My Mom In The Jungle And Other Ramblings

“And you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Never do these words of Jesus mean more to me than when I’m in the jungles of Brazil. I’m not sure what constitutes the ends of the earth, but if ever a region deserved this title, the jungle would have as good a shot as any for ends-of-the-earthness. I just returned from my fifth trip there in connection with a ministry called Ray of Hope. They’re a local, on the ground mission in Manaus that exists to serve the people who live along the vast and glorious river we call the Amazon.

My experiences there have forced me to rethink the various elements of my life, thus my Christianity as a whole. So here I am, attempting to blog about this latest trip while it’s fresh on my mind, while I can still smell the scents of the Amazon and my spirit’s still buzzing with the excitement of meeting people who are living the Christian life in ways I’ve scarcely encountered. More than anything, I want to write about the unrivaled joy of serving with my family, my mom in particular this time.

Yes, my mom came with us for her first time, the trip’s first miracle. How shall I put this? My mom doesn’t do bugs. She doesn’t do camping, roughing it, excessive heat. She really doesn’t do roaches the size of rodents, leaping tarantulas, or scorpions that lurk in people’s shoes (people meaning us). And when smartypants people say, “Well, most tarantulas aren’t dangerous”, I want to respond with, “Does this matter when the spider is the size of your face?” The whole Amazon caboodle is not really my mom’s cup of tea. Actually, tea is her cup of tea, as in Earl Grey in an English cup that’s perched on a coffee table inside someone’s home that has central heating and air. Going to the Amazon was a tremendous act of obedience on her part, one I don’t take lightly.

As the boat pulled up to our very first village, I turned to my mom, “Mom, I need someone to share a testimony for the families today, can you do it?” Mom gave me a mom-look that said something along the lines of I am bodily present in the jungle, can that be enough for now? But my mom is a quiet spiritual giant, and I knew how effective it would be if she shared how God had taken hold of her life as a young high school girl desperate for a relationship with a Savior she knew nothing of at the time, even if she was just settling into her surroundings. My mom is subtle and unapologetically what-you-see-is-what-you-get; when she shares how the Lord transformed her heart, you listen.

Please imagine the swell in my soul when I watched her share her testimony with the jungle village of Sao Tome while wearing her hot pink Living Proof Live t-shirt. Some of my favorite worlds collided in that one moment. Now imagine my joy when, after she shared, a man and a woman stepped forward to give their lives to Jesus. The young man had been someone Ray of Hope had known for years, but never had he expressed interest in becoming a Christian. Today was the day.

Having my mom in the jungle meant much to me on layered levels because I knew she wouldn’t have chosen this trip. She went in obedience to God and she went out of love for Him and her family. As Nehemiah mentioned being “very much afraid” in chapter 2 while approaching the king to request permission to help rebuild Jerusalem, so my mom had her fears but she didn’t let them paralyze her from seeing what God wanted her to see and doing what He wanted her to do. Had she stayed in her familiar and comfortable surrounding she would have missed an encounter with a young husband and wife with HIV. Through tears, the mother thanked my mom and dad for starting a church that would, on that day, help them build a home in a village that once shunned her family because of her and her husband’s disease. It was a moment of eternal joy. A memory no one can steal from my mom or me ever.

As my mom and I walked away from that village – I have no idea where my dad was, he tends to go off exploring unannounced – I thought about my parents’ legacy. How 38 years ago my mom agreed to move to a tiny, no-name town in VA to begin Reston Bible Church with my dad. 38 years, thousands of people, hundreds of collective mission trips, countless people who’ve come to Christ later, that decision blossomed in a village called Acajatuba where hard working saints from that same church showed up to build a house for a suffering, believing couple who otherwise would never have had a home. It was a memorable walk to the boat.

I don’t know if you have a family of your own. I am not married and without children so my blood family consists of my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and I count my two star in-laws in there as well. My chosen family is a few dear friends who I shudder to think of life without. These are the family members I am blessed to serve with, a joy more furious than the Amazon River itself.

I have no idea what God has put in your heart to do. I would never suggest it be a particular continent, city, or street, only that you seek Him hard for the people to whom He’s called you. I know He has inexplicably commanded us to love people, serve them, teach them, give to them in a way that points them (and us) back to His saving grace. He has not asked us to do this alone but in the context of community. Go get it.


Nehemiah and Jungle Pastors

Special Guests: Beth Moore, Lisa Harper, and other people we all love.

On Feb 1st, my 3rd bible study releases,Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break. On Feb 3rd, I leave for the Amazon jungles of Brazil for the 2nd Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference that several dear friends and family launched last year with Ray of Hope. Without being overly dramatic I feel attached to Joshua’s words to the Israelites before they were to cross the Jordan, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” This is a sacred time as I look back over a year of studying and writing about Nehemiah, with two trips to the Amazon thrown in. It is not lost on me that 3 days after this study releases I will have the privilege of meeting up with 65 modern-day Nehemiahs, 40 of them pastors and 25 of them pastor’s wives. We will gather together for the 2nd time in jungle history to study, worship, fellowship, catch piranha and eat a lot of tapioca. (I am personally packing Kind Bars this year.)

Last year with Pastor Jucimar. He traveled 17 days by boat to get to the conference

I can’t describe in a blog post the impact that last year’s conference had on me, though I am contemplating writing a book about my adventures. More on that when I recover from the pounding I took from Nehemiah (half-grin). In the meantime, it would mean so much to me if you think to cover our time in prayer. Essentially my dad will be doing the lion’s share of the teaching, while I and a few others will be teaching the wives – okay, in reality they will be teaching us by their very presence, it’s just how it works over there. Many of these Brazilians will leave several days ahead of time because it will take them that long by boat to get to where we’ll be. On my side of the equator I just don’t know this level of zeal for God, His Word and His people. Like I said, they will be teaching me.

My dad’s the one in the middle. Jungle pastors on either side

On another note, please, please join us for tomorrow’s (Feb 1st) free webcast that begins at 11 AM (CST). I hear Beth Moore, Lisa Harper and a couple other surprise guests will be dropping by to say hello. I can’t wait to share with you in person what this book has meant to me, and the word is we’ll be doing a little cooking on the “show” as well. Rumor has it that Lisa Harper will be showing up with onion goggles. What more needs to be said.


Stuff I’m Writing And Reading

As some of you know I spent all of last year studying and writing about the book of Nehemiah. Well, I did other things like eat and sleep and complain about how “hard” this all was. I traveled some and cooked as many meals as time would allow. I spoke a lot and met a lot of people which was fun, but I discovered after all these years that I might be a bit of an introvert. I realized, while sitting in the midst of my bible, commentaries, laptop, and utter silence, that this space made me very happy. More than all these little joys however, steeping myself in Nehemiah has changed me, and I hope it will do the same for you. The study and videos release on Feb 1st, but more about all this in the next few days…

In addition to what I’ve been writing, I want to share with you what I’ve been reading. *First, a little disclaimer. Throughout 2012 I really want to share with you the books I come across and love, even if I don’t mesh with every word. So, in the spirit of “Hey, we may not all agree on every page or idea, but the overall message is absolutely riveting and I understand the author to be sincerely biblical,” here are two must-reads:

First up, 7 by my friend Jen Hatmaker. I say friend because we’ve talked maybe twice since we met 6 years ago while at an event where we may have conversed for all of 10 minutes. I say friend because I follow her on Twitter and now FB and we occasionally write warm and/or sarcastic notes to each other. Mostly, I say friend because Jen is the wife of a pastor, has adopted two children from Africa, written a book about mission and sacrifice, and has done so because of Jesus. See? She and I are tight.

I highly recommend this read. It will stretch, challenge, and prayerfully sculpt you more closely into the image of Christ. And, her writing is so full of humor you may find yourself laughing while all this gut wrenching conviction is taking place. She’s sneaky, that Jen. To find out more about 7 click here and/or to check out her hilarious and extremely challenging blog click here. If you read and love it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Next Up: Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker. This is a book on prayer that I haven’t even finished yet, but I can’t possibly recommend it more highly. His stories of what God has accomplished through the church he pastors, National Community Church in Washington, D.C., are utterly mind blowing. God has been teaching me more and more about prayer over the past couple years and this book reminds me that we haven’t yet scratched the surface of what God desires to do in our lives when we petition, throw ourselves before Him and seek His face. Mark is a down to earth, accessible writer, though his stories are anything but ordinary. This is a great book to start off your new year. You can check out The Circle Maker by clicking here. I think it’s already on The New York Times Best Seller List.



Happy New Year

The Minters attempting a poised family photo.

Poised Family Photo.

I’m about to pluck the ornaments from the Christmas tree and wrap the lights into a quasi-organized ball of tangles. The mantle will be cleared, and my Vietri santa sugar and creamer that my Mom graciously splurged on for me will be put away until next November or so. The shimmering green, silver, and red wrapped Hershey’s Kisses will remain on my dining room table until they’ve been eaten, because I think you can get away with those well into January. It’s when you’re offering them to guests in August that they become a problem.

Gathering up the Christmas decorations and making way for a new year’s reality can be both disheartening and invigorating. Though I’m always sad to see the holiday season come to an end with its family gatherings, rich foods, post-season football games, times of relaxation, and of course its unparalleled focus on Christ’s birth, I am usually ready to begin the year anew. Like most of you, I’m sure you’ve been pondering the experiences that you were ready to see vanish into 2011 and the ones you hope to see dawn in 2012. I hope the following will be of some encouragement to you…

I was reading in I Samuel 25 last week, and was stirred by a phrase in verse 28 that will usher me into the new year. The following words were spoken by Abigail to King David, “…the Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord’s battles.” I don’t know what battles lie in front of you, but in the spirit of transparency I have wasted precious moments of my life fighting battles that were not the Lord’s. I have spent valuable nights worrying about relationships I wasn’t supposed to be in in the first place. I’ve needlessly toiled over obstacles in my career that weren’t part of God’s plan. I’ve fretted over finances when the Lord had already promised to provide for my needs.

When I read the above words that characterize David’s life, I was inspired to specifically seek God’s direction for this coming year. “Lord, I don’t want to waste valuable time that I can never get back fighting battles that are meaningless.” This year I want to learn more of what it means to fight where it matters. Whether it’s struggling in prayer for those in the Amazon region of Brazil, studying the Scriptures, designating money to the needs God has put on my heart, spending time over coffee with those who could use encouragement, learning a new skill, cooking a new dish… I want to contend where God’s asked me to.

How beautiful that according to John 15, we don’t have to do this alone. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches that naturally grow out of that vine bearing the fruit He authors. I am excited for this coming year; Thankful for what God has done in my life in 2011, and looking forward to the ground He will ask me to fight for. In the meantime, I’m going to cook some kale, cannellini bean, sausage soup for tonight, and watch pieces of the numerous college bowl games. I may even take a nap.

Thank you so much for your incredible support of me over the past few years. I am thankful for each and every one of you, even if we have yet to meet. May God’s favor rest upon you in 2012.


Bloom Book Club

I’m so excited to be part of the Bloom Book Club this summer with Angie Smith and Jessica Turner. They have chosen The Fitting Room: Putting on the Character of Christ as their summer book. You can find out all the details by clicking here.

I had the best time taping several video segment where we discussed each chapter and brought our real-life thoughts and experiences to the table, always up against the incredible revelation of what the Bible has to say about living out the virtues. If you’d like to join us this summer, we’d be more than thrilled to have you! Please come along for the ride…


The Fitting Room: Putting on the Character of Christ

Just wanted to let you know that I just got my copy of The Fitting Room: Putting on the Character of Christ. It’s available for pre-order today, and will ship April 1st. These projects require so much labor-intensive work and a huge chunk of your heart, so I’m always really excited when I can hold a final copy in my hands; The kind of copy where you can’t ask the editor if he or she can just change one more thing?

I based this book on Colossians 3:12 where Paul talks about clothing ourselves with the virtues. Of course this is easier said than done; Taking off one outfit for another is way easier than, say, taking off anger for patience, or bitterness for forgiveness. But there are many helpful truths along the way that aid us in the process, not the least of which is that we are chosen, set apart and dearly loved by God. So… I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed studying the classic Christian virtues, and writing about them in the most honest and at times humorous ways I knew how.