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He fled North Korea and found Jesus in China

060515josephkim04awStarving North Korean teenager escaped, found Jesus in China

After his father died his mother abandoned him to go to China in search of food. So Joseph Kim, at 12 years old, became homeless, left to fend for himself in the throes of the great famine of North Korea, which started four years after the USSR collapsed and withdrew its financial support for the communist state.

With no one to turn to, Kim joined other streets urchins begging in the marketplace: “May I have your last spoonful of soup?” he asked with a plaintive cry.

kkotjebi

A kkotjebi in North Korea (not Joseph Kim)

But his stomach was never filled from the handouts of a few gracious diners in his native town.

“They called us kkotjebi, ‘wandering sparrows,’ because of the way we would bend over and look for grains of rice or kernels of corn on the ground,” he said.

Next he resorted to stealing. He wouldn’t pilfer manhole covers because if he got caught he would face execution (since the manhole covers belong to the state and any crime against the state was severely punished). He fell in with a band of thieves who believed they were re-distributing wealth. His comrades eventually were arrested, but mercifully, he was absent when the police raided.

“The famine had thinned out the village, as many of our friends lost grandmothers, aunts, sons and cousins,” Kim wrote in his 2015 book Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America. “The graves climbed up the mountainside as if it were infected with a virus.”

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The border between North Korea and China

The young Kim tried the exhausting and dangerous work of coal mining. With no safety equipment and hand-powered ventilation, Kim eked out an existence for three months. But mining only lasted until you died, and with no safety standards, death was usually inevitable.

His relatives entertained him for a time, but some of them were desperately struggling themselves, and another mouth to feed at the table was the last thing they wanted. A few relatives were simply greedy and lazy.

Without an immediate family, “either you lived with rich relatives or you stole – or you died,” Kim observes grimly. “Really, those were your only options.”

north korea revere leader

When he was guarding his uncle’s vegetable crops (from thieves like himself), he met an ex-convict who imparted a wonderful secret: If he managed to elude authorities and defect to China, the Christian churches there would give him money.

What was a Christian church? Kim wondered. Raised in the closed and atheistic totalitarian regime, he had been taught to revere the country’s leader and distrust outsiders – especially Americans and Japanese, who had no greater pleasure than to drive bayonets through North Koreans.

“Why do Christians give money to strangers?” Kim asked the ex-convict.

reddit joseph kim“It’s just what Christians do,” he replied. “They give things away. They’re not like normal people.”

One day, almost on a whim, with no previous planning or preparation, he decided to cross the frozen Tumen River bordering China on foot in plain daylight. His audacity contributed to his success. No one ever dared defect during the day. At night, those who got caught were either shot or tortured in prison.

When North Korean soldiers finally caught sight of him on the far side of the river, their shouts were more of astonishment than outrage. Not a shot was fired. He was only 14-years-old.

Once in China, Kim decided he would try to find his long-lost sister, Bong Sook, who had been sold off by their mother – either to be wedded or to sex exploitation, he didn’t know which. But before he could find her, he had to avoid capture by Chinese soldiers who would send him back to North Korea, where he would be imprisoned.

When he knocked on doors in the countryside asking for food, some Chinese were gruff and told him to go away. He had heard about the limitless riches of China and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t share. A few gave him food. He slept in an abandoned house or under the stars.

Eventually, Kim made his way to the city of Yanji, where he looked for churches. He asked for money, and some of them gave. One kindly pastor’s wife took him in, even though, he learned later, she didn’t have money to fix her husband’s teeth at the dentist.

After a few weeks, someone in the church hired Kim for household help. He called the elderly Christian lady “Grandma,” and she taught him many things about the Bible.

Except for the longing to find his sister and see his mother (who was in prison in North Korea for defecting to China), he was happy. He was eating his fill, dressing his version of cool and reading the Bible, which he slowly began to understand.

Once when he sang a hymn with Grandma, he was deeply moved by the lyrics: “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee, No other help I know; If Thou withdraw Thyself from me, Ah! Whither shall I go?”

The Holy Spirit touched his heart and imparted saving faith. “I felt something pierce my heart,” Kim recalls. “I understood this. This was my life. That night alone in my room, I began to cry.

He attempted to talk to God for the first time. “I don’t know who you are,” he said. “I don’t understand the Scripture. But I’m surrendering myself to you.”

At that pivotal moment of submission to Jesus as his Lord and Savior, Kim was born again.

Not long afterward, a missionary visited Kim and explained to him the option to go to the U.S. as a political refugee. At first he didn’t like the idea because he remembered the North Korean indoctrination that Americans are evil.

But after praying, he agreed to go to a shelter partially funded by Liberty in North Korea, an activist group dedicated to resettling North Koreans in America. That’s where he met “Adrian,” who agreed to take him to freedom.

So as to not arouse suspicion of patrolling Chinese immigration officials, Adrian taught Kim and two other North Korean refugees to act like rowdy Korean-American tourists. Once in the market, Kim grabbed his fellow North Korean in a headlock that drew stares and mutterings from the local Chinese about the poor behavior of Americans.

Adrian bought them American clothes, and Kim was transformed into a “skater type – baseball cap turned to the side, bright graphic T-shirt and narrow pants.” Decked out as new personas, they rode the train to Shenyang.

There, they were taken to the U.S. consulate. But when the guard subjected Kim to a black wand metal detector search, Kim panicked. He thought he was being arrested.

Seeing the terror in his face, Adrian realized he should have explained the drill beforehand. “You’re safe now!” he shouted to Kim.

After months of paperwork, Kim was flown to the U.S. and moved in with host families. He attended high school and became a speaker on behalf of human rights organizations. He currently attends Bard College on full-ride scholarship in New York.

He is serving Jesus, happy and free. His only remorse is for his mother and his sister, Bong Sook, whom he still longs to see. Once while giving a speech in Scotland, he opted to sleep in the airport under a glass roof that allowed him see the stars. He meditated that somewhere in China was his cherished sister.

“I wonder what you are doing tonight,” he whispered. “Are you warm and safe like me? I will not forget you. Right now, we only share the stars. I can look up at night and see that you are under the same sky.”

That is how he came up with the title of his autobiography, Under the Same Sky. While he doesn’t know what’s happened to his mother, Kim believes one day he will be reunited with his beloved, long-sought sister.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on God Reports. I wrote it, so I feature it here too.

Pursuit of ‘happiness’ got you burned out?

burned out

More.

If only you had more money, more vacation, more fun.

So you work hard in the unmeditated pursuit of happiness. But it’s got you burned out. If only you knew the way to peace.

The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. — Isaiah 60:17.

Does it seem odd that the Bible, unceasingly maligned by the world, should possess the secret to unceasing peace? And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.– Isaiah 32:17.

What brings peace? Righteousness. And they told you that the pleasure was fun and brought happiness. Well, yes. God made pleasure, but sinful pleasures bring torment to the soul and rob us of peace. There is no happiness outside of God.

When I lose peace

IMG_9445I was in Guatemala. The call didn’t come through but the voice message did. They were discharging my dad from the skilled nursing facility because the insurance didn’t want to pay any more time there.

All I could do was worry. I couldn’t hardly sleep. When I finally did sleep, I was awakened a by a dramatic dream. A pastor friend of mine went to pray for my dad, and my dad got healed! I felt like it was a mild rebuke from God. I was letting worry, not faith, run my mind.

I’ve been back from Guatemala for almost a week now. And things are working out fine. Why did I lose the peace God promised? God will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Him. — Isaiah 26:3.

If there is something that can be worried about, I do.

Dr. Bob shows the baby-calming hold in Tanzania on medical mission


Dr. Robert Hamilton, a member of the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica (my church), went viral in December with a video of a simple hold to calm crying babies. It seems not many people knew about this hold before, and it racked up 18 million views. He was interviewed on Good Morning America and by a host of over media.

He became famous. But that’s not why I admire him. I admire him because he does medical missions for free. He’s even done two in my church in Guatemala (which I am no longer pastoring). Here he does the hold in Tanzania, where they just gave meds to hundreds of people in Mwanza. It’s a cute video.

The High and Mighty dwells with the lowly of heart

pride

After going 16 chapters of pure encouragement (40-55), Isaiah retakes the issue of Israel’s sin: His watchmen are blind… they are greedy dogs… Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine. (verses 10-12). In the previous chapters, Isaiah has lifted his prophetic vision beyond the immediate future to a time of a return from exile. But now it seems he looks even further into the future, into the time when Jesus is born and the Jewish leadership is corrupt.

humble

Then comes what is arguably the greatest gem of the entire book: Thus says the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and with him of contrite and humble spirit to revive him. — Isaiah 57:15. This verse is more than just a passing comment. It seems a crowning moment for a book that has been fascinated with up and down from Isaiah 6 onward (in which the prophet sees God high and lifted up in His heavenly temple). The paradox of dwelling on high and on low at the same time works the power of the sonnet’s concluding couplet.

All this is to say that humility is crucial in Christianity. You must be humble to even receive salvation, to believe in Jesus. And we must remain humble ever afterward. If we go prideful, we go without God. Stay humble, and He stays with us.

Atletico de Madrid believed in themselves

griezmann

Antoine Griezmann had the sparkle that Barca lacked.

There are reasons why the best team in the world lost the Champions League quarter finals today to an upstart. Barcelona played flat, with no one showing flair. Atletico were sharp, precise, technical and quick.

They were outmatched in skill, but they compensated with belief. Most teams are so intimidated by skills-rich Barca that their objective is to limit the humiliation. But Atletico brought a greater work ethic to the pitch. While Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta lacked their typical flair, Antoine Griezmann showed up with sparkle.

Don’t worry about what you lack. You can make up for it with self-belief.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to believe

believeWe pride ourselves on being rational beings, well adjusted to reality. We are scientifically minded, and therefore what is impossible get ruled out. Miracles are a moonshot best avoided.

But miracles prove God, and God is interested in proving Himself to humanity to show humanity His love. So he drops us in impossible quandaries and waits for us to turn to him.

If you can believe, all things are possible for him that believes. — Mark 9:23. Jesus spent more time developing faith, but we Christians spend more time developing personal perfection. Jesus sought faith while we seek programs. Jesus encouraged Peter to walk on water, and the church is busy building boats.

Maybe you’re in financial trouble — believe to tithe. Maybe you have an incurable disease or disorder — believe for healing. Perhaps you don’t dare take on a ministry — believe and do it. Perhaps a long time has passed without any sign of hope — keep believing.

Simple faith

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My son and I pose with the pastor and his wife.

When their daughter was admitted to med school, the got on their knees and thanks God. It was the fourth and final round of exams in Guatemala for the public university (affordable). They’ve had so many things work against them, and yet the plug on for Jesus and reach blessings.

I’m their pastor, but at times I learn from them. I yearn for a simple faith, uncluttered by the prosperity gospel, unmoored by cliques and church politics.

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Accepted to med school, she poses with her sister.

It is my experience that Christians in the Third World nations have a much more unadulterated faith simply because they don’t have hardly anything else. Their hope is placed on God alone because outside of God, they have virtually no hope. I have seen the poor praise God with sheer joy that makes you wonder how can they do that when they are suffering hunger and they have no future.

Burned out or bored out (of your mind)

IMG_9853It seemed like I teetered on burn out for many years in Guatemala. I always asked God to take me home before I burned out. I think that’s what happened.

But now that I have been serving in the mother church for six years, I’m bored to tears. I’m aching to get out on the field and play (and not sit on the bench). Maybe you can relate:

Then I said, I will not make mention of Him nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not hold my tongue. — Jeremiah 20:9

IMG_9875He who is called can’t escape the call. Any other life will only reap frustration and misery. Are you tired of ministry? Consider the alternative. Are you running from your calling? You’ll only be miserable.

My recent trip to Guatemala only confirms the urging in my heart.

Make a stab at redemption

IMG_9804One problem of “falling out” of the moral code of the church is that you feel you don’t belong to the cadre of brethren. Churches do great wrong in continually passing judgement on its fallen members because they get discouraged and think they can never return (2 Cor. 2:6-11). The devil plays in their minds: Once a failure, always a failure. The church should make the path back to salvation easy — as easy as the original path to salvation.

Without going into details, this is what Fanny did. She formalized her marriage yesterday. She had been a goody-goody as a student in our school and church. But when she left the safe harbor of the school and the church, she found the wide, wide world was full of temptations. Discouragement coupled with temptation can be overpowering.

IMG_9809She wasn’t attending church not because anyone kicked her out. It was the devil that was condemning her (Rom. 8:1). By showing her love, we shed light on the way back. Forgiveness is for sinners, not saints — and we are all sinners.

I’m so proud of her and happy for her. And you who read this, please say a pray for her.

If you have fallen out of the moral code of your church, make a stab at redemption. You might be surprised how easy it is to climb back into fellowship and blessing.

Meet Camila, born to parents who couldn’t have kids

IMG_9784Prayer brought her into the world, and from the looks of it she is now learning how to pray.

Her parents, Gunter and Yara, were among the best disciples in the church. Medically speaking, they couldn’t have kids. Evangelist after evangelist prayed for them. Then my friend, Isaias Campos, came to preach for me. Ironically, he himself couldn’t have natural children. But God told him he would pray for somebody to have kids. That did the trick.

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My son, Hosea, among the kids of the Door Christian Church in Guatemala City.

I left Guatemala six years ago under duress. I am currently visiting, and I’m blown away by the revival I’m seeing. It’s been packed, and people are hungry for God.

If it tastes bitter, spit it out, don’t swallow.

forgiveness

We must master the art of moving on. Humans hurt each other because of selfishness and self-promotion. Don’t let yourself be pushed down by others forever. They may push you down, but it is up to you to pick yourself up.

Fun, fellowship and discipleship at a Christian school in Guatemala

Christian school Guatemala

Hosea with Teacher Banner.

Whenever Pastor Michael Ashcraft visits Guatemala, he wants to play soccer with the private school, and this time he won with Teacher Banner Ajcip’s team 10-8 over Teacher Mario Ajcip’s.

The sporting event included the visit of Pastor Mike’s son, Hosea, who was born in Guatemala and studied at the private school until third grade. Hosea, who had an innate skill for goals as a kid, hit the inside of the net three times. Father and son played together on the team of Teacher Banner.

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta zona 1 ciudad guatemalaPastor Mike realized two assists before moving to the defense to stop the attack of superstar opponent, Carlos Marroquin, a 9th grader. With 200 pounds weight and 6’3″ height, Pastor Mike presented a formidable defense. Nevertheless, the youth broke his ankles various times. Even so, Pastor Mike limited his goals and contributed to the victory.

While the guys played soccer, the girls preferred basketball and indoor soccer adjacent to the soccer field.

soccer guatemala christian school capital city

After two hours of straight playing, most of the boys got tired and left. These are the survivors.

“I can learn a lot from Guatemala,” said Hosea. “I want to return to the United States much better than everybody because I played here in Guatemala.”

The field trip and sports event is important because it allows the students to make friends and inter-relate. Everything the Door Bilingual School does is focused on an integral formation of youth: mind, body, emotions and spirit. The Guatemalan Christian school has maintained this focus in Guatemala City since its beginnings when Pastor Mike started with only three students in the Colon neighborhood.

Now, the Door Bilingual School is located on 6th Avenue 2-34 Zone 1 in front of the San Sebastian Park in the City of Guatemala. The original story appeared in Spanish here.

Comfort after an extended period of difficulties

comfort my people

I got stuck at Isaiah 40 and following. The prophet shifts gears and focuses on the future when Israel is exiled and comes back to the promised land. They have punished for more than 70 years of captivity for idolatry and rebellion. The consequences of sin is enough to drive them to despair. They are ready to obey God now. And God speaks tenderly to them.

He offers them comfort.

In verse 4 God says barriers are going to be removed: Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The nations, which have served as God’s instrument of discipline over Israel, are no longer to be feared. The nations are as a drop of a bucket, as the small dust of the balance. (verse 15).

The grande finale comes at the end of the chapter — verses that just about every Christian has memorized: He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and grow weary. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. (verses 29-31)

Part of the good news? The disappointing time may be God testing you like Job or may be the result of your own sin. But when you get to the end, He brings refreshing, so hang in there.

I was arrested, meditating on what I had stumbled upon.

Reinvest in a bad investment


way of GodYou wouldn’t? Jesus did. You and I were bad investments. But He believed in us — again. He forgave us — again. He gave us another chance we were demonstrated repeatedly that we weren’t worth it. This is what Christianity is.

Would you recognize him?


Nobody pays any attention to this bum, despite having pretty good soccer skills — at least not until he pulls off his beard, mustache and wig. Then, everybody wants to pay attention to Cristiano Ronaldo, star for Portugal.

Would you recognize Jesus if He passed you on the street? When you treat kindly one of the least of my brethren, you treat Me kindly. — Jesus said.

Heaven is real

castle in clouds

One day I´ll be there. Will you?

My dad is in a transitional care facility. He had fallen and broken his hip. He was transferred from the hospital to here. He was in a lot of pain last night. He’s 88.

I’m face to face with our body’s breakdown and mortality. We all expect a long life, but no one has a guarantee. Are you ready to go to the Heaven God made for you because He wants to enjoy friendship with you for all of eternity?

God’s tattoo

God TattooThe trouble with tattoos is you can’t erase them (easily). Most people spend the rest of the lives entrenching themselves in the defense of the tattoo they got when younger. It’s easier than to own up to an error.

Did you know God’s got a tattoo? Yeah, I didn’t believe it either. But check this out:

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. — Isaiah 49:16

This means you are God’s permanent possessions, His love. He’s not going back on you.

A friend of mine got married. I don’t know if they got wedding rings, but I see he got his wife’s name tattooed on his arm. This is a younger generation. I love Dianna, but I don’t think I’ll get a tattoo.

But God is so over the top in love with us that He has our name “engraved” — read, “tattooed” — on his palms, right where He’ll see it constantly (although if you want to get technical, this is an anthropomorphism, but the principal is there).

Don’t underestimate your impact

little groupsLittle groups have always been the ones to change the world.

The disciples were 11 — and they made the world largely Christian. How many people were on the original Apple team? — and now they are one of the world’s most profitable. The Wright brothers were only two guys — and they flew the first plane.

Maybe your church is small. Don’t count yourself out.

Did Spaniards cheat the Taíno of Cuba trading brass for gold?

tainos gold for brass

A Taíno museum village in Cuba today.

Value is arbitrary.

Each person assigns the value he wants to whatever item. Of course, there is an international value assigned to gold and brass, and so you could argue the Spaniards took advantage of the naivete of the Taínos. But since brass was the scarce and beautiful metal for the Taínos, they were willing to trade gold for it.

Today, some people value brandname clothes. Others value attending their favorite band’s concert. Others treasure their pets and deprive them of no extravagance. And dumping boatloads of money on it is well worth it.

Some people value their family. Some people value cheating. Some people value faith in God.

Are you trading brass for gold?

Effortlessness

SLCD-Bg-Hotel-Exterior(1)I’ve worked hard. I continue to work hard.

But the greatest things that have happened in my ministry have come without virtually any effort. They came when God moved sovereignly. They came as a result of prayer. Definitely, God can do more than any human minister.

When the Door Bilingual School got a band, it came together with no effort of my own. When we acquired a building, it came together with basically no effort of my own.

I still work hard, but I’m willing to wait on God to do His work. I’m going to pray.

Do less. Pray more.

My dad is not afraid to die

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Me at the hospital.

He fell and broke his hip yesterday. He’s 88.

I was thunderstruck by his declaration today when I came to the hospital. He’s never been a gung-ho Christian. He didn’t even go to church. But he confessed to be a Christian. He said he was envious of Mom, who died quickly, suddenly of a massive heart attack. He said he was ready to go — even, he wanted to go.

Of course, I argued that such feelings were foolishness. We — my brother and I and our wives and families — don’t want him to go. But he sees no point of lingering with the body breaking down. He says he never imagined living for so long.

A year ago, he was hospitalized, and it was a wake-up call for me to neglect my professional duties some to dedicate more time to him. I started visiting once a week. I’ve learned things I never knew: about his time in the Army in Korea post WW2, his studies at Berkeley, his previous girlfriends. He’s tipped me off to great stories about Christian golfers and tennis players that I’ve parlayed into articles for God Reports. The man I didn’t have much of a relationship with since I was a youth and he didn’t talk to me began to figure centrally in my life.

When my mom died 10 years ago, I had an incredible peace, not just because she was a Christian but because I felt I had learned so many lessons from her that I was putting into practice in my life. From Mom, I learned to love and serve God above everything. She was a chaplain in the Sylmar juvenile hall, and I was a missionary in Guatemala.

For the first time ever, my dad seems to have gotten excited about the service I render to the Lord. I was telling him (before his fall) about a student in my class that came to our high school from the public system, where he was a trouble-maker, a fighter and who knows what else. Now, he’s reading the literature and making intelligent contributions to the class. My secret educational tool is to believe in the kids. Maybe no one ever believed in him before. Now he is responding.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen it register on Dad’s face that this work, though miserably remunerated, is gloriously valuable. Could it be that facing eternity, the man who hammered financial stability is finally understanding true value?

No doubt, my dad will recover from this second hospitalization. He won’t like the transition for physical therapy at the nursing home. But he’ll probably get home.

But he won’t be with us forever. Will I have learned from him everything I needed to?

 

Cross the bridge of Christianity

chengduChristianity is not prohibitions. It gets you where you want to go. To bliss and peace. To stability and security. To acceptance. To eternal life.

So cross the bridge.

#Hero

IMG_9350David Wainwright was the gentlest human being. He oozed the love of Christ.

He was a member of Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica long before me, so I always looked up to him. It was he who got me into coffee on a long, overnight drive to Prescott, Arizona, to pick up a van our church had purchased from the Potter’s House Church. He taught me how to outreach, how to care for people, how to clean the church. He showed me Jesus was first in everything.

David got set free from every addiction except cigarettes, which remained his nemesis for 10 years after getting saved. Then, he called on the children of the church to pray for him, and, finally, he was free. He never smoked again.

I went off to Guatemala to pastor a church. He stayed behind and worked in the J. Paul Getty Museum in the hills above Brentwood. Later he moved to Hesperia, CA, where he helped successive pastors lead the pioneer work there. Whenever I came back from Guatemala, I would seek him out to share a coffee. It was our particular fellowship.

Then six year agos, I came back from the mission field for good, and the coffees were more frequently. He was a big bear, a teddy bear, who would give you hugs that communicated the love of God.

The last time, he saw me first, came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t even see it coming. Who would have know that would be my last David Wainwright hug? He died Sunday. He graduated with high honors to Heaven.

The irony? He passed away while visiting people — up to the last breath of his life, he was living for others, encouraging others.

That’s what I call a hero. That’s what I want to be.

David, I won’t miss you because I have you inside of me. I will strive to be like you — gentle, humble, servant-hearted. It is no easy role model to follow, but I have imbibed of your spirit, and I know what I need to do.

Hoarders of bad memories

hoarders

Some people hoard newspapers and trash. They just can’t decide what to throw out so they don’t throw out anything. Their house becomes a trash dump.

Others hoard hurtful memories. These endanger us of turning bitter, grudging, inward, suspicious or anti-social. Everyone needs a sewage system connected to the heart to flush out the wrongs suffered, else we lose the joy of each day.

This is why Jesus urges his followers to forgive. From the cross, in excruciating pain, Jesus forgave his crucifiers. It is the model for us.

This frail nurse helped Gen. Stilwell’s group march 140 miles to escape Burma during WW2

General_Stilwell_marches_out_of_Burma

Gen. Joe Stilwell’s storied retreat out of Burma.

With the monsoon ahead and the Japanese in pursuit behind, Lt. General Joe Stilwell trekked 140 miles through steamy jungles and over 7,500-foot mountain ridges to escape an overrun Burma during World War 2.

His party of 117 carried money and Tommy guns, but their secret weapon was the singing voices of Than Shwe and 18 other Burmese nurses. Despite battling tuberculosis, Than Shwe, a devout Christian, led the hardy ladies in “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to boost morale in the flagging marchers.

“All the way on the retreat we were singing. ‘Sing, girls, sing,’ Uncle Joe would say,” said Than Shwe, as quoted in Stars and Stripes.

with seagrave

Than Shwe with Dr. Gordon Seagrave

She was still teaching English in Lashio, Myanmar, at 89 years of age when she was interviewed two years ago. Although she shares the name with the ex-dictator of Myanmar (Burma’s new name), Than Shwe has nothing else in common with the repressive military general who handed leadership over only recently.

Than Shwe is remembered for being peppy and cracking jokes. She was hardworking lady who offered her services as a nurse during World War 2 despite fighting her own battles against TB.

Stilwell’s retreat on foot out of Burma in May 1942 is the stuff of legends among history buffs. The no-nonsense general who wore no military insignia to show solidarity with his troops was charged with the Allies’ China-Burma-India theater. He sent much of his staff out on planes but refused the luxury and security for himself. Instead, he led the on-foot retreat personally.  “I prefer to walk,” he said.

than shwe at 89

Than Shwe at 89 two years ago teaching English in Lashio. Photo: Stars and Stripes

When Stilwell – known to his soldiers as “Vinegar Joe” for his acid personality – found his forces disintegrating, he was obliged to retreat. On May 6 leaving Indaw, the group headed west into the impenetrable jungle, tramping a minimum 14 miles a day through mud and zig-zagging up and down switchbacks to India.

“The jungle was everywhere,” wrote Donovan Webster in The Burma Road. “Its vines grabbed their ankles as they walked. Its steamy heat sapped their strength. And every time they reached the summit of yet another six-thousand-foot mountain, they could only stare across the quilted green rain forest below and let their gazes lift slowly toward the horizon. Ahead of them, looming in the distance, they could finally see the next hogback ridge between them and safety. They would, of course, have to climb over that one, too.”

than shwe

Than Shwe as a young nurse in World War 2

Stilwell was committed to assuring that every member of his party – Americans, English, Indians, Chinese and Burmese – escaped alive. Japanese troops, trying to cut off Chiang Kai-Sheck’s supply line through Burma, were chasing him from the South, the East and the Northeast.

“By the time we get out of here, many of you will hate my guts,” Stilwell said. “But I’ll tell you one thing: You’ll get out.”

The nurses looked frail, hardly apt for such a rigorous journey, and Stilwell urged anyone incapable of completing such an arduous journey to stay behind and seek refuge in town. But instead of slowing up the group, the gospel singing nurses turned out to the godsend, constantly injecting enthusiasm with their lively songs. Follow the rest of the march.

Get into the ship

ship
Fellowship
Worship
Discipleship

Don’t miss the ship.

Don’t put too much “I” in Sunday

sunday.jpgDon’t put too much “I” in Sunday — else it become SInday. Keep the “U” in Sunday.

Afterall, Sunday is about others. Put God and others first on Sunday.

Mike Matheny, Christian coach of the Cardinals

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Mike Matheny’s only prior coaching experience was a Little League team when the St. Louis Cardinals called on him to manage their Major League Baseball team.

It was quite a promotion, but Matheny, now 45, a believer who follows the leading of Christ daily, took it with stride and led the Cardinals to playoffs four consecutive seasons, a record for new time managers.

“I can either take credit like I had done something great to deserve this or I can be humbly bowing down on the floor to the Creator of all things and realizing that there is an opportunity,” Matheny told the Christian Post. “I do want to make sure that it is noted that I truly believe that we get opportunities and I believe that we have to do something with those… I just believe that God is at work around me all the time and I want to be in tune to that.”

MikeMatheny41Matheny was an outstanding MLB catcher. He won four Rawlings Golden Glove Awards. He established the catcher’s record for 252 consecutive games without committing an error. After 13 years of MLB playing, he retired in 2007 with post concussion syndrome.

In 2010 Matheny coached Little League baseball, and the following year, the Cardinals sought him to replace World Series winning coach Tony La Russa. The moved surprised baseball observers not only because of his lack of professional coaching experience but also because he was at the time the youngest MLB coach. The Cardinals picked him because of his ties to the organization (he played five seasons for the Cards) and because of his demonstrated leadership as a player.

Matheny didn’t disappoint. In 2012, he led the Cardinals to the National League playoffs and only got eliminated by the eventual World Series winners, the Giants. The next year, despite having to use 20 rookies at one point or another because of injuries, Matheny led the team to the World Series, which they lost to the Boston Red Sox.

Matheny is known for his attention to details, his work ethic and good relations with his players. He is vocal about his Christian faith but doesn’t try to shove it down his players throats or hold them to his own moral code. With an easy-going Christian testimony, he has 20 players coming to the pre-game prayer sessions. The Cards etch a cross on the mound at home games.

“My faith has been clear and open. Every year at spring training I explain to my guys I stand for certain things as a follower of Christ. But you’re never going to hear me preach this at you or hold you to any sort of moral obligations that I try to hold for myself,” he told the Christian Coalition. “That opens a door so when they ask me a question, they know the foundation of the majority of my answers. It opens some great opportunities.” Continue reading the article.

‘Seoul Sisters’ glorify God on LPGA tour

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Mi-Hyun Kim

They call them Seoul Sisters because these Korean golfers are taking over the Ladies Professional Golf Tour – and among their ranks are many Christians.

“The Korean players keep their faith closer to their chest. It’s not that they’re less evangelical, they just present it differently,” said Cris Stevens, who leads a Bible study on the LPGA.

Lydia Ko is one of the South Korean golfers smashing records by smashing balls. The youngest ever #1 ranked player at 17 years old last year, Ko won the Evian Championship in France last year.

lydia_ko

Lydia Ko

For her success, she credits her parents – who brought her to New Zealand at an early age – and God

“Having faith gives me a sense of belief, tranquility, serenity and comfort,” Ko said in Golf MRX. “It constantly brings me back to reality. We are all the same human beings at the end of the day, living in the same world.”

She’s perhaps the youngest success story among the LPGA Christians. One of the older LPGA stars is Mi-Hyun Kim, who retired in 2011. She had won eight LPGA events and her best major was second place in the Women’s British Open in 2001. She was one of the original four dubbed “Seoul Sisters.”

When Kim won $210,000 in May 2007, she donated $100,000 to victims of a tornado in Greensburg, Kansas. She expressed her faith as the motive for the generosity.

“Honestly, I made a lot of money in the United States on the LPGA Tour,” she said. “Most of time, I get the money here and donate to South Korea. But, I want to help people here, too. The win was a surprise for me, and I think God gave it to me like a special present or he is using me like, ‘okay, I give you this, but after that you give to help the people.” Read the rest of the story.

Drug-dealing Jew got saved reading Old Testament prophecies about Yeshua

Dr-Mitch-Glaser-2015It took the cold steel of a sawed-off shotgun against his neck to bring Mitch Glaser to the Christ he always associated with Hitler.

Raised in New York in a traditional Jewish home, he was “bar mitzvahed” at 13. At his grandparents’ home, he saw pictures of countless relatives exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust. “They had died at the hands of Hitler, and in the Jewish mindset, they had died at the hands of Christians,” Mitch said.

“I felt like Jesus and Christianity were my enemies,” said Glaser, who has worked with Chosen People Ministries for 40 years. “I’m an unlikely person to believe in Jesus.”

He dropped out of college and fell into selling marijuana with three Jewish friends in San Francisco. He was a no-nonsense hustler who built up a reputation for a square deal, but on one of his sales, his clients really had no intention of buying the illicit drug. They wanted to steal it – and kill him.

“One of the guys was yelling, ‘Just kill him now.’ The other one said, ‘No, we gotta get the rest of the drugs. Just torch the place,’” said Glaser, who was tied up while his attackers held shotguns and handguns.

“My whole life played before my eyes. I’m sitting there with my hands tied feeling this shotgun against my neck, and I’m saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe that I was willing to die for just a few hundred dollars,’” he said.

Mitch managed to escaped unscathed from the drug deal. It was a wake-up call and a warning that the houseboat he and his partners had built with drug money was not worth the danger involved in what they were doing. It was also the beginning of his call to Christianity.

Read the rest of the story.

 

Anticipated decline in faith among scientists fails to materialize in 80 years

people_larsonA full 40 percent of scientists believe in a personal God and afterlife, according to a 1997 study.

“Although the suggestion 80 years ago that four in 10 scientists did not believe in God or an afterlife was astounding to contemporaries, the fact that so many scientists believe in God today is equally surprising,” said study organizers Edward Larson and Larry Witham, of the University of Georgia, in the journal Nature.

The duo replicated a study from 80 years prior conducted by James Leuba that shocked America at a time when faith enjoyed wide acceptance. He found that four of 10 scientist didn’t believe in God.

Stephen-Hawking-006

Stephen Hawking opted to not believe.

Leuba “predicted that more and more scientists would give up their belief in God, as scientific knowledge replaced what he considered to be superstition,” writes the National Center for Science Education in an article “Do Scientists Really Reject God?”

Leuba would be disappointed. The 1997 iteration of his poll found the percentage of faith-holding scientists remained constant through 80 years of scientific and technological advance. Science has not dislodged belief in God, and the number of theistic scientists is “impressively high,” according to the New York Times.

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Francis Collins does believe.

“The results also indicate that, while science and religion often are depicted as irreconcilable antagonists, each a claimant to the throne of truth, many scientists see no contradiction between a quest to understand the laws of nature, and a belief in a higher deity,” the New York Times wrote.

What’s more, the narrowly-phrased questions designed by Leuba — and repeated by Larson and Witham — may have overstated disbelief, according to Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington in Seattle, as quoted in the New York Times. Stark’s research indicates that scientists pretty much reflect the general American public when it comes to believing in God.

“To the extent that both surveys are accurate readings, traditional Western theism has not lost its place among U.S. scientists, despite their intellectual preoccupation with material reality,” Larson and Witham wrote in their study. Read the rest of the article.

With no exposure to Christ, she cried out and Jesus responded to Sister Mei of China

sister meiMaybe it was a rip tide, but Sister Mei felt – and saw in an apparent vision – that it was a hand pulling her out to sea.

As she was enjoying the beach in Southern China for the first time in her life, she was daydreaming worriedly about her hardships and prospect-less future. She was divorced, abandoned by the father of her daughter. And she was on vacation at Sanya beach with her boyfriend, who was a married man.

“I had never seen the ocean before,” said Mei, whose videoed testimony from 2013 at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA, is on YouTube. “For some reason, I felt that if I could see the ocean, a lot of my questions could be answered.”

sanya beach china today

Sanya Beach today

As she was in the water, Mei, whose other name was not given, began to forget about her romantic liaison and began to ponder the meaning of life when the hand grabbed her ankle. Having grown up in a village on the Yangtze River, she was able swimmer, but she was not prepared for rip tides – or the hand, whatever it was.

“My husband left me after I gave birth. On the third day, he came to the hospital for the last time. He just disappeared. It really hurt me,” she said. “That’s how I started to take my life in the wrong direction.”

With “no future, no job, no money, no dignity and no identity,” she hooked up with a married man and agreed to go to the beach with him. She left her daughter at home with her parents. As she brooded over her “totally, totally hopeless” situation in the water, she lost track of the shore and was drifting out to the deep.

yangtze river

Yangtze River

“From the bottom of my heart, my mind, my soul, I cried out, Who can help me?,’” she said.

Then she began to be hauled seaward.

“There was a hand holding my ankle dragging me down into the water. I was frightened,” Mei said. “I did everything I could to swim to the shore, but I couldn’t.”

She tried calling for help. That’s when she felt the hand around her throat choking back the words. A man on her right turned his back to her, oblivious to her peril. Another on the left also turned his back to her.

“I could not make any noise.,” Mei said. “My mouth was moving. I was asking for help, but no noise came out from my mouth. The hand was holding me tighter and tighter.”

Now in deeper water, her body began swirling in the torrent. A wave formed over her head. At the top of the wave in the vision was a horrible face.

“The minute I saw that face, I knew it was the devil. I never was taught about the devil, but I knew it was the devil,” she said. “It was huge. It was coming on the top of the wave. It came to me and it said, ‘I’m going to kill you today.’ When I saw that, I knew I was finished. There was no hope. I was dying.”

When the wave crashed on her face, she choked salty water. She was tossed by waves and kicked and paddled trying in vain to reach the shore. She thought of her parents and daughter, Weiwei.

“Mom, Dad, Weiwei, I’m sorry,” she said, beginning to resign herself to death. “They didn’t even know where I was. I never told them where I was, so if I died that day, they would be very disappointed.”

But if the devil had ahold of her, God was on the move also because she had cried out for help.

“Two words came out of my mouth. I had no understanding of what I was saying,” she recalled. “I said: ‘My God.’”

Immediately, the heavens opened and a large dove descended. With no prior knowledge of such things, what came to her mind was that this was the Holy Spirit.

Next, she beheld a vision of a tall man in a robe with an aura of light. He motioned with one hand, through which a ray of light penetrated, drawing a semi circle. With the motion, her entire life was played before her eyes like a video, and the words “deadly sin” appeared when she committed a sin.

“I could not believe I was such a filthy sinful person,” she remembered. Her immediate reaction was she deserved death by drowning, but then she heard of voice of compassion.

“My child you have come back at last,” the voice said. “I have been waiting for you so long.”

In her vision, she was now on dry land, and now out of the man’s heart poured water and blood. She understood this was for her sin.

“I had broken His heart. All the sins had hurt him and had been hurting Him always,” Mei said. “My depravity, debauchery, immorality, my ignorance, stubbornness, rebellion, stubbornness Never for a moment had I stopped. Every sin I had committed was like a sharp knife that injured Him deeply.

“Then I saw the pure love from his eyes just pouring out in my direction,” she said. “Is that for me? The words came to me, ‘Yes, it is for you. I love you and never expect anything back from you.’ I had never experienced such an unconditional love. I burst into tears. Why do you love me? I’m lonely and in pain.  Love kept coming to me like waves.”

It was just a vision. She was still in the water in danger of drowning. Then she heard a voice from Heaven again: “Go, help her!” And a man appeared out of no where and dragger her to shore. Once on solid ground, she was trembling and exhausted. She lay down on the sand and slept, asking herself: Who was the man of the vision? How did he know her whole life? How did she get pulled ashore? What was the light?

“That night I met the God I never knew,” she said.

Though she had encountered God, still she didn’t know concretely anything about Him. When she returned to her village, she found and church and asked for a Bible. At the time in China, Bibles were scarce, and so she had to wait some months.

When she finally got a Bible, she read it avidly, beginning in Genesis. Everything seemed foreign, and she didn’t understand. She began attending an English class taught by “Doug,” who included messages of the gospel in his teaching. The genealogy of Jesus and the Trinity were particularly difficult to understand.

After a year, the Bible resonated with her when she finally got to the part of the Gospel of John where Jesus told Thomas to stick his thumb in his nail hole. She remembered the ray of light that shot through  hand of the robed man in the vision at the beach.

She finally received Jesus into her heart.

Seven years later, Mei had the opportunity to come to the United States. She currently resides in Los and and works in a missions organization for Africa. She married, and her husband works for the government, she said. Based on the information provided in the video, she is approximately 40 years old.

This article first appeared on God Reports.

‘The answer to my guilt was not denial but forgiveness’

Intellectual atheist from France comes to Christ. A sticking point was “Why did Jesus have to die?”

I supposed it would be a lot of fun to be an atheist, all that sin with no guilty conscious. But once you know the truth, you can’t run from it. Plus, knowing God is better than any sin.

Don’t get me wrong. I sin. I’m human. I’m not a Christian because I don’t fall into temptation. I am a Christian BECAUSE I fall into temptation. I need a Savior. So do you.

Art out of food

food artJessie Bearden plays with her food.

I was always taught not to play with my food. Maybe that’s why I never became the artist I aspired to be as a child.

Actually I was discouraged from being an artist because I was told you can’t make any money at it.

food-art-1But I rebelled and became a wordsmith, an artist with words.

food art 2God tells us to be like Him; He created. As much a I admire art around the world, none compares to the daily painting God spreads on his canvass of a sunset. None equals the beauty of a flower. Consider the lilies of the field…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these — Matt. 6:28-29.

I’m going to be a fan of Jessie Bearden, who create surprising portraits out of food. And I’m going to keep writing.

jessie bearden

Jessie Bearden

But I can’t wait to get to Heaven to see the wonders of God’s art there. I admire His beauty everywhere here on Earth.

I bet the artists continue doing their art in Heaven.

Getting stronger mentally, Lighthouse soccer comes from behind to tie

Abraham-kennedy-1024x840
From the looks of LCA’s come-from-behind 2-2 tie against Newbury Park Adventist Academy Tuesday, the Saints are getting the mental toughness needed to step up their competitiveness.

“We had a good attitude when we went down 1-0,” said Captain Adrian Brizuela. “I was really surprised we kept our composure.”

Coach Jack Mefford started Brizuela in goal because he’s as brilliant as he is fearless between the posts. Preferring Brizuela over freshman Justin Berry was a strategic decision to lock down the final approach to goal.

Jelove mira Lighthouse Christian academy santa monica soccerBut in classic give-and-take, it also hobbled the Saints’ ability to advance forward with possession. Brizuela is an irreplaceable motor in the midfield, in tandem with new sophomore Erhan Meric, a crack from Turkey.

At half time, the Saints were losing 0-1 from a free kick when the Saints bungled a wall set-up.

In the second half, Newbury again struck on a corner kick when Lighthouse midfielders failed to get back to mark up. The shot sailed over the goalie’s head and was chested into the net on the far post. Newbury was winning 0-2, and they cackled as they sniffed blood.

The last time the Lighthouse Christian Academy faced Newbury in December, the Santa Monica Christian high school conceded four goals in the second half to lose a half-time advantage of 2-0. The meltdown resulted, in part, from emotional weakness.

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Soccer is, after all, a psychological game as much as any other sport. Since it’s a low-scoring game, even one goal is enough to sink a knife in the heart of players. They slow down, they stop fighting, they stop pushing for goal. They pray for the final whistle to come, and they scurry off the field with their tails between their legs. But Lighthouse mustered a resilience not seen before.

Coach switched Brizuela into the midfield and the balance of the game shifted. Newbury couldn’t find an answer to the reconfigured 11 men on the field. And Berry owned the Lighthouse goal, applying the quick reflex he inherited from growing up in a basketball family.

With 25 minutes to time, Newbury defenders fouled Lighthouse striker, Will Clancy, in the area, and Brizuela didn’t fail on the penalty kick making it 1-2.

Within five minutes, Brizuela again performed his magic. On a throw-in from the left, Brizuela chested the ball expertly, spun and fired with no bounce into the top left corner. Newbury players were shocked.

Lacking the tough and speedy Tex Hagoski (out due to sickness) to hold the defensive line, sophomores Abraham Kennedy and Alex Cervantez worked overtime to stymie the Newbury attack. And the tie score remained.

In Southern California’s Omega League, Lightouse is now 1-1-3.

“Our defense really helped us,” Brizuela said. “Abraham and Alex really stepped up to the plate.”

Editor’s note: This article was original published here. Jamie Roman wrote it, and I edited it.

Can Christians dream?

Elon Musk figured it would be better to build his own rockets after the Russians offered to sell him a retro-fitted ICBM for a sky-high price (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the pun is bad). Then Musk — who owns Tesla electric sports cars and is making lithium batteries for your home that charge at night when electricity is cheaper — decided he would still save more money by landing the first stage booster (to be re-used). He almost landed it on a floating barge this month, as you can see from the video.

When I read about the technological advances (Musk is contracting for NASA), I see men and women who dream.

Can Christians dream to do great, unthinkable things for God?

Ted Dekker, best selling author who grew up among cannibals

TTCulture-blog427

Ted Dekker

Continue reading

Cam Newton, feared QB, temptation-beset Christian

cam-newton-runWhen Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton walked away unscathed from a horrible accident that rolled his truck in December 2014, he gave praise, honor and glory to God.

“Somebody had His good hands on me,” Newton told reporters. “One plus one always equals two. I’m looking at this truck. I’m looking at this accident, and I’m like dude, one plus one ain’t equaling two, because I’m looking at this truck, and I’m like, somebody is supposed to be dead. Me being a religious person, God is good. I’m lucky to be standing in front of you today.”

Newton, arguably the NFL’s greatest player of 2015-16 and a Super Bowl contender, is on top of the world. Passing for 400 yards in his debut game in 2012, he bested Peyton Manning’s passing record of 280 yards in Manning’s first regular season game. This year, the Panthers are 15-1. His dual threat capabilities crushed the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC finals.

42f07f33873582048e0f6a706700f644_tx600But while his professional trajectory seemed to sail through the air on heaven’s wings, things in his personal life have not always gone so well. He was hounded by an NCAA investigation for receiving payment to enroll at college, and he was accused of stealing a laptop at Auburn University. As a pro, he met and began to live with ex-stripper Kia Proctor.

Newton had grown up with God. His father, Cecil Newton, is a bishop overseeing five Pentecostal churches in Georgia.

But perhaps the intoxicating power of riding on top of the world caused him to momentarily forget the humility and fear of God necessary for a true relationship with the Creator. Then the accident left him shaken, reminding him about his need for God.

6358658538411262881957152712_CamNewtonSmilesOn that fateful day, he was negotiating a confusing intersection in Charlotte when another car slammed into the rear side of his black pickup truck and sent it rolling. He clambered out the back cabin window, and paramedics took him to the hospital where doctors treated him for minor fractures in his lower back.

He only missed one game as a result of the accident.

“I am a prime example of how God can turn something that was bad into something that good,” Newton said after the crash.

At 6’5” and 245 pounds of muscle, Newton is currently the most feared quarterback in the National Football League. Most QBs either specialize in throwing or running, but Newton excels in both, which is why the Panthers made the NFC’s best defense, the Cardinals, look like their fine-feathered namesakes — birds.

When they face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, they will again be facing a team with a stalwart defense – not to mention legendary Quarterback Peyton Manning.

Newton will be up to his old antics. He performs a celebratory dance for every touchdown — ostentation that football purists frown upon. He also runs the touchdown football over to the fans and hands it to a little kid — a gesture that is hard for anyone to frown upon. His broad, ubiquitous smile shows he enjoys the game.

Newton hopes his gridiron prowess will do for the Panthers, who have never won a Super Bowl, what it did for the University of Auburn. At Auburn, he became the third player in major college football history to both rush and pass for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season. His outstanding performance earned him the Heisman Trophy, and he led Auburn to their second national championship in 2011.

Read the full article here. It was written by my son, Robert, with a little help from his dad.

Small Christian high school in Santa Monica gets a boost from a Turkish student

IMG_8948An unexpected boon to Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer came from Turkey: Erhan Meric, a sophomore and magician whose feet perform tricks.

His life is just pure soccer, nonstop trying, for every Saints soccer match. The fleet-footed diminutive midfielder is making his mark. In four games, he has scored four goals. After four games, LCA is 1-2-1.

“I just picked up a soccer ball and played with my dad when I was young,” the wunderkind said. “From that point on, I’ve been practicing every day in order to get better and better.”

small christian school in santa monica soccer programErhan came from Turkey to study in an American high school two years ago with his mother, a businesswoman, in search of a better life.

“The first school I went to,” Erhan remembered, “wasn’t that good. Sure life was easier and soccer was fun, but dorm life was terrible and after my two friends left the school, I went in search of finding a better one. That’s when I came across LCA.”

Erhan came to have a look at the Santa Monica Christian private school.

“What I saw was amazing,” the quiet Turk observed. “Almost everyone was good friends here, and people were so nice, I thought this could be the school for me.”

Christian college prep and varsity soccerAs he joined the school and got to meet new people, he started talking out more and got out of his “bubble”.

Erhan joined the LCA soccer team and so far is one of our best players on the field, as he was on the #1 soccer academy in Turkey, Galatasaray S.K., and was practicing for all his life. Unfortunately, his twin sister, also at Lighthouse, didn’t go for soccer.

His goal is to become a pro soccer player. He said, “ Yes, I would love to become a pro soccer player. Why? Because you can make big money, meet nice girls, and overall, just play soccer.”

In order to achieve his dream, he has to work hard and motivate himself to win.

“Soccer is very tiring and a little risky, but all you need is motivation. You know what I do for motivation? Every time I wake up on the weekends or whenever I have free time, I sit by the TV and flip through all the channels until I find a soccer match going on. I watch them kick the ball, make goals and I just get so inspired by them. I say ‘Yes, I will achieve that goal, and I will win another game! I will try to my best and even when I fall, I will always get back up again’ ”

So as Erhan keeps playing soccer and trying harder and harder to achieve his goal, he will remember a quote in Turkish that keeps him from failing “Ben futbol seviyorum ve benim rüya vazgeçmek ASLA!” Find out what that means at the end of: high school soccer.

Editor’s note: This article, written by my journalism student Anthony Gutierrez, was originally posted on the Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s website. It’s a small Santa Monica Christian high school. My son is graduating from there this June.

Look who’s #2 at Lighthouse Christian Academy soccer!

willWill Clancy, an LCA junior, had never in his life touched a soccer ball before high school. Today he’s the second highest goal scorer for the Lighthouse Saints with the season almost half over, an unlikely hero for our Santa Monica private school.

“I definitely feel intimidated by more experienced players and how they do all those weird foot maneuvers,” Will said. “But I did score more goals on them, and I definitely hold it against them a lot from time to the time.”

Being serious is not Will’s forté. Nor is soccer, for that matter. Nevertheless, he’s scored three goals in four games, one behind midfielder sophomore Erhan Meric, the Turkish phenom on the Lighthouse Christian Academy squad. He’s one goal ahead of soccer superstar Adrian Brizuela. He’s sandwiched between soccer magicians, and six games remain.

Will watching“Usually before the game, I get butterflies because it’s just natural,” he said. “I do get nervous before games. Scoring a goal myself is always exciting because – I don’t know – it’s scoring a goal. I’m just one goal behind Erhan.”

Will loves the family-feel and the hype of being on the team. It gives him, as well as the team, so much joy playing on the field and scoring goals.

“Usually, if someone scores a goal, it’ll boost the morale of everybody on the team and everyone gets more confident in the play,” he said. “When I’m in the game, I’m not really that nervous. I’m more just kind of tired and exhausted.”

Will started soccer his freshman year, immediately after playing on LCA’s 8-man football team.

will goes for goal“Freshman year was easiest for me physically-wise because I just got out of my first season playing football, so I was in a kinda ok shape from football,” he said. “So it wasn’t that bad.”

But he didn’t score many goals – just one all season. During his sophomore year, he found the net twice. With so many matches ahead, he doesn’t plan to stay at only three goals this season.

The Saints are currently 1-2-1 in Southern California’s Omega League. Three years ago LCA belonged to the highly competitive Coastal League. Between those two, Lighthouse belonged to no league and free-lanced games.

Lighthouse has only 50 students, so they don’t hold traditional tryouts. Anyone who joins is basically on the team, as long as they’re academically eligible. Well, if the truth can be told, coaches beg students to play. Yeah, if you want a chance to play, go to Lighthouse.

You’ll discover the after-game elation that motivates Will.

“After a game, I usually kind of feel — even when we tie– I feel accomplished,” Will said. “I get a good feeling inside because of the camaraderie you get with the other players and the satisfaction of doing something and the feel, I guess, is always nice.”

Will also enjoys the after-game traditional sharing of In-n-Out burgers. “The food does not hurt, too,” he quipped. “I love getting food after the games.”

Soccer was not his ambition; he wanted to form a tennis team at Lighthouse – a dream that has yet to materialize. “I like sports just in general and, although I really did push for a tennis team and still am pushing, I just thought it’d be a fun experience to try and so I did.”

“Scoring goals makes me feel nice though, it makes me feel like, ‘Hey I’m doing something to be part of the team!,” he stated. “So I don’t need those fancy foot maneuvers!”

Editor’s Note: This article was written by my journalism student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica and originally was printed here. I’m proud of Petrina Gratton’s accomplishment in journalism class, and I like soccer. Will likes to brag. He’s a funny guy.

Can’t keep Jack in the box

jack and nicoleneJack Mefford, principal of Lighthouse Christian Academy, doesn’t only teach. He preaches, administrates, swims, plays water polo, coaches soccer, makes movies, raises four kids and…

Maybe it would be shorter to list the things he cannot do. Did I say he double-minored and played trumpet in UCLA marching band?

IMG_9010The debonair summa cum laude graduate has a long resume typical of Ivy League graduates who command top pay at top jobs. So what is he doing leading LCA with its (less than) ordinary pay scale?

“Money doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “When I was a youth and didn’t know God and prayed to see if he was real, the first thing I asked Him was for love and the second was a purpose in life. He has given me both – my purpose is here serving the kids.”

lighthouse christian academy“Meff” – as LCA kids call him – accepts anyone who has made a mistake in life and wants a second chance. He believes everyone is entitled to one.

Raised in a farm town called Dinuba near Fresno, California, Mefford learned from his air force dad to work hard, be disciplined, value family and to achieve. He didn’t learn about God until he reached early adulthood.

The early trappings of success didn’t satisfy. “I had everything the world had to offer, and I felt something missing. I was doing everything they told me to do. I was following the script, and it was not enough,” he said. “I felt there had to be something more, something eternal.”

He began attending a church and later got linked up with Pastor George Neos at UCLA. Neos was pioneering a church at UCLA on campus. Mefford received a flyer and decided to attend only because his car broke down.

He was quickly impressed with Pastor George Neos’s over-the-top earnestness and how Christianity affected his life.

The on-campus church migrated to Yale Street, Santa Monica, and Jack came along with his sweetheart, Nicolene. They married and when they graduated, they didn’t go where their careers would lead – they stayed where their God had led.

Instead of scooping up a lucrative job, Jack immediately began teaching in the Lighthouse Church School (which is LCA’s older brother, having kindergarten to middle school). He would also join his pastor on mission trips to Guatemala.

When Pastor George accepted a new assignment as the Hesperia pastor, Jack took over administration of the LCA.

Sadly, Mefford struggled with an inner sadness that he shared with not many; his wife couldn’t have children. His dream of having a large family was floundering from early marriage. Nicolene suffered four consecutive miscarriages until, after a lot of praying, God finally granted a miracle.

He has now been blessed with four kids. Mefford’s first daughter, Emma is six years old, his second, Jackson is four, Ethan is two and Weston is 11 months. He claims all children are miracles and is thankful to God everyday for his offspring.

Man of many abilities, Jack Mefford has done many wonderful things for Lighthouse.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published here. It was written by Petrina Gratton, my journalism student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

This Iraqi kid loves Messi

messi bag jerseyToo poor to buy the real thing, this Iraqi boy turned a plastic bag into the jersey of his favorite soccer player, Leo Messi from FC Barcelona. How do you show your love for God?

Thanks to the internet, Messi saw it and is going to send him a real jersey. This will probably thrill him for 110 years.

The Bible says that Jesus was so impressed by the Roman centurion’s faith that He granted the miracle. Lesson: You can impress God (though we should distinguish: you can’t “earn” his favor — ok, it’s confusing, but the two truths work together in tension much like a guitar string is tightened across two frets). How do you show your love for God?

David Bowie became a Christian?

david bowieIn the months before he succumbed to cancer, David Bowie, the moré-smashing hedonist who resonated with a generation of young people, reconsidered the God he flouted most of his life as a rocker iconoclast.

As his life ebbed away quietly in the grips of end-stage liver cancer, there were signs the 69-year-old titan of rock and rebellion found peace with the Creator.

“He reassessed everything when he was terminally ill a year ago,” a family friend told the Sun UK. “He concluded there was something greater than all of us, and that may be some version of what others might call God. This was probably quite comforting. He certainly wasn’t scared of death.”

david bowie christianWhile he mostly abused drugs and lived like a libertine, Bowie searched through Buddhism, Satanism and Nietzsche’s existential philosophy for the balm to the raging angst in his soul. At one point he quipped that he had even tried to make a religion out of pottery and finally settled on singing as his faith of choice.

Still the London-born glam rock pioneer was searching. In an interview in 2003, he recognized he could never utterly reject faith. “I’m not quite an atheist,” he said. “I’m almost an atheist. (But) all the clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God.” Found out if it’s true: David Bowie Christian?

Led by a guy who likes to sleep

varsity soccer santa monicaWith two ties and a win last week, Lighthouse soccer is surging under a reluctant leader this season.

Adrian Brizuela has played soccer all his life, so it was natural for the LCA senior to be the point man for the ad-hoc team, but it is a role that he has not exactly sought.

“It’s hard for me to take the leadership role because I’m always goofing around,” the Santa Monica student said. “I never take anything seriously. I don’t want to seem like a boring guy. I want to seen as a laidback guy.”

santa monica high school soccerPlaying soccer has always been a way to escape reality for Adrian. “It helps me stay out of trouble and keeps my mind free from all the things going on in my life,” he said. “It keeps my mind clear from any temptations the devil throws at me.”

Although Adrian is seen as the MVP, he doesn’t relish the role. “ I don’t feel like the MVP, I feel like there is always room for improvement and I’m still getting there.”

Brizuela was born with a soccer brain. He’s played since age two. He’s also the highly-prized left-footer who can whip in crosses or strike from range.

Because he’s played club since age eight, Brizuela is the logical choice to lead Lighthouse’s team, which has total beginners and others with a smattering of experience.

He tells teammates where to position themselves, how to body and contain, how to pass. But he never shouts or gets mad. He’s sometimes disappointed with the performance though because he’s used to the high standards of club soccer.

“It is difficult because I come from a team where we have a lot of experienced players to a team where everyone is inexperienced,” he said.

In the classroom, Brizuela sits back and hopes the teacher doesn’t call on him. He’s not the leader. But on the pitch, he’s the frontman.

“I It’s a lot of weight on my shoulders,” he said. “It’s also a little bit fun. It’s cool that people want to see me as a leader, but it’s also like wow, am I read to step up to the plate?”

Soccer motivates him to study, he admits. “It’s helped me to come to school because you can’t play in the games if you don’t come to school,” he said. “I like sleeping in.” Read the rest of the story.

A lot of confusion

path forwardThe trials, the “reversals,” the difficulties all make sense when we look back over our lives to see how God has blessed and used us. In the middle of the tempest, you’re tempted to throw up your hands in despair.

But Christianity is not a backwards-looking religion. We are to pray for a better future, invest time in relationships and Bible study, work hard — all to see more of God in our lives. While we strive for better things ahead, we keep faith and remember the promise of Psalm 23:6: Surely your goodness and love will FOLLOW me all the days of my life. I may not understand today what God is doing, but eventually I will.

Keep praying

keep prayingIt’s been more than a decade that Eddy visited us in Guatemala. Since then, my wife, kids and I were forced to return to the States and have been serving in the local church. His sister and mom remained faithful; Eddy was off doing something else.

Who popped up recently?

Yeah, it’s another motivation to keep praying for those people even when years are grinding on, even when you don’t see any tangible hope. The Spirit moves in invisible realms.

The power of a whistle

IMG_8992We won because I had the whistle. Coach Mefford and I split reffing duties while playing, but he doesn’t like to carry a whistle. We were winning 5-4, and the other team kept pressing for the equalizer. I was really tired at central defender. It was 12:15, and I had told parents we would be done a noon. Some parents were craning their necks at us as if to say, When are you guys going to be done?

But mostly I wanted to win. So I tweeted the long, plaintive toot that marks the end of the game. That’s how I made sure when we won.

That was the day I learned the power of the whistle. It is authority. It is a way to guarantee your calls are obeyed. Nobody can argue against a whistle.

Such a small thing, but 21 players obeyed and walked to the parking lot to clap out mud from their cleats.

Do you realize the authority you have as a Christian? Humanity lost authority in the Garden of Eden. Then Jesus came to get it back. Incredibly, He gave it back to us. But many Christians don’t use prayer or faith. They let the devil bully them around. There is the whistle, promises in the Bible, hanging around their necks. All you need to do is pinch it, pucker and puff.

Hey, to pray, you don’t have to bow head or knee. You don’t have to fold your hands. You don’t have to shout or break a sweat. You can pray in your head. And God will respond — always. Maybe He doesn’t act WHEN or HOW we want, but He responds in our benefit — invariably.

I always keep a whistle and a prayer handy.

How do I pray? Just do it.

My high school improves its soccer record

Santa Monica soccer

Lighthouse Christian Academy capped an extraordinary week of soccer with a 2-2 tie against Ribet Academy yesterday.

The Saints’ erstwhile haphazard program is taking shape and coordinating better.

“They played hard and were more organized than ever,” said Junior Cervantes, who stepped in to coach for Jack Mefford.

With enrollment at 50, the small Christian school flounders around the bottom of the table. With just one or two club players and the rest of the team coaxed into playing after football season, it’s difficult to drill a championship team.

But with three games this week, the Saints tied Westmark in Encino on Monday, beat Concordia 3-0 on Tuesday and drew against the Frogs Thursday.

At such a busy time, the loss of head coach Mefford, out for emergency family issues, was inopportune in terms of soccer. But Cervantes, an LCA graduate and former club star, filled in without missing a beat.

Senior Adrian Brizuela was up to his old tricks and created danger throughout the game. He gives the impression of being a lackadaisical player to defenders until suddenly a solid opportunity materializes and he instantly pulls out his knife and begins slitting to goal.

Read the rest of the article.

It doesn’t matter where you are but where you’re going

pathChristianity is a journey towards better. We pray, hear sermons and do works, not to earn our salvation but to align ourselves with the blessings God wants to pour out on us. By pleasing God, we discover happiness.

I’ve been a Christian for 36 years. I’m still not perfect. Sometimes it gets discouraged when sin raises its horrible self in my heart. I find the flesh a persistent adversary.

What I have learned to start over 50 kabillion times, to get back on the path to right, to persist in trying and to keep doing good things.

Maybe you’re at a low point in life. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and set yourself once again (for the millionth time!) on the path towards God. Keep striving to be and stay in God.