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


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.

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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.

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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.

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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?