Following Dreams

January has been quite interesting.  Living in New Jersey, taking an ESL certification course in Manhattan has afforded me many opportunities to observe and hear some interesting interactions.

This past week I had to teach a lesson based on a text about Positive Thinking.  I will pause briefly for those of you who know me well to stop laughing.  Seriously.  Stop it.  It was, by far, the most enthusiastically discussed lesson that has been taught in our class.  It is a topic that is reinforced throughout the school with large postings on the hallways.  

These kind of ideals, “do what you love” and “live your dream” are being stamped into our psyche.  I’ve heard more than one conversation of strangers as I’ve walked amongst the masses on 8th Avenue about people who are changing jobs because they think they need to be “doing what they love.”  

Last week and next, if you follow American football at all, I guarantee that you will hear or have heard someone say they are “living their dream.”  Recently, Bernie and Cori and I were following the television show, “The Voice.”  Don’t judge us.  One night we decided to count every time someone used the phrase “follow my dream.”  We quit counting at 11 or 12.  Same thing on American Idol or most any reality TV show.  It angers me to hear the judges (i.e., those who followed their dream and made it) talk about this as if it were there for anyone and everyone with talent to accomplish if they try hard enough and long enough and make enough sacrifices.  There are enough good singers and athletes out there, that if everyone as good as they were made it, there wouldn’t be enough people left to watch them and buy their records or the tickets to watch them.  

But I have to wonder...has anyone thought through the long term implications of life if everyone followed their dream or only did what they love.  If I have to use a public restroom, my preference is to use one that is clean.  But has anyone ever had a dream to clean toilets?  The men and women who drive the buses we take to commute every day -- was sitting in traffic hauling people around from one place to another their dream?  When your elementary teacher asked you to write a paragraph about what you wanted to be when you grew up, did anyone choose sanitation worker, street sweeper, dish washer at a restaurant?  Aren’t we all glad they are there?

Or what about the two men in front of me on the bus (they were rows ahead and speaking loudly - I wasn’t eavesdropping, I promise)?  They were talking about radiation therapy and other options.  Were they living their dreams when the big “C” hit?  What about their dreams now?  

The problem with these ideals and the need to prop them up with positive thinking is that God is removed from the picture.  And like it, or not, you can’t remove God from your life.  You don’t have to follow Him, or love Him, or obey Him or even believe in Him.  But His presence and action are there regardless of your response to Him. 

There are good things in the picture above.  There are truths there.  They just aren’t original.  They are a plagiarized re-expression of Scripture re-centered around man instead of his Creator.  In so doing, a very important piece has been left out as well.  Hope.  

I have to wonder if this is at the root of much of the depression in the US.   This positive thinking, life is about my happiness mentality can’t be sustained.  Then when reality, like the loss of a dream, or something as devastating as cancer happens, what then?  I pretty much see two options.  Hope or depression.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t times when we have to fight through our depression to get to hope.  That happens.  But there is the potential of hope on the other side.  When God is replaced by positive thinking, hope is only wishful thinking.  Or can we say a dream?

Should we dream?  Of course.  Should we follow our dreams?  Absolutely.  Should we do what we love?  You betcha.  We just need to make sure our dreams are God’s dreams, and realize it may not look like anything on TV.  Doing what we love is great as well, as long as we love God most.  And realize that sometimes, oftentimes, in this life we have to do things we don’t love.  Heck, we have to do things we don’t even like, because in the end, it isn’t really about us.  It’s about God.  It’s about others.  Live that.


One Shoe, Two Shoes, Red Shoe, Black Shoe....

The red shoes were her graduation shoes.  After hours of pouring over pictures of shoes at and other online stores, Cori settled on a pair of red patent ballet-like shoes to go with her graduation dress. Not traditional by any stretch of the imagination, but so Cori.  They remind me of a cross between the red shoes Dorothy needed to take from the wicked witch to get back to Kansas and the glass slipper Cinderella lost when fleeing the ball at midnight.

The black shoes were a pair of black flip-flops that we grabbed at the last minute that she and I could wear as shower shoes while we were at our Field Forum at the Mongolian Secret Histories Camp (MSHC).  

It is fascinating the things your brain isolates to remember from traumatic events.  She was wearing the red shoes when she got in the car to leave.  The next time I saw her she was wearing one red slipper and one black flip-flop.  In the accident one slipper came off and she grabbed the first thing she found for that foot -- a flip flop lying by the road.  I’m always scratching my head by the fact that she never matches her socks any given day of the week.  The fact that her shoes didn’t match when she got out of the van that brought her to the lodge after our car was turned to a twisted heap of metal was evidence that she walked away instead being carried away and that was just amazing.

I remember Jonathan having to hold a cold coke can on his mouth because they don’t have ice at MSHC.  Everytime I pull the mate to the set of blue pillowcases off the linen’s shelf, I’ll see Bernie getting out of the van with the blood-soaked pillow case on his head.  

These are the pictures that I see.  Here is what I know.  We have a wonderful God in heaven who goes before His children, watching over them, keeping the enemy at bay.  I know this because everyone who has seen the car after the accident ask the question:  “How many died?”  The answer is no one.  No one died.  No one was critically injured.  I spent our time there marveling every time I heard the laughter of my children louder than any of the other teens there.   

I know this because the first person to arrive at the scene of the accident was the head of the Secret Service in Mongolia.  He saw the entire thing happen.  He stopped and took control, commandeering a van with a Mongolian family in it to take Bernie and the kids to the MSHC where I was waiting with Dr. Pham to make sure they were okay.  He was on his way back to UB from Darhan.  The next day he returned to the police station to make sure the incident was handled correctly and that Bernie was not charged with wrong-doing.  In other such accidents the foreigner has been required to pay to get back his or her registration or license.  He made sure that the official report stated, “The driver did nothing wrong.”  

I know this because one of the next arrivals on the scene was the next door neighbors of the Manchester’s.  There are over 1.5 million people in UB.  Many of them travel the road from there to Darhan on a daily basis.  But the one who was driving by at just the right time was two men who saw familiar faces on the side of the road and turned around to help.  They loaded their SUV with as much of our things that was scattered across the Mongolian country-side and put them, along with Denise in Ellie in their van and brought them to MSHC.  

I know this because of the men on our team who, upon hearing of the accident, left their dinner on the table and rushed to the scene to help deal with the local authorities, gather up everything that didn’t fit in the other vehicle and brought Jim back.  I know this because of the prayers and support of fellow team members and visiting guests that surrounded us that evening.

I know this because of so many little things.  I found it precious that Josh Ward, our visiting friend from our home church in Franklin, who stepped up to help with our worship time, had already come prepared to lead the kid’s singing with “Trading our Sorrows” and “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.”  Specifically, the lines, “I’m trading my pain...I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.”  I watched my family go from barely able to move from soreness on Sunday morning to running up the hill in a race on Wednesday night.  And of course, the second verse to Blessed Be the Name that says “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering.  Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.”  

What else can be said?  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.  I’ve already determined that I will never throw away those red shoes.  I will always keep them as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.  So, if you visit my home someday and there is a pair of red shoes on the mantel or in some other prominent place, bless Him with me, okay?



Grace and Families

What is it that breaks your heart?

That’s a question I’ve been thinking about recently. There are so many, many things. Sex trafficking. Drunks in the street. AIDS orphans in Africa. Suffering caused by diseases like cancer. Suffering caused by evil men such as the recent shooting in Colorado.

Sometimes it seems unbearable. It’s probably a good thing that the Father gives it to us in doses we can swallow. I can’t imagine having to observe all these things all day, every day.

We were reminded by our Field Director, Dennis Maves, in church last week of one of my favorite hymns by Annie Johnston Flint. “To added afflictions, He addeth his mercy…”. I am so thankful that we have a merciful Father.

But I think one of the things that breaks my heart most is broken families. I’m not sure why. The things I mentioned earlier are horrible, horrible things. Maybe because my experience with family has blessed me so much. When I was growing up, my family life was a cocoon for me. And I had not just my parents, but an extended family and my parents’ friends who were more than happy to step in (and did) to offer love and support. I married into a family that has continued that love and support. Now, my own children have blessed me in so many ways.

I have not personally experienced the brokenness of family like I have seen in Mongolia. It almost seems to be the norm. It is another reason why the gospel is so necessary here. Jesus is certainly no quick fix, but the picture of Christ and his bride as well as the idea of God as our Father, evidence the fact that family originates with God.

Sometimes it breaks my heart when I am talking about the concepts of Christian families with the girls I disciple. I can look at the relationships of my parents and my in-laws. I can be encouraged by many friends in the church who are growing their families together, inspired by those who have gone before us in the faith. It is so hard to have to look these girls in the eyes, knowing they have no example, and say to them, “You’re it. You are going to have to figure this out, by grace and with the help of God, in your culture and your context, with no one who has gone before you to show you the way. There are no books, no helps, no classes, nothing. You are the first generation of Christian family and the young in the church will be looking to you.”

I am so grateful to people like our teammates, Richel and Melody Maraat, whom God has called here to UB to minister to families. Please pray for them.

I am also thrilled and excited for a young couple we know, Erka and Doggi, committed to being pioneers in this process. I love having conversations with her about learning principles of submission and teaching her two little boys how to grow up to be godly young men. I love knowing that she goes home to serve her boys and her husband and that together they are ministering the gospel and training Mongolians to follow Christ. They have been faithful servants with YWAM for six years now. Their humility, sincerity and dedication encourage and sometimes shames me.

I have been so hesitant to do what I am about to write. I don’t want to meddle in what God wants to do for them. I hate “raising support.” Always have. It’s the one of most difficult parts of being in ministry to me. I rarely wrote support letters for my short term ministry trips.

Yes, there is a “but” coming up here. Erka and Doggi have been given a wonderful opportunity to study in the US for the next two years. They have been given a scholarship, including room and board, to the Evangelical Institute in Greenville, SC. Yes, this is the school where Bernie and I met and Jonathan recently graduated. But… airfare is not cheap from here to the US. Especially for four people.

I’m sure many of you have heard of stories of international students coming into the US and never leaving, whether legally or not. This is not the case here. They are in full-time ministry and are required to take a sabbatical year. They want to use this time to further their understanding and be able to minister more effectively on their return. They have been granted a one year extension. Erka also wants to use the time he is in the US to learn more about recording and production so that he can return and help young Mongolian artists in their desire to share their faith through music. Both are deeply interested in learning more about the Bible more deeply.

If you are reading this, and would be interested in helping to support Dogi and Erka’s family in any way, please contact us. They need your prayers, your friendship while they are in the US , and your financial support. Let us know if you would like to participate in any way. We have great hope in God’s grace for this family.

Because He gives more grace.


Erka and Dogi with their two boys


Life Verse

I have a life verse. It’s not an expected one. If you rounded up the usual suspects, my verse probably would not be there. If I were going to choose a life verse, this probably would not have been it. It would have been a more comforting verse, like Psalm 37:4.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

But no, that’s not how I do things. I suppose I would have to say that I didn’t choose my life verse. It chose me, or more accurately, God chose it for me.

Before I continue to reveal said verse, let me note that you are probably realizing that this blog is not written by Bernie, the usual blogger on the Remember Mongolia website. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually helped him out with material here. Probably because for me, blogging is a way to process and verbalize what is going on internally. Over the past couple of years, social media has allowed me to do that with some things and writing and teaching Bible Studies has given me an outlet with others. Neither of those venues seem appropriate here. That said….

More years ago than I want to mention, I was a college student living in Memphis, Tennessee. I don’t remember how I came across this verse, maybe because I was reading a book or studying about Philippians. When I read verse 3:10, it was as if something would never be the same.

“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,”

and then of course, the conclusion in verse 11 of attaining the resurrection. I was drawn in and intrigued and the response that rose up from within was a prayer.

“Lord, I want to know You like this.”

I can still see it clearly in my mind. I had a dear friend, Alva, working in a law office in downtown Memphis. I met her for lunch in their conference room that was in a high rise building with one side completely made of glass. As I looked out on the beautiful clear day at the mighty Mississippi River, I shared my prayer with her. I can still remember her looking me full in the eyes and saying, “Renee’, that is a prayer God always answers.”

She went on to share with me of her own experience. She had been with a missions organization and during that time had spent six months in a Turkish prison for sharing the gospel. I knew that she knew what she was talking about.

What is it about youth that can romanticize something like prison? Perhaps its that idealism that comes with believing so strongly about something that you have to do something about it. And yes, this was also around the time that the missions spark was ignited in me. Now, I would say, “Oh, wow, that must have been rough.” I don’t remember what I said, but I know what I was thinking, “Oh, wow, that is so cool.” Do you ever miss naivety?

That was my first understanding of that verse. Suffering equals persecution. It means standing up for truth no matter what, and that was the kind of thing that appealed to me.

As I grew older, I continued to pray this prayer and, as Alva promised, God continued to answer. Then I got married and had two children. One day it dawned on me, that if I prayed that prayer, something might happen to my children. I understood suffering to be loss. I didn’t want to lose my husband or my children. We lived in a neighborhood with several police officers, and sometimes when they turned onto our street it looked as if they were turning in our driveway, and my heart would leap up into my throat until they passed by. So I stopped praying that prayer.

God, however, did not stop answering, and over time He gave me the courage and the faith to pray that again. He continued to answer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with three very special Mongolian friends, Bayarmaa, Doggi and Onon. And God brought us, in our discussion, to this verse. I shared with them that this was my life verse. In the last couple of years, I have learned a new dimension to this verse. The four of us have to different extents. Suffering sometimes equals persecution. Suffering sometimes equals loss. But sometimes suffering is pain inflicted by others.

As I considered the Lord Jesus in His last days on earth, I thought about the different types of pain He went through. Certainly He was being persecuted. Certainly He suffered loss – He had to give His mother to His friend, John, to care for. I have to wonder, though, if the greater pain was in the betrayal of those closest to Him. The crowd, who just days before had cheered Him on with palm branches and loud Hosanas were now shouting for His crucifixion. Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss. Peter denied knowing him. The version of that incident in the book of Luke is very telling. He adds the detail that Jesus turned and looked at Him. I can’t imagine the pain in that look, to both the giver and the recipient. Peter himself went out and wept. Of all His followers, only John, his mother, his aunt and Mary Magdalene were with Him to the end.

Now I realize that if I continue to pray this prayer, I do so with eyes wide open. Suffering involves rejection. It involves betrayal. It involves rejection and betrayal at the deepest levels. Not by the fickle rabble, but by those with whom we thought we were safe. Perhaps if I were still that young girl watching the river power its way to the ocean, I could idealize this. So what if I get hurt, it’s for the cause! But hurt is just hurt and it doesn’t get easier. If anything, it gets harder. As it does, the prayer gets more and more difficult to pray.

Can I put in a request to change my life verse, please? Probably not. On the other hand, I don’t think it would hurt to line it up beside a companion verse.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This soul needs this today. Especially if I am to stay the course.


The Role of Duct Tape in Mongolia

We use it for everything ...

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