Easter has come and gone. The hams, chocolate bunnies, and deviled eggs have been consumed and enjoyed, and the colorful Easter dresses and plaid bow ties have been hung on the hangers and tucked in drawers.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.

[click_to_tweet tweet=” The resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.” quote=”The resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.”]


A few days ago I returned from the country of Moldova with Justice & Mercy International. Europe’s poorest country, and a small one at that, with an orphan population the size of a continent. I wrapped my arms around orphan girls whose journey, I beg the Lord, will not be one of being sex trafficked. I met a young teenager whose eye had been punched out by a drunken stepdad. I laid my trembling hand on a 3-year-old baby girl with hydrocephalus who is living in a two-bedroom hut with her single mom and 5 siblings. I heard stories of corruption and abuse. I visited a special needs shelter and consciously wondered over and over again whether I had one single meaningful scrap to offer anyone. Hang in there with me, I’m getting to the Easter reflections part.

One might think that returning home from a trip like this would bring fulfilling thoughts of having helped the “less fortunate”. That I’d really played my part in giving back and visiting the poor and orphaned. But as I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, my flight home was filled with thoughts of inadequacy, overwhelmed-ness, and strikingly above all, thoughts of my sinfulness. I was oddly aware not just of my sins, but my actual sin nature. Strange, it seemed to me. All while doing “good”.

Yet perhaps this is exactly one of the reasons that God—from Old Testament to New—has told us to take care of the poor.

Not only to bring help and hope to each image-bearer, but also as a reminder of our own total powerlessness before Christ. Being with the poor and powerless reveals to me that we all lay bare before Him, on equal footing, every one of us in need of resurrection.

I will never get over the reason God gave Israel for why they should take care of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.” (Deut 23:22) Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Sounds familiar to us who, before Christ, were held fast to our own selfish desires, addictions, and destructive behaviors? Who, even when we were doing the right things, couldn’t shake our inherent guilt?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. ” quote=”Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. “]


While in Moldova I was poignantly reminded that I don’t need a savior in the sole form of a moral teacher. I don’t need a great role model, spiritual guru, sage, or genie in a bottle. And—heaven help me—if all I need is to look deeper into myself, find my truth, trust my heart to lead me, or be more vulnerable so everyone can know that not being okay is okay, I’m in profound trouble. What I need, what we all desperately need, is a Savior, perfectly holy and righteous, who conquered death through His own death and resurrection, so that we can be made new. Not improved with mere better behavior. Rather a new heart and new life. “[God] made [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

One of the interesting facts about Moldova is despite its poverty its soil is some of the richest and most arable in the world. The lilies and tulips, sunflower and lavender fields, cherry and apple orchards, raspberry brambles and tomato vines are just about to start their show. New life is springing forth after a cold, hard winter. As I consider those sprawling fields, I’m reminded that in the bleakness of Israel’s winter God said through the prophet Ezekiel that a day was coming when, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Jesus’s death and resurrection is the fulfillment of this prophecy, what has made it possible for my heart of stone to become a heart of flesh, for His Spirit to live within me. It’s the message of Easter we’ll need all year long. Until next year when the azaleas explode with blooms and remind us that we don’t need mere polishing, improvement or a new Easter dress, but a new heart. And we’ll celebrate all over again, that this newness is exactly what Jesus’s resurrection accomplished for us.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com


The Unexpected Joy of Loving Your Neighbor

The Unexpected Joy of Loving Your Neighbor

Almost 10 years ago my life profoundly changed for the better. I took my first trip down the Amazon on a riverboat called the Discovery and nothing has been the same since. All that the Lord showed me about Himself and His people in the jungles of Brazil has surprisingly impacted every area of my life here. Ours is just a different jungle. Perhaps the most significant realization for me is that while I was happy to help the poor in the Amazon, I’d neglected to reach out to the poor, hurting, lonely right in my own community. It would require some sacrifices and inconvenient moments, but it would also bring a great deal of joy of fulfillment I’d been missing out on. The write-up below contains a handful of excerpts from my book, Wherever the River Runs, describing how these gracious people helped me learn the unexpected joy of loving your neighbor.

To set the scene, we’re jumping into a story where my friend April was deciding whether or not to buy a computer for a family in our community who couldn’t afford one.

The Inconvenience of Loving Your Neighbor

“Ok, here’s my dilemma…” April looked down for a second and then slipped me a nervous smile I know like the back of my hand. “What if I help them with the computer and then they start needing me?”

“Well, heaven forbid you help someone who might need you.”

“But you know what I’m saying? I mean, what if she starts calling me for things and it all gets inconvenient.”

This was a reasonable concern. I understood. It’s one thing to enjoy helping someone on a definitive, short-term basis where the output is minimal and the gratification is immediate. It’s another thing altogether, so entirely in its own category, to actually engage in relationship. It’s the difference between a quick act of service and actually sharing your life, which is what the gospel requires of us—which is also what has caused me, at times, to panic.

Our conversation took me back to an afternoon on the river when I pulled up my chair next to John [the one who first invited me to the Amazon] and rested my feet on the sky-blue slats of the Discovery while the thick jungle with endless hidden treasures and possibilities rolled by. Having John next to you was like having a bedside tome of yarns, wit, and wisdom. He saw things through an interesting lens, and he could thread a story that kept you inching farther and farther toward the edge of your seat until you’d almost slid off either from laughter, disbelief, or both. He could also be comfortably quiet though, occasionally breaking the silence with a thought or insight you rarely saw coming.

“You know,” he mused, “God sent me to Brazil and wrecked my retirement plans.” I knew that before visiting the Amazon he’d been considering his future as a post-record company executive, dreaming of places where he and Juliet could travel and vacation, sipping the rest of their years through a silver straw. “But I’m so glad He did,” he continued. “You know, how many beaches can you lie on? How many games of golf can you play before it’s just meaningless?”

The Convenience of Loving Someone Else’s Poor

I was going to realize that Jesus’ specific call to love my neighbor was going to be, in some ways, more difficult than loving the people across the ocean with the exotic wildlife. Loving the poor for a week at a time with your family and best friends on an exquisite adventure is rather different from slogging through the complexities and choices that surround the suffering and needy who dwell in your own community. As Mary Katharine once put it to me, it’s almost always easier to take care of someone else’s poor. For one thing, our own poor have problems that remind us a troubling amount of ourselves. And for another, they’re always right there—you don’t get to fly home and leave them after a week.

I remember when the founding director of a local organization for women newly released from prison asked me if I’d like to teach a weekly Bible study to half a dozen women now living in a facility near my neighborhood. It’s one thing to teach on the weekends as part of your living, listen to women, pray for them, and then jump on a plane home. It’s another thing entirely to offer yourself to people with all manner of addictions and problems and complaints who might also call you the following afternoon to chat. I was afraid of what giving up a night of the week might require of me and wondered if I had the capacity for more relationships. But when I really examined my life, while I was a good friend, pursuing the things of Christ, living uprightly as I understood it, I couldn’t say that a significant amount of my time was spent pouring into the lives of others, not to mention the poor. But after witnessing the great need in the Amazon, how could I turn my back on a group of women equally in need, only two miles away, toward whom I felt the Lord nudging my heart?

I might have never put it like this, but in some ways, I’d been living on an island with those who looked like me, pretty much voted like me, shared my same interests, ate at the same restaurants, sang similar worship songs, and made comparable incomes. Every so often, we’d cross the bridge via a church outreach to the peninsula of prisoners or the isle of drug addicts, maybe the reef where the homeless were trying to stay above water. We’d genuinely serve and love these communities of sufferers and societal outcasts, but soon we’d be back in our homes, snuggled into our comforts, going on with our lives. I was happy to serve, just so long as it was an occasional activity, an accessory to my faith and not a primary characteristic of it.

I thought about the jungle pastors I’d met along the river who thought nothing of rowing their canoes for several days just to deliver a creel of fish to a widow or preach a sermon or lay their hands on a sick child. They wouldn’t have even had a category for our definition of “inconvenient.” For them, oaring their families across choppy waters on their way to a church service through a blinding rainstorm while a water cobra circled their canoe is inconvenient.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”For them, oaring their families across choppy waters on their way to a church service through a blinding rainstorm while a water cobra circled their canoe is inconvenient.” quote=”For them, oaring their families across choppy waters on their way to a church service through a blinding rainstorm while a water cobra circled their canoe is inconvenient.”]

April had seen everything I’d seen in the Amazon, so when she encountered a needy woman in her own neighborhood, she was able to recognize her responsibility more clearly. She realized that the very thing she was terrified of, the very thing I was terrified of— being inconveniently needed—happened to be Jesus’ second most central command: love your neighbor as yourself. He wasn’t asking us to fix everyone’s problems, but He was asking us to give our hearts, or as the apostle Paul put it so poignantly to the Thessalonians, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).

[click_to_tweet tweet=”“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” 1 Thessalonians 2:8″ quote=”“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” 1 Thessalonians 2:8″]

When it came to being a friend to the poor in my community, I was afraid of the same thing April was. I was happy to minister overseas because there’s this measure of novelty while you’re there and a safe distance when you’re gone. But befriending the sick, suffering, and spiritually needy in my daily environment is neither novel nor safe. It’s just hard. Essentially, I wanted to help people but only if I didn’t have to get all tangled up in ongoing relationship. I didn’t want people close to home needing me, calling me. And it wasn’t just what I was afraid to do; it was what I was afraid to give up. It can be painful relinquishing a few precious comforts while making time to serve. After agreeing to teach the Bible study at the home for recovering addicts, I freely admit I wasn’t happy that it cut into one of my favorite nights to be with friends. You’d think I’d committed to leading a small group in Afghanistan the way I coaxed myself out the door, begging God to help me while I drove all of seven minutes away.

April ended up buying the computer for Rachel and her family, and they did end up needing her, and eventually they needed me, too. But what April and I soon discovered was that, in some ways, we’ve needed them more.

The Responsibility of Loving Your Neighbor

I couldn’t have understood this more clearly than the day I was throwing a football in my front yard with six-year-old Randy Jr., the third of Randy and Rachel’s four children. Suddenly the most perplexing riddle hit him, and while winding up for another big pass, he yelled, “Hey! How come you live in a house with three bedrooms and you’re just one person”—I watched the ball sail through the air feeling like something more than a ball was coming—”and we live in a house with three bedrooms and we have six people?” Well, now, this was a very good question. Randy Jr. was doing the math, and the number of people in each home compared to the number of rooms wasn’t totaling up to anything close to fair, or even practical.

As I tossed the football with Randy Jr., I realized no one else in my life could have asked this question in a way that so convicted me as this little second grader with his crooked glasses and high-water pants. Through his simple yet profoundly complex question he reminded me that there’s not so much an answer as there is both a great truth and a sacred responsibility. The truth is that I was once a slave, yet because of God’s grace I am now awash in freedom. But this freedom spawns responsibility, which requires giving freely of my time and myself.

It’s become increasingly clear to me how much more God wants for me, how He longs for me to experience the kind of joy Paul wrote about when he said to the Thessalonians, You are my joy and crown.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”It’s become increasingly clear to me how much more God wants for me, how He longs for me to experience the kind of joy Paul wrote about when he said to the Thessalonians, You are my joy and crown.” quote=”It’s become increasingly clear to me how much more God wants for me, how He longs for me to experience the kind of joy Paul wrote about when he said to the Thessalonians, You are my joy and crown.”]

Whether I was giving myself to the river people of the Amazon, throwing the football with Randy Jr., or getting to know the brave women facing their addictions, I’d been discovering unexpected joys. Unexpected crowns. Just like God had wrecked John and Juliet’s retirement plans, He was wrecking some of my American Dream. But in John’s words, “You know, how many beaches can you lie on?”

To read more, order Wherever the River Runs here.


My Moldova Adventure

My Moldova Adventure

Hello friends!

I hope you’re enjoying summer as much as I am. I’m loving the slower and more relaxed pace. I’m realizing I’ve needed it. For this July edition of our newsletter, I thought I’d tell you about a trip to Moldova I just took with Justice and Mercy International. Some of you who are familiar with me know I work with JMI in the Amazon (I wrote a little book about it called Wherever The River Runs), but I’ve also made three trips to Moldova with JMI. In case you’re wondering, Moldova is a small country that sits between Romania and Ukraine, roughly the size of Maryland. I only mention this geographical tidbit because before I had friends who regularly went there, I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of it.

I was a very small part of helping put on vacation bible school in a village that managed to turn out 150 of the cutest clamoring kids nipping at your heels for crayons and more plăcintăs (a Moldovan pastry), chirping in Romanian and occasionally a phrase or two in Russian. Yes, chaos is the word you’re rummaging for.

So, why VBS in Moldova, you ask?

Gosh, I’m so glad you brought this up.

Moldova has a grossly high percentage of girls who are sex trafficked out of the country, a high suicide rate for boys, and an enormously alarming orphan population. To combat this terrifying reality, JMI helps orphans and vulnerable children through its child sponsorship program. Many of these children we’re able to identify through our yearly camps. One of my greatest privileges of the year is sharing the Gospel with these children through Scripture and through all the ways a game, a skit, and a plastic cup of orange Fanta says “I love you.” But summer camps are just the beginning.

july blog 1

When these children turn 16, whether in or out of the orphanages, many have nowhere to go. And if they do have a place to go, the scenario is usually horrifying. I’ve heard these kids’ stories firsthand and they’re too gruesome for me to write about here. But here’s the hope. Here’s why I love VBS in Moldova. Because JMI has two homes—one for girls called Grace House and one for boys called Boys to Leaders—that house 15 teenagers respectively for anywhere from two to three years. This isn’t just about shelter, this is about a home. These girls and boys are welcomed into a family where they learn life skills, flourish in school, receive counseling, go to church, get discipled, and learn about the love of Jesus through His Word. The transformation of these kids is nothing short of miraculous. As my friend Steve likes to say, I’d put these kids up against any kids in the world.

july blog 2

Now, for the moment of my trip that impacted me the most. The little girl on the right in the picture above was in my bible study group. Her name is Nastea (I changed her name). My friend Brittany and I asked her the question, if she could go anywhere in the world where would she go? Without hesitation she said, “Moscow”.

“Why Moscow”?  I asked.

“Because that’s where my mom lives.”

Nastea hadn’t seen her mother in almost a year and she doesn’t know who her father is. This would be a pretty bleak story except for the girl on the left. Her name is Alla (you can watch her story here). Alla grew up in an orphanage. She intimately knows Nastea’s plight, her void, her aching loneliness. Alla also spent several weeks at vacation bible school during the summer, which is how JMI connected with her. When she was just sixteen and being thrust out of the orphanage, JMI reached out to her and she entered the Grace House. And all of life changed. She met Christ, received love, and is blooming like the cutest red headed bud you ever saw. For the past three years she’s been serving with us at the very camps she grew up in.

When Nastea told Alla and me how much she missed her mom, how she didn’t know when she was coming back, and how all the others kids have moms and dads, I turned to Alla and whispered, “this one is yours”.

I don’t know exactly what Alla said to Nastea because it was all in Romanian. But when I took two steps back to snap this picture, I realized I understood everything I needed to know. This is how the good news of the Gospel spreads. When Jesus rescues our life and we go and tell about it, and someone like Alla hears the news, she then in turn finds another little one on whose shoulders she places both her hands, and in a language I can’t begin to speak to a child whose story I can’t begin to understand, she says, “God loves you.”

And that’s why I do VBS in Moldova.

For more information about Justice and Mercy International, you can visit www.justiceandmercy.org.

kelly signature


Back From Moldova

Back From Moldova

To say that I went to Moldova kicking and screaming would be strong, but to say I went a bit tired and with my arms folded—and a little concerned about the unrest in that part of the world—is just about right. So, where in the world is Moldova, you ask? See llustration #1


My sister’s co-worker left this on her door while she was in Moldova. In case someone needed her.

Simply put, the part of my heart that’s devoted to missions and ‘others, Lord’ was already full of the Amazon and a few long-standing activities I had going on at home—there’s only so much love and selflessness to go around, you know? But the ministry I partner with in the Amazon, Justice and Mercy International, has been working with the orphan population in Moldova for a decade now. It was time I saw the work firsthand. Still, my mantra was firm: I have no more of my heart to give away; I’m just coming to observe. To try the stuffed cabbage rolls.

And then I walked into a swarm of approximately 80 vulnerable and/or orphaned children in the western countryside of Moldova. And I realized that the space God gives a person for the poor and orphaned isn’t a fixed compartment you try to keep at a comfortable capacity. Rather, the borders keep expanding with each new face. Every fresh name. Another story of an individual life.

Enter Clara, Marta, Sofia, Nicoletta, Victor, Igor, Olga, Petro… (names changed to protect identity).

I’ll be sharing more about the work of JMI in the days, weeks and prayerfully years to come. But right now I want to ask you a question. It’s a question that was asked me a number of years ago: Do you know the name of a poor person? Not, do you know where poor people live or do you hand the homeless a dollar on occasion, but do you know the name of a poor person? I shared a few names above and they’re ones I’m putting before the throne of Jesus these days. Father, protect Sofia from the physical blows of her teenage brothers, keep Victor diligent in his school work, come to the rescue of Marta, Clara, Claudia, three sisters living in a shelter whose “mom road away on a horse one day and never came back.”—the exact quote of the five year-old.

I’ve decided that when I get to know names I have more time and more resources than I thought had—than I thought before boarding that plane to Moldova. Yes, the Amazon is still pressing on my heart and so are the people of my local church and so now are the people of Moldova and, guess what, all of them propel and inform the service of the others. God is masterful at replenishing our love and expanding our capacity when we reach out to the forgotten, those on the fringes of society.

Okay, but we have a reality happening: We’re compassion-fatigued. We’re overwhelmed by the need, flat numb from the pleas of non-profits, unsure of where to send our money or devote our time. So let me encourage you. Ask God to give you a name.

Ask Him to give you a heart for a nation.

Or a neighborhood.

Or a neighbor. 

Because when God gives you a face and a name (in America or in the Amazon or on your street or in your church), He gives you room in your heart. When you don’t think you can cut out another latte a month to sponsor that child, you’ll remember  his peculiar smile and you’ll figure it out. When you don’t have it in you to lead the youth group through another semester, that one teenager will lure you back. The morning you’re dying to sleep in, you’ll set your alarm 15 minutes earlier to pray for the orphan who stole your heart. The day you just can’t board another plane, you’ll cram yourself into the nosebleeds of coach one more time to hold a little girl, to kiss her forehead. (Even if you’re sure your hugs and kisses are all accounted for.) Because this is what happens when God gives you a name.

So, start by praying. Start by asking your local church where you can get involved. If you need another place to start, visit Justice and Mercy International.

***Lastly, I’m simply excited to share with you the bigger version of this story God has been working out in my life over the past several years. Wherever The River Runs is my most personal and honest book to date, and it may help bring focus to what God is asking of you. Mostly it’s about how loving the poor has enriched my life and my relationship with Jesus, and how it will enrich yours too.

Will you ask God for a name?



A Saint in the Amazon

A few weeks ago I returned from Manaus, Brazil, what many call The Gateway to The Amazon.

I spent a week on the river with Justice and Mercy Amazon visiting some incredible villages along the river in some obscure areas, and then spent four days meeting with dear friends and jungle pastors in Manaus. (I had a phenomenal week, which is probably a story for another post.) While in the city I requested to see one of the most remarkable followers of Jesus I’ve ever met, a sixty-eight year-old Brazilian woman named Ana (name has been changed). I first met her at our First Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference a few years ago, and I’ve made a point to see her every visit. Ana’s hard to get your hands on, though. Half the time she’s booked up teaching one of her three-hour classes on hermeneutics, working with her pastor at her church or temporarily living in another country in South America serving the poor. Last year she voluntarily dwelt in a hut, I believe in Peru, where she had to draw her own water, describing conditions I don’t even understand – she was there teaching the bible. And I think she had health issues at the time.

salon and hair stylist cooperation

But it’s her smile, her peace, her profound inner joy that in many ways defy the difficult life she’s had: a broken engagement years ago (Ana has remained single), two bouts with cancer, an accident that caused excruciating back pain and literal persecution for her faith. A person can’t fake the attributes her countenance and spirit beam forth. These don’t come from having more stuff or pleasure or entertainment. We hear these words a lot, but they are the fruit that comes from the Spirit. Ana’s peace, joy and radiance is what I want, I just don’t always want the road that unleashes them. But I’m also at the point where I’m not willing to miss Him for anything.

I had an hour with Ana sitting in a friend’s living room. Her grey hair flipped up at her shoulders brushing her cream top, printed with lavender roses. She was also wearing a jean skirt – I’m so sure: adorable. With all of you in mind and, selfishly, with me in mind I asked Ana a few questions about life, faith, her relationship with Jesus. Here are a few of the things she told me…

“If every woman believed what God has in store for her, every woman would devote her life to the service of God.”

She was not wagging her finger when she said this. She was perched on the edge of her seat leaning toward me with an inviting smile the way a mother bends toward her child and says, you don’t want to miss this for anything in the world! Her zeal reminded me of Mary of Bethany: When you’ve tasted the person of Jesus – when you know Him – you will spill your all over Him with delight, even urgency. Instead of wondering how I could drum up greater sacrifice or employ more disciplines, Ana by her very presence reminded me that when you know Him, you will delight in loving Him.

“When God saves you, there’s a specific place for you in His service”, she continued. “There’s only one way to find this out: intimacy with Christ.” I wonder if you believe that about yourself. Or maybe the better question is do you believe that about God – that He really does have a place for you? Sometimes I wonder this, and the remedy comes through spending time at His feet…. listening (Mary of Bethany), or as Ana put it “intimacy with Christ.” The question becomes, am I spending the time?

Ana went onto explain how she talks to God just like she was speaking to me – She tells Him everything, discusses even the mildest of details with Him. She described how we can know His voice like a woman can distinguish her husband’s out of a thousand. She explained how she listens to the Lord by reading His Word – she just finished her 145th reading through the Bible. (But no guilt here – just take it with a spoonful of encouragement, because that’s how she dispensed it. That’s how I took it.) She talked about three qualities that help her discern His voice in any given situation: Peace, joy and assurance in accordance with His Word.

If your background is anything like mine, none of this is necessarily new. Spending time pouring over God’s Word, listening and petitioning in prayer, serving God through obedience are all things we know. But it’s not the “new” that’s going to change us, rather a recommitment to the timeless.

So much distracts us today, perhaps more than at any other time in history. The iPhone alone could be my undoing. I can’t imagine there ever being a time where I had access to more opinions, arguments, “comments” about everything, and yet Ana reminded me once again of The Voice, the One that matters above all others. The Voice of the Shepherd whom His sheep know (John 10:27). She inspired me to take back the time to hear Him. Not that I wasn’t reading the bible or listening, but to re-up my commitment. To really guard it. To silence the alerts and alarms. To protect the space.

Beyond what Ana said it was the serenity of her presence that spoke the clearest. She knows who she is; She knows what she’s supposed to do; She knows the One who goes with her. And out of that understanding flows a peace and a beauty as deep and attractive as the Amazon. This lovely woman didn’t offer me a “how-to” because relationships aren’t that clinical. But she reminded me that purpose, peace and knowing are all attainable qualities through intimacy with Christ. She reminded me the abundant life in Jesus is possible.