Church Leaders in Cuba Farm

After a long day in the sun harvesting beans by hand with five of his friends and helpers, this farmer begins the task of separating the beans from the chaff using an electric fan. Then he and his crew take turns hand digging a new well. (The top of the well is below the beams and a man is 12′ below shoveling dirt into a pail). It was just two years ago that churches (and individuals) were permitted to own farms.

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In a country where the average salary is $25 per month, monthly food budgets run out in a week. But church farms now provide needed basic food – beens, rice, yucca and some pork – to feed many people in the church, jobs for some and help to the most materially poor through ministries to street kids and the elderly.

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By stepping in and helping the poor, church leaders demonstrate great faith and cause skeptical government officials to ask why. We would consider them poor! And many of them do not know where next weeks’ groceries are going to come from, but they share anyway.

Click here for more info on helping us help them.

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Hope for Senior Citizens in Cuba

“Why would you want to open a home for senior citizens?” asked the government official.

Years ago the Cuban government closed all church-run orphanages and senior assisted living homes. Recently the churches we work with have been granted permission to start the first assisted living home in one major city in more than 50 years. It’s called “La Casa de Esperanza” – The House of Hope and serves 7 full-time residents and adult day-care for more. Uncommon.

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We attended the grand opening on the veranda. There is Miguel, one of my co-trainers, leading the program.

Surprisingly, three government officials also attended, took the tour, heard the testimonies, the hymns we sang and listened to the speakers talk about Christianity. It was almost a church service!

 

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They later spent 30 minutes quizzing a key church leader about why Christians would want to do such a thing. The churches barely have enough, why take on others’ burdens? The answer: Christians are taught to love others and care for their neighbors. Even if it costs them.

 

In a country where the average salary is $20-25 per month, caring for the weak and aged is especially hard. But the gospel is being proclaimed in word and deed in Cuba and the church there is growing in surprising ways.

https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/CUBA

Can’t Not Go to Language School!

Elizabeth and I are going to language school! Why?

Planning for January through August 2016. You may have heard hints but I’ve been waiting to write about details. Here is a four-part general overview and a request for prayer about supporting us with a special one-time support gift and/or helping us raise funds.

1. The opportunity in Cuba gets bigger. Aren’t you too old for this? Maybe! Ha! But Cuba is Too Big not to go learn more better Spanish. Elizabeth needs to learn too. In Latin America, people need to know me with my wife. And we may travel more. A lot more. She’s prepared to make the sacrifice.

Cuban house church leaders are asking for us to help them! In a country with so many hardships, poverty and struggle, Cuban church leaders want coaching training? Yes. It’s helping them apply the gospel to the challenges in their lives and helping them multiply the gospel to their families, neighbors and cities. They travel far and at great expense to learn. Twenty people in this one group paid more than the average Cuban monthly salary to get to our training.

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Leadership of the Cuban training organization CENCAP came here from Havana to Atlanta to ask for a longer commitment from us. They now have asked us to make a 3-5 year commitment to train, certify and multiply Cuban trainers so the 40,000 leaders currently in training can all have a coach! They want us to implement coaching in all churches, house churches, their seminary and arts ministry!

Why?

The coaching training you sent me to lead is already making a vast impact! And they want more! The CENCAP leaders said coaching may be the most vital aspect of their training in the gospel. Wow. We really need to improve our language skills!

2. So language school here we come, Lord willing! This opportunity requires that we raise extra funds by October 30. Would you ask Jesus about making an extra one-time gift to get us through language school and on to train Cuban leaders?

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40,000 house churches like this one in a barrio of Havana could reach hundreds of thousands more Cubans in the next few years.

Pastor Magdiel (top left corner) and his wife (Arlenis in purple shirt) and kids (clowning in front) lead four different house churches. He and other house church leaders in Cuba need a Cuban gospel coach that will help them thrive under the stresses of poverty, injustice, spiritual attack on the front lines of the battlefield.

So, will you please pray about helping us gain the language skills we need to train Cuban leaders to train Cuban gospel coaches?

Another way you could help would be to ask Jesus also if you ought to help us raise support among your family and friends by sending emails or messages on our behalf. Who do you know that might help? Sign up on the webpage to ‘help raise funds’ on the support page. Or simply forward this email with a paragraph or two of your own. Every bit helps!

Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

1.We will return to Atlanta. It’s our home base. The eight-month move is temporary. While we’re gone, Erica and Austin, daughter and son-in-law will move into the house.
2. After language learning, we’ll take extensive visits to Cuba but not move. That’s an unnecessary challenge. Once trained, Cuban leaders will provide much better training at a fraction of the cost of a non-Cuban.
3. Elysia will join us after her 2nd semester at UGA and take classes for her Spanish minor at the nearby university through a UGA cooperative program.
4. I’ll still work and coach church planters while in school. The internet makes it easy.
5. Elizabeth will study full-time. She’s started working on Spanish basics.
6. We are applying to the Spanish Language Institute where I took an intensive course in 2013. It’s in downtown San Jose Costa Rica. And yes, you can visit!
7. And the answer to most common FAQ? No, language school in Costa Rica is not a vacation. Haha!

3. Ask for practical help and support. Extra expenses for language school include travel, tuition, extra tutoring, room and board, extra insurance, books and all that goes into re-locating for eight months.

So would you pray and ask Jesus if he wants you to be part of the team who will support us through language school?

If yes, click here to make a donation.

And/or click here to help raise funds in your circle of friends? Click on the last sentence if you want to learn more. Or email me and I can explain help

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Costs should be about $27,000. We have $10,500 of that pledged already (as of October 11, $14,100). This is a new thing for CMM so in order to get clearance to go in January 2016, we need to demonstrate to our board of directors that we have the support base to take this risk by October 30.

CMM has made it easier to give online with a new system that takes debit or credit cards through end of October. Paper checks are great too.

Please send any checks to this address:

CMM – Language School
PO Box 3284
Alpharetta GA 30023-3284

4.This is WAY beyond us! We need your prayers and financial support more now than ever! We are nervous. I am nervous about more work in Cuba, learning Spanish better (can I do it?), raising more support and even using new online giving and asking you to help raise funds on top of already supporting us without calling everyone! Pray for us, we’re nervous about what you’ll think and if we’ll be able to raise the money in time! I’m not in control and don’t know if any of it is going to work! This is beyond my typical risk-taking, make-it-happen comfort level!

We have to trust Jesus in a big way! Wow do we need your prayers!!

Honored and overwhelmed by your support for God’s call,
Jim and Elizabeth

Married 28 years today

Newlyweds at Westminster Presbyterian, Atlanta on June 27, 1987

My bride Elizabeth and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary today.

I am deeply grateful for her. She is my best friend, a most excellent mother to our children and a godly woman who points me and many to Jesus through her music, teaching, serving and example.

Much has changed in this short time and will continue to change. Children, weddings, gospel maturity, pain, poverty, wealth, homes, churches planted, new vocations, languages, technologies and new friends. Amazing how the events of these last two weeks underscore how the world changes quickly and slowly at the same time. But one thing has only increased.

I want her more than ever before.

Being married to Elizabeth is an increasingly beautiful foreshadowing of The Wedding of Eternity for which Christ is preparing His Bride (Revelation 19:6-9). Truth and Grace prepare the Bride of Christ for Final Judgment that ushers in the New Heavens and the New Earth where His people are WITH Him. This is the greatest good. We live in such gratitude that He would chose us for each other and for Himself. It is so good it is hard to imagine. That He would grant us a joy for which we were made, redeemed and celebrate daily? It is a Joy that we could never earn. Intimacy and love that proves His worth and glory. Being married to you Elizabeth as followers of Jesus is an honor. Anticipating eternity.

Happy Anniversary my love. Living with you is like heaven on earth.

Hope Demonstrated in Tragic yet Joyful Death

I wrote a week ago and asked for prayer for my friend Carlos Rodriguez and his family in Virginia Beach VA. Their 17 year-old son, Mark, was shot and killed on his way home from attending graduation. A police officer and the shooter also died. It was a huge shock in that suburban area. Huge local story that ended up on Yahoo!, in the UK’s Daily Mail and national news sources. My first post has links to the breaking story videos. A lot of shock and dismay.

So what happened after the news broke? Carlos and Leigh Ellen demonstrated a sure hope in Christ and inspired thousands as they publicly shared their sadness and joy during a trauma that would knock most people out. They were real and inspiring. They had multiple TV interviews and both spoke at a packed funeral.

Mark’s online blog and journals were full of amazingly mature views about God, life and specifically heaven. You could tell this young man was well parented and well discipled. Hundreds of thousands have viewed his blog where six weeks ago Mark wrote a post entitled ‘Heaven’ that closes with the words, ‘God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever.’ Amazing. Sad. Joyful. Inspiring. Hopeful.

It appears to me that the whole community was caught off guard by the idea that a family would not be devastated by this news but, in fact, actually celebrate God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of a tragedy. Eternal life is real to them.

It was a remarkable funeral. The news coverage was amazingly open to hearing the Rodriguez family and friends talk about God and specifics about the Christian faith that might normally be edited out. You can get a sense of their godly reaction by watching any of these.

  • 3 minute news clip after the funeral five days later
  • Carlos speaking at memorial two days after Mark’s death – news coverage
  • Carlos’ interview – WAVY NBC news
  • Leigh Ellen and Carlos’ interview – WTKR news – “I don’t bear any malice toward [Mark’s murderer]”  

Thanks and keep on praying for them. They are going to go through waves of emotion and grief. Pray for me too as I talk to Carlos as well. Pray for their church, Redeemer Presbyterian, as they grieve too.

We’re going to be mulling over the Rodriguez’ God-focused, gracious and faith-filled reaction to this tragedy for years. This experience has modeled for me and Elizabeth to trust the Lord in the face of suffering.

And to never doubt that He is good.

Friend’s son killed. Hope?

Mark Rodriguez, the 17-year old son of a friend, was killed in a random shooting last night in Norfolk VA. Carlos Rodriguez, Mark’s dad, is a church planter I coach. It’s surreal. Too impossible to consider!

(Update: Sunday Carlos and Leigh Ellen spoke at Mark’s memorial service. Local TV coverage here. Funeral services this Wednesday at 1pm at Tabernacle Church in Norfolk.)

Mark was coming home from a graduation event at his school and a guy taking pot shots with a high-powered rifle killed Mark. The police tracked him down. He took the life of an officer and then was killed in the arrest struggle. News account here and here.

My wife Elizabeth and I were discussing, “Could there be any worse news?” I’m dull with shock. Can’t imagine what Carlos and Leigh Ellen are feeling. Mark was the oldest of four. What do his younger brothers Will and Daniel and his little sister Maria feel? Their church family at Redeemer Presbyterian in Virginia Beach? The kids at Mark’s school? The whole community? The grieving police officer’s family and the Norfolk PDt? What in the world do you do but weep? Writing this all out is my way of processing what has happened and what hope we should believe in light of it

Life is short. And it is wise to stop and ask, ‘What hope do you have? Are you ready for eternity?’

Here’s what I know. Based on his dad’s testimony, I know Mark was ready.

In our many coaching calls, Carlos talked about his son Mark quite a lot. And I enjoyed listening. This young man sounded like the kid every parent would hope for. Carlos said Mark loved the Lord. He was very challenged by the call to be a ‘radical Christian.’ Last summer he went on a long mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Nicarauga last summer. Not a week with his buddies but a summer. Because he was outwardly focused on others. His dad said he had a super high IQ, loved sports, school, was applying for scholarships – could do anything he wanted. He wanted to be a radical Christian. From what I can tell by listening to his dad, he was.

But God decided to take him home suddenly. Crushingly sudden and seemingly random to us. Causes me to wonder about God’s wisdom sometimes…

Trusting that the Church in Virginia Beach and surrounding areas – which in Carlos’ case includes the PCA and two other churches where he had served – will be the hands and feet of Jesus. That they will weep and mourn together knowing that Mark is happier than we can imagine with Jesus.

Can we know for sure? Yes. In Mark’s case it was clear he trusted in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross in his place and that because Jesus paid the penalty for his sins, God who raised Jesus from the dead, will one day raise Him from the dead too.

Carlos just texted me:

Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts. I don’t often understand God’s ways but I trust His character.

This man Carlos and his son Mark – and their whole family and church – inspire me. May you dear reader consider this amazing hope and receive what Christ Jesus has done for sinners who will simply trust in him.

Mark was blogging last month. “God is super-good. Can’t wait to be with him forever.”

I’ve been meditating on heaven a lot lately, and I must say, it wells my eyes with tears of joy every now and then. What a beautiful thought that one day, I will be completely in the presence of God and will actually be able to feel the magnitude of all his love and peace with no earthly fears or worries to distract me. The joy that I feel now, the serenity I feel now, will finally be made perfect.

The presence of God here on earth is enough to make me shudder in wonder. I’ve had some incredible moments in life that can only be explained as miracles where I see my Abba, my Father move in love for me so powerfully; it brings me to my knees in amazement. To think that one day I will be perfectly and totally in his presence….I’m definitely going to need a heavenly body because the joy he fills me with now sometimes makes me feel like I’m about to explode!

I love the image of Heaven because it is perfect, perfect peace. Every quarrel, every hurt, it’s all gonna be resolved. All of God’s children will be together and we won’t hurt each other anymore; we’ll finally understand how to love perfectly. And the fact that we’ll all be worshiping the Lord together in one place, forever….that amazes me.

It makes me so excited to think of the wedding feast awaiting us when we go to be with the Lord. I imagine streets filled with rejoicing, loud trumpets, wedding bells….I’m sure it’ll be far more incredible than I can comprehend now, and I love that.

God is super good. I can’t wait to be with him forever:)

(Kudos to ABC13 for posting this on their website in it’s entirety.)

Are you sure you will go to heaven if you were you to die today?

You can know for sure. God explains it in the Bible. If you want to talk about it more, I’m more than happy to chat with you about it.

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Pray for this dear family and the many traumatized by this tragedy.