This week, Mercy Ships will begin fistula repair surgeries on board the Africa Mercy in Madagascar. VVF, or vesico-vaginal fistula and ensuing complications, are the cause of the daily humiliation, rejection, and abandonment experienced by more than two million women in the developing world. Most commonly, VVF follows violent rape or complications from prolonged childbirth. Jackie writes to us this week:
“Some women are too young to birth children or they may have an extremely long, difficult labor which many times ends in stillbirth. They not only lose their baby, but are left with multiple female issues. The largest problem is a continually leaking bladder which makes it impossible to lead a normal life. They have an unpleasant odor and are almost always shunned by family and isolated from their communities.”
Fistula repair surgeries are offered free of charge by Mercy Ships onboard the Africa Mercy. The surgeries are complicated, and some women may require multiple surgeries before they begin the long process of recovery at the Hope Center, a facility about one mile from the ship.
As they enter the ship the day before surgery, the women wear white gowns, “walking into the unknown and hoping for a better life,” says Jackie. When they have recovered they are given beautiful new dresses as part of the Dress Celebration. The Africa Mercy staff help them to dress, put on makeup, and tell their stories as the women sing and dance in a celebration of their new lives.
Please pray for the women of Madagascar who will be receiving fistula treatment on Africa Mercy this week and in the weeks to come. Also pray that Jackie would be matched with just the right woman in a “Befriend a Patient” program on board. She has requested to be paired with a VVF woman and we look forward to hearing more good news from her soon!
To learn more about VVF surgeries, you can read a Mercy Ships fact sheet here, or watch this beautiful video!
We had a fantastic leadership retreat at Fort Columbia State Park this last weekend. As you can see from the photos, we had a wonderful group of people and an action-packed weekend. We spent much of our time talking through our desires and goals for the upcoming year at Grace Bible Church. It was also a great opportunity to get to know each other better! Thank you, Ken, Sharon, Roger, Jeanie, John, Kathy, Bethany, Brian, Luke, Shelby, Fiona, Felix and Judah for what you added to our group this weekend and for your investment in our church by being at our retreat!
Last Thursday I volunteered to help with patient screening that was held at a local hospital. There were about 2,000 people lined up to be screened for possible surgeries on board. It was an extremely hot, humid day and people had been standing in line since 4:00 a.m. Many had traveled some distance to reach Tamatave, but there was no pushing or shoving. People were very patient and kind to one another, offering seats and sharing shade and water. It was very different from other patient screenings I have seen.
I signed up to be on the prayer team that prays with the people we couldn’t help. The experience was very moving, incredibly sad and yet beautiful in many ways.
Please pray for the following young people we encountered in the prayer room who had to be turned away for medical treatment:
We sent away several mothers who had babies with encephalitis. Babies tied to their mothers’ backs with tiny bodies and huge heads are images you never forget. Please pray for these families and their babies who will soon die. Mercy Ships has sent a palliative care team to try and help them through the dying process.
A man led his two blind children to us, each holding on to his arm–a 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. They were waiting to be seen in the hopes of restoring their eyesight. They had their vision until age 7 or 8, but had untreated glaucoma. I’m not sure why they had it so young, but our eye team was not able to help them. This family and their situation was particularly sad to me because there are no services or help for the blind. I guess the only bright spot was that they had each other.
A 16 year old girl came with a 9 month old baby that looked like it was about 2 months old. This baby was clearly not going to live. The mother was also pregnant with a second baby. She was unmarried and confided that she was about to have an abortion. God magnificiently intervened and she not only committed to not abort the baby, but also committed her life to Christ. It was amazing!
Running has become a significant aspect of my life in the last 18 months. Part of the appeal is how effortlessly I can will myself to run, and I do. No one is ever chasing me, and my legs don’t usually turn to lead running knee-deep through mud like they do in some of my night dreams. On really good days, I even feel weightless as I propel down the street and I begin to imagine what it would be like to fly, my feet no longer pounding on pavement.
But there are these ridiculous long runs I signed up to do in preparation for a half marathon in December. A 30-minute run on a weekday morning is no big deal. I’m home for breakfast before I start to think about giving up. But running for 60 minutes, then 90 minutes, and so on, is another story. Sometimes it feels like I am running in place like in those night dreams I dread. I’m finding that I can’t do my long runs alone.
Every Saturday morning, I join a group of women training for the same half marathon. We break off into compatible pace groups, and then we log the mounting miles together. Last weekend it looked like I was going to be alone in my pace group and I was certain I couldn’t muster the strength or the motivation to run 8 miles solo. But one of the women came along beside me and said, “You can do this. I’m going to run with you.”I would have finished early and gone home well before reaching the goal if it wasn’t for her support.
References to running in the Bible have become especially meaningful to my spiritual health as I pursue running for physical health. When I read of the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, I think about my Saturday morning running group as well as all the cheering friends and family who crowded the street a mile before the finish line at my first half marathon this spring.
After running so many miles, my legs were heavy and my feet so tired. My mind was sinking in despair—I havehow much further to go?! WHY am I doing this?! But with the blessed support of friends and strangers both, some cheering from the sidelines and some running beside me, I pounded out the miles and reached that daunting goal of 13.1 miles.
Our real lives can be so doggedly hard, like running a half marathon. We get flat out tired and bogged down. It seems like we are running with lead legs, knee-deep in mud. Our circumstances pound at our peace and joy, and our own shortcomings result in one failure after another. Disappointments and surprises crash against us. People break trust and our hearts can hurt so deeply. But we don’t have to face any of this alone or without hope.
Paul writes in Hebrews 12:1-3:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I love how there is a crowd of onlookers in this passage—they are ahead of us, as described in the amazing “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, and they are next to us and behind us. Some have finished the race, others are right there with us, and still others are taking up the rear and following in our steps.
We all take part in cheering each other on in this life of faith. I think about the community that gathers at Grace Bible Church every week, and I am grateful for the support I find there. We have the opportunity to love and carry each other when we think we can’t take another step in life. We are all in this together and we don’t have to face life alone.
But beautifully central to this race is the Lead Runner. He is ahead of the pack, he has already busted out the miles, and he shows us how it is done. We don’t stop running, though our legs and lungs and everything between defies us to continue. We glue our eyes to his back and we keep going—he is Jesus, the very one who gave birth to our first trust in him and the one who cultivates our dependence upon him. He is the mark we can set our minds and hearts on because once and finally, he fixed his own eyes on the joy of sitting at the right hand of his Father and the prize of winning his children—and in so doing, he won it all!
Sometimes, life is effortless. But more often, we are tired, sweaty, and thirsty; our knees start to ache and we wonder when it will all end. But our Jesus has already run and won this race for us! We don’t grow weary and lose heart, even though the race looks so ridiculously long and hard from here.
I want to let myself be supported in this life by the people God brings me, but most of all, I want to keep near to Jesus, hot on his tail in the midst of whatever is happening in my life. I want him to fill my vision, not my own struggles or the circumstances that send me soaring and the ones that weigh me down. With my sight set on him, I will think less and less about myself and all the running I am doing. The relentless grace of God I find when I look at the goodness of Jesus is the part in my running where I begin to feel weightless and fly—I can run with no burden to finish first, or to finish with glory, or to finish period. There is only Jesus ahead of me who already said it is finished. The ultimate race has been won!
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them!
(Psalm 68:19, 1 Peter 1:3, Eph 1:3, Luke 1:68)
May you experience God’s love for you in the people he graces your life with this week, and most of all, may you keep near to Jesus, running your race with perseverance and resting in the freedom that Jesus has done it all for you.
After eight years calling Portland home, Dieneke and her husband, Brandon, are taking the long way back to the “mitten”–more precisely, Michigan–to start a new life in their hometown of Kalamazoo. By “long way,” I mean that they are stopping by at Lassen, Yosemite, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon before parking in Kalamazoo at the end of this month.
If you have spent any time with Dieneke and Brandon, you know how much they will be missed in our Grace family. But if you have heard any of the details surrounding their move back to Michigan, you will also know how assuredly God has arranged everything for them. Kalamazoo is just the place he has prepared for them in the next chapter of their life together.
I always knew that returning to the Midwest was part of Dieneke and Brandon’s 10-year plan, but God surprisingly turned that into a 2-1/2 month plan! While Dieneke was with her family in Kalamazoo this summer, she received an unexpected call from a former employer offering her a job. The details rapidly fell into place. It was so much more than Dieneke ever imagined would happen, and in many ways was an answer to the increasingly courageous prayers she has been praying this year.
On her last Sunday at Grace, Dieneke described some of the things she has learned in the last few months. God provides for every detail, even the small things we don’t think of on our own. All of these details come together for the bigger work God is doing in and through us. Dieneke has learned not to make such long-term plans–God often changes them! Instead, we must focus on the day-to-day in front of us, pray boldly for miracles only God can do, then wait for him to do his work. He will do it! This was proved to Dieneke in the way God so beautifully wrapped up their time in Portland and made a way for her and Brandon to return to Michigan.
We never know what is happening behind-the-scenes when we call on God to intervene in our lives. There is usually more than one person involved in the puzzles we seek God’s help in. Dieneke was a wonderful answer to my prayers for a friend in the last few years. Saying goodbye last week was very sad for me, and I know many in our church will be missing Dieneke’s warmth, wisdom and friendship. But I’m certain that Dieneke and Brandon’s move back to Michigan is a wonderful answer to their families’ prayers. Who knows–maybe there is someone in Kalamazoo who has been praying for a friend, and they are about to be blessed incredibly by a beautiful friend named Dieneke!
Isn’t God so kind in the ways he generously meets each one of us in all our needs? We are grateful to him for the good work he has done in and through Dieneke in her five years at Grace, and we are praising him with her for his leading back to Michigan.
Dieneke and Brandon, we love you and look forward to hearing good things from your new life in Kalamazoo!
Jackie Bailey was in her 50s before she started volunteering on a regular basis. Her office requires employees to put some hours into the community, so Jackie started serving with Shepherd’s Door, Portland Rescue Mission’s transitional care facility for women. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jackie felt compelled to go. She went to New Orleans with Forward Edge, and it was there that Jackie’s desire was sparked to keep going and giving what she can in the world.
Since 2005, Jackie has been on numerous short-term mission trips as well as one six-month trip with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone. On Saturday, Jackie is heading out for another eight months with Mercy Ships, this time to Madagascar!
Jackie glows when she talks about Mercy Ships. She had many highlights to share of her time in Sierra Leone and she expects the same in Madagascar.
The Mercy Ship is a 16,500-ton, fully-equipped hospital ship. Over 400 people from 40 different countries volunteer their time and expertise to provide free treatment to thousands of patients while in port. Their emphasis is maxillofacial, reconstructive, plastics, orthopedic, ophthalmic and dental surgeries for those who have little or no access to this specialized healthcare.
“The challenge is enormous, but don’t let the statistics numb you.Every number has a name, a face and a story. And they will break your heart,” writes Mercy Ships of the problem. Their solution? For over 30 years, they have “followed the model of Jesus to bring hope and healing to the world’s poor one life, one community and one nation at a time.” Since 1978, Mercy Ships has visited over 70 countries, treating more than 2.5 million people!
Jackie will fly to Capetown, South Africa this coming weekend to meet The Mercy Ship. On this tour, Jackie will assist the Crew Physician and the Screening Team, which means she will be screening potential and incoming patients. Jackie says this is exciting for her because she will have more interaction with the patients as well as the locals who come on board during the day as interpreters, drivers, or other various workers.
There is something to do on-board The Mercy Ship every night of the week. There are Bible studies and worship services as well as ongoing professional training in specialized topics. There is even an accredited K-12 school for volunteer families! Volunteers are encouraged to worship with local churches on land. In Sierra Leone, Mercy Ships partnered with local churches to show the Jesus Film. Other opportunities include observing surgeries, and visiting or praying with recovering patients.
One of my favorite stories Jackie told of Sierra Leone was the weekly Celebration of Sight when people blinded by cataracts danced on The Mercy Ship deck, their sight completely restored by a simple surgery they could never have accessed in their country. I also loved hearing about the Living Blood Bank. Whenever a patient with your blood type is in the operating room, you can be on-call to donate. Later, you can actually meet the man or woman who now shares your blood!
As we talked about the great needs in the world, Jackie reflected on the huge number of retiring Baby Boomers with health and resources to share. But what are they going to do with these gifts? “There is always enough to go around,” Jackie said. It is the principle of loaves and fishes—God always multiplies the little that we give. What if more Baby Boomers gave their time and resources to help other people? What if all of us did that? There are many opportunities to serve in other countries, but there are also many opportunities to serve in our own neighborhoods.
The great needs of those around us belong to people with names and stories. What if each of us committed to following Jesus in giving what we have to bring hope and restoration to the people he places in our lives? One by one, the people around us would be transformed, and this would spread throughout our community, our nation and our world.
Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your story with us and for inspiring us to each do our part in loving others, changing the world one person at a time! We love you and can’t wait to hear the ways God multiplies what you are about to give in Madagascar!
This weekend we will celebrate 140 years as a church in downtown Portland. We have a rich history of compassionate service among the poor and sick as well as training and outreach for young people in this community. To this day, we continue to love and serve our neighbors in this great city!
Our beautiful building is now positioned in the heart of downtown Portland, but when it was first built it was surrounded by large, Victorian homes on its quiet, suburban corner of SW 12th & Clay. The freeway wasn’t background noise, and sermons and Bible studies were conducted in German.
Behind the historical records of our church, there are countless personal stories of the people who have crossed the threshold of Grace Bible Church in the last century. Even now, our church continues to fill with people who have stories to tell—and every one of us does.
The chance of any of us meeting in our regular lives is slim. We all live, work, and recreate in different corners of this city, and yet we have crossed paths at Grace Bible Church. On Sunday mornings we stand shoulder to shoulder in those well-worn pews, worshiping God together.
That is what I love about our church. I have friends I would never have met if it weren’t for one Sunday or another at Grace. And imagine—our small church in Portland is just a slice of the great Church that belongs to Christ—across all time and borders!
We all have stories to tell of how we came to this particular church and what God is doing in our lives today. We also have stories we wouldn’t think to tell of our interests and quirks and weekly routines.
Though we often have opportunities to meet new people over coffee or lunch at the church, it takes time, and sometimes guts, to really know others and let ourselves be known. In addition, there is so much noise in the world; it’s easy to think the details don’t matter anyway.
But we believe that the details of our lives matter to God.
Since God cares to know about his children, it stands to reason that we should care, too.
What if our church was made up of people who knew the commonplace as well as extraordinary details about each other? What if we formed relationships of interest in one another that reflected the care God has for each one of his children?
You probably don’t know that Pastor Ken’s go-to comfort food is warm vanilla pudding, or that I have an aversion to playing board games. I doubt Brian Martin has ever told you about the summer he biked across America, and you probably didn’t know Jackie Bailey is about to embark on her second volunteer tour with Mercy Ships in Africa.
When we learn the background details about each other, we start to form bonds of familiarity that lead to genuine concern for one another. We also catch a glimpse of God’s creativity and his immense love for people! He took time to make us just as we are, and he is actively making something beautiful with the whole story of our lives.
This week I had the great privilege to spend time with Jackie Bailey before she embarks on that second volunteer trip with Mercy Ships. We both shared bits of our stories, and we connected over a common desire to use the resources God has given us to make a difference for others.
On Monday, I will post some of what Jackie shared about her previous experience with Mercy Ships and what she will be doing with them for the next eight months. You are going to love hearing about it! In the meantime, be sure to join us this Sunday as we send Jackie off with our love and prayers, and don’t forget to celebrate with us in the Fellowship Hall–140 years and still going in downtown Portland! I hope to see you there.
THANK YOU, Bethany Martin, for updating our Children’s Safety Policy! At Grace, it is very important that our kids are given a safe, loving environment to grow and participate in the Grace family. A big part of us pursuing this value is that we adult are all on the same sheet of music regarding our Children’s Ministry, especially in the area of our kids’ safety! Please take a look at our policy–and say “thanks” to Bethany next time you see her!
Hello Everyone! This is Leanna posting. Pastor Ken granted me Admin status here on the blog so I could post updates on my missions trip. However, the trip is almost over and this is only my first post so I guess we can file this one under the “failure” category. Oh well… at least I’m getting one in!
As many of you know, I am currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Myself and 9 other team members spent the past week doing prep work for an evangelical summer camp that will be attended by kids from all over the country. It was a blessing to be back at the camp after serving there 2 years ago.
Some of the jobs we worked on at the camp this year include pitching tents, setting up a cafe, weeding around the camp site, moving lots and lots of mattresses and bed frames into the new house, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning bed rooms, cleaning kitchens, taking care of the piles of garbage all over the camp site, painting boards for a patio roof, and anything else that the camp director asked us to do.
Our time at the camp ended yesterday and we are now in Mostar. There are 2 Christian churches in Mostar and they both meet in the same building, one in the morning and one in the evening. Our team attended both services.
During the service that met this morning, I had the opportunity to share a brief testimony of something that I had learned while serving at the camp. This is what I shared:
The day we left for Bosnia (June 21st), I had that scratchy feeling in my throat that comes when you are about to get a cold. By the time we arrived, I had a fully operational snot factory set up in my sinuses. Once we started working I quickly discovered that I wasn’t capable of being around dust of any kind due to the cold, which was very limiting considering basically everything at the campsite was covered in dust. It was frustrating to say the least. My head felt heavy, I was congested, my throat hurt, and I just wanted to lay down and go to bed. Not exactly peak condition for a missions trip.
Right as my cold was just starting to go away, I had another medical problem pop up. I won’t go into all the gory details, but basically I got an infection in my body that was causing me a lot of pain and discomfort. Pretty much any movement was painful and, once again, all I wanted to do was lay down and not do anything. By this point I was extremely frustrated… frustrated to the point of tears and anger.
I was laying on my sleeping bag crying and I asked God, “Why is this happening to me right now? Why couldn’t You just have waited until after the trip was over?” It was a classic God, why are you doing this to me? moment. I felt angry and upset that my short time in Bosnia was being affected by my weak body… by something as simple as a cold and an infection that chose the worst possible time to show up.
As I was laying there crying and feeling bad for myself, I opened my Bible and landed in 2 Corinthians 12. This is what I read:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
As I read these verses, I knew instantly what God was trying to tell me. This trip is not about what I can do in my own strength, it is about what God can do. I am nothing but a vessel – an instrument for God to use for His purposes – and God can not and will not be limited by the weakness and frailty of my flesh. Often I depend too much on my own strength and rely on my own abilities and forget that it is God who works through me, not me working and allowing Him to tag along. Sometimes I need Him to remind me who the true Craftsman is, and I think that this was one of those cases.
And to answer that Why now? question I had, I realized this morning that if I had gotten sick in America, I would have laid on the couch, watched TV, and eaten ice cream until I felt better. What good would have come from that? Nothing. But when I think of all that I was able to accomplish at the camps in spite of my crummy health, I am humbled. I know I did not get as much done as I might have in perfect health, but in this scenario I can give the credit to no one but my Father for what I was able to do with His strength.
Healthy Leanna might have said: “Look at what I did at the camp!”.
But Sick Leanna says: “Look what God gave me the strength to do at the camp!”
God’s timing truly is the best timing, isn’t it? We don’t always see and understand it at the beginning. It can be a frustrating process. But once you realize in the end how God orchestrated the whole thing, there is nothing to be done but to stand in awe of Him.
So thank you, Lord, for your timing. Thank you for my cold, thank you for the infection, thank you for teaching me, and thank you for loving me and using me in spite of my weakness.