Making Much of Him

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
~ Psalm 37:4

I have a confession to admit: I am a very proud person.

My pride manifests itself as excessive self-reliance.

It is very often that my thought life sounds something like, “I can do all things…if I work hard enough” (see Philippians 4:13 for the correct prayer we ought to pray).

God used His children to correct this false narrative in my life, and in so doing, how to praise Him properly.

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The City of Hope staff let us lead a few songs of worship every Sunday.

On the last Saturday at the compound, I really struggled with the set list.

I felt convicted to choose songs we had not sang yet.

I could not decide whether to pick highly energetic songs or more introspective songs (the sermon was going to be given by Jacob on God’s unconditional love for His children).

Instead of turning to God for direction, I thought I could “do it” all myself.

Of course, in real time I did not realize how wrong this was.

It wasn’t until the final Sunday that this sin was realized for me.

I settled for Set a Fire and How Great is Our God, since we had already taught the kids these songs earlier in the week.

I also decided to teach them a new song, Lord We Lift Your Name on High.

This was a personal favorite from my younger years as a new believer.

When Sunday morning came, I was nervous.

“What if they don’t like the song?”

“What if the key is too high or low?”

“I don’t even like singing in front of people.”

“What if another song fits better with the sermon?”

Moving forward in faith, I decided to not overthink the songs and just proceed with boldness & trust.

We began worship with a reading from Psalm 150 during prayer:

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”
~ Psalm 150:1-6

As we prayed, I reflected on the final line: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

We sang Set a Fire and How Great is Our God, both songs we had taught the kids earlier in the trip.

But to my surprise, when it came time to learn the new song, the kids already knew it. It was one of their favorites.

[I probably should have expected this – Lord I Lift Your Name on High is pretty well known.]

The kids sang with new zeal I had not seen in their worship.

It was the loudest they had sang yet – even the boys in the back of the room were singing!

And I concluded God was in control the whole time.

Quick snapshot of the girls dancing during Service
Quick snapshot of the girls dancing during Service

He reminded me to “trust in the LORD with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding; in all [my] ways acknowledge Him and He will make [my] paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

He made reality the truth that “let everything that has breath praise the Lord”, even if that praise consists only of a few off-pitch voices and a small Walmart bongo drum.

Moreover, I also realized that “the plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:1-3).

Regardless of which songs were chosen, He had a purpose for worship that morning.

My responsibility was to seek first God’s glory, then the rest (namely, that the kids were prepared to sing all of the songs) would be merely additions.

This put a new joy in my heart that silenced my negative thoughts.

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I realized that I had been excessively relying on my own abilities as a musician instead of turning to God as the author and director of my faith.

It occurred to me in that moment that praise cannot be about practice so that we can learn – it was about presence, so that we could love.

So may our praise ever be that – not a matter of song selection or learning which chord progressions work best in a given praise setting.

Christ does not exist in order to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making much of Him.

Our lives were made for this purpose.

***

Set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain that I can’t control
I want more of You, God
I want more of You God!
[Set a Fire, Will Reagan & United Pursuit]

[Unfortunately, I was not able to record Lord I Lift Your Name on High so I could post it here.

I look forward to the day when I can hear the children singing that song again, whether in this life or the next.]

Back from Africa

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”
~ James 1:27

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As of 30 hours ago, we are finally back in the States safe and sound!

I am still incredibly jet lagged and in the process of unpacking but wanted to post an update saying we all had a truly life-changing experience while overseas.

This post could not wait.

The LORD blessed us with minimal troubles while traveling and there were only minor bouts of illness throughout the 3 weeks we spent in Africa.

As we traveled from London to Kenya, we discussed our expectations for the trip and were unable to really define what was the “mission” component of our mission trip.

However, we knew that at the very least we needed to share Christ’s unconditional, everlasting, and satisfying, love for the children since the compound had already introduced them to the Gospel.

James 1:27 states this very candidly: “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

We took this Scripture to Africa and made it a point to be intentional with the kids by coming to their compound, learning their language (very well I might add!), playing their sports, dancing to their music and with their dance moves, and learning more about their lives.

In doing so, we would bring them the hope of the Gospel and the promise of Christ’s redemptive salvation mind body and soul, as well as demonstrate Christ’s love for them and embody what Christ-like fellowship looks like.

Some of the projects we completed while at the compound:

  • painting 110 fence posts
  • placing these fence posts around the banana field
  • designing and building a 3-part desk for the clinic doctor
  • designing and building 48 bed cubbies, with shelves so the kids each had their own space
  • administering 2 IM injections at the clinic
  • making cement for the fence posts and new dining hall
  • leading 3 worship services and giving a sermon for one
  • realigning the wiring for the clothes line for the compound cook (my future wife)
  • leading numerous devotionals with the staff & other visitors…

….among other smaller projects.

We played countless games of soccer (“football”) with the kids and participated in a few dance parties.

It was amazing to see how athletic and skilled the kids were during these matches. Often, they would come after a morning and afternoon of hard work building cement or placing fence posts and the kids somehow still had energy!

They were also very gifted dancers. They would alternate small boys or girls-only dance groups that performed in front of the whole group without fear.

I’ll post a video or two of these later.

While working in the compound, we had the opportunity to speak with the workers who were employed by the City of Hope and minister to them.

All of them were fascinated by our interest in learning Swahili and took the initiative to teach us when appropriate.

One of the workers, named Joseph, would ask us for pieces of paper so he could take them home to his wife.

She would write down words in both English and Swahili so we could learn new words each day by category (i.e. anatomical terms, seasons, months of the year, etc.).

He was probably the main reason we were so successful in learning Swahili.

I will post again later & upload pictures, videos, information and more when my body is used to this time zone again.

A heart-felt thank you to everyone who was able to support me or who prayed for us during our trip.

The LORD heard those prayers and blessed us with His abundance.

I look forward to sharing how He has worked in my life, the lives of my team, and most importantly in the lives of the kids and City of Hope!

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~ Justin

Deuces America – Hujambo Tanzania!

We are finally leaving for Tanzania! The flight is on time and we are en route to Dulles.

I want to thank everyone again for expressing interest in keeping up with our trip.

It seems like every day we are learning about some exciting new project that we will be doing overseas and I wish I could update all of you with what is happening real-time.

Internet access will be scant, but we will do our best to post about what we are doing as we are able.

The flight tonight is at 8:30 out of Dulles International Airport. We fly to London, Heathrow, tonight then have an hour turn-around before our second flight to Nairobi, Kenya.

We will be staying the night at a safe house in Nairobi before taking a bus to Ntagatcha the following morning.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we travel and ask that we remain healthy.

No one wants to come back home with nasty parasites – ain’t nobody got time for that!

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I also want to ask that we remain bold & courageous throughout this trip.

There will be nights (& days) that will be hard, and it is my hope that we can continue to be positive and strong.

Thank you again for supporting us. Your thoughts & prayers are infinitely important and appreciated.

Deuces America – Hujambo Tanzania!

Planting Seeds

We leave for Tanzania in one week!

Thank you for taking interest in our trip! To date, I still do not have an exact itinerary of what we will be doing in Ntagatcha. So far, I know we will be doing lots of:

  • restoration work (painting, construction, home repairs, etc.)
  • teaching water safety, healthy eating habits & lifestyle choices, personal hygiene, & the importance of safe sex
  • teaching a CPR class
  • helping with the surgical clinic in the village
  • spending time with the children in the orphanage

I am sure we will also be helping teach Sunday school classes every Sunday.

As we get closer to leaving, I wanted to share a few things that have been on my mind the past few weeks.

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One thing that has piqued my interest recently is how health care will be different in Africa and how we will use medicine to show Jesus to the Kuria people.

Each member of this trip has been required to get a slew of immunizations prior to leaving. So far, I have received immunizations for:

  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever
  • Polio
  • Hep A
  • Anti-Malarial and anti-Cholera pills

These are some of the common illnesses that Teamwork City of Hope (TCOH) sees in Africa and recommends visitors be vaccinated for prior to arrival in the country.

These illnesses have made me more conscious of my own health. I have made it a priority to get good sleep, rest during down time at work & a few hours before bed, exercise every other day, eat extra DGL vegetables and make sure I always have my water bottle nearby to stay hydrated.

During my time working as a medic in both Blacksburg & Radford, I have realized that health looks very different to different people.

The way I care for my body will likely differ from the way the Kurian people care for their bodies.

Patient care will probably be very novel in Africa as compared to patient care in the States.

The Kurians’ needs will undoubtedly be very unique, and this will alter the way we care for them.

In this manner, I expect our experience in the clinical environment in Ntagatcha to be notably unorthodox.

We are walking into the opportunity to address not only the physical, mental or emotional needs of these people; we have the chance to guide them spiritually and introduce the ultimate Doctor who can make it all better – the Great Physician.

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We will most likely not have all of the resources that we need to restore each patient to complete health.

However, for some patients, just fixing their “boo-boo” is enough, even if their immune or cardiac health is still in poor condition after leaving the clinic.

Patients often are not able to identify exactly where their pain originates.

When you think of a doctor, you think of someone who heals your body. If something does not feel right, you go to him or her and expect them to make it better.

Many patients I have seen in Radford have called EMS for something conventional like abdominal pain or back pain and expressed their desire to be seen by a doctor.

While most people would roll their eyes and expect this pain to be nothing more than the toils of being a human being and working to live, I think it is important to recognize that sometimes mental or emotional pain manifests itself in physical form.

That is to say, these patients do not suffer from mental or emotional pain: they suffer from a broken heart. Or a hurting relationship. Or the loss of a job or something important to them.

It excites me to think that I have insight that will help these patients and encourage them to seek Christ to heal their bodies as well as their hearts.

Another thing that has been on my mind recently is how I should be appropriately preparing to preach the Gospel. Some of the Kurian people may hear about Jesus for the first time on this trip.

I consider it an immense blessing to be a part of this life-changing experience!

To think that someone has never even heard of Jesus is a little bit foreign to me. I find myself asking “how do you speak the Word efficiently so that it is easily understood and still truthful.”

It is hard to explain to someone that Jesus has come to save them, when they have no idea that they have needed saving.

So, how do you tell someone they need something if they don’t see the need themselves?

Luckily, I am only responsible for planting the seed – it is Jesus who will knock on the doors of their hearts and work in their life to show them their need for a Savior.

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During service this weekend, one of our congregation members spoke about his experience preaching the Gospel in Spain.

He spoke about how the way mission trips are presented is often not consistent with reality.

God uses missionaries and people who travel to other countries to preach the Gospel for His sovereign Will, but He also uses the trip to build them up in faith, too.

The purpose of the trip, then, is not solely to make more disciples alone, but also to build better disciples.

It is humbling to know that this trip was meant for my teams’ spiritual growth too.

God will fine-tune our skills as ministers of the Word, as medical practitioners & students, and as brothers & sisters in Christ.

How exciting is it that God has our best interests in mind!

This trip is going to be extraordinary. I cannot wait to leave even more on fire for God than when I left.

Lord willing, this team will have the opportunity to return to Tanzania this time next year and continue the good work that the Lord has started in Ntagatcha.

As Jacob, Sam & I prepare to show Jesus’ love, I will be praying that we have boldness and courage. This trip will force us out of our comfort zones and probably bring up several uncomfortable situations.

It will probably be difficult to introduce Jesus to the Kurian people at first, but I have full confidence that the Lord will provide the tools we will need.

The excerpt of Scripture that comes to mind as I ponder these things comes from John 13. Before Jesus was betrayed by Judas, He met with His disciples and prepared them for His death.

Before He departed, He advised:

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Even if all of us completely fail to preach the Word, I know the Kurian people will be encouraged by the love my team and TCOH demonstrates to them.

We will be building one another up in Christ during the three weeks that we spend in Tanzania and will be doing several Bible studies, devotionals, and quiet times together.

I will do my best to post on the highlights of each of these gatherings as I am able to get internet.

Word of God

In closing, I wanted to leave you with encouragement that this trip will change lives.

I have trust that God will move through our team and use us to equip the Kurian people with the life skills they need to live healthy, meaningful lives built on the foundation of Christ.

I know that when we speak next week, it will not be us who speak, but the Holy Spirit in each of us. As Romans 8:26 says,

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

***

It was then I carried you

Jambo!

  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! It was with great hesitation that I started – I have hardly any talent or experience with blogging – but I recognized that many of my friends and family members wanted to keep up with my adventures while in Tanzania and Europe. I also saw blogging as an opportunity to share how God is and has been working in my life; He has been putting this trip on my heart since I was a wee-squirt in primary school. The fact that I will be working with the Kuria tribe in northern Tanzania in just under a month is a testament to the fact that God truly does follow through with His word and is totally faithful and trustworthy.

  The title of this blog comes from the poem “Footprints.” I still do not know who the author of this poem is because every site on the web states either anonymous or some random poet no one has ever heard of wrote it. Regardless, here are the words:

Footprints
Author Unknown

I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets
of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me
and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest
and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me
and I questioned the Lord
about my dilemma.

“Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome
times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I needed You most,
You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child,
I love you and will never leave you
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints
it was then that I carried you.”

  Powerful words from our LORD and Savior! I identify with this poem because like many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have been met with very difficult trials and sufferings in life and have asked God “why.” “It was then that I carried you” is a reminder for me that even when it doesn’t necessarily feel like God is with us, He is working His will through our lives and we can count on Him to be faithful to all of His promises, even when this isn’t easy to do.

  John 10:10 comes from the passage in John where Jesus is explaining how Jesus is the Great Shepherd. The verse states: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This has been the verse Jacob Moyer & I chose when we formed the medical ministry The Lazarus Project at our church Northstar Church in Blacksburg, VA. It reminds us that God is the provider of our health and wants us to rely on Him as sheep would rely on their shepherd for provision.

I feel so blessed to be embarking on this trip with Jacob Moyer and Sam Tabacchi, both of whom are members of Lazarus Project and Northstar church. We have been praying for this trip since the beginning of the year and have every confidence that the LORD is going to move through us, the other members of Teamwork City of Hope (TCOH) and in the lives of the Tanzanian people next month.

Please feel free to provide comments after each post. I am open to feedback and am looking for ways to better this blog. Can’t wait to hear from you all!

~ Justin
Proverbs 3:5-6