tell you that a marginally literate, unmarried 14-year-old living in a trailer park in small-town USA is going to have a child who will be King of the universe, and will change the course of human history. This seems crazy. Surely God would send his Son to be born in the capital city to a noble mother.
Perhaps most unexpected, Jesus wasn’t the savior Mary (or her fellow Jews) expected.
In verse 31 Gabriel said “you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear a son and you will name him Jesus.” Most certainly Mary like other Jews in her day would have heard Gabriel’s message to mean that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, a political deliverer. He would destroy their enemies, release them from bondage to the pagan Romans, and set up the kingdom of God on earth. Notice in Luke 24:21 that after Jesus was crucified His disciples said that they “had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem (save) Israel.” In other words, they were disappointed that Jesus must not have been the messiah because He died and did not destroy the Romans. He was not the political savior they expected.
Of course we can appreciate the Jews desire and expectation for a political deliverer. Jesus will someday judge the nations and will be a political deliverer, but that was all the ancient Jews were expecting. What would have happened if Jesus hadn’t died but instead destroyed the Romans and given the Jews political deliverance? They would have been temporally free and eternally condemned. God knew they and we need not just short term deliverance but eternal rescue. Do you see how radical this message is? God doesn’t give us what we expect but what we need. God often does this in our lives. We expect and pray for something, God hears our prayers and answers, but not in the way we expect. He gives us something infinitely better.
I recently read an incredible statement of this truth penned by a soldier over 150 years ago. This soldier was killed in the civil war during the Battle of Gettysburg. As people were cleaning up from the battle and burying the bodies of fallen soldiers, they found a note in a dead soldier’s pocket. It read:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
God blesses us not by giving us what we expect but what we need.
Let love be genuine…Weep with those who weep. —Romans 12:9, 15
You came to me today. Not in a way I expected.
Last week I realized that we’ve begun advent and I looked around for a Christmas book to guide me: something articulate, clever, artistic. I had none of those things in front of me. Just You.
I was in pain. Lots of it. Yesterday I sat in my doctor’s office (ostensibly for physical and neurological pain management yet as we now know physical and psychological pain are bound together in inseparable ways). God uses this man to open hidden heart doors. He loves MTS and asks often about our work. As soon as I began to share tears streamed down my face… for all that’s broken in this world. For those I love and know intimately and for those I don’t know; the ones beyond my reach. Abuse and trauma changes us. We’re repulsed and want to turn away from that dark pain.
I told him of the transformative work you, our MTS caregivers offer others. (Caregiver is really such a ridiculously minimizing word for the costly requirements of the role — I’m changing it now to pain specialist.) Men and women who have boat loads of personal suffering of their own, and yet, they are the ones who run back to the caves to help those who have suffered in similar ways. These pain specialists empathically carry not just their own pain but the pain of others.
I asked why he thought there were so many gaps in the world for trauma care, why we have whole populations of people who are oppressed and vulnerable and marginalized without adequate spiritual and psychological support. “That’s easy to answer” he replied, “as people, we don’t want to look at what is painful, or get close to it. Denial — in one short word.” He was right, of course.
This wise doctor reflected a truth back to me that I know, but needed to hear again. Once you see suffering and allow it in, you cannot un-see or un-know. You have been changed. Forever. There is no going back.
On the way out of his office he asked me to invert a quote by Jean Rostand and to think about it:
“Kill one man and you are a murderer, kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”
“Save one person and you’re a therapist, save many people and you’re a MTS facilitator or foster parent or mentor. Save them all and you’re God.”
I, you, must grieve those we can’t help. Grief is such a tidy sounding concept, with neat edges and clean borders. Yet, grieving is expressed in all sorts of messy ways: sobs, a stomach that feels full when it’s empty, wooden legs, swollen eyes, dulled mind, ringing ears, disrupted sleep, unbidden images, the crackle of anger, an eerie pull towards a dark vortex of fear. Loss of hope.
Advent has begun and I’m grieving. This morning I desperately needed imagery of truth to ground me again. I let my unbidden tears come and closed my eyes. I could feel the lies swirl in the black smoke and could see what looked like a lion’s paw, with it’s yellow claws extended, ready to kill with one fierce swipe. I prayed through that image and watched the paw retract until it was invisible. In its place God sent the image of the grandmother’s pool of tears in Princess Lost (pg. 44-45). I felt the strength of this truth. God’s tears were streaming down my face, His tears of compassion and mine and yours, shed for those we hold near. Healing water for others created out of the costly and sacred gift of compassion.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience And having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, For he who promised is faithful. —Hebrews 10:22-23
How like Christ you areas you sacrifice your not-knowing for knowing, and carry another’s pain as if it is your own. In this season of advent may we embrace the gift of tears and know that we’ll find Christ there. He is wildly at work accomplishing His purposes of love in a shattered world, through you.
We are entering one of the most significant seasons in the Western world—Christmas. Our senses will be flooded with holiday sounds, smells, foods, and events. Culturally and economically, much of the year revolves around this season. Ninety-five percent of Americans say they will celebrate Christmas. Economists predict that we will spend over one trillion dollars on Christmas shopping, amounting to up to 30% of annual retail sales. We will purchase some fifty million Christmas trees, and innumerable Christmas carols will be sung in churches and shopping malls alike.
Unfortunately, however, the “tsunami” of holiday traditions and activities can easily drown out the real meaning of Christmas. For instance, a survey by the American Bible Society revealed that twice as many Americans plan to watch the TV version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol than those who plan to read the biblical Christmas story (only 15% of adults). And only 28% of 18-34 year-olds know the basic facts of the nativity story, such as what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth.
So how should we understand the Christmas message? And how does it relate to Mending the Soul?
It is helpful to step back and look at the origins of this end-of-the-year holiday. Early in church history (AD 336) Christians in the west began to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. One of the most probable reasons they chose this date is that it closely coincides with winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. This is beautiful symbolism; celebrating the coming of Jesus into a sin-scarred world on the darkest day of the year. And it perfectly fits the biblical data. In Isaiah 42:6-7 we read about the coming Messiah, the one who will give light and hope to those suffering in darkness and bondage:
“I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Later on, Isaiah expands on the liberating ministry of the coming Messiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1-2
The liberating, healing ministry of Jesus is affirmed when he came. Zechariah prophesied that Mary was carrying the Christ child,
“Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79
It is very significant that Zechariah said Christ would “guide our feet in the way of peace.” To an ancient Jew, “peace,” shalom, had very rich connotations. For them, peace was much more than the absence of conflict. It referred to wholeness, flourishing, healing. Sin breaks shalom. It brings death, bondage, and brokenness. So at its core, Christmas is about restoration and healing.
In this sense, Mending the Soul is fundamentally a Christmas ministry. “Mending” is in our very name. Our mission is to help those wounded by the sin of abuse find restoration and wholeness. God calls all of us, in our own way, to engage in the redemptive mission of Christmas throughout the year. Thus, I will close with the brilliant words of the late Howard Thurman, a courageous African-American theologian and civil rights leader:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart. —Dr. Howard Thurman
May we together celebrate and boldly proclaim the liberating birth of our King!
Steven Tracy, PhD President and Founder, Mending the Soul Ministries