ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?

 

Creating & Making

I met today’s guest post author when my friend (her mother-in-law) hosted a gathering for people to learn about her family’s exciting new oversees adventure in Indonesia. Over the few times we’ve shared together since–at church, over meals, at St. Mary’s College basketball games–I have been impressed with how openly she shares her heart, her faith, her laughter, her tears. I can only imagine the creativity that comes into play daily as one lives, parents, and works in a foreign country. God is our Creator, yet we are all makers, and I am grateful Fawn shared her creativity with us.

Create Challenge #34: Fawn Stephens

Many times I’ve labeled myself as “not creative.” I don’t possess the talents usually associated with this adjective; my paintings really do look like something from 3rd grade art. I played music in the high school band, but fell into the ‘average’ category and never pursued it after. And relative to those friends of mine who can craft, sew, scrapbook, and decorate with ease, I’m left admiring their work.

In Genesis, the very first thing God said created everything. This is the first picture He wants us to have of Him, a (the) Creator. This Hebrew word for “create” is bara. This is the only way in which this word is used, when God makes something new of out of nothing. Contrary to popular belief, we are not creative just because we are made in God’s image. Well, respective of the bara kind of creating.

Only God can make stuff out of absolutely nothing.fstephens-baby

The kind of “creating” we humans do is actually more like “making” and is found in the Hebrew word asah. This is like when we buy paint and a canvas and make something beautiful out of it. Or when my mom plants flower starts in her garden and they grow in a perfectly staggered rainbow of heights and colors. When a realtor, lawyer, doctor, or teacher gets “creative” in making a contract, diagnosis, or lesson happen effectively, this is taking what he or she has and working with it. This is the kind of creating we make happen.

Something out of something.fstephens-lady

That doesn’t mean, however, that because we can’t bara, it doesn’t happen in our lives. It’s just not of our own doing. God works through His created children all the time to create new and beautiful things out of nothing. Friendships, love, trust, repentance, and wisdom are all things God builds in us, when none of those things are there to begin with. In fact, the spiritual gifts we are told by Paul to be eager for are some of God’s favorite works. Patience, discernment, and generosity are evidence of God doing His thing in our lives.

I’ve come to realize in the last year that I am actually very (asah) creative. Living and working as a cross-cultural missionary wife and mom in a remote, tribal, mountain town in a developing country requires nothing less. I now make my own yogurt, bake bread (without a bread machine!), come up with home-remedy-type pesticides for my garden, carry area rugs on a motorcycle, and figure out countless other ways in which to get things done for my family each day—all with no box stores for thousands of miles in every direction.fstephens-bug

At the same time, God is proving to be very (bara) creative in my life. One of the most spiritually-growing things I’ve ever faced, relationships with my missionary co-workers, prove to be both impossible and rewarding. There is no way that any of us, not having chosen each other to live beside, worship next to, and work closely with every day, could come together in love to do God’s work here without His creative hand involved.

This is because, by its very nature, creation is unnatural. Without God working around and in us, things wouldn’t even exist. And if they did, they would constantly be falling into a state of disarray.fstephens-butterfly fstephens-leaf

Where there is nothing, because we have no history together before coming from different corners of the world, God makes something in my teammates and me. He builds trust and common vision in the space between us, where there was literally nothing.

Can I make something out of nothing? No. Can I make something out of what God gives me to work with, trusting Him to make new things where there is nothing? You bet.

So, I guess I am a creative (and wonderfully created) person after all.fstephens

Fawn Stephens, along with her husband Michael and children Kalem and Adria, is a missionary serving in Papua Indonesia. Fawn and Michael are both helicopter pilots with Helimission; helicopter travel allows them to access remote or otherwise inaccessible areas to bring medical relief and humanitarian aid. They also assist in mass emergency situations. Routine treks include supporting jungle missionaries, who need aid to live among remote tribes in the mountains and spread the gospel. They also bring medical aid to the people they minister to, regardless of religious affiliation. Find out more and follow her blog: holyrotors.com.

Creating Opportunity

For years I heard about Leslie. Then I heard from Leslie when she spoke at our church. Finally I had the opportunity to know Leslie when we visited her in the Dominican Republic. Five years ago my family participated in a mission trip from our church to the DR and, despite my quaking anxiety about being a parent and participant, God used that trip to change us, as individuals and as a family. The ministry Leslie and her family lead has created opportunity and hope for countless of Dominicans, and I am thrilled that today YOU get to hear from Leslie. Maybe one day you’ll also have an opportunity to know her.

Create Challenge # 28: Leslie Trautwein

Create? That’s a tricky word.

I am the oldest of three girls. When we were young, my youngest sister excelled in ballet, creating beauty with disciplined and well-practiced movement. She possessed an incredible vocabulary and ability to wield those words with skill. And my other sister created hilarious stories and illustrations of her pet gerbils. Skillfully, she drew horses rippling with muscles which evoked deep emotion and even awe. My horse renderings at that time appeared more like hot dogs on toothpick legs, and I happily quit ballet in exchange for a ball and field. I never viewed myself as creative, but something in me yearned for an outlet.

With some encouragement I eventually learned to enjoy playing with watercolors and returned to the calligraphy I had learned in junior high. My greatest creative outlet, however, I found behind a camera. I followed in my dad’s footsteps and he blessed me with his old Nikon EL, which weighed a ton but faithfully endured many travels and much abuse. I don’t know if I ever became a good photographer, but I am not sure that was my goal. I love capturing moments, natural beauty, expressions, relationships. I don’t create them, I just capture an inadequate image of something awesome that God created.LT girls

When I think of the word “create” and ask myself, What do I create these days?, my thoughts and answers fall far from the artistic definition of the word. It’s easy to conjure up some of the ‘things’ I create, things that at the end of the day I own, by choice or by force. Some of those things are not pretty or inspiring, in fact they are rather embarrassing… like conflict, stress, unrest, and even pain. But that is not the desire of my heart. That is not what I was created for. That is my fallen, selfish self exerting control.

In my heart, I desire to follow the One who made me, in whose image I myself was created. I want to daily be more conformed to the image of Christ, and glorify my Creator in all I do. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I think I manage to stay focused on Him and shut out the lies the world and my own flesh so adamantly want me to embrace. Sometimes, I think I let God use me to create opportunities for people around me to see Him, to know Him, to experience His love.

I find that my soul rests and rejoices in God’s creation, the wilderness… and the wilder the better! God blessed me with a spouse who enjoys the same. When dating we were dubbed “outdoorsy” by dear friends who consider themselves “indoorsy.” Taking others along on our outdoorsy adventures has created the opportunity to introduce others to the awesome Creator. In our eagerness over the years, we have fortunately survived what some might call ‘poor’ judgement, such as miscalculating tidal shifts on kayaking adventures or overestimating our ability to beat the setting sun on back country ski trips (yes, the list is LONG). It is not uncommon for “How the Trautweins Tried to Kill Us in the Wilderness” stories to surface at gatherings. Sharing time outside has afforded great conversations about creation and the Creator.LT more girls

More recently we have created opportunities for kids at risk in the Dominican Republic to get out into God’s creation. Even though there are amazing waterfalls and mountains within minutes of our mountain town, most of these youth would not get to experience such power without an opportunity… transportation is costly, care-givers are tired after a day’s work in the fields. Some of my greatest joys in these past years have been sitting with the teenagers from our orphanage and our own kids around a campfire on backpacking trips up the highest peak in the Caribbean (one access trail is only an hour from our town) talking about God, His power and faithfulness. Leading groups of youth up Pico Duarte creates an environment for great growth. What a privilege I have seeing these young people experience God in the wilderness through pushing their bodies, interacting first-hand with His creation, and hearing about His faithfulness from their peers. Creating opportunity for relationship, horizontal and vertical.

As a missionary involved in developing and running schools and orphanages for kids who likely would not be in school at all and/or be living on the street, I get to be part of creating an opportunity for education and breaking the cycle of poverty. In the seven schools we oversee in the Dominican Republic, over 1800 children are not only given an incredible education, but most graduate from high school (national rate is less than 20%) and are also offered Kids Alive scholarships to go to university (less than 5% of Dominicans graduate from university). These children and young adults receive hardy nutrition, appropriate love, healthy guidance, and a faithful family in these ministries.LT shot

As a pediatrician, I also get to create the opportunity of preventative and urgent health care to these children and families who would otherwise have minimal access to such privileges. What a joy to pass on my education and experience for the well-being of others, from vaccinations to machete wounds. Through creating opportunities for North Americans to come work alongside nationals to help achieve these educational and health goals, many lives of all nationalities and ages have been impacted and changed as language and cultural barriers fade in the overwhelming glow of God’s all-powerful love.

I love creating opportunities for people to meet and know each other, transparently sharing life’s hardships and victories, encouraging each other along the road. With the desire to allow others to own and share their stories, I treasure opportunities to share how God has powerfully and faithfully carried me through challenging places and circumstances, such as miscarriage, raising third culture kids, and breast cancer.

Blessed with deep and growing relationships with both young and old, in Spanish and English, I count the opportunities I have been allowed to help create as a great gift. Years ago a young man from our school gave me the opportunity to be his madrina at his graduation, and several years later he asked my husband stand up as the padrino at his wedding. Recently, as he acknowledged his Heavenly Father, he spoke about being the father to his newborn daughter that his father was unable to be. Stories like his make every moment of ‘creating opportunity’ worth all the work. My hope is that I leave people feeling loved and knowing the love of our Father after having spent time with me.

In the end, I am a small cog in a big wheel. It is an honor to work alongside Dominicans, Haitians, Columbians, Europeans, and fellow North Americans to create such opportunities. I count it a privilege that God can use even me, broken and fallen, to help create opportunities that allowing soulful health and healing. Opportunities to be in right relationship with God’s creation – both the natural world around us as well as people – and with God Himself.

And I will continue my feeble attempt to capture glimpses of God and His creation through my camera lens.

LTrautweinI am a daughter of the Lord Most High, the original Creator, wife of the most amazing and devoted guy I know, mom to four awesome individuals who challenge and stretch me (three of whom have flown the coop!). We just completed 14 years in the DR serving with Kids Alive International, where I work in the aforementioned roles of wife and mom, as well as pediatrician and homeschool teacher. I still LOVE being out in God’s creation, especially in the snow. I praise God for the plans He created for each of us! Jeremiah 29:11

 

Go

The Friday night DVD over, Tween got ready for bed while Guy channel surfed. He landed on a food show just as they began a profile on a restaurant in the town where we attended college.

The owner couple looked round-about our age, like ordinary, friendly people with whom we – and you – would like to spend time. They smiled. They have four tween-teen aged sons. They are passionate about their shared enterprise. And not so long ago, their restaurant went belly-up and their family home along with it; this restaurant is their second chance.

Astounded, the show host asked, “What happened?”

Their church helped them out. The church had recently come into “…a big ranch with six bedrooms that was offered to us along with a job as the janitor at the church.”

The family thought their dream was over, but they had shelter and employment. And then someone offered to carry the note on a new restaurant.

Guy and I exchanged a look. We knew that church.

The church we attended throughout most of our college years and beyond didn’t own a building. They rented, and kept enough money in the bank to cover three months’ expenses. They gave away any above-and-beyond money to mission partners and trusted God to provide. It certainly wasn’t a perfect community, but it strived to be a community faithful to God and its witness to the world.

I googled the family and church names and found the (abridged) story in the local paper. Our premonition was correct: we recognized our former church by their actions alone.

I’m so grateful that God gave Guy and me the gift of that church during formational years in our lives. I’m grateful we learned the value of community, that we saw a church attempting to be different in the world, even different within church culture, in order to authentically be the church – the people – God called them to be. I am grateful for their continued health and witness to God’s gracious love.

I’m not saying that every person or family who lost a job or home while attending that church would be automatically granted new digs. I am saying that some did, that as God provided for the church the church was able to provide for others. God provided for the church, which provided for this family, who told their story to those who would listen.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I used to think the task of “Go” was given to others, not to me. I’m not an easy evangelist, or I didn’t think I was. I can’t sidle up next to someone I’ve never met and pray with them by the end of our encounter. No way, Jose! And I was beyond-a-doubt convinced that the missionary aspect of “Go” was for others, not me. I can pray, I can give, but I don’t have gifts of service to share. I’ve tried, and felt like a failure, so no thanks.

I was wrong.

God calls each one of us to be His witnesses, to tell the story He’s writing in our lives. We all have a story, lots of them actually, and in the right light so many of them will reveal His fingerprints.

If I can talk about my favorite brand of hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus, FYI) or a restaurant I’d recommend or that funny comment Tween made just last night, I can also talk about that cool way Jesus showed up in my day. I get it’s not quite the same, except it’s also not all that different.

Oh, and God corralled me into what would become a life-changing mission trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I dreaded the experience, had the best week ever, and came home asking God, “What’s next?” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For some, “Go” may seem scary. But if you’re truly convinced you’ve got the best of something, you want to share it. When you count your blessings, when you grab hold of the adventure of life with Jesus, you want to share the goodness with others.

Let’s be convinced of God’s “unfathomable riches” (Eph. 3:8) and let’s go share them with those who will listen.

Connect
How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone new (i.e., what do you most want people to know)?

Study
Read Ephesians 3:1-12.
In this passage, how does Paul talk about himself and his task, and what might that tell us about our call as Christ’s followers?
What is “the mystery” (vv. 3-6; see also Eph. 1:9-10 and 2:12-13)?
How do each of the three terms for Gentiles – “heirs,” “members” and “sharers” – further paint the picture of the mystery of the gospel (v. 6)?
What is God’s intent for the church (v. 10)?

Live
What might it mean in your life that God is both the One who reveals and the One who is revealed?
For the Ephesians, the inclusion of Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s family was an impossible “mystery” they needed God to reveal to them. Discuss contemporary issues that render the gospel mysterious to those who haven’t yet come to Christ.
How can the unity and diversity of the Church witness to the world the good news of Jesus Christ?
How has the gospel of Christ changed your life? How might God want to work through you to share the gospel with others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use you to share “the manifold wisdom of God” with the world.