I am just one week shy of being back stateside for a full month. As I have seen so many familiar faces, I get the very familiar question.... “How was your trip?” There are many reasons this question is a hard one for me.
#1) It is scientifically impossible for me to take 4 months of outrageously amazing adventures and experiences and shove it into 3 or 4 sentences.
#2) Even though I know that question is vastly approaching, I can never truly prepare for the emotions it evokes because everyday of re- entry (the process of coming back into one's home culture), I am “unpacking” and processing a different part of my journey. Who knows what part of my journey I am processing the moment someone asks that beautifully complicated question.
#3).... #1 and #2 are plenty, but alas, I could truly name a dozen, but then I would have to think of another title because then the focus wouldn’t be on defining “Struggle Bus” and why I am currently riding it. But before I can begin my definition, I must set the scene a little more.
So after the question escapes the lips of said human, whom I love with all my heart, I then fumble through a few sentences of what I have already unpacked and processed to share bits of the goodness of my trip and something that God did that changed me in a powerful way. Then comes the next question that flows out in various forms. “So are you glad to be home?” Or “How are you adjusting to being back home?” Or even still “How’s your heart with coming home after all that God used you to do?”
Now theses are the questions that I am currently still unable to answer at the moment. What I can answer, is that I am truly happy to be “home”. I do love all that Jesus does where I live and in the amazing ministry in which He has placed me. I feel overwhelmed by His Goodness every week because of the people we get to love. But as far as my heart or how I “feel”, I feel torn. Torn between so many places that words lose meaning if I tried to explain it. Thus enters said “Bus”.
In the places I go, we often turn a phrase that greatly expresses life in ministry. There are days that one weary heart turns to another and simply states, “I am really on the struggle bus today”. Or maybe even the verb tense when the bus just isn’t expressive enough as a noun. “I am Struggle Busing it today!” As a missionary or someone in full time ministry, there is this idea thrown around that we are all transported around by the wind of the Holy Spirit. As true as I wish this were.... it’s a lie from the pit of hell. The truth is sometimes you are indeed onboard the struggle bus, and those wheels are not exactly going round and round. But the Goodness of God IS, the Wind of the Holy Spirit may not sweep in and transport you to your destination. But it for sure will sweep in and blow subtly across your face and neck. Not because He has to, but because He loves you and because He wants to! It’s in those moments that the rickety bus of struggle is chugging along, hitting every pot hole the size of Africa, that I hear His whisper. “At least you’re moving, and you're moving forward!” You see, even in my struggle I am still moving forward. I know that I won’t stay on this means of transportation and as soon as I look to Him, I see His plans for a bus stop. You don’t always get to pick the type of struggle. I didn’t ask that man to bring me his dying child in an African village where hospitals are scarce and witch doctors rule by fear. I can’t force the temple prostitute to stop selling herself for food. I don’t get to choose the struggles I face, but I do have choices. I can choose to sit by the broken window on that bus and let the Holy Spirit speak to me. I can choose to trust in His Goodness and in His truth and get off that bus the FIRST time it stops. Transparency used to feel like a trap, but now I see it as the first stop to getting off that bus and choosing a different mode of transportation. He is so good and so faithful I can’t help but ride with Him, and He loves all of my journey. Even the times when my burden outweighs my desire for forward motion. That’s why, even in that, He has plan. I take His yoke and His load full of promise and purpose and He carries mine... and at times He even carries me.
A basic, central question for humans relates to the 'why' of life.
Most of us have struggles with that question on a personal level asking ourselves questions like... Why am I here? What comes naturally to me? And a real basic question... What would I do if I weren't afraid?
The need to answer the 'why' of life is not satisfied by wealth, fame, or notoriety. There's something more. There is something that needs to fill that void in our soul and it can only be satisfied by knowing and doing the purpose and plan God has for our our lives.
Let me ask you a question, who is the authentic or real you? What is your core motivation? It can be scary to be the real authentic you. We may be tempted to create a plan and purpose based on people's expectations and approval rather than on the plans and purposes God has for us.
God has invested so much in you, and for all He has put in you, there is only one thing God wants to know. "What will you do with what I gave you?" It's been said... "Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God."
Finding your destiny in God is an adventure to say the least. It drives you past the pain of life to the purpose of living. Finding your destiny is not just about you! You fulfilling your destiny impacts everyone around you. It's the pebble in the pond effect... the ripples keep moving out.
Psalm 37:23 says that the 'steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord.'
The word 'steps' implies process. God orders steps. Destiny is steps not an elevator. You can stand on the first floor of a building and look up the stairs to the next floor for as long as you want but all the hoping, wishing, praying in the world are not going to get you to that next floor until you take the steps. We all want to hurry the process but there are no shortcuts, no bypass... just steps!
God does not offer steps as an option, the Lord orders steps. We get impatient with the process, the steps may seem to go on forever, the steps are lasting too long, I don't want to wait! God if you have something for me to do just tell me and let's get on with it! The steps come before reaching destiny. What you learn as you walk out the steps is what will uphold you when you reach your destiny.
You have to start the process and what your destiny is will be realized...you cannot not fulfill your destiny...but you have to take the steps!
To say that 2017 was an eventful year would be an understatement of epic proportion. As with any year, there are highs and lows, and each of these events play a roll in the person we take into the new year. It's not so much what has happened but how we process what has happened that sets our course.
Randy's passing in March has probably defined me and the ministry responsibility/vision more than any other. I go through the swings of emotion and endure grief as it sweeps over me in waves only to come out from the storm and sense His grace on a new level. To try to fill his shoes is an attempt in futility; they are way too big for me. The realization is this, we're not called to fill someone else's shoes, our responsibility is to make sure we are filling the shoes that fit us. To quote a line from an old sitcom, "If the shoe don't fit, it ain't yo shoe!"
As we move into 2018 we are thankful for the many things Randy established and we will continue building on that foundation, but we are also anticipating the new things God is doing in World Missions Advance.
Many of us may have to redefine ourselves, on some level, this coming year. Be encouraged, His plans and strategies are still being fulfilled in our lives. We must trust His plan and provision and continue to walk out our assignment. Psalm 37:3: Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. (NAS)
Many thanks for standing with us in 2017 and I pray for your continued support as we impact the nations with the Good News! --Susan
“We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two;” declares a well-known national insurance company. Their premise being that they are uniquely equipped to manage any ordeal a person may encounter because, they’ve seen it all. I like this ad. I relate to this ad.
Of course, no one has ‘seen it all’ but surely, we have all accumulated enough experiences to rival even these crafty insurance gurus. The sum of our experiences has, and is, directly responsible for the person we are and the person we will become.
Students in our Q/A time generally ask a question similar to this; “Can a person ever get to a place, or grow in stature with the Lord, whereby warfare is no longer an issue?” I’m nothing if not pragmatic on these topics so I do not hesitate to answer this quite emphatically with, “No.”
A person never reaches a stature where warfare does not present itself but here’s the modiﬁcation; it still comes but we’re not as intimidated as before. “Why?” Because we’ve seen it before and it’s nothing new. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes gives this insight... “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
We must continue, as the Apostle Paul admonishes us in his letter to the Philippians, “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)
Nothing will stand in our way if we don’t let it…the barriers are not new…we’ve seen them before. Trust that what you learned in the past will sustain you now as you "press on."
“We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
P.S. Another insurance company boasts… “You’re in good hands.” I like this one too!
I Threw my Hands in the air, took a powerful stance and proceeded to demand from Heaven, “I just want a SIGN!!! I want something to cling to when it gets hard and I want to quit and go home. Then I can look to that sign and stand on Your Word that You asked me to staff.”
When I graduated from Christ for the Nations Bible Institute (CFNI) with a Missions Degree, I had been faced with a choice: “Where do I go for 3 months of my life to walk out what I just learned?” I am not sure what dean, founder, or CFNI staff person decided that all Missions Majors must go to a “Field School” in order to graduate… But it was a great idea. The only problem was that I missed the day they described each field school option. So the only thing I had to base my decision on was a paper with a few sentences that described the LARGE selection of places (because at this point in my walk, asking Jesus was only for “life and death” situations. I mean the Big Guy was way too busy back then…). I quickly eliminated everywhere that wasn’t Africa, because Africa is where all the “REAL MISSIONARIES” go (Jesus has since forgiven my ignorance and pride….). That narrowed it down to a few choices. I didn’t know the founders of Iris Global, based in Pemba, Mozambique, but the three sentences sound pretty cool. So I signed the future of my missionary education over to Iris Harvest School without much knowledge of what exactly I was getting into.
After all the CFNI graduation ordeals had passed, I landed in the red dirt of Pemba with my superhero cape snuggly fastened around my neck. I was ready for the great “bush bush” experience. It wasn’t long before the Holy Spirit stood on the tail of said cape and caught me off guard. I quickly found out that this was less about reaching the multitudes and a lot more about reaching the one Jesus sets right in front of you. It had nothing to do with singlehandedly ending hunger, but realizing that these sweet mamas know more about being fed by their Papa than I did. I was more the definition of an orphan than the amazing, smiling faces of the children who may just be growing up without earthly parents. Africa did not need Ashley Ruffin; Ashley Ruffin needed Africa!
There was no stone left unturned in my heart over those three months. There still aren’t many days that go by that something Jesus taught me in that red dirt doesn’t echo in my life. In fact, it was 3 years ago that I began to cry out to Jesus for a sign - that He would make it plain if He wanted me to go back to the most beautiful and fruitful season of my life, but as a staff member this time. You see, Mozambique, in all of its epic greatness as the most refining fire there is, is STILL A FIRE. Fire burns, and it’s hot, but I knew that if Jesus asked me, I would do it. It was then that I saw, up in the sky for all the world to see…. This ACTUAL Billboard: : : : : : : : : : : (Because I feel like just one colon thing is not enough!) Obedience is huge for me, so with this even huger sign in the sky, I quickly set about making plans to return to Pemba. Some of those plans led me to the city of Abilene, Texas. I was there for an Iris Leaders’ HeartSync training, never intending to make a habit of visiting Abilene. While there, I met the base directors of Iris Abilene and they informed me that they too were going to have a school and they needed some people to Staff. Could it be true? Could I staff here in Texas and not be on the metaphorical “hook” that is staffing in Africa?!
The more I walk this adventure with Jesus, the more I see this as a journey with many paths, tunnels, and winding roads - so even if you know the destination you will not always know the route. Staffing in the Iris Global School in Abilene, Texas, led me to Jackson, Mississippi, where I learned how to love God with all my heart, soul and strength and learned what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself. After two years of loving and learning in Jackson, Jesus asked me if I would do so in my Jerusalem: Texas. This led me back to Abilene, of all places! Since February of this year, I have been living in a ministry house called The Palm House. Every day is new and different; we love on children with our after-school program, love our neighbors through relationship, and we share food through a food distribution program. Most importantly, we are here to love on people. When I landed here in Abilene, I got the sense that this was my home base, but that Jesus would send me out on “Special Missions.” As an army brat, this struck home to me. What struck even deeper was when He begun confirming and reminding me about the Billboard. That, I reminded Him, was for Texas. He quickly reminded me that He is the navigator of this journey and He asked me to trust Him to lead. Sooooo, I believe this is the longest update in the history of updates, but I say all this to say, I may not always get it right, but I am going to follow my Jesus wherever He sends me. Logically, it doesn’t always have to make sense, but I know that for every step in which I have trusted Him, I have reaped a harvest of blessing. So the next step in my epic journey with Jesus is to staff the Iris Harvest School this fall, in Mozambique!
The story is told of a man who walked across a tightrope, high above the ground, while pushing a wheelbarrow. When he got to the other side, he found that a man had been watching him. The tightrope walker looked at the man and asked him if he thought that he could do this amazing feat a second time. The onlooker, still amazed at what he had just witnessed, said "Sure, I believe you can." The tightrope walker quickly replied, "Why don't you hop in the wheelbarrow then while I push you across?"
I've heard this story twice now, in the last few weeks from two completely different sources. One, a doctor, the second while reading a book. I figured seeing this story twice in such a short period of time was either God speaking to me or an amazing coincidence, so I thought I would share it with you.
Faith. We Christians talk about it a lot. You ask any Christian what faith is, and they'll probably raise their voice, get a little excited and start quoting, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen..." That sounds good, but what does that really mean?
Yeah, we can quote the Scripture, and feel good about ourselves while we do it....but do we have tightrope kind of faith? I mean, hop into a wheelbarrow, 1000 feet in the air, being pushed by someone else kind of faith? Do we have the kind of faith that gives up control or at least the illusion of control of our own lives and trusts the Tightrope Walker?
We serve a God Who walked on water, turned water into wine, made the lame to walk, the blind to see...a God who brought dead people to life.
Do I have faith? Yeah, I think so. For sure, the kind that goes to church and can give you a nice definition of what faith is. Do I have jump in the wheelbarrow, being pushed by a tightrope walker kind of faith? I don't know...but I think I want that kind of faith. I'm not sure though...it sounds kind of scary.
A basic, central question for humans relates to the 'why' of life. Most of us have struggled and wrestled with that question on a personal level asking ourselves questions like... Why am I here? What should I do now? And one of those soul-searching questions... What would I do if I weren't afraid? The need to answer the 'why' of life is not satisfied by wealth, fame, or notoriety. We sense that there is something more; there must be something more. It is the need to fill that void in our soul that can only be satisfied by knowing and doing the purpose and plan God has for our lives.
God has invested so much in us, and for all He has put in us, there is only one thing God wants to know. What will you do with what I gave you? It's been said, "Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God." Finding our destiny in God is an adventure to say the least. It drives you past the pain of life to the purpose of living. And interestingly, finding our destiny is not just about us! Fulfilling our destiny impacts everyone around us. Destiny is a journey. We will fall and mess up more than a few times but the key is always to get back up, brush yourself off, and keep moving forward. I saw a plaque the other day that said, "Life is like riding a bike, to keep your balance, you must keep moving forward." Everything you have been exposed to, experienced, or survived are all building blocks that prepares you for your future...your destiny.
Psalm 37:23 says that the 'steps' of a good man are ordered of the Lord. The word 'steps' implies process. God orders steps. Destiny is steps not an elevator. We all want to hurry the process but there are no shortcuts, no bypasses...just steps! God does not offer steps as an option, the Lord orders steps. We get impatient with the process. The steps may seem to go on forever and as I have lamented many times, "God if you have something for me to do just tell me and I'll do it!"
Steps are the process to get us to our destiny.
What we learn as we walk out the steps is what will uphold us when we reach our destiny.
One of the very first things that I noticed when I moved to El Salvador is that the culture here seems to have a hint of hopelessness to it. If you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up most of you stare at you with a blank face. It's as if the thought never crossed their mind that there might be a real future out there for them. If you ask a mother what they hope their child does with his/her life they will most likely answer something like "I hope he doesn't join a gang" or "I hope he lives to be an adult". I've tried countless times to get the youth that we work with to take a job that has some sort of future to it with little success. I guess when you are worried each day if you will find something for your family to eat or if you will have a roof over your head a college education is not exactly top of your wish list. Ever the optimist I have tried to change this mentality one person at a time (and I do mean 1 at a time) Last year God impressed upon me to start a scholarship fund. The fewer excuses people have the more likely they will be to continue with changing their lives. After a year of taking donations and saving the money in a fund designated EHM Educational Scholarship Fund I made the announcement that anyone who had been involved in any of our ministries was now eligible to apply for a scholarship. I sat back and waited for the rush of applications to pour in. How would we decide who would be granted a scholarship and who would not? So I waited, January passed, and waited February passed and waited and finally!!!!!! 7 applications were turned in!!! 7! I am no longer working 1 at a time! This group of brave mothers whom we have been working closely with for the past year finally believe in themselves enough to see a better future for them and their families. All of them have enrolled in cosmetology school and requested a scholarship to pay their way. The school is part of a ministry here (thank you Samaritan House) the tuition is extremely low so all 7 of these young ladies will be able to attend. Imagine the impact this can have on their families. It won't just be a financial change but imagine the role models these mothers have become to their children. In the USA we teach our children that they can be whatever they want to be. Here, in El Salvador, children are taught to drop out of school and hit the streets selling so that they can eat. Not for these 7 families any more. Praise God!!! I'm so excited. I think I am the proudest that I have ever been since I became a missionary here. So much can happen between today and the end of their schooling. Please join me in praying for them. Pray that nothing will interfere with their education. Pray that they will quickly find work and that they will always remember God who gave them this opportunity.
That's me with my wife and my niece on board a big beautiful plane about to cross the Atlantic Ocean to go minister with WMA associate missionaries in Austria who work with refugees. As you can see, my wife is peacefully closing her eyes enjoying a moment of rest, my niece is just hanging out with her awesome uncle and aunt and well, there I am, trying to hide my fear and anxiety with a lame, no teeth, smile. Yep, I really don't like to fly. I've flown a lot over the last ten years or so. Being a missionary kind of requires it. I couldn't even really tell you exactly how many times I've flown over the Atlantic. It's quite a few. Even with all that experience, all those uneventful, smooth flights under my belt, I still get nervous. Remember Bob from the classic movie "What About Bob?" As he walks outside of his apartment onto the streets of NYC he says out loud to himself, "I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful..." That's pretty much what I look like when I'm about to get on a plane. I get my music pumping and say to myself, "I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful." I put my head down and focus on my little video game and just hope the flight seems quicker than it really is. It rarely does.
Everyone has dreams. Everyone has destinations in their mind they want to get to. Sometimes along the way, we encounter difficulties. We think to ourselves, "Wow, if this is really what I'm supposed to do it wouldn't be this hard," or maybe "Is my dream really worth it?" YES! Your dream is worth it!
Maybe your issue isn't with flying, it could be any number of things. I don't know. You know. I'm willing to bet though, somewhere, somehow, sometime, along your journey, you will face something that will terrify you. You won't want to keep going forward. You have the dream in your heart, but it just seems too scary. Don't give up! If God has given you something to do, you must do it! People are depending on it. Don't let fear stop you from getting to your destination. You can do it! If I can fly across the Atlantic you can too!
For God didn't give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.
- 2 Timothy 1:7
Anyone can start a race, it's the finishing part that strains the spirit, body, and soul. Really, anything in life is pretty easy to start; it's easy to start a diet, it's easy to start cleaning out a closet, it's easy to start a fitness regiment, it's easy to start a budget strategy, etc. etc. etc.
When life's surprises drop in uninvited we usually can muster the courage and strength to start the journey, but as time passes, strength and bravery begin to wane; confusion, doubt, and anger relentlessly intrude in on our thoughts. These are those nasty, uninvited, minions that taunt and torment the strongest of us. Try as we may, the water well of perceived strength is discovered to be empty at times. In our attempt to muster up the slightest semblance of the warrior of yesterday we end up scraping the bottom of the well that has now grown rather barren and crusty. The race, once so valiantly approached, now seems to be moving at a turtle's pace.
The desire for someone, anyone, to really understand your particular situation is ultimately an attempt in futility. There will be those with similar stories etc. but the impact on your life in particular cannot really be understood by anyone in general. It's no one's fault of course, our individual journey is just that, individual...solo. So as the journey is individual, so too the things that help. What helps someone else does not seem to often fit the need inside, personally, where the cracks and crevices seep out despair.
Then, you might ask, where do we land in this journey of the unknown? A reasonable question, a not so easy answer. I noticed my little bio on my Facebook page the other day that says, “I am committed to my commitment to Jesus Christ. I have purposed in my heart to stand in the midst of the storm with my face to the wind.” I made that statement early on in this long journey but when I re-read it, I realized it is still true, and it is still my stand!
Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us...let us keep running with endurance the race set before us... -Hebrews 12:1