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Easter Break Reading List

Reading has taken on a new meaning in our household. Besides having the two kids, who are reading more and more every day, including my text messages from my phone and other personal things they should not see…, my perspective on reading has recently changed.

After having from November 1-February 15 to read 19 books on youth, child development, church, and family, I realize that personal reading is now entirely achievable without stress or effort.

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So upon returning to Ukraine after turning in those 19 book reports to go along with those 19 books we read, I was curious if I was burned out on reading. It has been one month since we’ve been realistically back and able to pick up reading material again. Honestly, I didn’t expect myself to be craving books, but because anything seems feasible after doing such a marathon seminary list, I have conquered four totally different books over the past month.

One was for Fuller and for research. One was a requirement for my youth leadership team in Ukraine. One was recommended to me twice in 24 hours, which to me is always an indication from the Holy Spirit that I need to pay attention. And one was/is (because I am not quite done, but will be SOON!) a treat for reading three non-fiction.

Enjoy my March/April 2017 Reading List!

Growing-Young-6-Essential-Strategies-to-Help-Young-People-Discover-and-Love-Your-Church“Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to help young people discover and love your church” from Kara Powell,  Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin at the Fuller Youth Institute: We’ll have to read this for seminary eventually, and it is a hot church topic right now. Plus, we sat in on a symposium of discussion around this book while we were at Fuller. You want a vibrant church filled with intergenerational ministry? Read this book!! There were so many practical things your church can do to utilize, partner with, embrace, and be blessed by younger generations in your church. My favorite two chapters were handing over the proverbial car keys of leadership to a younger generation. How do you entrust and equip young people so that they can freely take full ownership of their ministry area? I also loved the chapter on loving your community. The younger generation is attracted to causes and philanthropy. They want to make a real difference on society, not just spiritually, but also by meeting needs and fighting for social justice. This chapter was helpful to me for my research in figuring out how to better link churches with public school needs.

blogChurchDisciplineThe Handbook of Church Discipline by Jay Adams: Let me be honest – I liked this book far more than I expected to. It is a short read. It comes across as “scary” and worthy of skepticism because people in general do not understand what church discipline is in the first place. I was worried it was going to be uber-conservative and a complete turn-off. However, Adams explained all the Scriptural backing to the book and shared that it is a practice foreign to most Christians, even though there are many passages in the Bible, both from Jesus and from Paul, that talk about what to do when professing followers of Jesus Christ are choosing to live in sin and not repent and change their ways. What are our obligations to them as brothers and sisters in Christ? What does it mean to have to “hand him over to Satan”? These are strange Biblical topics that are addressed very well by this author. Of course God is the judge and law giver, but in the Body of Christ, we play our part in holding one another accountable to God’s Word, and sometimes we have to “expel the brother or sister”, but how do we do this with grace and compassion, allowing them to be sinners and accepting/loving them through their rebellion? Sticky situations! Good, quick read, particularly the parts about forgiveness and accepting the sinner back into the flock of Christ without going back to past sins.

blogtwoawesomehoursTwo Awesome Hours by Josh Davis, Ph.D.: Yes! I loved this book. Time management is my most relevant topic, both spiritual as well as practically, so I was eager to see what I needed to know about better work habits.
On our very last day at Fuller for our cohort, I looked around the room and made an educated guess at who the classmates are who will faithfully work each week on their first run at their dissertation, faithfully reading a book a week in order to reach that magic number of 100 books read, which is key for your literary review in defending your dissertation. I knew that I would not be one of those people because big projects like this make me anxious and always get crowded out by my family, my Josiah Venture tasks, and other priorities in life. How do we actually find time to work on “High Importance/Low Priority” (Covey’s 4 quadrants) projects in our life, when everything else seems to be so Highly Urgent? How do we dedicate the proverbial two awesome hours, our best hours of the day, to undistracted, dedicated focus on things that require our highest levels of brain power and focus?  I’m thankful that we have an organizational president like Dave Patty, who cares about these things, and who recommended this book. Pray for us, that we will dedicate more awesome hours to things that matter to God and in expanding His kingdom. I don’t want to waste my time on things that will not last.

blogRedeemingLoveRiversRedeeming Love by Francis Rivers: Last but not least, an oldie but a goody, and oh my word. Every woman Christian on the planet has recommended this book. Since 1991 it has become a classic in the library of female Christians, but I never got into the cover! I know the Bible book of Hosea, off of which the story is based, but the story line of marrying a woman who lives a promiscuous lifestyle and doesn’t want to marry him anyway just wasn’t all that interesting to me. However, I knew deep inside that I had to read it. So I threw it in my Amazon basket and finally picked it up. I was taking a long time in reading a few other books on my book list, so I honestly opened this one for a pick-me-up, knowing that reading fiction after so many other types of books would be encouraging to my pace. Since we are just today coming off a short Easter “break” – a nice long weekend, which allotted for personal reading time, I am happy to say that, yes, I love the book. Yes, it is totally captivating. Yes, I want to see how Michael Hosea melts Angel/Mara’s heart. Yes, I find myself filled with compassion for the women in this terrible, degrading lifestyle that seems to have absolutely no end or exit in sight. And, yes, it is encouraging to read a hundred pages in one brief sitting because the book is just that enthralling (not because I am speed reading and forcing myself because of some deadline).

That’s all I have for now, but I know that I have a Meest (courier service to UA) delivery coming with 8 Fuller Seminary must-reads for the summer. Plus two Christian biographies about people dying for their faith in the Middle East. I can’t wait! Even Marissa went to Miss Karilyn’s library (fellow missionary family in our city) and grabbed a handful of great girls’ books for 7-year-olds, so welcome to another reading marathon for the Williams family!

Never Before Have I Felt So Inspired

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Inspire.

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This was the name of our Josiah Venture Fall Conference back in September 2016. There we were inspired and changed by the stories of the first century Church. Jesus ascends to heaven, and the Apostles and disciples go out and bring Christianity to the ends of the civilized world in one generation after Christ. That is inspiring, and our team keeps thinking about it. Boldness. Radical prayer. Spreading God’s kingdom further than we could ask or imagine. 

Inspire.

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Inspire – also the name of our Josiah Venture Ukraine annual leadership conference, which we hosted March 10-12. Two thousand years later we continue the charge given by Jesus to teach people about Him, baptize them, and make them disciples of the Master. What a privilege. What a charge.

We heard stories of how God is on the move, particularly in Asia, where our speaker, Benjamin Francis, is from. We praise God for his organization, Big Life, and for the rapid spread of the Gospel, leading to thousands and thousands of small-group-styled churches across India, the middle East, Asia, and Africa.

A few years ago, Benjamin felt God calling him to go and take his disciple-making practices to Europe, a place that desperately needs an increase in followers of Christ. Yes, Europe was Christianized once, but right now statistics show that only 1-2% of all youth in Central and Eastern Europe follow Christ. Therefore, we remain inspired, asking God for endurance to fulfill His commission and press farther and farther into the charge to reach the nations.

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In Preparation for Easter

blogEasterJesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost. 99% of Central and Eastern European teenagers do not follow Christ. Many of them do not even know Him, the Messiah, the Christ – the one who laid down His perfect life so that we might be made right again with God, and live – today and for eternity.

We celebrate Easter this weekend because we believe with our whole being that King Jesus came, died, rose again, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and is coming again someday to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have NO end, and we want to be a part of that. But it is not just about some future hope in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. No, Christ came to transform our TODAY. This is why we came to Ukraine, to Josiah Venture. This is why we work with the 1% of teenagers whose lives have also been transformed by this powerful Good News. And this is why we can’t stop thinking of the 99% who do not yet have this transformation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

HAPPY EASTER. JOIN THE MOVEMENT.

Two Week Countdown to EXIT

Yesterday we had an organizational meeting about our next EXIT Tour, which starts in two weeks. April 18-21st. I am so excited. This is an incredible project with teenagers. I have blogged much about EXIT since mid February, when we launched the ministry. Also in March 2016 we did something similar with a band, Crossfiya, and lectures, and 4 high schools. I blogged even more about that!

Well, tonight my countdown begins. In order to get excited and to show some live moments of EXIT Tour so people can get a better understanding of what a day looks like, let’s take a tour ourselves.

Photo credit for my dear Olya, who I have been discipling for the past 4 years. She is super talented.

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I had to show Olya, but this is the very end of the Exit Tour. So back to the beginning…

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A school (5-11th grade usually) being welcomed to EXIT Tour!

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Lots of selfies with the band. This is the school’s AM welcome assembly.

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Teens attend 3 lectures (this year’s are on bullying, personality/conflict management, and internet addictions)

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Then they head to the gym for group games and small groups. It gets wild in there.

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In short small groups, teens can ask band members and our youth volunteers questions about why we do what we do.

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Then we end with an big assembly with more rap music and entertainment. We are all wiped, but it is only 1:30 pm. We get fed lunch in the school, clean up the gym, and head for coffee and an hour or two of down time before…

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EXIT Clubs! These take place wherever and however the local youth group plans. They are from 6-8pm after each day of EXIT in a school. Usually around 70-80 people total gathered. This is Hosannah’s youth group and guests. It is a privilege to work with them. They were brave to take this project on. It shows the trust we are trying to build with our national organization.

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Sometimes the local churches need help…so I suddenly had to translate Michael’s (from Faithchild (the band from London)) testimony into Ukrainian for that crowd above. I highly doubt I was the most capable dual language speaker in the room, but sometimes Ukrainians panic when having to translate formally, or for someone with a strong British accent. Even I, as a fellow English speaker, had to ask for clarification!

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And then we wake up and do it ALL over again…

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Another school. Another round of the same lecture 4 times! I did mine 12 times in a row, 4 per day for 3 days. Then Christy Owen, my teammate, took the last 4 so I could monkey around in the gym. (See a few photos above)

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Each day did feel somewhat different. For example, on this day, the Lviv television station came to film a short segment on international projects for teenagers. Nadya is in charge of EXIT Tour for Ukraine. You can watch the clip in a previous blog if you are interested. They didn’t nearly capture the fun that we had! (Go to F B and search for Exit Tour Ukraine. You’ll see all the fun there.)

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We had tons of help and helpers that week. Scott and Tim are from Orange County (EVFree); Petyo, Drahos, and Hudson are from Slovakia/Josiah Venture. The CA guys came on a survey trip; the Slovak team came to help us with pretty much everything. It is not a simple project.

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We couldn’t do this project without local church volunteers. This is another church that we love and value very much. Christ Fellowship. They’ve been close partners for years. We are grateful for their love for God, youth, and JV.

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We finally arrive at Friday, the big concert night. We rent out a hall. Fusion Christ Fellowship was the opening act.

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We shared different parts of the Gospel message throughout the evening. Here Junior is sharing about sin and choices.

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We are all here for the music, and Faithchild puts on a great show. Look them up.

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Syava knows that the cross, ie. the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is worth smiling about. He boldly challenged people to consider their relationship with Christ.

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We closed it out with a big thank you on stage to all the organizers of EXIT Tour, which is our local team, the JV Slovak team, and the band. What a tour! Can’t wait for the next one.

Persons of Peace

In the Bible we hear the phrase “a person of peace”. Our friend, Benjamin Francis, from India often talks about people of peace in the ministry in India, and how important this is.  “In Luke 9 and 10, Matthew 10 and Mark 6, Jesus gives an often overlooked strategy for our gaining entrance and winning favor with a community that we are attempting to penetrate with the gospel. He directed his disciples to find a person of peace who would serve as a gatekeeper to allow them passage into the community. The person of peace is someone who welcomes you, serves you, and responds to you. Most likely a personal bond can be established and developed into a relationship that eventually opens up a whole network of relationships. This approach to evangelism proves organic and relationally rich. God prepares the person of peace for your arrival. Seeking this person is a way of partnering with the pre-evangelistic work of the Spirit.”( Reggie McNeal, Missional Communities 46)

blogOlyaAndIFor us, school principles and key teachers have been people of peace. They have spoken highly of us or defended us when others around us were not. They have been willing to go to bat for us, even though they may not know Jesus. They are willing to tell us about other teachers and administrators who would be interested in a partnership or what we have to offer.

Today Olya and I encountered people of peace at all three high schools that we visited. Now, we have put in years of partnership effort with these places, but nonetheless, over the years, not every school has warmly accepted us and opened up doors of opportunity and access to teenagers around every corner.

So we praise God for these people of peace, and do not take them for granted. We look forward to teaching in 7-11th grade classrooms about American culture. We look forward to telling every one of those kids about summer camps and programs we have, just for them. We trust that this work will bear fruit long after we leave the classroom. I know these girls can’t wait for English camp!

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16 Personalities and the Annual Staff Retreat

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Ben recently asked our whole team to take the personality profile test from a well-known website. www.16personalities.com This test is nice because it is available in Czech, Russian, Ukrainian and English, all native languages spoken on our team of 21. It doesn’t take very long to answer, yet the pages and pages of personality profiling are very accurate and helpful. (Now we at least understand Edik’s behavior better!!!)

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This exercise was for Ben’s preparation of a presentation of our one and five-year vision for our organization in Ukraine, as well as for each individual ministry. This all took place at our team’s annual staff retreat, which we are trying to create a rhythm for every February. We go to this spa in Truskavets, 1.5 hours away, and get a lot of work and play done in a quick 48-hour get-away. Our team is so fun. You can’t help but notice that as we present.

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There were 11 of us there. We each got to read a section of the personality type explanation that described us best. It was what we wanted our co-laborers to understand most about us. God was very kind to me in the week leading up to this retreat because I was having some internal conflict and finding myself quick to anger in certain situations, particularly in the morning and before bed with my kids, and when teammates or more distant co-workers seemingly blow off my emails, questions or requests.

Finally when it came down to it: I feel most disrespected when people do not take my requests seriously or do not do what I asked. I am not asking to create more work for them; I fully respect their time. But I am asking because it is actually important.

Reading about my personality profile in depth was a gift from God that day. I was so grateful for this AHA moment. It helps keep me be a better Christian and leader when I understand myself better. If you are interested in reading more, go to the 16 Personalities website Profiles. I am an Executive (ESTJ). Ben is an Architect (INTJ). Most of our team are Entertainers (thank you, stereotypical youth pastor profile.) Yes, it is a version of Meyers-Briggs, but the way they present it is unique. It was a blessing for our team.

Here was my profile: Executive personalities lead by example, demonstrating dedication and purposeful honesty, and an utter rejection of laziness and cheating, especially in work. If anyone declares hard, manual work to be an excellent way to build character, it is Executives.

Executives are more than willing to dive into the most challenging projects, improving action plans and sorting details along the way, making even the most complicated tasks seem easy and approachable. However, Executives expect their reliability and work ethic to be reciprocated – people with this personality type meet their promises, and if partners or subordinates jeopardize them through incompetence or laziness, or worse still, dishonesty, they do not hesitate to show their wrath. This can earn them a reputation for inflexibility, but it is not because Executives are arbitrarily stubborn, but because they truly believe that these values are what make society work.

Weaknesses: Judging. Difficult to relax because action oriented. Do not feel the emotions of others.

Strengths: Dedicated. Strong willed. Direct. Honest. Like tasks. Enjoy order. Excellent organizers. Loyal and reliable.

16personalities . com ~ enjoy!

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Love EUROPE and LOVE EVFREE Fullerton

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This is a special thank you to a very influential ministry partner (EVFree Church of Fullerton, CA) that keeps on loving the ministry of Josiah Venture in Central and Eastern Europe. In heaven I’m convinced that there will be a whole night devoted to this church’s people who have loved Ukraine and pleased God SO sincerely in their bond with the body of Christ.

I’m blown away by the story every time. There are people reading this right now who won’t notice the finger prints of God ALL OVER their lives, but I beg you! Please, look closely! We have a Heavenly Father who loves His children and delights in giving us the keys to His kingdom. He holds all the resources. He looks for clean hands and pure hearts with which to do His work. He loves a cheerful giver. He is faithful to the faithful and the faithless alike. His mercies never fail; they are new every morning. This partnership between Josiah Venture Ukraine and EVFree Fullerton (particularly high school and college) is a great testimony to our great God. blogLoveEurope

Scott and Kay Fisher. Scott Belond. Scott Williams and Christian Amundsen, back in 2008, who took a chance on Josiah Venture. Dan Crane. Heather Anderson and Lee and Katie Humerian who heard the long-term call to mission after being sent out short-term with EVFree. And to the thousands of families and short-term team members who have sacrificed so that at least someone you know could come to Ukraine and serve the youth of this nation through some kind of camp, THANK YOU, EVFree and its members. God is so, so pleased.

We look forward to this 2017 partnership as well! Every week we get contacted by someone who is excited to return and see God continue His amazing work in Ukraine. Thank you for truly embodying THE BODY.

EXIT TOUR Time Again

EXIT Tour Ukraine – news briefing from EXIT Tour Ukraine on Vimeo.

When I watched this video, taped and aired for our local Lviv news channel, in the youth slot (6:45-7pm on Tuesday nights!), I was reminded that we have our second official round of EXIT TOUR starting April 19-21.  New potential! New teenagers! New fruit! You may not know Ukrainian, but you’ll see Christy Owen (JV Ukraine) and Nadya V. (redhead), and Pet’o M (JV Slovakia) and Michael and Junior, also known as “Faithchild” from London.

As we go into our next round of EXIT, here is a reminder: what is needed for an EXIT Tour
1) A band! Our beloved techno artists, Crossfya, from England, are coming back to us!

2) Schools! It looks like we will have three brand new schools in Lviv that have never experienced Fusion or any partnership with our organization before. The department of education in Lviv is choosing them as we speak. We are hoping for awesome partnership.

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3) A local youth group! This round of EXIT Tour is specifically for our local church, New Life. We had 28 leaders and teens over to our house last Monday for a time of encouragement and story-telling with our friend, Benjamin Francis, from India, and it was the reminder to our older leadership team for youth min, that we have LOTS of eager current and future younger leaders in our midst. They’ll do great with EXIT Tour. “The workers don’t feel so few” (Luke 9) when I look at this group. I love them so much. The are bold and brave and all in.

4) Lectures and Lecturers! It’ll be interesting if they invite us back! Me with my personality and conflict types, or Ben with his bullying theme, or Syava with the dreaded “I’m addicted to the internet or gaming” talk.

5) A Final Concert!! Remember this series of pictures from March 2016?!? What an incredible atmosphere. God is alive here. I love this ministry.

6) A Boldness to Share About Why Life with Jesus is the Best Life! We have all been recently trained on sharing our stories, how it relates to God’s story, and how to be on the lookout, sensitive to the people of peace out there, who are in desperate need of healing, prayer, life change.

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What is the Gospel Anyway?

Between EXIT Tour (see February blog posts) and INSPIRE conference (I’ll write more soon) our team and network of churches/youth groups have been discussing A LOT about sharing the Gospel.

blogTheGospelBraceletThe Gospel, ie. evangelia, is the good news that God the Son was sent to Earth by God the Father. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, rose from the dead, an has power over death and sin and evil. He came for you because He loves you and has an incredible plan for your life and eternity. Trusting Him and asking Him to be Lord of your life is the only way to mend your broken relationship with the Almighty, perfect God and Creator. When you make this decision, God the Holy Spirit enters the believer’s life and helps you to live for Jesus. And just as He came 2,000+ years ago, Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will be again perfect and endless. Christians await this reconciliation, renewal and redemption with joy and an unquenchable hope that helps them endure life, love others, and share this hope with everyone who will listen. Those who do not make Christ Lord and King of their lives will spend a different eternity, which is eternal separation from our Good and Beautiful God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the non-Jew.”

But did you ever think about the fact that every Christian has his or her story to share, connected to God’s story? Sometimes when people are turned off by religion, they are not interested in hearing about “your God”. But they will be more often interested in your personal story. Always connect your story back to God’s story.

May God radically prepare hearts to accept Him as we radically obey Him by sharing our own stories with those who are not yet following Jesus. There is no greater life than in Christ. If we truly believe this, then we will share. If the love of Christ is in us, then we will share.

Acts 4:18-20 “So the [religious leaders and teachers of the law] called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Standing Among Giants Once Again

February 25th, 2017. I’m sitting on a flight from Lviv to Munich, Germany. Ben is seated one row ahead of me. The kids are still in Lviv, staying for 11 days with Grammy, while we are headed to Pasadena, California for our first on-campus intensive at the very start of a new stage of life as candidates of the doctorate of ministry (DMin) program in the area of Youth, Family and Culture. http://fuller.edu/dmin/ 

In the plane I am reading the Fuller Theological Seminary Quarterly magazine. It’s an article about pop culture with 10 short blurbs of different Fuller scholars writing about the content of their Ph.D. dissertations, the books they have published, the studies they’ve led, the research findings they have discovered.

I’m overcome by a strong wave of emotion. One tear drips on the magazine. Then two. Suddenly I can’t read anymore. 

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My mind automatically rewinds to April 2015. I was on an airplane then, too, with Ben, and without kids, who were safe in Lviv with Grammy. I was flying home from 12 days in Israel with Global Youth Initiative specialists from around 90 countries. I, then, was also crying on the plane. I was overcome by emotion then, too, because I had just spent 12 days touring with some of my modern-day heroes of the faith – Dann Spader and Steve Hudson from GYI/Sonlife training, Benjamin Francis from Biglife (out of India), Dave Patty, founder of Josiah Venture, and other key JV leaders who are doing amazing things in Central and Eastern Europe by obeying God’s call to make disciples of Jesus.

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In that sea of GYI participants, I was very, very small. In the sea of Fuller post-graduate students, I will certainly feel the same. I am overwhelmed, humbled, and eternally grateful to God to stand among these spiritual giants.

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Now, I know that in the Bible and in history, Jesus is the only hero. But at the same time, as we look up to human spiritual influences on our lives, we can see in them a God who is so, so big.

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As I enter into ten days of study, my expectation is that I will leave twelve days at Fuller, just like I left 12 days in Israel, with a much greater understanding of the greatness of our God and the mission He has called me to.