Tag Archives: Christianity

Flyleaf’s Lacey Sturm found Christ when suicidal

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Prophetic word from pastor and parishioner brought suicidal rocker to Christ

Co-founder and former lead vocalist of the rock band Flyleaf, Lacey Sturm, was contemplating suicide when she had an encounter with God that saved her life.

“When I was ten-years-old, my cousin, who was about three at the time, was beaten to death by his stepfather,” Sturm said. “My mother always talked to me about God, but at the time I just remember thinking I couldn’t reconcile how God could allow something like that to happen. I decided that if God was big and good, why wouldn’t he protect my cousin who was so tiny and so awesome?”

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The girl from Arlington, Texas, couldn’t countenance evil in the world. “I never wanted to have kids,” she said. “It would just be bringing another person into the world to suffer.”

She cried herself to sleep every night, became an atheist and turned to drugs and alcohol. She dabbled with pornography and even got a girlfriend.

“I couldn’t get away from my own depression. So I started to study a lot of other religions. There was a lot of nice ideas but there wasn’t any tangible healing.

lacey“I remember thinking, I’m tired of feeling the pain. I’m tired of going to bed that way. I’m tired of being a burden. I’m just tired of not knowing why I’m alive. I remember the night I was laying in bed, and I knew I was going to commit suicide the next day. I knew I was not going to live past tomorrow.”

But on the fateful day when she came home from school, Grandma was there — an unusual occurrence.

“She looked at me and said, ‘There’s something wrong with you. You’re going to go to church.'”

“There’s no way I’m going to go to church,” she said defiantly.

Her grandmother raised her voice and the two began to argue vehemently. Finally Sturm relented and went to church, but planned to follow through with her suicide afterwards.

She slumped down in a back-row pew, hating everyone and everything around her.  “The pastor started speaking, and I hated him more than anyone.”

The pastor spoke: “There’s a suicidal spirit in the room. So of course all the hair on the back of my neck stood up. And I thought, ‘Well, this is really weird.'”

She got up to go out, but was intercepted by white-haired man who gently and kindly addressed her: “The Lord wants me to speak to you. He wants you to know that even though you’ve never known an earthly father, God will be a better Father to you than any earthly father could ever be. God knows the pain in your heart. He’s seen you cry yourself to sleep at nights.”

Sturm was stunned and touched. How could he know about the deep things of her heart?

“The idea was so overwhelming to me,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Do you want me to pray for you so that Jesus can take the pain out of your heart?’ He put his hand on my shoulder and started to pray. It was as if the God of the universe showed up right in front of me. The first thing I noticed was that He was holy and good. The second thing I noticed is that I was not holy and not good. But at the same time, I felt Him inviting me to an embrace of grace and love unconditional. God was saying, ‘I love you. I know you’re tired of the way you’re living. I will make you new if you will let me.’

“My heart just said, ‘Yes. I need that. I want that,'” Sturm remembers. “I woke up the next day I felt such a peace and a joy that I’d never felt before. Jesus saved my life. The almost overwhelming thing to think is that Jesus became sin, and it was my sin. It was thing that I’ve done that held Him on the cross. He hung naked on a cross bleeding in a shameful way so that I would never have to be ashamed for the things that I’ve done.” Read the rest of the article written by my Lighthouse Christian Academy student here.

Girls rule, boys drool

a-beginner-makes-a-goal-in-varsity-co-ed-soccerIn her first year of soccer, Jamie Roman didn’t play in a single game. She sat on the bench and smiled.

In her second year of soccer, coach threw on the easygoing junior against the league’s toughest team, Einstein Academy, on Feb. 3.

And she almost scored a goal.

Jamie is no Tomboy, but she joined varsity soccer at the Lighthouse Christian Academy just to get involved. LCA coaxes kids to participate in activities they would never do in regular school. With only 45 students, the Saints scour their enrollment list to fill rosters.

“At first I just joined for my friends,” Jamie said of her experience last year. “Then I saw how fun the conditioning was — that pain in the moment. I wanted to see if I could run.”

She looked perfectly content with exercising and playing at practice — and being side-lined during games.

“I wanted to play last year, but I was shy and lazy, so I missed the opportunity to play,” she said. “I had a lot of good laughs on the sidelines. But it was kind of embarrassing that I would go to all the games and wear a uniform and not play.”

The 2016-17 season was different. A few players were disqualified because of grades, whittling down eligible players for the starting squad.

Sometimes high school coaches put their least experienced players as forwards because it’s the position where they can do the least damage.

(The defensive line is critical because once the opponent gets past, it’s just the goalie that can save the day. You want to fight and maintain position in the middle of the field. So where does the newbie go? Up front.)

In her breakout game, Jamie got offsides a kajillion times. She had to learn how pass the last defender without the ball and how to sprint into the danger zone as soon as her teammate struck for a pass to her.

Nerves killed her.

“I was nervous,” she said. “I was so paranoid that I’d mess up. I was afraid they would yell at me if I messed up.” Read the rest at co-ed soccer.

Second straight playoffs for Lighthouse soccer

saints-soccer-tall-and-proudFor the second straight year, Lighthouse Christian Academy entered soccer playoffs — a decided break from a long past of never making post-season play.

But the Saints mechanics ran rough on Feb. 15 against delToledo High School, which dismissed LCA with a resounding 0-6 defeat.

For about a week, Lighthouse players were thinking their third-place standing in the league ruled them out of playoffs when they rather suddenly received the news they would get at least one more game to see far they advanced.

lighthouse-christian-academy-soccer-santa-monicaThe Saints season peaked in a shock defeat of last year’s league champs 2-1. In that game, players were passing, fighting and concentrating. The victory against Newbury Park culminated a winning streak of three and gave the Saints the intoxicating sensation of invincibility that lasted only a couple days.

The next game Jan. 27 against Einstein Academy brought LCA back to reality with a humbling 0-6 thrashing. The prior passing went up in smoke with predictable results.

The Saints finished league play 5-3. Against the better teams, LCA — which has 1-and-a-half club players — can compete when they play like a team linking up with passes. Individual juking runs don’t work. But would players listen to coach and stick with selflessness?

If only players in our Santa Monica Christian school would apply the Bible to the soccer field: It is better to give than to receive.

In some games, passing became so scarce that when finally a through-ball was sent, the intended player wasn’t expecting it and invariably reacted slowly.

Kevin Durant finds stardom and Jesus in NBA

kevindurantibelieveKevin Durant, a two-time Olympics gold medalist in basketball and the 2014 NBA most valuable player, has learned to be more vocal about his Christian faith.

The 28-year-old, 6’11” superstar is now with fellow Christian Steph Curry on the Golden State Warriors, after leading his native Oklahoma City Thunder deep into the playoffs in 2010-13.

“The Bible both pumps me up and balances me to play my best,” Durant told Beyond the Ultimate. “But it also tells me more about the Lord and how I can live for Him and what all He has done for me.”

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks - Game TwoDurant, one of the NBA’s most popular players, grew up in a Christian home, led by a single mom, but fell out of church attendance in middle and high school. He excelled at basketball and in 2006 he was widely regarded as one of the best prospects for college ball. His freshman game was so overpowering that he decided to enter the NBA draft immediately.

Picked by the then-Seattle SuperSonics, he produced prodigious performances and won the Rookie of the Year acknowledgement.

The team transferred to Oklahoma and renamed itself the Thunder the next year. It was while he played for the Thunder that Durant, mum about his faith, buddied up with teammate Kevin Ollie, who encouraged him to attend chapel services and to be unafraid to voice his faith.

kevin-durant-and-steph-curry“He got everybody going and wanting to learn more. I was just one of the guys who was trying to follow his lead,” Durant said on Beliefnet. “He was a big teacher in helping me do that and making me feel more comfortable in my faith around other people and being able to pray for other people and pray out loud and things like that; take those baby steps.”

While he lived in Oklahoma City, Durant felt drawn to the easy-going, earnest faith of New York City Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz and adopted the pastor as his mentor. He was baptized by Lentz in 2013.

“I used to feel like if I did something wrong, I would go to hell,” he said. Now, “I believe God’s love for me, the sacrificial death of Jesus for my sins and His grace, not my good works, are what saves me.” Read the rest of the story.

This article was written by my student Jordan Sheppard in my journalism class at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Now landing goals, not punches

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His shots went high and wide.

Junior Abraham Morales, who showed plenty of speed and skill, couldn’t put the ball into the net to save his life.

Then in the second half of the season, things suddenly came into focus for old blurry-shooter. He nailed a shot against Westmark from the left flank.

And on Tuesday, in the highest tension game of the 2017 season, when his team needed him most, Abraham proved in top form. He sunk two torpedoes to unnerve the reigning league champs, Newbury Park, in a game that ultimately Lighthouse Christian Academy lost 3-5.

“As a little kid I would just pass the ball around with my family members. I was a pretty short kid. I used to tell them, ‘One day I’ll make it big in soccer,’” Abraham said.

He’s big in our eyes, now one of the top scorers for the season and officially listed in the Lighthouse ledger of soccer history.

Because of soccer, Abraham transferred to Lighthouse. His middle school teammates jeered and bullied him for his flubs on the soccer field, a habitual provocation that drove him to yelling and even fist fights. The nastiness continued into his freshman year of high school in the public school system in South Central Los Angeles, where he lives.

“I told my mom, ‘Can I go to another school because I don’t feel right here?” Mrs. Morales found Lighthouse online.

Even though he was raised in a Christian home, Abraham thought he wouldn’t fit in at a Christian high school.

“I thought it was going to be super strict and all that,” he admitted. “I knew there was going to be some sort of dress code. I didn’t want to wear a uniform.” Read the rest of the story.

God’s gangster: former yakuza is now pastor

yakuzaAs a teenager, he was lured into a Japanese crime syndicate known as yakuza, and after surviving several violent episodes and prison experiences, God began to get his attention.

“I admired the yakuza for what was visible only on the surface,” Tatsuya Shindo told CNN. “They have lots of money, spend their money lavishly, and play glamorously. The bad guys looked so cool in my eyes. I was a child. I didn’t think too deeply.”

Many of the estimated 50,000 yakuza fall into a life of crime because they come from broken families. The yakuza cultivate a sense of family, of belonging and of loyalty.

But if there were issues that seduced him to the mob life, the harsh realities began to pummel him.

“People were killed in power struggles,” he recounted. “People’s legs were shot. A guy who was doing drugs with me died of intoxication. Suicides happened. Sudden deaths. I’ve seen many deaths,” said Shindo, 45. “I saw my henchmen get stabbed to death.”

He got addicted to crystal meth. He crashed his boss’s car while driving under the influence. As a result, his pinkie finger was cut off with a chisel, which is a form of penance in the syndicate. For a first offense, the wrongdoer must cut off the tip of his left little finger and give the severed portion to his boss.

160222022016-japan-life-after-yakuza-ripley-pkg-00001721-exlarge-169Shindo’s body is covered by tattoos, which make him an outcast in Japan. Many yakuza have full-body tattoos, which are still “hand-poked”, with homemade tools using needles made of bamboo or steel. The painful process can take years to finish.

Crime members cover their tattoos in public, but when they play cards with each other they often remove their shirts to show off their creative designs.

Beginning at age 22, Shindo was arrested seven times and imprisoned three times, according to CNN.

He saw his mob boss killed and friends die of overdoses. After his third prison sentence, he began to question the “lavish life of the yakuza” he once imagined. He finally decided it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

During his final 10-year prison sentence, Shindo began reading a Bible in solitary confinement.Read the rest of the article written by a Chinese student at our Santa Monica school.

Vanity, Prince girl friend, tried to escape pain through fame, drugs and sex

vanity“Kill Vanity.”

Vanity lay agonizing in a hospital bed in 1994 with only three days left to live. With her kidneys shutting down after a crack cocaine overdose, Prince’s ex was at the end of her musical career and wild living when Jesus showed up in a vision and told her that if she “killed” her lingerie-donning stage persona and become a Christian, she would live.

“My blood pressure was 250 over 190. I lost both kidneys,” Vanity told Jet. “I had internal bleeding with blood clots on the brain. I was completely blind and deaf. I had a heart attack and a stroke.”

prince-vanity-rolling-stone-coverSo Vanity died, and Denise Matthews lived. Denise performed a radical 180 degree turnaround in her life going from church to church relentlessly to share her testimony. She pushed Jesus even harder than she had pushed the free sex image cultivated by the “Purple Rain” megastar. “When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ, I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine — interview, every tape, every video,” she said. “Everything.”

A year ago on Feb. 15, Denise went to her eternal reward after two decades of kingdom service.

Denise was born on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Her mother abandoned the household, and her dad was abusive. Because of the hurts in her childhood, she hurtled into a hedonistic lifestyle that offered only temporary relief from the internal pain.

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She immigrated to America to pursue a career in modeling and music in New York, where she hooked up with “Superfreak” funk legend Rick James, according to the Daily Beast. In 1980, she met Prince at the American Music Awards, and joined his entourage. Prince re-christened her as “Vanity” and set her up as the start in the sultry girl group Vanity 6 which burst on the music scene with “Nasty Girl.” Prince pushed her flaunt sexuality, she said.

“Prince created the whole Vanity 6 image. It bothered me at the time. I lied and said it was the image I wanted. I did it because he told me I had to do it,” she told Jet. “If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get paid. I got into it. I wanted the old Diana Ross image.”

But behind the headlong rush into sin there was a little girl still hurting from the abuse of a father and neglect of a mother.

“I always put on a show. I’m a mighty fine actress when it comes to that. I would wear a smile on the outside and come back and cry inside,” Denise said. “I would truly hate what I was doing but I was all caught up in it. It’s like someone caught up in a lie who wants to tell the truth. You put this big façade up and you don’t want to give anyone the idea that you’re weak. I finally let it go and gave it to God. I said, ‘I am nobody. I need somebody. Please help me.’”

Along with the promiscuity came drugs. Denise became highly addicted to smoking crack cocaine. When she parted ways with Prince and Vanity 6, she signed for Motown Records as a solo artist and released two underperforming albums Wild Animal and Skin on Skin. She tried to jump-start and acting career with roles in the movies “The Last Dragon,” “Never Too Young to Die,” “Action Jackson” and “52 Pick-Up.”

Then Denise met and got engaged in 1987 to Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, who was also addicted to drugs. The couple abused entire nights and enabled each other’s habit. Sixx overdosed and nearly died the year he got engaged. “I can’t believe I did freebase with Vanity all night,” Sixx wrote in his drug memoir The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. “I threw her out at about 8 a.m. She was getting crazy.”

Then in 1994, Denise had her own brush with death and met Jesus.

“It was drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, that whole sexual thing. Vanity was praying to die because she was lost and hurting inside. God said you have to go through darkness until you find His light,” she said. “Torture was going on in my life and led me to the Lord. For 33 years, I was walking dead. I masked myself in clothes, makeup, anything.”

The fame and the “fun” were all futile attempts to cope with the lack of love in her life. On the outside she exuded delight in the reckless abandon, but on the inside she suffered from the pangs of conscience for the evil she was committing.

“I was extremely wild. I found out that if you are not walking with God, the Devil will possess you. I prayed that God would take me because I was afraid of what would happen to my body,” Denise said. “Demons were coming into my bed and sleeping in my bed. Those things will happen if you’re carrying on like I did. I have a strong love for Jesus Christ. He delivered me from anguish, death and sin. I get excited by God. No man shall enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

So that is how Denise changed her deathbed to a birthing bed. Jesus appeared to her in a vision and offered her life if she would let “Vanity” die. Denise was so thorough with her transformation that she even refused the royalties coming from her entertainment career. She assumed her given name. Finish the article.

Hip Hop artist Andy Mineo won’t be pigeon-holed

andymineoAt 12, Syracuse native Andy Mineo accepted Jesus at a Bible camp and experienced a love in his heart for people he previously hated. But without male role models and a Christian support network, he drifted away from God in high school and joined a secular rap group known as Fat Camp.

In his freshman year at City College of New York, Mineo met Grammy-award-winning music producer Alex Medina in a music class. Medina introduced him to hip hop artists who were Christians, and the idea that he could combine his talent for lyrics with love for God excited him.

andy-mineoMineo renewed his relationship with Jesus, got involved with Intervarsity campus ministries, and gave up secular recording.

“I remember walking in one Saturday to the rehearsals they would have and seeing a whole bunch of people my age, urban, inner city, loved hip-hop, loved the arts, and loved Jesus,” Mineo said. “And I thought, ‘This is unreal!’”

Mineo released his first mixtape, Sin is Wack, in 2009. He drew a lot of attention when he sang hook vocals on “Background” for Lecrae’s Rehab album. In 2011, he signed for Christian label Reach Records and joined the Christian hip hop collective 116 Clique (as in Rom. 1:16), famous for being “unashamed of the Gospel.”

He released Heroes for Sale in 2013 and in 2015 Uncomfortable, which cracked Billboard’s top 10.

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“With a mix of thought-provoking lyrics combined with encouragement and a range of beats, Uncomfortable is an ambitious and bold entry into Christian rap and hip hop that convicts, inspires, and encourages,” noted Chris Major of The Christian Beat.

Aside from his musical creativity, the pull of Mineo’s music is his “reflective lyricism, that connects with his fans through shared struggles, self-discovery and raw emotion,” according to Narratively. His sincerity about his own struggles with temptation comes out clearly in his rap “Tug of War.”

“It’s essentially me just sharing my life, sharing my failures, my struggles, my successes, my joy that I have in God,” Mineo told BillyGraham.org. “I hope what I can do through the music I’m making now is point people to this hope that I found.”

Mineo doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a “Christian rapper” because he’ll lose appeal among the secular audiences he’s trying to win to Christ.

“Excellence is the best marketing tool, and I know my music is excellent,” Mineo said. “So if people listen to it and just objectively they can enjoy it and say, ‘Wow, I like this. This is good,’ then they’ll have the opportunity to soak in the content and say, ‘Oh, he has a different perspective.’” Finish the story, which was written by my student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Energy won out over technical ability

Santa-Monica-high-school-soccer.pngThe Saints wore down last year’s league champs with some pitbullish defending and electric running.

Newbury Park showed technical superiority and greater speed for the first 20 minutes but could not break the deadlock bolt on the Lighthouse Christian Academy defense for high school soccer. Sophomore goalie Justin Berry leaped like Superman to deny some power shots.

“We had no answer for your energy,” the opposing coach admitted. LCA came from behind to win 2-1.

One defensive lapse before the half resulted in the Gator goal, a powerful shot from just outside the box from an unmarked player. Aside from that momentary lowering of the guard, the Santa Monica Christian school worked hard to keep their opponents marked and ground down their superior rivals with sheer exercise of willpower.

Senior Jelove Mira muscled and challenged every defender and every ball to reduce Berry‘s workload.

The Saints had reason to be encouraged, down only one goal at the half. Coach Jack Mefford reminded his team that last year Newbury came from behind to win the game and urged players to get revenge.

It was the five-shot energy drink freshman Levi Photenhauer who latched onto a ball on the right side of the field in the box to cross it in front of the Gator goalie, tying the scoreline at 1-1.

Though undermanned with no substitutes, the Saints breathed a second wind and chased balls, hassled opponents, bodied and pushed the limits of permissive aggression to frustrate the Gators. Junior Erhan Meric wrecked havoc and created danger running tirelessly all over the field. Read the rest of Christian school Los Angeles story.

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How to recover from a breakup, Rachel Ashley explains

rachel-ashleyIt seemed like an ideal relationship to Rachel Ashley because her boyfriend attended church, but after 2-and-a-half rocky years, he dumped her. “He told me he didn’t love me anymore.”

The Filipina American Youtuber with 5.5 million views confesses she lashed out at God for the heart-rending breakup.

“It totally broke me and I ended up blaming God,” she said in a video. “I got really angry, and I started questioning Him, like, ‘Why would you bring someone into my life if you knew I would get so attached to him? Why would you let this hurt happen to me?’ I started pushing myself even farther away from God.”

She was in the 11th grade and processing the tumultuous shattering of her heart was no easy matter. But as she reflected about the experience, she realized the guy didn’t draw her closer to God, even though he professed Christianity. In fact, for some time going to church for her was only about going to see him.

She started hanging out with the wrong crowd and maintained a facade.

“I would just to go to church to be there, because my family was there,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily for me. It wasn’t helping me in anything. I didn’t want anything to do with it at that moment. I was just too stuck in my sorrows to even be myself.”

But after three months of moping, she received something of an epiphany.

“All of a sudden I got like this revelation,” she said. “Wait wait wait a minute. I think God did this for a reason. Maybe He knew that if my boyfriend and I stayed together down the road we would be in some kind of crazy situation. God just sent a peace over me.”

Then God gave inner promptings to her spirit: “The reason I took that guy out of your life is because… Read the rest of the article.

India: Grandmother beaten to death for son’s conversion to Christianity

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An Indian grandmother was stripped and killed in December in apparent retaliation for her son converting to Christianity.

Samari Kasabi, 55, was brutalized and burned in the village of Dokawaay in Chhattisgarh after an angry mob showed up looking for her adult son and his family.

Police detained the village chief but released him with no charge after two days, the UK’s Daily Express reported.

Attacks against Christians in the largely Hindu nation of India have been on the rise since 2013 as the nationalist Hindu party in power seems to turn a blind eye from such incidents, the Express said. A similar attack by religious extremists occurred against a Protestant church in Madhya Pradesh. Church-goers were pelted with stones after the service while police did nothing, eyewitnesses reported.

Fearing for their lives and safety, many Christians have turned their back on their faith to avoid persecution.

When rampaging villagers could not find Sukura, 35, and his family, they turned on the Christian grandmother. Sukura reported the murder of his mom to police, and apparently some arrests have been made, it was reported.

Workers from the Christian charity group Open Doors went on motorcycles over dirt roads to meet Sukura in the remote village, to pray with him and to encourage him.

“Since the day I came to faith no Christian leader from any place has visited us,” Sukura told them. “This is the first time someone has come and prayed for us. Thank you so

There are an estimated 63 million Christians in India, but 80 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion identify as Hindu. In the nationalistic furor stirring the nation, five states have outlawed converting to Christianity, and other states appear poised to follow suit. Read the rest of the disturbing article.

Just days before daddy-daughter dance, her dad died

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Ten-year-old Kirby Minnick’s divorced dad was coming to visit her in America in only four days – but he never made it. Kirby found out after school her dad succumbed to a heart attack in London.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to see him again. He’s never going to walk me down the aisle. He’s never going to be there for my wedding,’” Kirby said in a YouTube video. “I ran upstairs and locked the door. I remember feeling so much pain and agony. I remember asking God, ‘Why? How could You do this to me? You’re a monster, God. Why do You hate me? What did I do wrong? This isn’t fair.’ I hated God.”

The bitterness of his untimely passing was compounded by flyers at school just days afterward inviting all girls to attend the daddy-daughter dance. As she looked at the flyer on her school desk, she burst into tears. Her friends asked her what was wrong.

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“My dad just died four days ago,” she cried.

“Eventually, I became like, ‘Ok God, let’s just forget this happened, like whatever, and move on,’” she said. “I began building up walls. I was so mad at God. My depression came back. I was so hopeless. I wouldn’t let people into my life. Eventually I kind of shoved everything into a corner in my mind.”

She fixated on suicide every night. But during the school day in Dallas, Texas, she pretended everything was okay.

“Whenever I went to school I was like the happiest kid,” Kirby said. “I was pretending to be that way. It was a mask that everything was okay and nothing was wrong. I let no one know.”

She traipsed in and out of therapy, blocking entire months and years of her childhood. At first the counseling was to help her overcome her parent’s divorce. Then it was for her dad’s death.

In eighth grade, a classmate began bullying her with passive aggressive behavior, eliciting in her a flood of insecurities.

“I thought I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t smart enough, nobody loved me. I wanted to kill myself,” Kirby said. “I had this journal, and I would write in it every night, ‘I wish I could kill myself. I just want to die.’ Suicidal thoughts took over my life.”

But every time she resolved to carry out her plan, a voice in her head held her back: Just one more day, the voice intoned.

At a Christian summer camp before high school, she was going through the motions, singing the songs she sang every year at the camp. Her mom had heard about the camp and sent her hoping it would help.

“I was like singing, ‘Lord Jesus, blah blah blah,’” she said. Suddenly, God really showed up. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Somebody has to die

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I was shocked and pleased when Disney killed Hans Solo. I would’ve thought they lacked the guts to kill off such a beloved hero. But it made the plot 100 times more credible and compelling.

Now in Rogue One, Disney (spoiler alert) decimated all the good guys. They all had to sacrifice their lives to get the plans out of the Death Star to expose its structural weakness that could be exploited to destroy it. This is the backstory to the first Star Wars film.

landscape-1470743574-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-donnie-yen-600x400Such willingness to script stars out of the franchise reflects reality and distances Disney from its sanitized fable fodder (and everyone lived happily ever after). Without sacrifice, nothing of good is accomplished.

Jesus sacrificed Himself. I’m sure He really didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did — and thank God for it. I would never find salvation under the impossible Old Testament system of animal sacrifice for every sin. Yup, me, hell-bound.

rogue-one-crew-posterSo this sacrifice stuff is inspirational, if not tidy. It might your tyke cry. But it teaches a valuable lesson. When I went down to Guatemala, I endured innumerable dangers and hardships — all to get the gospel to a needy people. Today’s Christians are too self-focused, too self-serving, too self-pleasing. Oh, they’ll throw a prayer and an offering (out of their excess cash) at world missions. But most of the time, they’re looking to minimalize personal discomfort.

In Rogue One, a lot of the characters excused themselves from the battle. They wimped out. That’s why the heroes called themselves “rogues.” They went against the council’s command to retreat in fear.

There is snow in Los Angles (county mountains)!

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It was the blind-leading-the-blind as we drove up the Los Angeles mountains looking for snow. I guess I’m a Biblical pastor because I fulfilled Jesus’ warning against blind leaders.

Thankfully, we actually found more than just a few spots on the roadside. Cindy, our disciple from Guatemala, could see more than just a patch of white. She fell, got wet, got cold and got hit with snowballs. Snow does not exist in the subtropics of Guatemala.

img_4100Cindy had fun, and so did the Lighthouse Church from Van Nuys. We are only 6 months old as a church, and already a spirit of family is taking hold. I had proposed a boys-versus-girls snowball fight until I remembered Alex, our worship superstar, was also a superstar pitcher on mixed softball team. Then I suggested we “even out the teams” by putting Alex on the boys’ team.

That’s when my wife stepped in. She reminded me loudly in front of everybody that I was the pastor and should let others pick first. Man that burned so badly that I wasn’t cold anymore and even took my sweater off.

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“Lighthouse Van Nuys,” the scratched in the snow.

You could hear Brittany, screaming with glee, all down the slope — but that was not surprising. You can always hear Britt.

Dee made a snow angel. Four-year-old Kailee could not be torn from the snow. I suppose she will sleep well. We found a snowman that someone left, even with a carrot nose. Kailee and Dion decided to decimate the snowman. All I can says is that after they were done, Frosty was iced.

After coming down the mountain, we ate at In-N-Out hamburgers and fellowshipped.

 

Why New Year’s is a Christian holiday

new-years-christianThe Christmas-haters substitute “happy HOLIDAYS” for the Christ-bearing word. It doesn’t seem like they realize HOLY-days is still derived from Christianity and still points believers and non-believers ultimately to Jesus.

New Year’s is part of the HOLY-days. It is a time to make resolutions, to change, to emend wrongs and commit to rights. Change — and getting a new start through forgiveness — is the distilled essence of Christianity. Celebrate New Year’s discovering the “new you” that’s find only in Jesus.

Break free from the prison of your mind

img_3939Inside of every one of us, there’s a child who’s been wounded. He puts up a mask of confidence. Or he tries to deaden the pain through partying. Or he pursues money. But when he dies, the money stays behind.

And his souls moves on.

God made the human heart. He is the only one who can heal and fill the human heart. Christmas is about God’s gift to humanity. Jesus died to restore relationship between man and God. You can lay hold of that blessing if you will just break free.

Break free from doubt, from prejudices, from intellectualism that denies God. Break from influences, for bad advice, from pressure to conform.

Break out of a world that is only material. Break into a world that is also spiritual.

As C.S. Lewis said, we don’t have a soul, we are a soul.

God designed you to spend eternity in loving relationship with Him. Don’t reject Him.

The smiles are real now

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Behind the popularity, the beauty, and bubbly personality, Alison Henry harbored self-hatred and misery that led to broodings about suicide.

Today, the 23-year-old YouTube make-up artist with a following of 880,542 has found inner joy.

“I cannot even tell you how unhappy I was, and the bad thing was I couldn’t even tell you why,” Alison said in a recent video.

alison-henry-christianBorn in Atlanta, Alison was raised in a Christian family, lived in a beautiful house, and had the right pieces in place to become successful. But during high school, her torments began as insecurities rose in her heart. She locked herself in her bedroom for hours and spilled expletive-laden bitterness into a personal journal.

“In high school people would look at me and think I was normal, I was happy, there is nothing wrong with my life,” she said. “I put a smile on every single day. There was nothing wrong that people could look at me and tell that I was hurting. But I was hurting SO bad. I was messed up. I hated myself.”

She questioned her existence, felt like her life lacked direction and wondered if anybody cared.

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“I would really wish I was dead. I did really mean that. It was my little secret.”

Alarmed by their daughter’s downturn, her parents sent her to a professional counselor who prescribed anti-depressants. The medicine didn’t work, she said. “I’m unfixable,” she glowered.

Trying to anesthetize the hurt, Alison turned to boyfriends, weekend parties and alcohol and drugs.

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“It was a coping mechanism, but it never fixed things,” she said. “When you wake up, you’re as sad as ever.”

During her junior year, her best friend started attending a church youth group. That’s when the tug-of-war began: Alison would beg her friend to go to the parties, and her friend would beg her to go to youth group.

“For months I would say, ‘No, I don’t belong there. I’m not a church girl.’ I thought they were all like people who wore turtle necks and sang kumbaya around their guitar.”

alison-henryEventually, Alison caved in. Seeing hundreds of high schoolers lifting hands and singing to something invisible made her feel “weirded out.”

But “I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t stand the thought of me not understanding something,” she said.

However, she decided to go back. During her third visit to church, God met her.

“I knew in my heart that the pastor was talking about me,” Alison said. Read the rest.

I’m dreaming of an enchilada Christmas

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With apologies to traditionalists, but I so would swap enchiladas for turkey or ham for Christmas. Hot sauce for gravy and ponche for sparkling apple cider. No offense intended but those are my taste buds.

Christmas is about family first, food second, so I really don’t mind breaking the routine. We had family last night, our new church family, and it makes tears want to come to my eyes to think that I am so lucky to be surrounded by people who appreciate each other.

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Jesus changes lives and puts the lonely in family. The church should be a place of acceptance, not rejection. Christ’s coming, which we celebrate on Dec. 25, was because God wanted to accept us, so we need to accept others.

The growth in my church in Van Nuys continues to astound me. I wasn’t looking for growth or numbers. I was just looking for people to love. In return, I got a big group of happy people who love Jesus.

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Leslie and her sister, Stacey

And I got enchiladas.

After worship and word, after potluck, we exchanged gifts. I gave Leslie an 80s-style blouse, and I got my favorite coffee. Even though I grew up in the 80s, I had no idea what that meant. So I got my daughter, who grew up in 2000s (in Guatemala, mind you), got the blouse for her. I hope she likes it.

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Gleeful me, the Valley Boy Pastor.

If you’re not part of a local church family, you’re missing out. Even if you have the best turkey.

So much for organic growth

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The Valley Boy Pastor at Lake Balboa in Van Nuys.

Starting my second church was very different from my first church: I left thinking maybe, just maybe, God would help me. If not, I didn’t care. I was going to serve Him. I was going to NOT stress and NOT strive and NOT try to force the Hand of God. I was just going to enjoy His presence and let Him bring growth organically.

It has been anything but organic. Suddenly, disciples are popping up all over the place. It has been sudden. Today, members showed themselves to be true troopers, braving chilly breezes in the park to still attend, despite the risk of getting sick.

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We call ourselves The Church on the Lake, a knockoff of “Church on the Way.” We removed ourselves a distance from Balboa Lake because the wet breezes were chilly.

I’m awestruck by what God has done. We had a new record in attendance, and the weather pretty much gave everybody every reason to miss service.

By organic, I mean that the church would grow or not grow very much, naturally, easy, slowly. Instead, I got a whole start-up church of members from Day 1 because that church was closing. Then another family who has been praying for the San Fernando Valley for years came. Yesterday, we outreached at the Panorama City Mall, something they dreamed of doing with their church for years.

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Alex and Martha, our excellent worship crew.

So what did I do to deserve these multiply blessings? Nothing. I can agree with those who enumerate the long list of my faults.

I just believed and waited on God.

I don’t believe I’m terribly talented. I don’t have such a great charisma. I’m not one of those larger-than-life leaders who attracted followers by oodles with their superman abilities. I’m just a simple guy who got bored sitting around doing nothing in the Mother Church and ask for playing time to get on the field. My pastor sent me out in June. I adopted the nickname the #ValleyBoyPastor as a way to promote the church. And here I am, relishing life, enjoying God.

Continue reading

True joy at Christmas

9b248ee363e2c2a1c727272ec55a14e2As a tyke at the local Methodist church, I muffed my lines in the Christmas play. The question posed was: What’s better — giving or getting?

At the time, I really felt that “getting” was what Christmas was all about. I loved getting toys, not sweaters. But I messed up and piped up: “Giving.”

The adult in the play, under her breath, scolded me for getting it backwards and then continued with the play.

Since then I have matured and discovered that maybe my mistake was prophetic. I have discovered that the true joy of Christmas is being able to give.

The irony is that someone has go gleeful with the gift, so somebody has to enjoy getting. Kids make easy targets for this.

Santa was on to something after all. This is why Jesus, the ultimate Christmas gift came. The Father wanted to see His children squeal with joy upon receiving salvation.

To forgive is to taste God

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Forgiveness is a pain in the butt, from a human perspective. Actually, it is humanly unnatural. That’s how my buddy Matt found out the Bible wasn’t written by men, as atheists are wont to say. Because it reiterates the need to forgive your enemies.

But when you receive the forgiveness of God, they you can enter the earthly nirvana of forgiving others and discover the best revenge is to forgive, to release yourself from the inner torment of holding a grudge.

To forgive is a privilege that the sinner cannot enjoy. It is beauty that the sinner is incapable of feeling or perceiving. It is a better medicine than penicillin. It heals the heart. To forgive is to taste the flavor of God.

God so loved the world that He forgave us our sins.

Is there Christian anime?

vash-kenshin-and-spiritual-transformationAfter losing his house, his church and nearby family, Joseph Wentz fell into a prolonged depression and started watching anime, the Japanese cartoons for adults.

The Christians who surrounded him at college helped him pull out of the funk, and he brought his passion for anime with him.

“Anime inevitably touches on Christian themes from time to time,” said Wentz, executive editor of Beneath the Tangles website which sifts through anime searching for hints of the gospel. “There are plenty of extremely popular anime with Christian themes.”

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Joseph Wentz

Across the genre, anime doesn’t purport to teach a Biblical message, and there is plenty of violent and sexual content. But many of the cartoons, like a Shakespearean play, treat gripping themes dealing with the human psyche that echo the Bible. For the Christians at the Beneath the Tangles, and the similar web-based Christian Anime Alliance, anime is not a stumbling block but an inspiration.

“Christians can receive much from anime, spiritually, emotionally and culturally,” said Michael Morejon, of GamingAndGod.com. “Since I see the world with a biblical lens and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my life, even anime can have significance for me and other believers. When we watch, there will be many scenes, characters or plots that reflect something God can use for our good.”

haibane-renmeiHaibane Renmei, for example, suggests messianic themes when characters must rely on an external savior and acknowledge their own weaknesses in order to escape from the clutches of some grave sin. And Puella Magi Madoka Magica explores spiritual, moral and familial themes, Wentz said.

Christian attempts to present the gospel through anime flopped in the 1980s and 90s, Wentz said, because they oriented their cartoons for kids and because flimsy story lines favored more lessons over riveting art. They lacked the poignancy of  anime pathos and got panned as amatuerish, Wentz said.

“The Flying House, Superbook, and In the Beginning: The Bible Stories are hardly considered by modern fans at all,” Wentz said. “Fans can easily see that they are pushing a message more than they are trying to provide entertaining content.”

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Michael Morejon

ichaelIn similar effort, Christians produced the Manga Bible that got largely got ignored by the Japanese. “I live in Japan, and I’ve only seen it in two places — both were churches. I’ve never seen a Japanese person reading one,” Wentz said. “As evangelistic tools, I’ve never heard of them having success.”

Why hasn’t Christianity made greater inroads into anime? Simply put, the best anime is produced in Japan, a nation where 1% of the population is Christian, and none of the great producers are Christians. (In America, anime voice-over artist Vic Mignogna does respectable anime work and is vocal about his faith.)

Nor do the frequent use of crosses by anime characters, or the occasional Catholic priest, signify anything more than just the incorporating of of esoterica – much like the West dons the yin-yang and Eastern mysticism just to be cool and different, according to “Radical Dreamer” on the Christian Anime Alliance.

While anime dominates the young adult segment in Japan, in America it tends to draws “the ostracized, the lonely, people who have found meaning and community less through the in-person interactions that dominate most of society and more through friends online,” Wentz said. Read the rest of the article: Is there Christian anime?

He escaped the clutches of a witch and a pact with Satan

img_3430Enticed by the allurements of wealth, Daniel Urrutia, 26, was one minute away from making a pact with the devil.

It was close to midnight, four years ago, and a witch promised Daniel that Satan would show up and give him everything he desired.

“She was a witch. I felt it, not only through her words but also energy-wise,” Daniel said. “I felt like there was a lot of little pins pressing on my chest. It was hard to breathe.”

Overcome, Daniel broke down and fell to his knees just moments before the wicked conjuring materialized. “I knew you wouldn’t go through with it,” said the disgusted witch, slamming the door behind him. “Don’t ever come back.”

Today Daniel has been a rededicated Christian for six months. His testimony gives insight into the murky world of Satanism that few Americans are familiar with or dare even to think extends beyond scams and unbridled superstition.

Daniel stumbled into the lair thanks to a tenant at his uncle’s house in Mission Hills, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley. Jose paid a couple hundred bucks to sleep on the couch and often left a Book of the Dark Arts lying around for anyone to peruse.

Daniel, who was trying to befriend Jose, picked it up one day and returned it to its rightful owner. In a friendly way, he tried to warn Jose about the dangers of dabbling in Satanism. He even invited him to church that night.

But Daniel apparently got the church schedule confused because when they got there, it was locked. On the walk back, Jose said he had to use the bathroom. He asked a “random lady” on the street if she knew of a bathroom, and she invited them both in.

While Jose was in the bathroom, the lady asked casually, “So what is it that you want in life? Fame, fortune, power?”

“Money would be nice,” Daniel responded, casually. Read the rest of the Christian news article.

Normal/ not normal in LA

20161029_1947551I drove home with the makeup on. Didn’t draw the slightest stare. This is LA.

What is unusual in LA is that the get-up (devilishly handsome, if I may say so) was used for a church outreach called a zombie chase. If both your flag football-flags got pulled, you were out, escorted to the pen (i.e. Hell), where only the showing up of Jesus set you free.

I played the devil, stalking, looming, swirling my Draculesque cape with menacing panache. I guarded Hell. Two of my disciples were zombies and chased the kids who dared to play in the Lincoln Heights Recreation Center where Pastor John Jurenec holds church service. Behind the Halloween fun was a lesson.

At the end of the day, 50 kids said the sinner’s prayer.

Then I drove home and walked into the apartment complex I manage. The tenant who spotted me didn’t look twice. Such a costume and makeup is everyday normal in Los Angeles.

img_3230What’s not normal is outreaching for the gospel with it.

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Rest in Jesus

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Martha is the typical American. She’s busy doing. She doesn’t have time to sit and listen to idle chatter, even if it is Jesus who is speaking.

On the other hand, her sister Mary completely neglects the cooking to instead hear the pearls of wisdom that Jesus constantly spills from His lips.

This angers Martha. Overwhelmed with the double load of work, she resorts to Jesus. Surely, the all-knowing teacher would be kind enough to easy Mary out of her flagrant laziness and into the kitchen to help.

Jesus responds with words eternal that crept into the Canon: Martha, you are busy with many things. Mary has chosen the better portion, and it will not be taken away from her.

Don’t be too busy – even with ministry – that you exclude time just enjoying being with Jesus.

760 patients in one day at Guatemala clinic new record for LMM

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Lighthouse Medical Missions in Guatemala

Aided by an influx of local doctors, Lighthouse Medical Missions broke all previous records Wednesday seeing 760 patients in one day at its clinic in Coban, Guatemala.

“This is insane,” said LMM founder Dr Robert Hamilton.

Previous daily records hovered around 400 patients, said head nurse Alison Hagoski.

The new high is all the more astonishing considering that LMM’s founder is in Santa Monica nursing his shoulder after surgery. Dr. Bob rued the missed opportunity to help in the countryside city in the mountain jungles where the green-and-red-splashed national bird, the quetzal, hides.

In fact, the 19-member team includes only one doctor. There are four registered nurses, two vocational nurses, an ultrasound technician and an army medic. The rest are students interested in medicine, translators and enthusiastic volunteers.

Organizers expected low patient numbers.

The practice of contracting local doctors to assist with the load has a long tradition in LMM, which for 20 years has gone mostly to Africa. But the local doctors sometimes abandon the job at half day to attend their own practices. And they often don’t adjust to the streamlined system of using pre-filled prescription cards.

Something special and unusual happened this year as the local doctors flooded and melded well, despite the language barrier. Read the rest about the Guatemala medical mission.

A skateboard fall causes trouble for medical mission in Guatemala

medical-missions-guatemalaWhen his doctor prohibited Robert Hamilton from going to Guatemala, Lighthouse Medical Mission workers were perplexed: Could the clinic function without its founder?

Something of a crisis developed when Dr. Bob – a Santa Monica pediatrician who has led teams all around the world for more than 20 years – fell off a skateboard and injured his shoulder.  His surgeon wouldn’t let him brave the 5-hour curvy mountain road trip by bus to Coban.

At Day 2 of the clinic, how have his supporters survived without Papa?

“He is very missed,” said Alison Hagoski, RN, who whips through triage, the crowded line and the doctor’s curtain-divided “offices” keeping things whirring.

“We are just barely able to run the clinic without him,” she said. “Only because God is big have we done okay.”

On Tuesday, doctors doubled the previous day’s output, seeing more than 400 patients for medical, dental and reading glasses visits. The day’s statistics calmed worries that  LMM would fall short of its normal 1,500 – 2,000 patients.

Lighthouse Medical Missions is known for its twice-yearly trips to Africa. But recently Guatemala has become a target once a year because its cheaper and can attract young volunteers. Dr. Bob aims not only to touch people abroad but also to encourage Americant high schoolers to pursue a career in medicine. Two students from the Lighthouse Christian Academy and one from Pali High are on this trip.

Starbucks may feature Guatemalan java from the tourist mecca of Antigua, Guatemala. But coffee conniseurs know that the better brew comes from Coban, a rain-drenched city of 250,000 nestled in the lush green mountains north of Guatemala City.

It was here that Dr. Bob, an avid traveler, desired to aid the rural poor. Continue reading.

Having fun teaching

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I’m posing with my colleague Kathy Payton.

Why not enjoy teaching? Once a year, the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica holds Spirit Week, every day a new costume theme. Actually, I have all the creativity of a spore, so I usually opt out and wear my normal clothes.

I enjoy bringing motivated kids to the aha! moment. I teach English (literature, syntax and writing) and Spanish. I’m a believer in making things accessible, of focusing on the simplest understanding first and then taking complications that broaden understanding.

Literature is not just art. It is also psychology and helps students empathize with their fellow human, as well as learn not to make the mistakes of engaging protagonists.

Down with the grammarians! They have made it too difficult for too long! We need simple explanations for students. Students can learn syntax!

When it comes to writing, I believe thinking comes first, structure second. I challenge students to take controversial opinions and defend it with passion. You get a low grade with me in you’re Captain Obvious.

Well, then Spanish. I love to explain the why-the-heck of all idiosyncrasies of morphology and grammar. Languages are fascinating, funny and bizarre.

And we do all this in a Christian environment. What could be more fun?

 

Because people are precious

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I liked jewels. Their glint and luster always caught my eye.

At an invitation to a meal, Jesus gets his feet washed by a woman of ill repute. The inviting Pharisee scowls: If Jesus were a man of God, he would know what sort of woman this was touching him. The Pharisee saw a sinner, Jesus, a future saint.

We Christians need to have the eyes of Jesus, not condemning, but believing in “sinners.” Sometimes, the worst of sinners have become the best Christians. Take Paul for example. He started killing Christians and ending the most fervent evangelist of the gospel. It is our Christian duty to see the future of people more than their present, whether they be drunks, gang-bangers, Muslims or whatever. At least, let’s step down from the soap box of being shrill with all the “worldly people.”

So I bought quite a bunch of jewelry for my wife (before I was a missionary). Sixteen missionary years later and two bank consolidations later, the bank box of jewels is gone, unaccounted for, lost. Why did this happen?

Maybe part of the reason is God wants me to focus on the treasures of people instead of material treasures.

All the jewels in Guatemala — the people who got saved — are still serving Jesus! And now we are seeing new jewels in the church plant at the San Fernando Valley. They are people who are hurt. They are damaged goods. The devil has destroyed their lives. But Jesus sees them as treasure, and so must I.

People are precious.

3 jobs, 2 happy, 1 tired guy

img_2306Finally, I’m pastoring again. The doors opened — after six years off — through an apartment managing job in Van Nuys. As a gimmick, I called myself the #ValleyBoyPastor, and God brought souls in immediately (cosa rara). So I’m happy.

I’m still teaching at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. That’s always a thrill because I’m constantly either bringing people to Christ or reinforcing the faith of youth at a critical juncture in their lives. I appreciate everybody’s prayers and attribute to y’all the blessings God has poured out starting in June. I definitely need to pace myself to not run ragged. I just need to remember that God is in charge and He never expects me to do more than what is possible. After all, it was God who prioritized rest right into the Ten Commandments.

The lie of love

img_2246The biggest lie of love and marriage is that it doesn’t take work, it just blossoms, flowers and grows naturally without any effort. Such is true love.

If you have any issues to work out, if there are disappointments and misunderstandings, if someone suggests marriage counseling, then obviously you didn’t find your true #SoulMate and so you should call it quits (never mind the damage to children) and continue the quest for #TrueLove.

Rubbish.

Love takes work. Work at communication, work at hatcheting down your expectations, work at sacrifice. The myth of love is the fulfillment of selfishness. But the reality is that love must be selfless. Just like Jesus did.

For these reasons, the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica, my church, holds marriage retreats twice yearly. We stay in a #PismoBeach hotel, saunter around quaint town, eat piping hot fried fish and listen to a few inspiring sermons of some brutally honest people who tells us the nuts and bolts of a successful marriage.

img_2255Dude, people get it when it comes to car maintenance. People get it when it comes to continuing education or career advancement. People get that investing time and money is necessary to keep things running smoothly. But when it comes to marriage, people don’t get it. Their false premise is the lie of the romantic music: if it’s true love, it shouldn’t take any work.

A man shared with one of the couples. He lasted eight years in marriage. “I just wasn’t willing to put in the work.”

Our church is very fortunate. I’m at 26 years, and mine is one of the newer marriages. In the new church Dianna and I are founding in Van Nuys, CA, there aren’t any married couples. But we want to lay a foundation for singles to know and understand how to succeed in marriage.

A hero will rise: the travails of sustaining sports programs at a small Christian school

fullsizerender12LCA’s volleyball program — which effectively died with the graduation of its last club player — is setting for a comeback with an energetic new coach.

When Kate Sommer graduated in 2012, she went on to smash records at Washington State University in Div. 1 volleyball. She took with her a winning run into semifinals that ended the Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s volleyball dynasty (they were CIF Southern Section champions in 2004-’05). She was the last club player to study at Lighthouse, a Los Angeles-area Christian school.

fullsizerender11Eventually, LCA dropped out of the league as its vaunted volleyball program disappeared off the face of the planet, though not out of the minds of school leaders who shook their heads with dismay. Would the program ever resurrect?

“Without club players, it’s impossible to achieve that competitive edge,” said Pam Sommer, LCA athletics.

Delores Hively knows none of this history — which is probably a good thing. She brings undampened enthusiasm, love for the girls and passion for the sport. The aunt of a new student, Delores offered to be assistant coach. LCA, a small school without the resources to pay, was without a coach and promptly promoted her to head coach.

Twelve girls signed up for the P.E. volleyball class and have been practicing at Cloverfield Park in the sand court. As they improved and got the hang of the sport, they hankered for a competitive game, so Delores set some up. Maybe they got more than they bargained for.

Valley Christian High School of Cerritos dispensed the gawky, mostly freshman team on Sept 22 with stinging scrimmage losses 25-3 and 25-5. The Saints were at a loss from the beginning: they hadn’t trained on hardwood floors and had never worn volleyball court gear. Also, they had no club players, the rallying force behind any competitive team. Read the rest of the article of this Los Angeles-area Christian school and its travails to sustain sports programs.

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Even though they lose, they are the golden generation

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This was the class that reduced teachers to tears.

But something happened in the intervening years to our current crop of freshmen. The former devil-may-care rascals stopped creating classroom chaos, stopped ditching homework assignments and stopped terrorizing teachers. They started speaking respectfully to adults, started improving their academics and started serving at church.

Never mind their latest defeat against Crossroads Christian of Corona 6-58 on Friday. As freshmen, they’re developing into a fearsome strike force of future Lighthouse football.

What brought about the transformation?

img_0329In a word: Zach Scribner.

Zach Scribner is not only football coach. He’s  also youth pastor and the Lighthouse Church School janitor. By some means, Zach inspired the bad boys of current 9th grade to shape up. If they didn’t behave with their moms at home, he would punish them by NOT letting them clean the church and school at 6:00 a.m.

“Zach and Justin (Kayne, co-coach) have really turned me and Garrett (Lahood) and some of other players around,” Levi said. “He’s helped us realize it’s cool to be good. They lead by example. When we were younger, they were the cool guys that we looked up. Seeing them set a good example made us want to follow.”

So just forget that Lighthouse Christian Academy continues to hemorrhage on defense. (“We got find a way to make stops,” moaned Coach Justin Kayne. “We gotta find a way to stop the big play on 3rd and 4th down. Otherwise, it’s just a blowout.”)

This Los Angeles crew of Christian school players will get to winning. It just may not be this year.

In fact, they already won –  when they got character squared away. Read more about the triumphs and losses of our football team.

The tiniest guy on the football field just became the target (Yes, that’s my son)

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He’s been called Mighty Mouse, a bulldog, a pinball and a Rubik’s Cube (he’s about as tall as he’s wide). Teachers and students have mistaken him for a sixth grader.

Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s freshman center, Hosea Ashcraft, became its predominant running back Friday against Cornerstone Christian of Wildomar. He had 20 carries for about 70 yards and one touchdown in the 12-58 loss to the Crusaders.

LCA’s fearsome football program has been reduced to this: its core is four freshman, its quarterback is a scrawny sophomore, its lone senior is an artist who really doesn’t want to play but goes to games just to help the guys field an 8-man football team with nine players.

Successive lean enrollments in recent years have shrunk the quarry from which they cut their tough stuff. So they resorted to the 5’1″ pre-pubescent fresh meat, Hosea.

img_1958“Defensively, we were terrible,” said Coach Zach Scribner. “We’re not doing what we told the kids to do in terms of making their reads. Everybody’s looking around trying to figure out where the ball is instead of making the read and reacting off the read.”

Indeed, the Crusaders overran LCA’s defense like Fort Apache. By the second quarter, they had racked up 38 points. They may have even stepped off the gas pedal in anticipation of an easy shutout when the Santa Monica Saints surprised them.

LCA players made some key blocks — something coaches are working intensely to improve with the team of football neophytes. The Saints drove upfield, and Hosea crashed through to the end zone to give the electrons on the visitor’s side of the scoreboard some work.

“Hosea keeps his feet running. He has a low center of balance,” observed Lighthouse Pastor Josh Scribner, himself an accomplished football player. Read the rest of the article about Santa Monica Christian school football.

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25 years later, I’m still teaching at Lighthouse

lighthouse-christian-schools-then-and-nowI oppose being promoted, even though kids I taught are now colleagues.

Actually, I was principal and owner of a school in Guatemala. But I kept getting out of office work and into the classroom. That’s where the real action is. That’s where people are. That’s where souls are won to Christ. You can have the administration, if you want.

Kids still need love. Where in other schools there’s bullying, we offer a safe place of vibrant acceptance. Where in other schools there’s ONLY college prep, we offer also Heaven prep. Where in other schools there’s ONLY keys to college entrance exams, we offer keys to interpersonal skills and successful marriages and families. We are a family. Where in other schools, a teacher works for his salary, we work for little or no salary. We have a much higher motivation.

It is my lifelong joy to see kids turn from sin to God, choose the path of success, flout the headlong rush of the world towards false happiness and select the enduring joy and peace of wisdom in Jesus.

And when these kids see you 25 years later, they thank you because you helped them at a critical juncture in life, the life-deciding moments of the teenage years. This, I feel, is more gratifying than a fat paycheck.

I’m going to go even further — at risk of dipping into narcissism. When you see kids 20 years later, you see a little bit of you in them. Because you helped their formation. And hopefully that little bit of you is a good thing.

And then you know that you didn’t make a lot of money. You didn’t buy a house. You weren’t the most beautiful or famous or adored.

You made a difference in this world. And so you can continue making a difference until you get your reward in Heaven.

And that is the reason why, after 25 years, I’m still teaching in a small Christian school in Santa Monica that is making a difference one life at a time.

Picture: left 1992, grades 7-11; right Sept. 14, 2016, just the sophomore class, my world lit students.

The Santa Monica LCA had a ‘sick’ football game

img_0154After throwing up all week, Justin Berry was expected to throw down.

He decked his pads, suited up and caught one of LCA’s two touchdown passes Saturday.

“There was no way I was not going to play,” the sophomore said. The tall basketball player used those basketball hands to grab over the head of a corner back and scampered into the End Zone.

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Feeling under the weather, Justin Berry still played.

Blame 95 degree heat. The Lighthouse Christian Academy looked bewildered and disjointed as they fell 14-75 to Bloomington Christian School, whose team numbers as much as half of LCA’s entire student population.

“We weren’t ready for the heat,” said Coach Zach Scribner. “That caused tons of mental mistakes. We’re going to do lots of conditioning, lots of blocking and lots of tackling this coming week.”

img_0159Saturday’s game featured the debut of rugby player, senior Daniel Jones, who offers some bullishness to our mostly freshman team. Daniel was a forced to be reckoned with and made some tackles and runs, but lack of experience also saw him block on the back to annul Levi Photenhauer‘s touchdown.

Other than his TD and some nifty catches, Justin was laggy due to his sickness.

“I played sick — in both senses of the word,” he quipped. Read the rest of the Christian school football Santa Monica article.

Coffee is critical

img_1773One urgent matter I brought up twice during our pre-semester meetings at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica was: Will there be coffee this year?

Last year, I lived next to the school and could easily go over to my home for another cup. Not this year. Now I live in Van Nuys, where I’m pioneering a church under the moniker Valley Boy Pastor.

The boss doesn’t drink coffee. Other teachers bring expensive cups of coffee.

Twice the boss tried to dodge my pressing issue with dismissive remarks: The pot used to be around here somewhere. The message: Don’t interrupt important proceedings discussing lofty plans with such banalities.

But no. This was urgent. This was that tasty and needed pick-me-up. I don’t want to become the grumpy, draggy, ugly version of myself when I’m coffee-deprived. The kids deserve my best.

Don’t get me wrong. All the strategic plans, policies and regulations are critical.

I’m just saying coffee is critical.

We are transforming the world

IMG_1647Small can have a BIG impact.

We are a Santa Monica Christian school of 50, laughable for the world.

But all you need is one person to strike fire. One person can start a worldwide revolution (Karl Marx). One person can set a world record and draw the attention of the planet (Usain Bolt). One person can inspire thousands to serve God (John Wesley).

To all my colleagues around the nation, fellow Christian educators: Don’t just do your job. Do it with vision. Don’t let the ridicule of the world affect your heart. What you’re doing is incredibly important.

We started classes yesterday at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. We are conquering the world.

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The expansion of the Gospel in the San Fernando Valley

San Fernando Valley map

A map of services and studies of the Lighthouse Church. The line shows how we have advanced in the central region.

We own the central region of the Valley. We have Bible studies and services running up its spinal cord. Now to expand laterally.

I don’t think Christianity was supposed to be an armchair faith. It was meant to be active. We need to get out and project light, not just meet and talk about doing it.

In an extraordinarily short period of time, God multiplied a simple Bible study in my home to three nexus points of evangelism: church services in Anthony Beilenson Park at Lake Balboa, a Bible study at Las Palmas Park of the City of San Fernando and my Van Nuys Bible study in my apartment.

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Our intensive Bible study last night took place in Las Palmas Park of the City of San Fernando

I am surprised by this. I have known both growth and vast expanses of “stagnation” in ministry in my 16 years in Guatemala. Explosive growth is unusual, beautiful, special. It cannot be manufactured, planned for, conjured up. It comes sovereignly from God.

The only thing you can do when God moves is try to not screw it up. Excuse the expression. But what I mean is that if you let it go to your head, or if you get distracted, then you lose the wave or revival. The best thing to do is to keep your head down and try to ride the wave as far and long as you can.

And give the glory to God.

The Valley Boy Pastor is quite astonished at what God is doing.

Conquering fears

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The mountain goat feels perfectly at home on the precipice. He knows not fear. The heights are his friend, his defense against predators. There’s no need to fear heights.

Abandon the lowlands, and dare to scale the heights. Don’t fear the plan and destiny God has for you. Leave behind your “security.” Since predators prowl there, it’s not so secure after all. Your securest future is in God’s plan for you, so don’t “play it safe.”

Recently, my family and I stepped out of the boat and accepted the challenge to plant a new church in Van Nuys. We purposely left the “safe harbor” of our parent church, where the worship is quality and workers abound so much that I didn’t really have to do anything.

Learn to tell your fears that they are lies. Phobias are very real, but not everybody has the same ones, which shows them to be irrational and, consequently, conquerable. Take it from the Valley Boy Pastor: Embrace the future God has for you.

I’ll be your Lyft driver

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Rebekah, at left.

Rebekah grew up and moved out. Despite the fact that I was well aware that this was coming, I’m still a bit surprised and saddened.

I was too busy too much of the time. And we didn’t have money for me to take her out. We were missionaries surviving on half a shoe-string budget.

When we moved recently to Van Nuys to start a new church, Rebekah said she wasn’t going with us. She got a roommate and stayed in Santa Monica. The Valley Boy Pastor had one less arrow in his quiver (allusion to the Bible).

I worked with a heavy dose of not-spoiling-your-kids theory. Because I wouldn’t give her a ride where she wanted to go, she walked alone at night.

Then all of sudden, I worried for her well-being. She scoffed at me. But I kept trying to drive her wherever she wanted to go and pick her up whenever she wanted. She was 18 and could do pretty much whatever she wanted.

The years have gone, and I’m left to rue missed opportunities.

Hey, Rebekah, if you need a ride, I’ll be your Lyft driver.

Class clown no more. Today Juan Guillermo is a famous poet.

juan guillermo leraEditor´s Note: Juan Guillermo was a class clown. This article, which traces his less-than-stellar start at my school in Guatemala, the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta, to international poet. In truth, you shouldn’t underestimate your impact. To my many English-only readers, sorry that this one goes out in its original publishing language.

Hoy Juan Guillermo Lera, como poeta, es conocido internacionalmente, puesto que tuvo la oportunidad de viajar recientemente a México y leer, en diferentes escenarios, parte de su trabajo escrito.

¿Quién hubiera esperado que llegara tan lejos aquel chico que cursó quinto y sexto primaria del colegio cristiano el Liceo Bilingüe “La Puerta”?

“El Liceo, debo decir, me brindó, hasta ese momento, un aprendizaje bastante sólido del idioma español, cual no recibí en la escuela en mis años anteriores de primaria” – dijo. – “Ya había leído algunas obras en casa, sí, pero nunca en la escuela, nunca en grupo, nunca con la instrucción y el dinamismo de un profesor. Esto me marcó mucho.” – enfatizó con un dejo de entusiasmo.

Leyó Romeo y Julieta y Los de abajo (aquella novela de la revolución mexicana), entre otras obras literarias, dentro de las aulas  del Liceo.

Ahora el joven de 23 años de edad  es invitado para impartir talleres de lectura y redacción en el Instituto Tecnológico de la delegación Gustavo Madero de la Ciudad de México. No está de más mencionar que el centro ITGAM II es una de las sedes del famoso, y muy importante  centro de estudios técnicos universitarios el Instituto Tecnológico Nacional.

Con el apoyo de otros estudiantes y poetas jóvenes,  Guillermo también tomó parte activa en  talleres de poesía  en la prestigiosa Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Read the rest of the story..

Losing is winning in marriage

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Give in to your spouse a thousand times. That’s they way you win — by losing.

Marriage rewards an overflow of joy to those who manage to figure out its elusive secrets. The road to happiness is selflessness. It’s ironic: you get what you want (not everything) by giving up what you want.

Of course, newlyweds have all kinds of expectations. Maturity comes when we let go of those expectations. No one is good enough. If you divorce this one because of problems, the next will have a different set of problems. And maybe you would be courageous enough to recognize the principal problem is you.

And me.

I’m the principal problem in my marriage. If I work on changing me, on being more loving for my wife, she’ll be happier. And when she gets happier, she just automatically works on making me happier.

The picture is of Jenny and Josh, graduates and former students of mine from the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. There are all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t get married (money, youth, etc.) But I applaud their go-for-it attitude. If you are determined to make it work, it probably will.

 

When you can’t resist temptation

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I couldn’t resist Anita’s chocolate chip cookies.

I’m trying to build a muscular body. I’m going to the gym. I limit my sweets intake. But when it comes to Anita Guerechet’s cooking, all will power succumbs to taste bud power.

The human condition is weakness. Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Nobody is perfect, and if you lay claim to perfection, you’re in the camp of the Pharisees. The Bible says we are all sinners.

We all need forgiveness. This is the heart of the Gospel. We are saved NOT by what we do but by what Christ did on the cross to forgive us.

Now, it’s true that we have the obligation to strive to live for God as best we can, out of gratitude. But we don’t earn salvation by good works.

And don’t be calling me a hypocrite. I’m human, as are you.

So why resist temptation? For the greater joy of being in right relationship with Him. And when you fall (to cookies, or whatever), get back up and on the right path again.

Just because I broke down and ate three cookies doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself go and become obese. Get up, dust yourself off, make some good decisions. Maybe it’s not a good idea to have a constant supply of Anita’s cookies within reach, for example. (Fortunately for me, those cookies showed up at church for a sendoff service, and those types of services are very infrequent.)

Was the cookie worth it? Yes.

Is a healthy body worth it? Yes.

Is it worth it to strive to resist temptation? Yes.

Is it better to walk in right relationship with the Lord? Yes.

Do we have forgiveness for when we slip up? Yes.

Honestly, I can’t figure out why anyone in the world wouldn’t be a Christian.

Ripped and flipped

IMG_1318When I (somewhat facetiously) said I wanted to get ripped at the gym, Sister —- flipped. Four times she asked me if I was serious.

Yes, there is some vanity in my muscle building. But there is also good.

I go to the gym for about the same reasons I go to church: I am imperfect and I want to get better. I want to live healthy and have joy. I am willing to invest in the future.

My comments didn’t seem so unreasonable to me. If my dear Christian sister reacted wildly, many of my gym friends would do the same: You go to church, why???

It seems perfectly coherent to me. While my gym buddies are into their bodies (and not their souls), a lot of Christian brethren are into their souls (and not their bodies). Sadly among Christians, many equate fellowship with food. While they are spiritual rigorous, they are flabby and undisciplined with taking care of the temple of the Holy Spirit. And my gym buddies are foolish to worry only about their bods, which are temporal.

The coffee was GOOD!

good coffee

Not one but two of my kids now work at Starbucks, which is either my favorite or second favorite thing (with burritos) (excluding God and marriage, of course). When Rebekah makes me a coffee, she puts in extra shots of expresso. And that makes me say: PRAISE the LORD!

I personally don’t ascribe to the sad theological opinion that there’s no food or drink in Heaven. If you don’t want to eat or drink there, I’m sure God will make provision for you to do some eternal fasting. But the Biblical reasons are deductions, not outright statements, and the problem with deductions is that we can arrive at our conclusions by defective argumentation. Since I think Heaven is wonderful and food is wonderful, I see the two things merging in ways we cannot imagine.

Down the drain

IMG_0808As apartment manager, I have the duty of cleaning out apartments when tenants leave. This is not as bad as it may sound because sometimes you get some cool stuff. For example, I got a great set of kitchen knives and some tools.

But the liquor went down the drain. So did the funny green leaves.

Sorry, I’m a teetotaler. Even if I did like alcohol, I wouldn’t drink it. It’s a matter of not being a stumbling block to a weak brother. What if someone in my church is a recovering alcoholic and sees me, the Valley Boy Pastor, sipping a glass? If he falls on account of me, I’m hurting him. I’m not walking in love.

Luckily, I have no desire to try liquor. My dad didn’t drink. I never went to parties when I was younger. I believe I get joy from God, not chemicals.

For all I know, that was a lot of money I poured out. But to me, it is of no monetary value. Maybe the devil valued it as a snare to pull people into sin.

Prayer works

prayer

This is my list of people to pray to return to Jesus.Obviously,  I blurred it. But you can see that names crossed out. Those are the ones who have come back to Christ already. Those are answered prayers.

I encourage you to use lists in prayer so that you can see progress. You can see its effectiveness. This will encouraged you to keep praying and to pray more.

Our school takes kids to Africa, this is Ruby’s experience on the medical mission

IMG_0968By Ruby Swanson, LCA sophomore

While other students were vacationing and relaxing over Spring Break, I was working — in Africa on a medical mission. I consider myself blessed to participate.

As a sophomore at the Lighthouse Christian Academy, I jumped at the chance to join the associated Lighthouse Medical Missions in Tanzania on March 25 to April 3. My dad did his best to repress all the usual parental fears of malaria, terrorism and the like to let me go. From the Christian school in Santa Monica, I traveled 36 hours to Africa.

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We stayed in the the Ryan’s Bay Hotel overlooking the glorious Lake Victoria. Every day we held clinic in which doctors and nurses attended to hundreds of patients. Each night, we attended church services.

On the first day of clinic, I assisted Doctor Bob Hamilton, founder of the Lighthouse Medical Mission, at the pediatric station. So many sick children came in it was heartbreaking. It was also really inspiring because even though they were sick because they were giggling, playful, happy kids.

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The second day I worked with Katelyn Myer in the pharmacy. She had all the supplies super organized and was on top of everything. However, the serious medicine hadn’t arrived because terror threats in Brussels tied up the meds shipping out from there. All we had was Advil and stuff like that.

It was really hard to have to tell someone who had walked miles and waited hours that we didn’t have the medicine they needed so desperately. The meds came later in the week, so people who had been given prescriptions came back to fill them.

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The people lined up for free medical attention in Mwanza, Tanzania.

I spent the next few days assisting at the nurse station and those were my favorite days of clinic. My main job was to hold down kids who were getting shots, getting blood tests or getting abscesses drained. It was really cool seeing all of the nurses at work and inspired me to maybe pursue a career in that field.

When the nurses didn’t have anything for me to do, they gave me some free time to play with some of the kids visiting the clinic. One time I brought out the bubble machine and I was immediately surrounded by a bunch of laughing, jumping, awestruck children. It didn’t occur to me until later that they had never seen bubbles before.

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The last day I assisted Doctor and Mrs. Czer at their station treating people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, anemia and etc. Everyday at clinic was rewarding, even though you were hot and tired by the end it was all worth it to have been able to care for these people.

The last day was cut short so that team members could do their own thing before attending a dinner at the pastor’s house. Liz Peterson, fellow LCA student Sasha Photenhauer and I went on a hike with the guys while all of the other girls went shopping.

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I’m glad I chose the hike because I got to experience Africa’s beautiful scenery and even take a selfie with a Zebra! Each moment of the trip was spectacular; but the ones spent at the clinic are by far the most special to me.

By going to Africa I realized just how incredibly blessed I am to live here in America. I realized just how little material things really mean and how much I take for granted. Africa taught me to appreciate everything I have and to think less selfishly.

I experienced God in ways I never had before and I am so happy that He sent me on this trip. I encourage everyone to go on a medical mission if they are given the chance to because it something that completely changes the way you view the world, others and yourself.

Not only that, but you are able to serve God by serving people, and the Bible says that people are treasure. I can honestly say that going on this trip changed my life for the better.

This article, written by one of my students, originally appeared here.

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