God must Cry

Wooden candlestick being crafted on a homemade lathe in Botswana, Africa

I met a man selling African carvings at the Northwood Centre in Edmonton last week. No one was around, so I stopped to chat.

“I’m curious which country these curios are from.”

“Ghana.”

“I spent my childhood years in South Africa and Botswana.”

“That’s a long way away.”

“Yes, it is. My sister and her family are living in Cameroon, which is closer.”

“Yes! Right around the corner from Ghana.”

“Are you selling these carvings for friends?”

“Yes. I go back to Ghana every year for a visit. When was the last time you were in Africa?”

“I went with my husband and daughter in 2003. We visited Victoria Falls. The day we went there were over 100 vendors trying to sell curios to buy food for their families. It made me very sad, because I knew I couldn’t buy from all of them. It’s a beautiful country, but the politics is ruining it.”

“Politics in Africa is interesting. Everyone has an idea of what should happen. And many people end up very poor, with nothing.”

“They may be poor, but they are generous. They’ll give you the shirt off their back.”

Yes, they will. There are also many greedy people. Like churches. In Ghana every second house is a church.”

“Really? Every second house?”

“Oh yes. People have figured out there’s money to be made if you have a ‘church’ and they invite people in and take their money. They even ‘hang them upside down and shake out the pockets’ to make sure they got it all.”

“God must cry when He sees that happen.”

This conversation has continued to play in my head. And I ask myself, “How do people see me and my faith? Am I living so that they see a true picture of God, or is it all distorted? Do I make God cry?”

 

 


Anna Tymchuk – My Hero in Olga’s Discovery

NOTE: This is the third topic in a blog hop I’m hosting for writers. To check out what other writers have to say on this topic, click on the button below:Blog Hop for WritersToday I would like to introduce you to Anna Tymchuck, a minor character from my historical fiction book, Olga’s Discovery. The stock photo below is exactly how I envision Anna. The story is set in the late 1950’s. Anna lives on a farm in rural Alberta. I’m aiming to have the book published in 2015.

Happy senior woman

She may be diminutive, but Anna is no pushover. Her graying hair is culture_heritage_201050_tnsusually pulled up in a bun, covered with a kerchief. Smile wrinkles line her face, belying the hardships she’s experienced in life. Blue-gray eyes twinkle with delight as she observes her nearly adult children. Her non-Ukrainian friends complain that she always smells like garlic. She just smiles and tells them they don’t know what good food tastes like. People who know her well will tell you she’s always humming. She claims it keeps her sane.

BibleAnna starts and ends her day with prayer. Her prayer book is tucked into her apron and is read often throughout the day. As the matriarch of her family, she takes her role of spiritual leader seriously. God is not some remote being to her, but a personal friend who walks close beside her each day. She prays often that her children will also develop personal relationships with their Heavenly Father. Although she trusts God, she does worry, about many things. Especially her children.

golden_wheat_icon_tnsShe spends many hours in the kitchen, but she’s equally at home around horses or doing field work. Just don’t ask her to drive a truck or tractor. She claims they have a mind of their own and are dangerous. Her hands are calloused and rough, her arms muscular, from a life of hard work. From the time she was a young child, Anna worked alongside other members of her family to eke out an existence in the Ukraine. She was courted by Wasyl Tymchuk, a tall, handsome young man from her village. At their marriage ceremony, she pledged to love, honor and obey him until death. They emigrated to Alberta, Canada, where they homesteaded and started raising their family. One tragic day, Anna had to lay Wasyl’s body to rest after a tractor crushed the life out of him. Despite the loss of her husband and the realities she faced raising four children by herself, she is a kind, gentle, godly woman.

b6_3d_coffee03_tnsPeople in the community of Gillmore look to her for friendship, wisdom, and grounding. If they need advice, she is the first person they seek out. The coffee is always on and Anna stops whatever she’s doing to sit and visit with whoever drops by to see her. Her pampushke (yeast buns filled with a poppy seed and fruit filling) are legendary.

pillar_column_108209_tnsAnna is not one of the primary characters in Olga’s Discovery, but she is twenty-one-year-old Olga’s (the main character) mother. Olga loves and respects her mother, but doesn’t share her mother’s view of God. This is a source of great concern to Anna. Throughout the story, she gently, and not so gently, reminds Olga that she needs to nurture a close relationship with God. As Olga’s life unravels, she leans more and more on her mother to be her pillar. Anna is able to offer her daughter strength because of her own faith.

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Guest Post – A Touched Life

Today I’m happy to welcome Murray Pura to my blog. Murray was our keynote speaker at the 2013 InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship Fall Conference. I appreciate his emphasis on saying “yes” when God asks you to do something. You can find out more about Murray and his writing at http://www.murraypura.com/.

Murray Pura

Murray says: “I started writing stories when I was eight or nine, hand printing them on 5 x 3 index cards, drawing the covers, and giving them to my mom to read. One thing led to another and early in the 21st century I was invited to write my first inspirational non-fiction for the US market. My passion from that early time forward, is still to create such well crafted writing that it takes you inside of itself, somewhere you can deeply experience and truly enjoy. I hope you’ll give one of my books a try and if you have read one or two and enjoyed them drop me a line and let me know about it.”

A Touched Life

When I do research for historical fiction one of the first things that strikes me is how much everyone has suffered down through the ages. That we no sooner cure the world’s ills – like leprosy or TB or polio or the Black Death – only to have other ills take their place – lung cancer, obesity, dementia – or see the old ills return with a vengeance. Wars have not lessened, or rape, or violent crimes, or the death of children by the dozens, the hundreds, and the millions. Always leaving in their wake those who experience the loss and who grieve. And many who find the strength to get up and keep going and not only keep going but do great things, important things, powerful things, things that bless.

Not everyone can get up again and do that. For some the suffering is so great they simply shut down. They may go through the motions for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years but they’re not really there anymore. They expect nothing, hope for nothing, believe in nothing. Life is over.

For others, most I would guess, the energy returns, the focus returns, they carry on with their lives, even if they still bleed a little inside every day for the rest of their lives. They do good things for their family and friends, even for strangers, do good work at the office or store or company, and are good and kind to their neighbors.

Then there is the touched life, the truly touched life. I find them in my research now and then. I see them in the world around me now and then. People whose hearts and souls have been absolutely flattened, who have lost pretty much all there is to lose without losing their own lives, people you’d expect to lie down and never get up again or to wander off and never be seen again. Yet somehow a miracle happens – not only do they recover, not only do they get back to blessing family and friends and neighbors, they go farther than they ever have before because of what they’ve suffered, not in spite of it. They turn their suffering into heroic acts, they turn it into enormous courage, they create great films, great books, great music, great legislation, great inventions. They will tell you their suffering showed them the way, opened the door, motivated them, inspired them, challenged them, fired them up to change a broken world.

It is always moving and astounding when I uncover these lives. Sometimes their stories are well-known, other times no one has ever heard of them before. It doesn’t matter because once a decent writer gets their hands on the material they can give the story to the world and by so doing breathe new life into millions.

I call it a touched life. A miraculous life. Touched by God and angels even if some of them might not believe in God and angels. To overcome suffering and loss and devastation is one thing. To become much more than you ever were before, to be made anew and made better by that suffering and loss and devastation is something else again. I wish for more such lives for the world around us. The suffering will always be there. I pray the touched lives may always be there as well.


Enter to Win: Transformed by Tough Times

Book Cover

I would like to introduce you to the book Transformed by Tough Times. It is easy to read, but will make you think. I have a copy to give away. Leave a comment and your name will be entered in the draw. The winner of the draw will be announced on May 1st.

 A book about tough times usually implies that the author has had some personal experiences that connect to that topic. Where did the book start for you? 

In college, I was a kicker and punter at Oklahoma State University under a demanding head coach, Jimmy Johnson. (Football fans might recognize him as the coach for two college national championships in the 80’s and a couple of Super Bowls in the 90’s for the Dallas Cowboys). Just playing for Coach Johnson was tough enough, but my sophomore year, I got my knee bent backwards in a Junior Varsity game in Lincoln, Nebraska. When surgery and rehab efforts didn’t get me back to playing football, I eventually had to hang up the cleats. Looking back now, that experience made me more aware of how other people dealt with adversity and caused me to pay more attention to how I could respond when faced with tough times.

Your book transitions pretty quickly from your football days to life as a church planter and how that actually prompted you to write this book. How did that all happen? 

When football didn’t work out, I found myself drawn to ministry in a great church near the OSU campus. Charlie Baker, the pastor of that church, invited me and other college students to partner with him in creating a weekly worship service for students. In doing that ministry I fell in love with the church and decided to go to seminary and be a pastor myself. After getting married and going through seminary training, we eventually moved to Kansas City to start churches. For nearly 20 years we were involved in the roller coaster rides of starting five different churches in our region. Most days, I absolutely loved it. But in one of those church starts we had a train wreck that knocked me for a loop and out of a church that I loved perhaps more than I loved my wife and family.

So after that you went on an even deeper quest for figuring out what was happening to you?  

Right. With a new intensity I began to systematically search the scriptures to find some help for my pain. And I collected information and stories from others wiser than me and from many who had suffered greatly and come through with amazing faith and character.

You write about a day in Costa Rica that changed your life. What happened?  

After the break up from the church, I wound up going to Costa Rica on a mission trip with my parents. My parents, by the way, were missionaries when I was a kid and 30 years prior we had actually lived in Costa Rica. For me, going back was a fun, blast to the past. But more than that, the people there were cathartic for me. I was an emotional mess much of the time. And one day I must have cried with three or four people who needed to know Christ, but who were in pain. God used my pain and my weeping with others to both minister to them and to me. That day I discovered something about God’s ministry of tears and how sometimes He does more through our weaknesses and frailties than He does with our strengths.

So this is where your international ministry began? 

Yes. While in Costa Rica, a Guatemalan man by the name of Cesar Gonzalez invited me to come to his country and dream about ministries and churches for people in Guatemala who don’t like church. To hear the whole story you’d have to pack a lunch! But let me briefly say that Cesar would have been a mafia hit man if God hadn’t gotten a hold of him! With a little encouragement from some pastor friends in Kansas City, I took him up on his invitation, and for two weeks Cesar and I drove around the country looking at dozens of different situations and groups of people. Little did I know then, that 13 years later we would be working in over 55 locations covering Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. I mention this because I have learned a lot from believers from other cultures and have put much of that into the book. Many of us in North America aren’t aware that both Guatemala and El Salvador have been through recent civil wars. Many people there have shared first hand stories of unimaginable grief and heartache. As I have walked alongside them, my faith has been challenged and I have an increasing desire to not just mindlessly go through my tough times, but to actually think deeply and grow through my tough circumstances. As I’ve done a little bit of that, I think it’s time that I pass some of this on to others who can benefit like I have.

Where can people find your book?

For now it’s only available from the trunk of my car! Or, more conveniently, it can be ordered from the website www.TransformedbyToughTimes.com. Soon it should become available on Amazon and we hope to have a Kindle version available in the near future as well. By the way, before Christmas we finished taping the audio book and I can’t wait to unveil that in the next couple of months too.

You also have a companion Bible study available as well right? 

Yes! Thank you for mentioning that. I think I am about as excited about the study guide as I am the book. On the website,www.TransformedbyToughTimes.com is a 24-session small groups Bible study guide that can be downloaded for free. It matches up to chapters in the book and then goes deeper with pertinent Bible stories and information related to the topic. Incidentally, when someone wants me to coach them through their own tough times, this is essentially the material I use. In early tests, we are getting positive feedback from groups going through the book and the Bible study together. Do check it out!

Find out about more opportunities for a free copy of TRANSFORMED BY TOUGH TIMES, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/338690666247617.
This blog host was given a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for posting the author’s interview and/or book review on this blog. CSS Virtual Book Tours are managed by Christian Speakers Services (http://ChristianSpeakersServices.com).

Author Steve ReedABOUT STEVE REED

Steve Reed is the Chief Encouragement Officer and Cross Cultural Catalyst for Daybreak International, a missions organization he founded that is dedicated to planting churches for the marginalized and forgotten peoples of the world. Currently, his two major projects focus on cowboys in Central America, and Kekchi Indians in the jungles of Guatemala. Those who know Steve best speak of his relentless encouragement and undying loyalty to people who face tough times. When not traveling in Central America, Steve comes home to Kansas City. He is married to Nola, and they have three young adult sons, a beloved daughter-in-law, and a grand baby on the way!