Despite the rich Christian historical roots in England, recent statistics and reports reflect the spiritual soil of England as hard and cold. Yet, God is bigger than statistics and prayer is more powerful than reports!
Encouragement & Real Stories of Changed Lives
Six years ago, Chris and Elizabeth McKinney threw a small fish fry in their driveway with 4-5 families around them. Having just moved into the neighborhood, they thought it would be fun to get to know some of their new neighbors. They enjoyed it so much, they planned several other get-togethers and soon met another couple who said they’d love to help create a sense of community in the neighborhood. The following year, they worked together with a lot of neighbors to pull off a larger block party where 75 adults and kids attended. The parties continued to grow from there and they saw a shared desire - even hunger - for community amongst neighbors.
When our Neighborhood Bible Study celebrated its 20th year last month, I remembered our tenuous beginnings. I shared with our nearly 50 members how I was challenged to begin an NBS in the neighborhood, but really had no desire to step out. One of our members said to me later, “Jan, what if you had said ‘No!’ Think about all we would have missed!”
“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” Washington Irving
The sweet young homeless girl came up to us and said, “This is the best Easter I’ve ever had!” We were blessed with these precious words when our Neighborhood Bible Study served 70 children and their parents living in a homeless facility just a few miles from where we live. God took us there on Good Friday, to teach us what we are studying in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “as His chosen people we are to clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness, and bear with each other.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but as a good teacher sometimes does, God was taking us on a field trip and allowing us to experience His teaching on a practical level, transforming our hearts and lives. And at the same time, He was loving these families in hard places through us. I love it that our Bible Study can impact not only our neighborhood, but our community as well.
At NBS2GO our main desire is to see lives changed for eternity. Lean in close and listen to Anna.
My name is Anna. And this is my story.
I became a part of the Brookcliff subdivision community after I married in April of 2003. Within days I was openly welcomed by a walking neighbor, Lilia S., who didn't hesitate to invite me to various Brookcliff activities, but I never seemed to find the time. It wasn't until May 23, 2017 when I lost my husband to a sudden heart attack that I realized what a truly open, caring, and giving neighborhood community I lived in.
“The one feature I know I need is a fenced-in backyard,” I told my realtor as we began looking for my new townhome. I thought it would surely increase my home office productivity if I could open the door, let Snickers the dog outside, and keep on working. I prayed and even visualized Snickers running around in that fenced-in backyard as I checked off item after item on my action list.
After an exhaustive real estate search, I settled on a townhome in a lovely, small community that had every feature I needed...except the fenced-in backyard. Little did I know that God had a bigger and better plan. As Snickers and I headed out of the door four times a day, I began meeting and getting to know my neighbors. Brief conversations quickly turned into learning each other’s names. Longer conversations soon turned into sharing laughs and hearing about each other’s lives and families.
“If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”
This past week I saw a new vision of this quote up close and personal through the lives of Chip and Joanna Gaines, America’s sweethearts of HGTV’s show, Fixer Upper. My sister, her daughter, and I visited the duo and their town, Waco, Texas - now a destination of more than a million people a year. Of course, tuning into the show we see the hard work and devotion they both pour into transforming a house in shambles to a home filled with beauty. The immense amount of time and love they have given their clients and community has ripple effects throughout Waco and even central Texas. They have leveraged their influence not for themselves but for their city and community. Chip and Joanna readily encourage any visitor to frequent the natural beauty of their city and other businesses in town.
Mothers need one another. I don’t know how else to say it. We need advice. We need “oh ya, I’ve been there too.” We need encouragement. We need affirmation. We need help, for pete’s sake.
Gathering mothers together is really fun. Throw out this question, “tell your worst/best parenting moment” and let the laughter, tears, and connecting begin.
How to host a neighborhood Mother’s Day Brunch
- Choose a day, time and home to gather in.
- Ask a good friend to share thoughts on Motherhood
- Send simple invitations
- Prepare for the details of the day (clean, cook, ask a few others to cook too, etc)
- Welcome each guest and tell them you are glad they came
- Facilitate a “getting to know you” time
- Pray a blessing for the food and the ladies who came
- Listen to “speaker”
- Clean up
So simple. So needed.
We all desire to build “community” right where we live. Gathering neighbors together is vital to this. Sharing life with one another communicates value, love and care. Hosting a Mother’s Day brunch is a wonderful way to have women in our homes to produce this community!
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
As followers of Christ may we continually be known for caring for our neighbors, extending a helping hand, welcoming them in our homes and initiating relationships.
Do you have an idea for Mother’s Day? Please share it with us.
The NBS2go Team
And in today’s story, the key to a successful neighborhood Bible study is an old, sunken in couch.
Just as we promised here is Part 2 of Nancy Samra's story. Part 1 was posted Monday, December 5th.
Scene 3: My husband built the houses we lived in. At this point in time, we had a brand new home but my husband was changing businesses, requiring us to live on a strict budget. As a result, the living room couches were in desperate need of replacement but were not going to be replaced. I was upset with God because, after all, since I was willing to open up my home for Him the least He could do was provide nice furniture. I thought for sure it would happen when one of our friends sat down on the couch and sunk down so low we had to help her up. Now my husband would see the need for new couches. But all he did was turn the couch upside down and pound a board across the bottom.
We were having a neighborhood Bible study with couples. Some of the attendees had a couple on their street they wanted to bring. Although the wife was willing, the husband was not. I will never forget his first evening. The two men came into my home literally dragging this third guy in. Oh, oh, I thought to myself.
Not only did this man stay for the evening, he and his wife continued to come back time after time. One of those times he prayed to receive Christ. We were all overjoyed. When I asked him why he came back when he was so resistant, he told me that walking up to my house was threatening but when he came into my living room that first night, my furniture reminded him of his childhood home.
Lesson learned: Physical appearance or size does not matter. Willingly open your home with whatever God has provided for you and He will do the rest.
SCENE 4: I was hosting a weekly neighborhood women’s Bible study at my home. On one particular morning, the phone kept ringing with the all kinds of reason why each lady would not be there that morning. Finally, it came down to only one lady who was able to attend.
I told my husband that I was going cancel this week's study and we would pick it up next week. My husband told me that I could not do that. When I asked him why he replied that if I were to cancel on the woman who could come, I was telling her she wasn't important.
Needless to say, I took his advice and let her come, explaining after she got there that it was just going to be the two of us. She asked all kinds of questions that day. She did not know the Lord and was too embarrassed to ask these questions in front of the group. She prayed to receive Christ and later on so did her husband and two sons. Eventually, they joined our church and began serving the Lord in all sorts of ways.
Lesson learned: Numbers do not matter. God is a personal God who is interested in individuals. Success is never based on how many people are in attendance.
SCENE 5: Fast forward to today. I am a mentor mom for my daughter’s neighborhood Bible study. I got grand-mothered in when we were temporarily living with my daughter and her family while we looked for a place to live. We were living in a brand new condo when my husband was diagnosed with dementia. I saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that if I was going to care for him at home, I
was going to need my children's help and I needed to make it convenient for them. Well, our condo sold before we found a house.
I attended while I lived with her but told myself I was too old and needed not to be there when I moved out of her home. I had heard about a book called, Giddy Up Eunice, and read it just before I was going to tell everyone that I wouldn't be back to Bible study. It was all about the need for the older women to mentor the younger ones. It was God convicting me not to leave the group, not to buy into Satan's lies concerning age. I stayed on and have seen much fruit from my time with these young women.
Lesson learned: Age is not a barrier to service, especially old age. In fact, my son says I am at the prime of my serving years.
One of the fringe benefits of having Bible studies in our home is the impact on my children. All their growing up years this is what my children saw. As a result, they figured this what you are supposed to do and I never said otherwise. All of them have had Bible studies in their homes and joy of all joys, my granddaughter had a Bible study this summer with eight of her high school friends, some of whom do not attend church.
As I look back, I see how I’ve been wooed with a grace I don’t deserve. I’ve experienced love like I could never imagine. It’s the quiet whisper of a breeze, the powerful pull of the ocean’s tide, thunder across the skies, deep rumbling laughter. It’s beautiful, it’s scary, it’s wondrous.
It’s understanding that God’s character is predictable but His activities are unpredictable. I have learned that instead of just accepting His unpredictability, I can actually appreciate and embrace it because HE IS an AMAZING GOD!
Haven't you enjoyed reading Nancy's story? Would you take a minute and respond and let her know how she encouraged you?
As you set your thoughts on the new year think of the lesson's Nancy has shared with us. Am I willing to trust the Lord with opening my home? How do I evaluate success in reaching out to my neighbors? Am I willing to fail? Am I worried about my age, my ability, my knowledge?
Lean in close and “listen” to this story from Nancy Samra. Nancy has been a member of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan for 26 yrs. Widowed after 48 years of marriage, she is a mother of three, grandmother of eleven and spiritual mom to a number of others. Her greatest joy is being able to continue to serve the Lord. Her son, Jim Samra, is the head pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. This is the story of her loosening her grip on her plans, desires and dreams. We will post it in 2 separate posts. We don’t want you to miss ANYTHING!
Play On! Scenes from the Film of my Life
Macedonia or Bust
I am still pinching myself. Was it only two weeks ago that I was in Macedonia watching God’s amazing work through years of prayer unfold before me?
Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you what had happened at our NBS2go prayer meetings. Our simple prayer and cry to the Lord was “Awaken Hearts around the world.” We had been sensing a new meaning to “GO” but had not been given specific direction to follow.
Last February, Brenda (missionary to Macedonia since 1991) discovered NBS2go on the Internet. This was an answer to prayer to find “simple, transferable and easily translatable” Bible Study resources. She contacted us for permission to translate our materials. She wanted to train her leaders how to use them during their National Women’s Conference. At the end of August, Brenda extended an invitation to attend their conference.
Linda, Debbie and I (of the NBS2go leadership team) had the privilege of going and serving! It was the largest gathering of its kind in the history of Macedonia with 550 women in attendance. People in Macedonia are very relational. Many women came by invitation to experience something different. The Gospel was shared from the first word spoken to the closing prayer by a team of Macedonian women’s leaders. The testimonies, skits, worship and message were built around the theme of “Our God is An Awesome God.”
Our experience was like that of a “fly on the wall” (how often do we wish to be present yet not visible at the same time experience something we can only imagine being a part of). It was truly amazing and surreal! We jumped in and helped to decorate before the conference sharing our ribbon curling skills while listening to piped in English 80’s elevator music. The Lord provided a translator with a lovely British lilt to her voice during the conference sessions. We hugged and encouraged those who have been serving the Lord on the mission
field. We drank Nescafe and listened to stories of changed lives. The Spirit of the Lord was present.
We could see the vision of NBS2go right before us and were grateful to partner with Brenda and her team in Macedonia.
Grateful and full of hope,
Late last summer while turning into the entrance to our neighborhood, I had a fleeting feeling of guilt for not showing a desire to know my neighbors better. After all, I have lived here for 10 years, and I couldn’t tell you much about most of my neighbors. But I quickly turned to thoughts of all the difficult things that my family has faced the last 10 years, the time spent helping with grandchildren and, of course, all the time spent in the Apples of Gold ministry. Did I mention that I am not so young anymore? So I pulled into my driveway, drove into the garage and put the door down.
Soon after that, I received an email from Susan Sorenson about a woman from Georgia that she wanted the Women’s Advisory Committee to meet. So I invited everyone for a meal at my house to meet her. And so begins the story of how God has been revealing my newest assignment.
Everyone around my table that night was struck by the passion for neighborhood Bible studies that flowed from the heart of Debbie McGoldrick. We were convicted and filled with excitement at the same time. Debbie talked about intentionally praying for, caring for and sharing Jesus with neighbors. We agreed that we had not been intentional about taking action in our neighborhoods.
Debbie shared how she prayer-walked her street, asking God to show her the “lost treasure” in her neighborhood. She prayed that God would release His word and let it run like a river in her neighborhood. She talked about looking for the houses with “for sale” signs and actually placing her foot on those driveways, asking God to bring believers or seekers into the neighborhood and keep evil out.
The next morning, as I was driving out of my neighborhood, I saw two brand new “for sale” signs on my street. I knew right away that God had something to say to me because we seldom see these signs in our subdivision. I went to the NBS2Go website (Debbie’s website filled with free resources for neighborhood Bible studies) and found suggestions for what to pray. I would love to say that I immediately began my prayer walks. Instead, I found every reason imaginable to procrastinate. Finally, one afternoon I told myself, “That is it. I am walking right now.” And I did.
When I placed my foot on the driveways of my neighbors I claimed the property for Jesus (at the same time hoping they didn’t have some kind of fancy alarm that alerted them to someone on their driveway). I prayed for the families in each house on our street. I prayed that God’s presence would be seen and felt in our neighborhood. I asked God to give me a love for my neighbors that could only come from Him. I am sure some of my neighbors wondered over dinner why that Cebulski woman was walking up and down the street talking to herself.
I spent the next couple of months asking God to show me the next thing to do in my neighborhood. At this point, I knew that I was being called to start a Bible study, but I didn’t know how to get from point A to point Z. I am good at planning, organizing and entertaining, but I was being stymied by feelings of intimidation at the thought of the assignment God was revealing to me. I struggled with the responsibility of it all.
Hosting a Christmas Dessert
As Christmas approached, I felt a nudge in my heart to do something to bring the women of the neighborhood together. Was this the next thing, Lord? The idea of a Christmas dessert came to mind. So I set the date and mailed 42 invitations. To my surprise, half the women in the neighborhood came that night, despite the busy holiday season. They came through the door with hugs and expressions of gratitude for bringing them together. Hours later, the last guest left. Many shared the same sentiment: “We need to do this more often.”
I was flying high after that wonderful night. Clearly there were many in the neighborhood who were hurting. They were even quick to share it at the Christmas dessert. It was so evident that many needed the relationships. But it didn’t take long for me to go back to the valley of doubt and fear. If I suggested a Bible study would I suddenly become the “religious radical” on the block? Would our relationships return to waves from car windows as we passed on the street? What if the needy started knocking on my door? After all, with all that I have on my plate right now I don’t have much free time as it is. Am I really the right person for this, Lord?
Through Scripture passages brought to me during my time of devotions and encouraging stories posted on the NBS2Go website, I realized again that all God was asking me to do was to be obedient to do the next thing. It came down to a yes or no. Either I believed God had the power to carry out His plan, or I did not. So I stopped trying to plan things out in my mind and went back to asking God to reveal “the next thing” and His plan for my assignment.
God's Mercy Revealed
The “next thing” was finding out that a neighbor’s young son was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. I contacted the neighbor and asked if I could host a prayer brunch for her with anyone in the neighborhood she would like to invite. She loved the idea. The prayer brunch was a precious time around my table with seven women who surprised me by their strong faith and love of Jesus. I realized that God was revealing the core group of women who could support a neighborhood Bible study. God used a crisis to bring us together. I witnessed the great mercy and love of God as together we cried and prayed and cried some more. My faith grew on that special morning, and I praised God for it.
I knew that the “next thing” was to send out invitations for a Bible study. I was certain I needed to do it the very next day. But God has a way of directing and leading by placing obstacles in our lives and for a few months, a crisis in our family did just that. As summer approached, God once again used Scripture and sermons to challenge me to focus on my assignment and not my problems. I thought of Paul, who while in prison asked Christians to pray for him to be able to proclaim the Gospel. So I set the date for an Introduction to Neighborhood Bible Study event and printed the invitations.
Obedience Brings Freedom
As I drove around the neighborhood distributing the invitations, I was once again the woman behind the wheel talking to myself and wrestling with God. There were a few houses where I hesitated because I already knew the prevailing attitude at the home. But there was a not-so-quiet voice in my heart that insisted an invitation go to every home. So I obeyed. And then I waited for the responses.
The first two responses came from the two women I least expected would come. My dread of rejection lessened and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit began to prevail. Within hours of the invitation going out, I received 16 responses. That was more than a third of the neighborhood. Wow! And my meager faith was hoping for just five. At that point I began to understand that any plan I might have could not compare to the plan God had already worked out for me.
God continues to teach me how to let go and just do “the next thing.” In many ways, it is very freeing. At the same time, it is not easy. God is showing me that all He expects of me is to 1) show love to my neighbors, 2) show them I love God’s Word, 3) and show them I love Jesus. He’s got the rest.
At times, doubt and fear continue to creep into my heart. A couple of hours before our last meeting I found myself saying out loud to the Lord, “I don’t want to do this.” I immediately
went to the Lord in prayer and asked Him to forgive my stubborn heart and pour out His love and power through me. When the women arrived, I found myself overflowing with joy to see them and aware of a special presence of the Lord around my table.
If God Assigns You, He'll Equip You
I do not write these words as the poster child for hosting neighborhood Bible studies. I am not. But I do want to encourage any and all who feel even a small nudge from the Holy Spirit to love your neighbors better than before. Start at the beginning. Start with prayer. From there, God is able to fill your heart with a love for neighbors that could only come from Him. The end result may or may not be a neighborhood Bible study. That is for God to reveal to you. But this I do know: the outcome is not your responsibility. Obedience is your responsibility. Whatever the assignment, He will fully equip you each step of the way, and your faith and love for Him will grow. He has promised that He will always complete the good work that He began in us.
I encourage you to open your heart to this good work. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of the vision that He gave to our Women’s Ministry at Calvary. Ask God to show you “the next thing.” Then all you have to do is rely on His power to do it. You will be so glad you did.
This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of Calvary Life magazine.
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Pat Cebulski retired from the corporate world several years ago but not from serving the Lord in her home. Young women from the Apples of Gold class she hosts are often hanging out around her kitchen. When she is not practicing hospitality around her table, she is playing with her five treasured grandchildren. Pat leads a Neighborhood Bible Study in Grand Rapids, Mich.
A 14-year-old boy sits around a campfire with his camp mates and counselors as the waters of Lake Michigan lap the distant shore. The summer night crackles with possibility. The fertile ground of the boy’s heart, tilled and prepared by faithful parents and grandparents, opens itself to receive the Truth. A small seed, destined to produce bushels and bushels of fruit in a single lifetime, is planted deeply on this night, under a sky sprayed with stars. Unaware in this moment of all that his future holds, the boy simply accepts the gift of Jesus and prays aloud the longings of his heart: “Lord, help me to understand the Bible. Help me to find a life partner. And help me to witness to others.” With that simple, humble prayer, a boy sets out on a lifelong journey of sharing the extraordinary joy he found on one ordinary summer evening.
Little did Gene Kuyers know that night at Camp Geneva how specifically and abundantly God would answer his prayers.
The life partner he prayed for, Marge Koen, was just steps away from him at the same camp where he accepted Christ, but they would not meet face-to-face for another two years. They married in 1953 and started a family. Their lives revolved around the church, each other and their young family. Their two children grew up witnessing their parents’ love for the Lord – they read the Bible together every night before bed, just one example of their deep commitment to God.
When their daughter was in ninth grade, Gene and Marge attended a conference where they learned a few simple tools to help them share their faith with their neighbors and the people they encountered in their daily walk. God was refining them, guiding them and faithfully answering Gene’s boyhood prayer the night he came to Christ: Help me witness to others. It became commonplace for their two children to hear stories of Gene and Marge quietly leading others to Christ at the family supper table.
Gene, a tool and die maker, kept an open Bible on his tool bench at work. It was well known around the shop that he was available to listen and pray for his co-workers whenever one of the guys was going through a tough time. He invited co-workers to study the Bible with him after work, which many faithfully did every week during Gene’s 42 years at the company. In 1972, Gene and Marge joined with another couple in the neighborhood to start a Bible Study on their street where they’d all lived for years.
The couples split up the street and invited everyone to the Kuyers’ house on a Sunday evening to just “talk about Jesus."
They didn’t have a grand plan or a strategy for winning souls. They simply loved the Lord, and their passion for Him overflowed from their gentle, unassuming natures to everyone around them. The group began in the book of John, where Christ tells His disciples that He is the Vine, and they are the branches.
“Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit.” John 15:5
The neighbors came – they were from different denominations and some were not yet believers, but they came faithfully on Sunday nights to the Kuyers home, where they could count on loving hospitality and a caring, uncritical atmosphere in which to ask questions. Gene and Marge loved seeing the neighbors coming down the street with their Bibles tucked under their arms on Sunday nights.
It melded their street together in a special way, and over the years, they became more like family to each other than neighbors.
Now Gene and Marge, married for 62 years and in their early 80s, continue to produce an abundant crop of fruit by abiding in Christ. They have touched countless lives with their quiet and humble faith. Since 1998, the couple has spent their winters in a Florida retirement community with 1,580 homesites. A city within a city, the community boasts its own church and television station. And what did the Kuyers do soon after retiring there? The same thing they always do! Sixteen years ago they invited their neighbors to get to know God right along with them – in a personal, intimate way.
Their retirement community has six Bible studies with 12 leaders and about 126 members, from places all over the U.S. and Canada, but what is most humbling and what brings tears to Gene’s eyes? The fact that the prayers of an ordinary boy were heard – and continue to be answered – in ways his 14-year-old self could never have imagined or dreamed.
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The message of Loving God and Loving Neighbors was not only taught but modeled and caught by Debbie McGoldrick from her parents, Gene and Marge Kuyers. Debbie attributes her passion God, His Word and others as the greatest gift her parents ever gave her. For the past 40 years, Debbie has served full-time with Cru and in 2010 founded the NBS2GO movement that has spread throughout the U.S. and into 12 countries around the world.
The Kuyers' story was written by Erica Rountree. Erica is a freelance writer and the communications director at Action Ministries Inc. She lives and works in Marietta, Georgia, where she’s a member of a neighborhood Bible study and mama to two girls who constantly outsmart her and drive her to drink sweet tea.
It took three years for me to finally obey the call to begin a neighborhood Bible study. Debbie and Mark McGoldrick, whom we have supported through Cru for many years, pointed me in the direction of NBS2GO.com, where I found all the resources I needed to begin a study in my neighborhood.
God gave me the courage to ask two ladies if they would consider being co-leaders with me. Praise God, they both accepted and have been a wonderful blessing to our group. The three of us make a strong cord of leadership and our NBS has thrived.
God has blessed our growth from six to 12 ladies since September 2014. We have used Max Lucado's study guides for Mark, James, I Corinthians and II Corinthians. His writing is excellent, and the lessons aren't overly time consuming, so this has been a great fit for our ladies.
Several small gifts have been given to our 46 neighbors, including a directory, homemade cookies and a refrigerator magnet showing our front entrance with spring flowers, to let them know we are here and we care for them. Our plan is to have our first neighborhood get-together this year.
Thoughts from some members are:
- "This is my favorite Bible study because we focus on applying the Word of God. I've learned so much from my neighbors who are all from different church traditions, but we all serve the same Lord. We've supported each other through some hard times, which include divorce, depression, chronic illness and even bereavement. It is a comfort to share our spiritual journeys with each other."
- "I feel that our NBS has made our neighbors our friends. Now we have become aware of our neighbors' cares and concerns and that enables us to be better neighbors. As we share God's word with our friends we are learning how God can use us for his work. It has meant so very much to me. These ladies have become my precious friends whom I pray for each day. Wonderful experience!"
- "Our neighborhood bible study has given me a group of Christian friends I wouldn't have otherwise. Because of my work schedule, I'm unable to attend church every Sunday. Also, it's hard to join small groups by myself. This group uplifts my spirit every week, and increases my knowledge of the Word. It was the answer to my prayers."
- "I have gained 10 or so new friends. I feel like I can share anything on my heart and know it will stay within NBS. This group really looks out for their neighbors. Besides the Bible study this is what brings me back. The Bible studies have been awesome. I have never studied with a mixed group of believers. I find it enlightening that we are pretty much all 'on the same page.'"
What a tremendous blessing NBS2GO has been in my life! I have dear friends I pray for and would never have known otherwise, and I learn so much from them on a weekly basis. Having an NBS in my home is expanding my faith in the Lord and His Word.
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Penny Long co-leads a Neighborhood Bible Study in her Ovilla, Texas, neighborhood. Penny and her husband, Justin, will be married 50 years in July. They moved from Georgia to Texas in 2009 to help raise seven grandchildren from their two married daughters in Ovilla. Penny’s passions are to serve her family Monday night dinners and to encourage women to become mature Christians through home Bible studies. One of her favorite verses is James 1:5: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
She hung up the phone with trembling hands and sank heavily into a kitchen chair. The news was bad. Her neighbor’s young son was in the hospital fighting for his life after suffering a horrific injury in a motorcycle accident. He was still alive, and that was a miracle. She was overcome with the thought, “What if this had happened to one of my kids, and I didn’t know how to pray?” She was flooded with compassion for her neighbor, who was not a believer as far as she knew. God spoke quietly to her, asking her to go to the hospital and show her neighbor how to pray. “Oh no, no, no… I can’t do that! I’m completely unqualified, Lord! Send someone else,” she thought. But there was no one else, and she was the neighborhood Bible study leader. If she didn’t go, who would?
I didn’t plan to become the neighborhood Bible study leader.
We already had a wonderful leader, Laurie, whom everyone loved – she was a gifted teacher and a treasured friend to each of us. When she moved out of the neighborhood, I kept hoping and praying that a new leader would step forward to take her place, but no one did. I couldn’t stand by and just let our study dissolve – that little group had meant so much to me and my neighbors over the years. I stepped forward, along with another woman, to co-lead, but I did not feel equal to the challenge at all. I hadn’t been raised in a Christian home. I hadn’t grown up in the church.
I was only beginning to study the Bible for myself, how could I think of calling myself a leader?
It was a difficult time, and I had some big shoes to fill. Then my co-leader had to move on to other things. Some of the women stopped coming to Bible study when I took over. Some became inconsistent, at best, and some even began going to Laurie’s new neighborhood to attend her study. All of that hurt. But God kept urging me to continue saying, “Just keep going. I will fill in the gaps.” I drew great comfort from the Old Testament story of Balaam and the donkey, and I thought, “If God can make a donkey speak, surely He can give me the right words to say to these women.”
The Holy Spirit did indeed fill in the gaps in our study. He filled those empty seats, drawing both old and new neighbors to Bible study. He filled in my trembling spirit with His powerful presence. He filled our hearts with His love for each other. He is the true teacher of my study, and all of us learn and grow together under His instruction. I love the diversity of our study, and the opportunity to connect deeply with women with whom I would not normally cross paths.
We care for each other, acting as the hands and feet of Christ.
When you accept the role of the neighborhood Bible study leader, you sometimes feel like people start to look at you like you have a third eye! When my neighbor’s son suffered a devastating, life-threatening injury, I felt awkward going to see her, knowing she did not attend my study. I guessed that she was probably not a believer at all. But again, God urged me forward. Like it or not, I had been given this leadership position, and it fell to me to do the difficult thing. My heart broke for this mother, and I couldn’t imagine facing the possible death of my child without knowing that I could cry out to God, begging for His help and comfort.
When I walked into the hospital to meet with my neighbor, I was shocked and humbled by her reaction. She fell into my arms and wept. When I asked her if I could pray for her son, she readily agreed and asked what I needed. Incense? Oil? Candles? I assured her that the two of us needed nothing except our hearts united, crying out to the Lord for her son.
God chose to work a miracle in that boy’s life—and in the life of his mother—as she witnessed firsthand the awesome power of prayer.
The women in our Bible study surrounded and supported her, and she experienced the deep, true love and comfort that comes from Christian friendship. When she had no place in her world to turn, she discovered something true and valuable: that God loved her dearly, and He was allowing her neighbors the privilege of demonstrating that love to her. She later joined our Bible study and began to attend faithfully. She and her entire family eventually came to Christ, and we were all there to see it!
Although I was a reluctant neighborhood Bible study leader, I now regard it as a huge privilege. God meets me in my weakness, honors my obedience and shows up for me week after week. When I am allowed to witness His life transformations and miracles, I know it’s worth any amount of discomfort or uncertainty I may experience. He fills in every gap.
Have you ever experienced God "filling the gap" in your own life? Share with us in the comments!
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Lisa Hankins is a native Georgian and the leader of a Bible study at her children's school She has a passion to help others find healing by trusting Christ with their brokenness. Lisa lives with her husband Richard and two sons. When she is not shuttling her boys to various activities, she is busy serving as the sponsorship coordinator for an orphanage and school in Uganda, Hands of Love. She loves the verse Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Lisa’s story was written by Erica Rountree. Erica is a freelance writer and the communications director at Action Ministries Inc. She lives and works in Marietta, Georgia, where she’s a member of a neighborhood Bible study and mama to two girls who constantly outsmart her and drive her to drink sweet tea.
Little did I know it at the time, but that Valentine’s Day tea was extremely dangerous for me. It turned my whole life upside down! And not just mine, but the lives of my husband, my children, and even my 66-year-old father.
The tea was a starting point – the tiny spark that lit a raging fire within me.
When I finally said yes, I was pleasantly surprised that the gals at the neighborhood Bible study were regular women, just like me. No one wore long dresses or shouted Scripture at me. During the tea, I heard a five-minute teaching on God’s grace. It was exactly the simple message my tired, hungry heart longed to hear – that there was a God in Heaven who loved me, not for how well I could behave or how many good works I could accomplish, but just for ME.
Several years after the fateful tea, I was encouraged to start a neighborhood Bible study of my own. Much to my surprise, I began reaching my neighbors in the same way I was reached.
Touching women through my neighborhood Bible study was the source of amazing joy to me, but the real shocker occurred when God touched my father’s heart.
Dad was a military man, an alpha dog and hard to the core. Dad was not a believer and had fallen away from the church years before. But, as he witnessed a softening in our home – the effect of grace – he became interested in the changes taking place in us. God gave me favor with my Dad – he loved exchanging emails – and he would listen as I shared the ways my faith was growing and our lives were changing. By God’s design, my parents moved into a retirement community full of godly people, and Dad was invited to his own neighborhood Bible study. Like me, he turned down the invitations at first, but he too eventually gave in (if only to get them off his back!) and began to love it. He called the men in the study “Quote and Go” because they were so familiar with Scripture.
I knew God was a big God, but I could never have imagined what happened next.
One afternoon, as my Dad and I sat on his patio, dunking Oreos in milk, our conversation turned to Christ. My heart began beating wildly in my chest, but God gave me boldness. I asked Dad if he wanted to pray to receive Christ, and he said yes. We prayed a sweet, childlike prayer together, and the skies, which had been crystal clear moments before, opened up and poured rain. It felt like God was crying tears of great joy! My parents were baptized soon after by the minister who led Dad’s neighborhood Bible study. I had to see it with my own eyes – the two of them up on the altar in choir robes – to believe it! When Dad died two years later, I had great peace and assurance that he was in Heaven and that we’d see each other again one day. That blessed assurance was possible because someone invited us – not once, but many times over – to a dangerous neighborhood Bible study.
Have you ever stepped out on faith to do something "dangerous?" What was the result of your boldness?
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I once had a conversation with a good friend who was struggling with what to tell her daughter about Christianity.
“How can I encourage her in that direction when there are so many Christians who do bad things? Christians who are hypocrites?”
My response was to remind her that nobody is or ever has been perfect, except Jesus. While I believe this to be truth, my words still seemed to ring hollow. What she wanted to hear was that Christianity makes one perfect, makes the world in which we live perfect -- and therefore safe -- for her beloved child.
I heard a yearning for perfection in her words and in her heart.
The “nobody’s perfect” theme is one we tell ourselves every day, especially when we’re parenting children. As moms, we’re told we need to embrace the messiness of life. The imperfection. The errors. The chaos. Especially if we want to raise children who are okay making mistakes, trying new things and taking risks.
Recently, I read an enlightening article by Sandy Blackard, author, parenting expert and founder of Language of Listening, entitled “How to help a perfectionist child.” Blackard takes a new spin on the subject of "perfect."
I know it may sound backwards, but from a perfectionist child’s point of view, being told it is OK to mess up, show emotion and not care what her friends think, is telling her she is wrong to be herself, even if that is not your intention. Acceptance is the missing element in shifting perfectionism from an anxiety-ridden malady to a gift of excellence. Once she knows it’s OK to be the way she is (no matter what that is), she can naturally start to relax about it.
Have you ever asked yourself what you would do with your life if money were no object? If someone challenged you to “better where you live,” how would you go about it?
A squeal was heard through out my house. What to my wondering eyes should appear? Two VIP tickets to be with Chip and Joanna Gaines for the late October weekend known as “Silobration.”
I quickly called my sister. Thister is what I call her, especially when excited.
“Thister, do you want to go meet Chip and Joanna?” More squeals heard throughout another house.
“Are you serious? Of course I do!” Thister exclaimed.
Waco, Texas, here we come!
Chip and Joanna are the stars of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper,” you not only admire the Gaines’ hard work and creativity, you fall in love with the couple themselves. They are crazy-talented, hilarious, respectful of one another, lovers of their family, compassionate toward others, mindful of their city and God-honoring.
And Silobration? Years ago, Joanna kept a notebook filled with her dreams and desires. One of her dreams was opening a retail store of home goods reflecting her personal and unique style. When Chip learned about the notebook, he asked her to tell him one of her dreams. Then, in typical Chip fashion, he encouraged her to go for it!
“Let’s do this,” he said.
Together, they have checked off project after project one by one. Silobration was the celebration of opening a large-scale retail store in the iconic silos that define downtown Waco, the couple’s current hometown.
The silos project was about investing in their Texas town and the people who live there. Chip and Joanna have bought “stock” in loving where they live and living where they love. They aren’t looking to move to a better spot. They are bettering the spot where they live!
My sister flew from Ohio. I flew from Georgia (with an expired driver’s license…but this is another long story…have I ever told you that I pride myself in being super organized…never). We landed in Dallas. And drove to Waco. Lots of giggling. Lots of stories. No time restraints. Eating out. It was a girl’s weekend for sure.
The Silobration evening was filled with excitement and fun. Chip “repelled” down the silos for a grand entrance to formally welcome the 2,000+ guests to the property and to introduce the band, Johnnyswim. Twinkling lights, picnic tables, lawn games, pottery demonstrations, food trucks, music, the bubbly personalities of their staff and the Magnolia Market store made the night an amazing experience!
“We’ve always given credit and glory to God,” Chip said. “This is a testament to hard work, dedication, family and faith.” Joanna added, “With God and a man like Chip, I knew I had the wind in my sails to accomplish something much bigger than I even dreamed.”
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has said, “What would happen if you left a city? Would the impact be noticed? Have you made the kind of difference that if you moved away, it could actually be recognized?”
There is no doubt that what Chip and Joanna dreamed of many years ago is impacting their city. Their hearts are huge and generous towards others. They have deep roots of compassion and kindness. Their faith in God is shown as they “work with all their heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.”
Most of us will never have large financial resources, but we do have the resource of time and God’s heart to develop relationships and initiate friendships with the people who live right next door. Share a meal, plant flowers, offer babysitting, give a ride, sit with a widow, the list can go on and on. Perhaps the Lord was creative enough to place you exactly where He wanted, to love those who need His love. Maybe all we need to do is ask Him how He wants us to do that. Maybe He could give us the perfect way to “better where we live” and to love where we live.
So I am pondering this question, if I left my neighborhood or city or workplace, would it be noticed? What impact am I making? How about you? Drop us a note to let us know how you are investing in your city or neighborhood. We would love to hear from you. Or at least tell me a story of “someone” you knew who let her driver's license expire!
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Joan, lover of McDonald’s cokes, is happiest when her home is filled with her husband and four children. She reports that her two college-aged boys come home whenever she offers to cook steak. Her only claim to fame is the week she got every piece of clothing laundered and matched all 126 socks. She had a dream when she was in college that Jesus returned to gather up the Christians to go to Heaven. Except one of her roommates asked her why she never told her about God. She woke from the dream with a lifelong desire to share with others the amazing news of God’s love and forgiveness.