Growing in God through his LOVE

unknown township boy at Mail box club

Tony and I have been Canadian missionaries in South Africa.  We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational.  This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn.  So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we are living in Toronto, Canada.

During our last article, we learned about growing in God through truly entering his rest.  Rest is actually a command to us (see the Ten Commandments on Sabbath!)  Remembering the Sabbath rest and keeping it holy is an injunction that in our busyness: if we don’t take a regular weekly rest, or a sabbatical retreat, our health can force us to “lie down in green pastures!” (Psalm 23).  Is this a joke or an exaggeration?  Yes and no.  In my own story, I burned out so many times, got serious mono in my 20’s, and spent two months where I could do very little.  This is not an exaggeration. Later, when I was helping my parents (for three months in 2015),  I would go for days and then crash and spend a whole day in bed. 

I believe at the very core of rest is a sense of trust in the Lord.  You become content in his presence, give him your deep concerns and hurts, just like when he offers in the Gospel of Matthew. “Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29 NIV)  Rest is a gift.  Rest is a choice to stop and trust.  You choose to pick up his yoke.  His yoke is the same connection that Jesus has to the Father.  When we abide in him, we are also connected to the Father, and his rest.

Rest is also connected with repentance as shown in Isaiah 30:15.  “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation,  in quietness and trust is your strength, (but you would have none of it).  (Isa. 30:15 NIV)   Salvation and the Lord’s rest are one and the same!  Would we also have none of it?   What about God’s love?  Would we stop and receive this?   Trust is at the centre. Trust in the Lord is what keeps us before his face and in his presence.  This is what abiding is, as shown in John 15:5:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  This is an invitation to his love.  His love is like a tractor beam on our hearts (to use a Star Trek analogy) into that rest.   Let’s go and explore how God’s love helps us grow in him.  

I’ve written about growing in so many aspects of God’s grace, and in disciplines that help us grow in the gifts he’s given us.  I’ve shared my personal devotional journey within many of my articles, starting with my preferred disciplines of soaking prayer, journaling and reading the Bible (usually, chapter by chapter).  But I cannot miss the deepest foundation of all of this.  1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that you can do all sorts of things in anointing, but if you don’t have love, you’re like a clanging cymbal.  What matters most is love.   Trust is an essential thing taught by a baby bonding with their parents. It’s important.  But love?  We need love to grow spiritually, emotionally and physically!   It’s like needed water that we are meant to drink daily in order to live. 

I have learned, through one of my pastors, that a child needs that love to have their brains develop properly (Ash Smith, Living in the emotional heath of Jesus, CTF Toronto, August 14, 2022).  This is confirmed by the Canadian Pediatric Society.  They say:  Your baby’s brain needs a strong foundation. Loving, consistent, positive relationships help build healthy brains and protect your baby’s brain from the negative effects of stress.”  [https://caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/pregnancy-and-babies/your_babys_brain#:~:text=Your%20baby’s%20brain%20needs%20a,the%20negative%20effects%20of%20stress].

Stress, feelings of rejection, abandonment, shame, feeling unloved: all these things are slowly melted by consistent love.  Pastor Ash Smith encouraged us that love is the key foundation for a child (if not all of us).  She talked of orphanages in Romania where babies and toddlers were shut away; with no contact, no loving touch and no soothing lullabies.  They were catatonic, lifeless of emotion, and separated from each other.  Their brains were being stunted, and their neural pathways weren’t developing from the lack of consistent love.  They weren’t being given a foundation. 

I have found with my work in Iris Western Cape (and other missionaries would support this)  that abandoned children can be difficult to love initially.  We found that the farm workers children we saw weekly, were among the toughest kids to consistently love.  We unfortunately lacked adequate Afrikaans, which was their heart communication language.  However, they did respond, it just took longer.   They went from boys throwing stones at our car and shouting at us, to more at peace when colouring in my prophetic drawings.  They were captivated by love, especially when they saw that I drew an image of some of them with Jesus.  I had remembered them.  The Father remembers and loves them, as he does us.   Other children that we worked with responded much faster, but sometimes had ‘weedy hearts.’  What do I mean by a weedy heart?

Think of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13: 1-9, 20-23 NLT).  Three places that the sower scattered seed didn’t fully take in the seedlings.  One area was the stony path, so there was no soil.  The second was too shallow and the third grew full of weeds.  Jesus explained to his disciples that:  20 the seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”   Many of the kids we worked with had a shallow faith, which wasn’t always real to them.  Others, like C, were genuine in their faith but other concerns cropped up but choked their faith.  How I longed to uproot C’s concerns of worry, envy, comparison and gossip.  Oh, it did bother me, and sometimes when she was like that, I didn’t want to be around her.  I loved her but it was difficult for that love to penetrate this cheeky, grabby girl who loved to get attention. Then at times, she was intent on her faith and wanted to teach about Jesus to other township youth.  She was good at it, and did it with joy.  She loved reading the Afrikaans Bible we gave her.  We pray for her perseverance and that those weeds in her heart will be pulled up at the right time. 

Another girl we worked with was ‘my girl.’  We bonded deeply and she was one of the ones who helped me during my cancer journey.  She didn’t laugh at my bald head. We enjoyed quiet sharing about our faith, and she liked to colour my drawings in the most delightful way.  We connected on a deep spiritual level and it was always easy to share and pray with her.  She surely was the fertile soil that Jesus talked about in the Sower parable.  She needed deep love and stability, which we gave in part, and she bloomed.  We could see her potential beyond high school in a dangerous township.  During the time we knew her in person, her family had serious continuing struggles with health, poverty and safety concerns.  We prayed that she would be able to ‘graduate’ from the township in a way that she would be a blessing to her community and to God.  She had been given a university entrance scholarship that was deleted from the university database through administrative error, but with Tony’s help in talking to her university and to her school, it was back on track.  She underwent 3 operations for scoliosis, and at the same time as the third one was diagnosed with drug resistant TB.  Finally, school began, and she was able to attend online at the hospital with a computer we had bought her.  Now, she is happily housed in residence.  Then we found out that her scholarship only covers half of her room and board (as well as her tuition).  She had no money for that, so this means a further investment beyond how we had planned to help her and her family.  Wow, this is a serious commitment.  But we cannot end here.  We will pray that our resources will stretch so that we can handle this load with the Lord’s help.   It’s a lesson in faith to Bella and to ourselves.  God is faithful.  And his love is practical.    Heidi Baker always says that “love looks like something.”  Through this faithful consistent love, Bella is flourishing in her faith, her local campus church and her studies. 

There are so many other stories, that were also weedy hearts, but they did respond to love, whether it was given in practical ways or in encouragement, prayer and gospel truth.  We baptized one girl, who flourished through the Alpha Course, and another took us on another journey where we lost trust in her, but regained some of it back.  She knew we still loved her.

One of my favourite South African ministries was to go into a local primary school and spend an hour and a half on Tuesday mornings.  We went in using the same ‘persona role’ we use when we go to a kid’s club.  We sing together, with Tony on guitar and me on my Irish bodhran drum.  Then Tony shares an interactive nugget of science that he re-learned in a children’s science curriculum he used in our MasterPeace Academy school.  Then we either taught them life lessons, or I taught them art from a charismatic Christian expression.  It was soaking prayer and colouring/drawing.  During one semester, I created a group project where they all painted an abstract background of blue, purple and green.  Then they were to draw their personal Christian symbol that they each chose as theirs.  I had to teach about Christian symbols several times for these children to ‘get it.’  A few never did, and just copied others, or added spaceships as their symbol because they were learning about space ships in another class.  However, there were some that understood from the very first time I shared.  There were two very smart and spiritually astute children, Liam and Caitlyn.  I bonded to Liam and even had a little impression of him giving a hug to Jesus.  He understood right away, and I said, “now, I know that’s hard to draw, so draw instead you holding Jesus hand, like he is your buddy.”  Liam smiled and understood.  After weeks, sure enough, his symbol was proudly displayed within the group painting among the many crosses, rainbows, waterfalls and (haha) spaceships.   Liam also drew glasses on all the angels in our shared drawings, since he wanted the angels to look like him.  Ah, so sweet.  Later when we finally left the school, so many children had bonded to me, and despite the spread of Covid, they ignored that no touching rule for this one time.  They hugged me like they didn’t want to let go.  Each was welcome in my arms, whether it was our first grade ones, or the ones who followed.  It didn’t matter whether I knew their name or not, I loved them with the deep, jealous compassion of Jesus.  They will always be in my heart, and I trust that I will be in theirs.  This legacy of love continued through other mature people from a local retirement village where we used to live. It’s really special when children and surrogate “grandparents” (including “aunts” and “uncles”) can interact in a way that God touches and uses both to bless.  Love is shared. It grows stronger when it flows through a pipeline, instead of being stagnant like a puddle.  These children will grow with the deposit that we gave them. God willing, others will continue in this legacy.  Nothing that we sowed will be in vain; weedy hearts or not. 

I had moments when the kids of OVD township loved to sit beside me and colour.  Colouring sheets were always a tool to bless the kids, and see where their hearts were at.  One day, a young boy that I didn’t know sat beside me on a tree root.  He only had a few crayons, and I suggested in my limited Afrikaans, “groen” (green).  He gave me the sweetest smile and we connected on a deep, deep level.  The godly compassion that overflowed through me felt like love was searing my heart.  It felt like it was going to be painful, but what it did was open up a door to the deepest parts of my heart that needed to receive and give God’s love.  I grew exponentially in that moment.  It was simple but profound.  These moments are like mini-surgery, and connects you to the hearts of the “least of these” (aka Matt.25) and the heart of God the Father for children.

Our 2022 assignment of unknown duration is to love and care for my frail 93 year old dad’s needs.  Elder care of a man with vascular dementia is more challenging than it was to inspire and love wonderfully messy township children.  Even here, we have moments of deep love as we take care of his practical day to day needs.  We are slowly and gently leading him to Jesus.  Sometimes I want to ask him right off, but the time is not quite here.  We are re-establishing love in his life by giving him consistent touch, gourmet type food (I love cooking for him), listening to him, and letting him rest when he needs it.  He gets too confused to go out much other than the front porch.  The last time we took him on a summer ‘picnic’ by Lake Ontario, he had a TIA and we had trouble getting him back to the car.  Dad knows that we love him, even if he doesn’t always know who I am.  He knows me as “Laurie,” but doesn’t always realize that I am the same person he raised.  That’s OK.  He’s become fond of me anyway, and this is about God’s love and our love to him.  He will continue to grow in that reflective love of God through us, until he receives God’s love directly.  That is my greatest wish – that he would receive forgiveness, know God’s love from inside, and love Jesus.

My own desire to love others has always been there, and I wanted to do something “big” for God.  Many new believers have that desire as well.  Yet that something big really is allowing yourself to keep your heart “pipeline” pure so that you can love well consistently.  This is especially important as a long term missionary.  Short-termers (which I was from 1993-2010) make an impact, but long-termers can continue to bring lasting change in people’s lives because they are consistent.  They are re-laying foundational love in these children’s hearts.  They are helping to heal past hurts, although this doesn’t replace the need for special counselling for traumatic events like gang violence, gender based violence and domestic violence.  These things are rampant in the townships (as well as other spots).  They aren’t unique to South Africa.  It takes time and care to recover and grow in resilience, without giving up hope.

My heart was big on the short-term missions, but grew so much more in our longer South African mission.  Heidi Baker mentions in the “Compelled by Love” movie that she wanted to love people from the inside. This was her desire even before she knew Jesus personally.  When she came to faith, she also received her call to be a minister and missionary to “Asia, Africa and England.”  Since then, she and her husband Rolland ministered in Indonesia, Hong Kong, inner-city London and Mozambique.  She is in demand as a speaker all over the world.  Heidi “stops for the one” all the time, whether with the poor and needy, or among the spiritually poor in the first world.  To “stop for the one” is to say “yes” to divine appointments that seem to be set up just for you.  You may get a rush of sudden compassion for someone and you just have to respond.  I’ve done this with the homeless, with children and with adults.  Heidi did this for me at a women’s conference in 2010.  Someone had given her red roses, and she tends to not keep much for herself.  She passes them on.  So I had a moment in worship one morning, and felt the deep love of Jesus as Heidi stood beside me, hugged me and handed me roses.  I was ‘love-bombed.’  I had no idea what was going on, or why she did this act of kindness.  It took me years to realize that she had ‘stopped for the one’ – and I was in that moment the one she stopped for.  But, oh the love was deep.  I felt the presence and love of God while she stood there beside me.  So, I was impacted to stop for the one from then on, even before we went to Harvest School.  Tony took to that form of love even faster than I did, and he made good progress after missionary school.  Consistent love was a key, and still is.  

Iris is known as a ministry movement that is empowered by love.  It’s just a little bit different.  Right now there is a terrorism insurgency in northern Mozambique, and this forced Iris to move the Harvest Schools to other locations.  This love consistency, when combined with humility is the foundation of the previous and current issues in Pemba.  The “Irisers” are still empowered by love.  Heidi shares in the 2022 film “Nefento” that “love always wins, especially when you go low and slow. Instead of being overwhelmed with a world where there’s so much pain, when extremists come and war happens, we’re empowered by the love of a God who IS love to stop for the one in need.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g1jVzfAego

Back in 2013, I hungered to be empowered by love, and was drawn like a magnet to Heidi. I had wondered what kind of long term ministry I should be involved in, and considered my new skills in radio broadcasting and especially audio production/creative writing.  So, I considered a radio-based ministry.  But this only made sense in my head, not my heart.  I was meant to be with the children, using my art, the calling that I had abandoned for so many years, after it was originally my identity.  The Holy Spirit re-knitted me into that calling, and used it beautifully in South Africa (and beyond).  I know that he will continue to use it in other countries, as children who are thirsty for love, encounter the love of God in the colouring sheets and books.  Love looks like something.  For some, it’s sharing soup, beans and rice, or paying their school fees.  For me (right now), it’s to be with children at play – in drawing images planted by God in their hearts.   It’s my heart to do this consistently or at least whenever I’m given the opportunity. 

I’ve grown so much while learning to love.  It’s been quite a journey but I do not regret it, even having inflammatory breast cancer try to ruin our golden time on the South African mission field.   Even the refining times have carved away the dross in my life so I could love better.  I received such love and peace from God, throughout my cancer journey, often beyond it as well.  I was able to feel God’s love in every season and know that he does not fail me.  He is consistent.  He is always faithful, and we knew God’s favour and kindness at every step along the way.  He opened us up to love in so many different ways, through our different gifts.

 

Catch the Fire Toronto Pastor Murray Smith recently taught on the Emotional health of Jesus.  He spoke on love as the necessary foundation of our hearts.  He said: “the measure of our (spiritual) maturity is, how do we actually love?  How much do we walk in love?  How much do we practise love?  How much are we able to contain our souls, and our disconnection, because of the issues of our heart that we are dealing with?  Can we REMAIN in love, even when people around us are freaking out.  Let’s make that measure of love our spirituality.”  (Pastor Murray Smith, Catch the Fire Toronto, August 7, 2022)  In Murray’s context, he was sharing that nearly all of us need to go back to our basic foundations and repair them.  Ask God about receiving love for yourself.  Get inner healing from trusted people who have experience in Restoring the Foundation or inner healing background.   You can start by inviting Jesus into any hurtful memory and ask where he is.  He will open your imagination and show you.  He can and will fill you with deep love and peace as you accept his presence in your memory.  Let him love and heal you.  You won’t regret it.  Say YES to Jesus’ yoke, just to hang out with him and not let go. 

If you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, it’s very simple.  Nicky Gumbel mentions on earlier Alpha Course videos a simple way to remember the way.  It’s Sorry (for my sins and all I’ve done wrong).  Forgive me.  I now turn from everything I know is wrong.  Thank you Lord for your love, and I accept you as my Saviour.  Please fill me Lord with your love and all that comes with it.  I give you my life that I can live for you, with you and have your love in my life.  Lead me, and help me along the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lord, please bless all who have read this article and may they encounter the love of God poured into their hearts, just as Paul talks about in Romans 5.  May everyone become deeply rooted grounded in your love, as in Ephesians 3.  “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Rom 3:17-18 NIV)  Holy Spirit, come and reveal the love of God to each person today.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I will record an audio version of this article, which will be posted on the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca.  Mouse over the “Listen” drop-down menu, or click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html and when it’s recorded, scroll down to #79! 

If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know! 

Updates:  For those looking for news, Tony continues his immunotherapy infusions at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.  He will have a CT scan in September to check how the tumour has responded to the immunotherapy (after three treatments).  Otherwise, he will continue for some time.

His left eye has healed to the extent it ever will, and he now has an updated eyeglass prescription.  His vision is now better than at any time since his retinal detachment.

We ask you to give thanks for the skills of Tony’s doctors, and that the tumour in Tony’s lung lining shrinks and even disappears.   Thanks for coming alongside in encouragement and prayer.  

If you feel led to contribute towards medications and hospital parking expenses, and perhaps lymphedema treatments for L-A, this would be most welcome.  Not everything is covered under Tony’s senior drug plan and OHIP, but don’t feel obligated.  But meanwhile, all my teachings are online for free to bless you.  Here is our Paypal for any of you who feel led to contribute: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

Laurie-Ann’s Colouring Books:   If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, some are available at LeRoux and Fourie wine shop on R60 beside Cape Lime.  This is west of Robertson in Western Cape.  Or you can have your own copies printed for you through Print on Demand through Takealot.com. 

Link for Colouring with Jesus 1:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

Link for Colouring with Jesus 2: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486

We plan to republish the updated books in North American format (and in English only) in the future (after taking care of family).  

L-A is beginning to imagine writing other books, so watch this blog for more info when it comes.

Colouring sheets are available to children’s ministries for free; please just let us know.  Bless you, and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

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