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Author: sristow82@gmail.com

Norman Rockwell-ish

Norman Rockwell-ish

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas is just around the corner! Back in Oregon we spent the holidays at my in-law’s home where we could always count on a roaring fire in the fireplace, a table straight out of Martha Stewart Living, gourmet food served on fine china, the Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music playing in the background, and happy chatter filling the air as the kids played games and the adults caught up on the latest news around town.

Our holidays in the village look a little different. We serve as many canned, boxed and prebaked foods as possible, on paper plates and plastic folding tables, with the hum of the diesel heater serenading anyone who decides to venture up to the church for a warm meal.  Not your Norman Rockwell scene but quite possibly the very essence of what he hoped to convey in his paintings…simplicity mixed with a little chaos, sprinkled with laughter, and blended together with love…the perfect environment for thankfulness. May you also enjoy a very Norman Rockwell-ish Thanksgiving!

If You Build It, They Will Come

If You Build It, They Will Come

“What do you mean I have to go in my ‘birthday suit’?” I asked.

“Exactly what I said, you know, free willy!” responded the villager with a smile. Every bone in my prudish body recoiled at the thought of taking a 250-degree steam bath with a group of naked men all huddled inside a 6’x6′ wood-fired banya. “God, you’ve taken so much, at least let me keep my modesty,” I pleaded. “If not for me, then for the sight of the villagers as my glowing, freakishly white body would surely blind any onlooker.”

Ahhhh…life in the village. So much to learn, so much to experience, so different than what we’re accustomed to. “Taking banya” is no exception. Fortunately for everyone involved that night, including me, taking banya with my skivvies on was deemed acceptable for the “wimpy whitey”.

Not that long ago these steam houses played an important part of village life. They were a place for families and friends to gather, talk, pray, and wash with each other. Much like a sauna in the lower 48, these steam houses were essential for the physical, spiritual and mental health of the participants.  But over the years indoor plumbing made its way to the village and the banya fires were snuffed out. Today there are only a couple active banyas so very few people are able to participate in this tradition.

The more I was invited and participated in the banya, the more I grew to love it. It relaxes, cleanses, and provides a great place to have deep conversations with others. As I was enjoying a banya one night (with my skivvies on, of course), God pressed on my heart a “build-it-and-they-will-come” moment. “What?! Build a banya?”

“Yes. Build a banya and open it up for the entire village to enjoy.”

So we built a banya.

A generous donor funded the project and as the building began to take shape, the villagers caught the wave of excitement and donated body soap, wash rags, and firewood. Our friends from Sonshine Treasures sent us scripture verses to put inside the walls and cover the building with God’s word and their prayers. In the first week of “lighting up” 25 villagers (20% of the village) steamed in our banya! From 7-year-olds to 70-year-olds people are now basking in the warmth of the building. Our prayer is that the villagers will experience the warmth of Jesus as they relax in the warmth of the banya.

Remember the Cross

Remember the Cross

We all love happy endings.  We love when the prince comes and rescues the princess; we love when the evil step-sisters get what’s due them; and we love when our team wins the Super Bowl.  But sometimes in our excitement to experience the happily ever after, we fast forward to the end of the story instead of starting from the beginning.  In fact, this is so common in our culture that a man named Paul Harvey created a radio show just to give us the rest of the story!  Why?  Because sometimes, in order to fully appreciate the “happily ever after” we need to hear the whole story.

And so it is with the Easter story.  Oh, we all know the G-rated version of the Easter story, but most of us just want to rush to the empty tomb and forget about the not-so-nice part of the story.  But without a TRUE understanding of the rest of the story, we cannot fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.

So come back with me 2000 years ago to the Holy Week in Jerusalem.  Let’s pick up the story where Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of Jesus and handed him over to the angry crowd.  By this time Jesus has already suffered a great deal:  Judas has betrayed him and the other disciples have abandoned him, the palace guards have “spit in his face and struck him with their fists.” (Matt. 26:27); and he has been subjected to unlawful trials in which he is falsely accused of blasphemy.  Here is where the story becomes even more unbelievable.

Now in the hands of the angry crowd, Jesus is stripped completely naked in front of a large crowd of soldiers, his hands are tied to a post above his head, and a Roman legionnaire steps forward, mockingly delivering the first blow of the whip, a whip made of several strips of leather embedded with sharp pieces of bone and lead.  The first few blows rip into Jesus’ flesh.  One, two, three, four, five.…39 lashes later, Jesus’ skin is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is a mass of torn bleeding tissue.

Oh, but the soldiers are not done yet!  They can’t believe their good fortune!  They have permission from the higher-ups to pulverize a KING!  And not just any king, but the King of the JEWS!  And so their tortuous rampage continues.  They throw a scarlet robe across His bleeding shoulders and place a staff in his hand for a scepter.  To complete the kingly outfit, they construct a crown of thorns and pound it onto his head.  All the while they continue to mock him, spit on him, and strike his head over and over with the staff they have placed in his hand.  Finally, beaten and battered beyond recognition, the guards violently rip the robe off Jesus’ back, the robe that has now glued itself to the strips of flesh.

After putting his clothes back on him, the soldiers stand Jesus up and tie the 110 pound cross bar of the cross on his shredded shoulders.  Then they begin the 650 yard journey along the Via Dolorosa.  The crowd is mocking him, and the guards continue to spit on him and beat him.  There are people everywhere, watching, but Jesus is alone.

Part way to Golgotha, Jesus stumbles and falls from the weight of the cross beam, the copious amounts of blood loss, and the excruciating pain from his beatings.  An onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, is ordered to carry the cross for Jesus the rest of the way.

They reach Golgotha and Simon drops the cross beam.  Once again, Jesus is stripped naked.  The guards throw him back on to the cross beam with His bloodied shoulders scraping against the wood.  The soldiers waste no time in driving the 6 inch wrought-iron nails through Jesus’ wrists and into the wood.  The cross bar is lifted into place on the vertical post of the cross which is permanently in the ground.  His left foot is then pressed against his right foot and another long nail is driven through both feet and into the wooden cross.  A sign is nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Dr. C. Truman Davis describes what happens next:  “At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward, and thus air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.  It was undoubtedly during these periods that He gasped, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  And finally, six long and excruciating hours after the crucifixion began, Jesus cries out, “It is finished.  Father!  Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Some time later, when the soldiers come to break his legs to hasten his death, they notice he is already dead.  But just to make sure, one of the soldiers pierces Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  In the medical world, this escape of water indicates that Jesus has not died from suffocation as is usually the case in crucifixions, but rather, he has died of heart failure, aka, a broken heart.

Finally, His mission of atonement is complete.

And here is where we reach our happy ending:  Jesus is risen!  Because of that fateful day 2000 years ago, our sins are dead and we have new life!  Don’t let a romanticized version of a beautiful wooden cross standing in the middle of a daffodil patch minimize what Jesus did for you and me!   Don’t allow the cross to become a cliché in your life, its meaning as empty as Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning!

Yes, the death of Jesus is horrific and painful to talk about.  But if we don’t ever visit Jesus’ death and acknowledge that our sins put him on the cross, we will never fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.  And without the empty tomb, there IS no happily ever after!

I want to challenge you to not let your Easter celebration slip by without thanking Jesus for taking your place on the cross.  Thank him for carrying all your sins and failures to the grave and leaving them there when He rose again.   And thank Him for showing his love for you through the REST of the story.

Merry Moose-mas!

Merry Moose-mas!

Before we moved to Port Graham the only kind of hunting I did was for a good deal at my favorite home décor store.  I could move silently down the aisles and quickly scope out all the red tag sales until I found the perfect deal.  After paying for my prize, I’d bag it and pack it home.  Quick, easy, no mess.

Then we moved to Alaska.

Here in Alaska hunting looks a little different.  Oh it still involves moving silently down the aisles (of trees) and scoping out your surroundings (to make sure you’re not being followed by any number of hungry four-legged creatures), and the head of the prize can still be used in home décor but that’s about where the similarities begin and end.  I’m still growing accustomed to this sort of hunting…and decorating.

Moose hunting is a big deal in the village and this year’s hunt did not disappoint.  Never having seen a moose up close and personal before, and thinking we could help pack it back to the village, we hopped on our ATV and drove out to the site.  If you’ve ever wondered how big a moose is, imagine a minivan with hair and hooves and you’d have a pretty good idea of the size.  Then imagine having to pack that hairy minivan with hooves through a swampy field, up a treacherous hill, and down a gravel road to the village.  Now I know why meat is so expensive!

The minivan, er, I mean moose, was disassembled and stuffed into hunting backpacks.  Anxious to help, and ignoring the butcher’s sideways glance and raised eyebrow, I confidently stepped up to receive one of the backpacks loaded with delicious moose ribs. “Load me up!  I’ve got this!”  Three steps later I was questioning my ability to carry the pack through the field and back up the steep hill to the truck but I was not going to ask for help.  No way.

Now I am not the most coordinated of people, and gravity seems to have a stronger pull on me than the average person so it was no surprise when on the way up the hill I stepped into a hidden two-foot hole, fell forward into Maddie who flung out her arms to balance herself and subsequently nailed me in the noggin with her elbow. Little stars danced around my head, and for a moment I thought I saw Elvis singing in the field. Standing back up and dusting off my pride, I continued up the hill.

With each step the backpack got heavier and I slowed to a snail’s pace.  When I was half way up the hill (which seemed like Mt. Everest at this point) my foot slipped off a log and my top-heavy load pulled me backwards.  Instantly I transformed into a human windmill trying to prevent the inevitable fall, and when I finally landed I looked like a turtle on its back–there was no way I was going to get out of this one on my own.  At that moment I heard a rustling in the bushes above me and all of the sudden it occurred to me that I was wandering in bear country with a blood-soaked, meat-laden backpack attached to me.  I was like a giant bear Kong!  Just before my imagination had me in the jaws of a hungry black bear the rustling stopped and out popped the village Chief.  I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised, but the Chief recovered much more quickly than I did and made no attempt to hide his amusement at my predicament.  After he recovered from his side-splitting laughter, he climbed down the hill, lifted my pack and helped this turtle get back on her feet.

Once I had regained my composure, I had to admit my little mishap with the moose ribs (I like to think of it as tenderizing the meat) was a pretty good reminder about the Christian life.  You see, life loads up our packs with all kinds of anxieties and burdens, but we think we’re strong, independent and capable of bearing that heavy load without anyone’s help.  We’ve got this, right?  But the longer we carry that burden on our own, the heavier it gets and we often stumble and fall under the weight of it all.  But God never intended for us to carry our burdens alone!  He gave us each other and commanded that we “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

As we look in the rear view mirror for this year, we are greatly humbled by the number of people who have helped us carry our load. Without the power of the Holy Spirit and your prayers, encouragement, and support we would be as ineffective as a turtle on its back.  We are truly grateful for your love and friendship.  May you be richly blessed this Christmas season and in the new year ahead.

With love,

Steve, Audrey, Klaira and Maddie

 

The Great Equalizer

The Great Equalizer

Image result for Rose On GravestoneIt is a cold and snowy December afternoon when the small plane pulls to a stop on the village runway.  Many villagers have gathered to welcome home one of their own, but this is not a joyful reunion.

We stand at a distance and watch as the family disembarks and then turns to wait silently for their 2-year-old son to join them.  Moments later a small wooden casket emerges from the belly of the plane.  Their son is home.

As the local pastoral family our presence is expected in this sacred moment; as a Chaplain I long to comfort the family; as a mother the haunting scene brings me to my knees and a tidal wave of deep grief floods my being.

A short while later we join the silent procession of villagers as they walk the little boy to his final resting place on a hill overlooking the bay.  It is as if a vacuum has sucked all the oxygen out of the air as the men lower the flower-laden casket into the ground and begin to cover it.  If only the hole in our hearts could be filled so easily!

As I look around at the tear-stained faces I am reminded that death is the Great Equalizer.  It cares nothing for age, wealth, fame, position, health or happiness.  It shows no favoritism.  It takes everything and owes nothing.

The family’s pain will lessen over time but it will never disappear completely, and the question of why will not be answered on this side of heaven.  Don’t wait another minute to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them.  You might not get another chance.

The Journey Begins…

The Journey Begins…

Once upon a time, five months ago to be exact, we asked God to radically change our lives.    [Warning:  If you ask God to radically change your life, you better be prepared for Him to RADICALLY change your life!]

Six months earlier….

In June, God laid on Steve’s heart to study the ominous book of Revelation. I was less than enthused about jumping into the future with seven-headed dragons, locusts with human faces, and death and destruction like the world has never seen (Hollywood really ought to make a movie out of that Book—it would be a best seller, I’m sure).  I’m more a Book-of-Ruth-kind-of-girl myself, but seeing the excitement in Steve’s eyes as he talked about studying something more “guy-like”, I acquiesced.

On July 7th, we arrived at Revelation 3:14-22. Let me provide you with an excerpt: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are luke-warm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17.

Wow! Can you say two-by-four between the eyes? The Holy Spirit convicted us right then and there, and that’s when we asked God to radically change our lives.

One day later (God doesn’t waste time) Steve called me from work and dropped the bomb, “Sweetie, God just released me from my job at Quiet Waters Outreach (QWO). He has asked me to resign. My 18-year-anniversary with QWO is next February, which will give the Board time to find my replacement.”

I looked outside to see if pigs were flying, the sky was falling, or a seven-headed dragon was on my doorstep—did Steve REALLY just tell me that he was resigning from QWO, our ONLY source of income, with NOTHING ELSE TO GO TO?!  Well, I didn’t see any pigs, clouds, or seven-headed dragons on my porch….just my neighbor. And being the sensitive wife that I am, I told Steve, “Hold that thought, I’m going to have to call you back. Our neighbor is knocking at the door.”

I opened the door and managed to smile and say, “Hi Amy. What brings you here?” (I am embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t ever had the neighbor over to our house before!) And as if my day had not been strange enough, Amy says, “I wanted to tell you that if you ever want to sell your house, I would like to buy it. If you are interested, I have to tell you that I can’t buy it till February.” Uh, wow! I give her the tour and she says, “Sold.”

Steve gave his 7-month notice to the Board of Directors that week, and then we waited. “Ok, God, we did what you asked, and in seven months we will have no income. We don’t want to rush you or anything but now would be a good time to tell us what we are to do next!”

His answer, “I want you to be missionaries.” LOL! Us, missionaries? As in, sell everything you own and move to Africa? Ha, ha, funny, funny. No really God, what do You want us to do?

“I want you to be missionaries. And if you think I’m kidding, read Mark 10:17-31.” Hmmmm, what is that passage? Let me provide you with an excerpt: “’….One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Ouch!  We realized that we had been building and maintaining our own kingdom instead of God’s.  At that moment of realization, God confirmed it by playing Colton Dixon’s song “More of You” on the radio.  Ok. We get it.  Less of us, more of you.  We want to experience YOU, God, in a big way.

During the next month, God led us on a journey of researching mission fields: Ireland, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Haiti, and finally, Dominican Republic.  On August 16, God shut the last door on those countries.  Feeling a little weary and slightly irritated I looked at Steve and said, “Why can’t we just find a tiny town in a cold place (I don’t DO heat!) that needs a pastor and someone to just love on the townsfolk?”  Steve retorted, “I don’t WANT to be a pastor!”  Famous last words…

The next day, August 17, Steve Googled “long-term mission opportunities in cold places”.  And what should appear but “Alaska Village Missions”.  Their village mission opportunity was tailor-made for us.  Excitedly, we requested information.  Silence.  No response.  So we contacted two other organizations that send missionaries to remote Alaskan villages.  We prayed that God would narrow our search down to one organization and one village. We were granted interviews with the other organizations but God closed the doors on both of them.

On that very day, September 15, when God closed the last door, the Director of Alaska Village Missions (AVM) Ray Arno, responded to our request for information.  He said AVM had one village opportunity in Port Graham, and that opportunity had just opened up.  After a lengthy conversation with Steve, he invited us to apply.

A few days later a good friend of mine called and said, “Audrey, I have been praying for you and the Lord keeps prompting me to give you a verse.  It is Revelation 3:8.”

REVELATION 3?!  Isn’t that the chapter that started this whole adventure?  I couldn’t remember any positive encouragement coming from Chapter 3 so I hesitantly looked it up:  “I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Revelation 3:8a

On October 15, the Director of AVM called and told us the Board approved our applications and would like meet us in person.

Through the generous donation of air miles from the Maxfield family (thank you, Jenn and David!), Steve and I were able to fly up to Alaska for an interview with the Board of Directors on November 10th.  The Board welcomed us to AVM, but we still had to be invited by the villagers of Port Graham.

We have been told by numerous people that the Natives of Alaska are not particularly fond of outsiders, so we arrived in Port Graham wondering how God was going to break down the walls and open the doors for us to connect with the villagers.  We didn’t have to wonder very long.

“Remote” in Alaska means you can only get there by submitting yourself to a terrifying bush plane ride that will bring you as close to meeting God as you can come without actually seeing him face to face.  Port Graham is remote.  I have never been so happy to feel the earth beneath my feet!

The Director of AVM had arranged for the village Chief, Pat, to meet us at the airstrip and give us a tour of Port Graham.  Pat was understandably very reserved for the first thirty minutes as he graciously showed us around and told us about the village, but when Steve and Pat started talking about fishing, all the walls came down.  Pat took us to the local community center, post office, general store and health clinic to introduce us to several of the villagers.  He even took us for a ride around the bay in his fishing boat.  God is good.

Fast forward to today. As of November 16th, we have officially joined the AVM team and are moving forward in this radical adventure to experience God. QWO found a new Director to replace Steve, we are meeting with our neighbor next week to finalize the sale of our house, we are looking for homes for our dog and two cats (adoption, anyone? 🙂 ), we’re getting rid of most of our worldly goods, and we’re excited.

We hope you will stay tuned as we embark on our adventure with God. And if God nudges your heart to study the book of Revelation, you might want to invest in some moving boxes!

In His Service,
Audrey