We’re back from Mozambique (and South Africa)!

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(This is a drawing I did in Pemba, Mozambique of a courtyard in the Iris Harvest school student village. We would pick up bread rolls every morning in front of this large baobab tree, so it became known as the “bread tree.” I gave the drawing to Iris co-founder Heidi Baker)

Tony and I are back from Africa as changed people.  We’ve been in Africa many times before, but this time was even more life-impacting – on us, and those around us. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. We couldn’t have done it without all of you coming alongside us. Some of you were on our Facebook prayer team for the journey, so you would know some of our encounters.

Many of you read this blog live in the Northern Hemisphere.  While most of you had a summer heat-wave from May to September, we had varied weather in the South African and Mozambican winter (located in the southern hemisphere). South Africa was cold (they do not heat their houses like we do), but Mozambique was still still quite warm and often quite hot!  We found the Iris Global Harvest School in Pemba, Mozambique was an incredibly intense ten weeks. We learned alongside 248 internationals, plus 300 Mozambican pastors who were paired with us in groups that were named after colours. Our colour group was light brown, and we went on a trip together to a nearly unreached village called Linde.  It is not far from the mining city of Montepuez, where they mine rubies.

The people in Linde were very welcoming and open to our message and love. We made some friends, even though our knowledge of Makua was limited. There were a number of dramatic healings while we were there, including the curing of  blindness and deafness in some locals. Another team that included friends went to another village, and they prayed for a four-year-old boy who had died of malaria earlier that day. He was certified dead by the village chief. After they prayed for some time, the boy began to return to life! Yes, raisings from the dead still happen! The boy’s father came to faith in the process and joined in with the prayers for his son. They took the boy to the hospital for follow up and he was confirmed as recovered from malaria. He is going to be fine!  I also was able to share my coming to faith story in Linde before the assembled crowd, and many people in the village came to faith in Jesus Christ.

Tony and I were also encouraged by an Ottawa friend that we were to leave a legacy in Mozambique. I had assumed that meant we would sponsor or bless a former orphan, but it seemed that God had something else in mind.  Tony and I were paired with a Mozambican mama named Maria.  Maria is a widow with five children and she does not have a job (we did try to get her one, but she was not hired). She and her children live in a two room bamboo and stone house with a broken tin roof.  There are many holes in the walls as well as the roof. Her house is located at the bottom of a hill, beside the village latrine.  During the rainy season, her family cannot sleep laying down, because the house seriously floods. It is also not secure from thieves or wind.  We were asked to help with house repairs.  So we asked the Iris mercy ministry to help us estimate what was needed.  They told us that the house was not worth fixing, but that she instead needs a completely new house constructed for her. House building is one of the ministries that the Iris mercy department does for poor widows and families. Maria is not the only one that needs help!

It costs $3,200 USD to build a new concrete block house.  We prayed and were led to begin a fund with Iris Pemba and Iris Ministries Canada so that Maria could have a new house. We didn’t think we could raise enough on our own to build her a house this year, but thought perhaps next year might be do-able. Maria was worried for this year, but it turns out that God has other plans.  Tony wanted to set up a new campaign on Go Fund Me (a crowd funding website), but I strongly felt led to tell Tony that we needed to just trust God for the funds. He met with two friends on our return to Ottawa, to share and to pray with them about their own needs.  Both of them took out their chequebooks and wrote large cheques to Iris Ministries Canada.  We also received some unexpected funds, and then were were only $400 Canadian short of the goal!  Tony decided to not wait for the rest and sent the remainder to Iris Canada (although another friend gave on our GoFundMe page towards the house). This means that Iris can build Maria’s house in early October!  God is so good!  His plans are so much better than you can ever expect. We are so pleased about this quick answer to prayer.

We found many more answers to prayer when we were in Mozambique. We were continually reminded of God’s faithfulness and we often felt his love, mercy and compassion. We even had mercy extended to US during our time in Pemba. We went to lunch with our colour group in a beautiful beach restaurant and one of our group wanted to be baptized. After she was baptized in the Indian Ocean, we spent some time together and headed back to base in a truck. I had help to get into the truck by standing on concrete blocks because it was so high. After Tony and our group leader helped me in the truck, Tony left behind our shared bag of valuables. (!) Both of us thought that the other one  had the bag. As soon as we were back on base, I asked Tony for the bag.  He and Kenny,  one of the leaders, immediately drove back to the restaurant, and our other leader phoned them right away, so they could look for it.  Tony and Kenny inquired about the bag, and were asked many questions about the contents.  After satisfying the owner of the adjacent hotel, our bag was returned with not one single thing missing! We were so thankful that an honest guard handed in the bag to the management.

This action was highly unusual since poverty  is so severe in this area. After we thanked God for his mercy, I was reminded of Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” This was a promise to us, since we had continually showed mercy and help to Mozambicans in (what seemed to us) small ways.  We weren’t counting the acts of mercy, especially since the needs could be overwhelming.  There is a good reason why Iris Global do-founder Heidi Baker says to “stop for the one.”  If you stop for the person that God brings to you (like a divine appointment), loving your neighbour one on one becomes do-able. You can ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with compassion and guidance each time. We did this many times and it works, although it is always best to pray and worship beforehand, so this comes as an extension of your devotional time with God.
We found there were many needs on the Pemba base, including: working with former orphans, widows, primary, elementary and high schools, library classification, media team, the visitor centre, feeding programme, farm, clinic/birthing centre, Bible school, Pemba University, Harvest School, Iris Arts, and weekly bush outreach. That is only part of what they do in northern Mozambique, and they may do radio as well. Although I saw the radio as an opportunity, my heart was and is pulled to South Africa. We’ll see how that works. I’ll share about our time in South Africa soon.

If you are local to Ottawa, we have an in-person report back at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario. It is on October 1st at 9 am for coffee/tea, muffins and 10 am for presentation. If you’d like to learn more, please let me know (click on contact).  The QR code is at the bottom of this post.

Love, Laurie-Ann Copple

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I did this drawing from an iPad photo of fishermen working during low tide by Wimbe Beach, near Pemba, Mozambique. The view was near Kauri restaurant.

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This is the QR code for our report back on October 1st.  If you have Facebook, it will give you the info and address you’ll need.  Join us!

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Almost to Africa!!

front gate pemba

Hi everyone!

God is still preparing us for Mozambique and South Africa.  We leave in less than two days.  At the moment, it’s the Victoria Day holiday in Ottawa – and it’s quite warm.  The lilacs, cherry blossoms and apple blossoms are out.  We’re still unpacking the condo, but have made the place more and more our home.  It now feels like home, so when I’m in our old neighbourhood (which is often), I don’t even think about driving past our old house!

Thankfully, we have a condo-sitter who has lived with us as a boarder at our old house, so everything will be in place for our return in late August.  At the moment, we are also working on how to pack camping equipment, clothes, art supplies, travel guitar, Bibles, coffee/tea, maple candies, little girl dresses and so much more into two suitcases, two backpacks and a guitar gig bag.  I am thankful for Tony’s savvy as an engineer and my experience with “ziplocking.”  Others are bringing “snacks” – which I don’t think we’ll have much room for.  This is a test of living simply.  Just eat the local snacks!  They have bananas in Africa, right?  I am bringing little maple candies though for a Canadian treat for some of the kids we’ll be with in South Africa (that is if we don’t decide to give them away in Mozambique).

Meanwhile, we’re still trusting for enough funds without going into debt.  Our costs have been expensive since we work with Canadian funds, and nearly everything is in US dollars – and we’re going as a couple.  The only things we can share are the tent and my old unlocked BlackBerry (to locally text in Mozambique).

Our budget is approx $28,000 Cdn – which includes our return airfares of Ottawa – Johannesburg, Johannesburg-Pemba MZ,  Johannesburg – Cape Town ($4,455 USD); our school fees ($6,400 USD), camping equipment ($1,124 USD), Mozambique visas ($500 USD), bedding/nets/compressible pillows ($170 USD), medications/shots ($1,326.21 Cdn), South Africa outreach fees ($2,300 USD), insurance ($900 Cdn), gifts to Pemba base ($200+ Cdn), gifts to Robertson base ($117 Cdn), various needed things ($736 Cdn), South African hotels ($642.44 Cdn), and we’ll likely have overweight or extra baggage fees!!  We also need to have a budget of $2,100 USD (combined) for the three months, plus water money (I can only drink bottled water) and taxi money.  This adds up to a lot and doesn’t include personal money for souveniers.  I don’t plan to go crazy on those but I do plan to order an African dress made for me (on Pemba base) and when we’re in South Africa, take a trip to the Cape of Good Hope and enjoy our little stay in Cape Town.

If you feel led to give, please do via our GoFundMe page – we can still access our account via debit card.  We are 80 per cent funded thanks to some generous churches, individuals and a family inheritance.

If you feel led to pray, that’s even more important! Please pray as Holy Spirit guides you for provision, protection, special encounters with God, amazing ministry, connections with Mozambicans and South Africans, connections with Iris students and staff, that we learn really well, for harmony, love and cooperation in our marriage, for good health and strength, good travelling mercies, no lost luggage, favour at border points, and divine opportunities!

Please drop me a line!  Thank you for supporting Ways to Grow in God – and us personally – Laurie-Ann and Tony Copple.  We will share more as we can!

Love, Laurie-Ann

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Iris Pemba Base “Village of Joy”

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Stepping into Africa in a season of learning deep trust

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Three years ago, I wrote an article on growing in God through learning trust.  Now I’ve gone into an even deeper season.  I’ve been working as an admin and ministry volunteer since October 2013, and have not had paid employment since then.  I’ve been learning to live by faith, and we have not starved.  During that time, I have been extremely busy in ministry and outreach, which I believe may have been training for what I may be doing in the future.

Last year I applied to the Iris Global Harvest Mission School in Mozambique (for June – August 2015), but they asked me to wait until my husband Tony could join me.  At the time I was crestfallen by this request, but I could see in the long term that this was a very good idea.  Last year, Tony was not able to leave his job, and he did not have a desire to go to Mozambique.  This year is a different story, and his heart has been prepared to go.  He wants to go with me.  He retired from his full-time job in March 2016. We even are moving this week into a condo (May 2016).  We were able to downsize and sell our semi-detached home in record time, with a closing date 9 days before we leave for Mozambique and South Africa!  We will be in Africa May 25 – August 28, 2016.

The entire fund-raising process is always a walk of faith.  I’ve always been able to depend on this amazing church that I’ve been part of since 2000.  Yet, this time the circumstances are entirely different than the past six missions. Here’s why:

1. We can’t give tax receipts (partly because we are going to a school as well as a mission trip).
2. There are so many events in Ottawa that many people can’t make it to our own fundraising nights, and the only availability of two of our churches is Fridays – a busy night for most people.
3. My other full-time church became a mobile church 7 months ago, so they don’t have a venue available for their people to have a ‘party’ for us.  So, humanly speaking, it’s been a very hard sell.

However, God is faithful no matter what.  I already knew that He would provide in various ways – by touching the hearts of specific individuals without our knowledge.  Tony also had inheritance money that came his way at just the right time, so we were able to pay for our airfare to Mozambique and South Africa as well as our deposits to the school.  Tony’s insurance covered our malaria medication.  And we also took our yearly timeshare holiday early so we could apply for our visas in person at the closest Mozambican embassy (Washington DC).

I expected lots of people at our fundraisers, but instead of the dinners that I planned before previous mission trips, I chose a cafe night with a barista friend that included a powerpoint presentation and art show of some of my original art work.  We invited hundreds of people, and I expected maybe 80.  40 people showed up, but it was still an amazing time.  My drawing of iris flowers was raffled off and the lady who won it was blessed and amazed.  Some people who had meant to come donated on our GoFundMe Account, so I was at peace that funds were still coming in despite the lack of donations at the event (but for one, and no art sales).  The second fundraiser (a movie night with the “Compelled by Love” film, art raffle, auction and sharing) was even smaller.  My helper bought enough soda, water and popcorn to feed at least 60.  9 people showed up.  Only 9 people!  However, this was a different crowd, with some excellent questions.  We made a small amount that night, but then a dear friend of mine bought two pieces of art work!  This friend had meant to help with the raffle, but forgot about the event and was in the process of heading off to a Friday night healing service at a local church.  I texted her, and she came right over.  I’m glad she did – not only did she help with the clean up, but she bought a watercolour painting and a monoprint.  I had deep peace during the event, and a strange joy.  And I shared deeply about the season of trust that I had been in since October 2013.  I shared about our dependence on God for a future that is entirely in His hands.  Did we know where we will be going after our mission school (Pemba, Mozambique) and  extended outreach (Robertson/Cape Town South Africa)?  I did explain that we still have commitments in Ottawa for us to return to – but other than that, we’ve left our futures in God’s hands.  Do we want more?  Yes.  We are willing to just listen and hear what God is saying.

One prophetic friend did speak to me about a sneak peak that she received – and yes, it did show ministry overseas, likely somewhere in Africa.  We’ll see where God open doors as we continue to TRUST Him.

May you also learn the joy of trusting in a completely faithful God.  He is so loving and so very faithful.  If you’d like to read more about our mission, here is our prayer letter!

If you feel led to contribute, please do!  Here is our GoFundMe page.  It may seem like our budget is high, but that’s partly because nearly all of it is in US funds.  The Canadian dollar isn’t doing well in the exchange, but God is still more than able to cover all we need.

If you feel led to pray, this is what we need most. Thank you so much.

Blessings and love, Laurie-Ann

irisharvestschool  tonylasierraleone

Simplifying my life in the “Year of Joy”

New Mexico between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft

New Mexico between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft

Happy 2016!  Okay, okay, so I’m almost two months late.  My whirlwind season is still going on – but I’ve been growing through it.  I’ve been told by many prophetic people that this year is to be a year of joy.

During the past six months, I’ve spent precious time with my frail parents, sister, 18 month old niece, stepson and his family, and so much more.  The picture above shows the New Mexico desert where we visited family. It was the quiet time within a busy season (sometimes the desert is like that).  During this time, I’ve also been part of huge outreaches where there weren’t enough people doing the administration (the outreaches went well, I’m still tired).  And one of my churches has become a mobile church that moves from place to place (Kingdom Culture meets mostly in Ottawa’s Carleton University, but sometimes in Lansdowne Park (Horticulture Building).

My husband Tony is also retiring from his full time job as a financial planner today.  This was his third career, so he’s been through this transition before.  We also bought a condo in another area of Ottawa, and are slowly moving in things from our very crowded home.  That kind of transition can be scary.  How do you downsize well?  Is it really all about living a simple life?  I believe simplicity is an excellent virtue – and it’s something I’ve been drawn to, despite my life of collecting books and many other resources.

So this is a time to take stock on what is important. What is essential?  Our Faith. Our families and relationships. An ability to express who you are. What can we live without?  That seems to be a process that I’m learning. I’ve been working on downsizing a little bit at a time before we were even given a good condo offer.  Yet now that there is a tight timeframe ahead, it is more and more urgent.  So far I’ve given away boxes of books – many of them excellent – to Love Ottawa/One Way Ministries.  They hold a sale of Christian books every spring as a ministry fundraiser.  Excellent timing – thank you, Love Ottawa.

How do we also simplify our lives in our schedules?  I’ve been challenged by a therapist to consider what to drop from my life so that I have more room to be creative.  Creativity gives me energy, since I was born to be creative. My faith also gives me energy.  These are good things.  So how do we get through massive amounts of work within a short time frame?  A goal.  But is the goal enough? It can be, but personally, I need that time to be creative.  Thankfully, I will be given my own creative cave – studio in the condo.  I’ve not had that for my entire married life.  For that I am incredibly thankful.  I can have a ‘container’ to create space for creativity.  And in that place, I can also envision more that brings me joy.  A place to seek God without interruption (yay!).

I pray that you also receive a quiet place, a sanctuary so to speak, in your own homes, and lives. A place to be uniquely you, with God and yourself.  A place to dream and to grow in quiet joy as you soak in the love of the Holy Spirit.

More to come in the next post – I have an incredible announcement! (I have not forgotten more “Ways to Grow” articles – to write and post in future.  It’s just that sometimes ‘life’ gets in the way).

Much love and blessings to you in Christ

Laurie-Ann

Transition and family shaking

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Hi!

I’ve often talked about life in transition as a time of stretching, surprises, and wondering what is next.  During my transition lately, I’ve taken my mother to Iris Virginia to hear David Hogan (a missionary to some dangerous areas of Mexico), and returned to Canada to see my whole family shaken.  We’ve had an unexpected death, a miracle birth, and illnesses with family members in the hospital.  I’m also part of three churches – two of them in transition.  One is a church plant, the other, a church that had a building but has to go mobile since the building will be torn down to make room for a new Costco. We’re all  hopeful for what is next, no matter what.

While I was praying about this season, I had a picture of my husband and I being strengthened in what looked like an eye of a hurricane.  All around us things and people were being shaken – including our families. And this is indeed what has been happening in our lives. We are being strengthened in the storm and will do more than just persevere.

At the moment, I’m working through helping care for ailing parents, so I don’t have a Ways to Grow in God post for this month.  However, I can encourage us all to persevere in the calling that God has given you. Sometimes it doesn’t seem “nice” or exciting, but believe me, it is needed.  Just remember Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

A time is coming when every Christian will have to be onboard to serve… Revival is coming!  It may be messy, but what matters is how God’s love will touch lives… including ours.  Are we willing to work for God (especially God’s way)?  Stand in his strength and love.

Be Blessed,
Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in Transition:  Learning our Identity and Purpose

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Last time we grew as we discovered the strange connection between suffering and joy; this link shows a very deep trust in God.  This foundational trust is the very same part of faith that carried the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned for the Gospel. It is also the same strange joy that continues to carry and fill the lives of missionaries like Rolland and Heidi Baker. This vulnerable depth of faith also emits a beautiful fragrance of Jesus. I sensed this “godly perfume” in the lives of the persecuted Christians that I met in Shantinagar, Pakistan and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  When we are also willing to count the cost of our faith, and push through in very difficult circumstances, we also become much more refined in our character.  We begin to look, sound and even smell like the resurrected Jesus!  It’s his presence in us!

There is another kind of season that can be difficult for people – that of transition.   Desert or wilderness life experiences are one form of transition, but these are often gradual change.  (Link to desert article)  But sometimes circumstances happen quickly – you can be accelerated into the next season of your life before you have a chance to catch up, so you learn to re-orient yourself.  Other times, you may be stuck in a season of hiddenness that seems to go on and on, only because you can’t see the end of what you are going through.  Yet in the midst of this change, there are these constants: the faithfulness and love of God, and that you are deeply loved.  We are not orphans. We are not rejected. This is a time to seek God even more.  He is calling us to our identity as beloved children of God.  We don’t have to work for our inheritance. It is already ours.

I used to be a performance-driven people pleaser.  I got to be very good at gauging people’s moods and anticipating their needs.  But deep down inside there was a deep insecurity.  I needed love and had a huge love deficit.  I gave love, but somehow I expected to earn showers of love towards me.  Even my own love had conditions on it – I wanted those I cared about to feel the same about me.  Yet the love of God is unconditional.  We don’t have to earn it.   I remember a pivotal time in my life happened quietly in a small mobile church in Thornhill, Ontario.  Our pastor handed out small business cards and told us, “here is the highest calling you will ever have.”   What did it say on the card?  It simply said, “Child of God.”  I remember holding this card in my hands.  My mind said, “What is this?  It’s too simple. That’s not enough.  Who am I really?  I’m this, and this, and this…”  But I didn’t have that foundation of love in my heart that showed how secure I was as a daughter, as God’s child. My heart ached and I cried and cried.  I don’t remember receiving ministry, but I must have.  I needed to grow in my identity as a child of God.

Deepest Needs: Significance and Security

Larry Crabb is a Christian counsellor and pastor.  He was one of the writers we  read in my Tyndale Seminary counselling courses in the late 1990’s.  I remember he talked about the two deepest human needs: that of significance and of security.  At that time in my life, I had a security deficit. I  tried to fill it with accomplishments I was achieving on the significance side of life.   After I married my husband Tony, he became a significant part of  healing  my security deficit;  although it was really God who completely filled that huge sinkhole.  God healed me directly by  continually filling me with his love and through the love of my husband and friends.

After my insecurity issues were dealt with, I went through a difficult season when I discovered I also had a significance deficit.  When I was in school, I filled that need with my academic pursuits, even though these were not enough.  Also when I married, I was sidelined away from a ministry career for a time, so the deficit became even more obvious.  I felt like I was stuck in the desert with no way out of it.  God began to refine that area of my life.  In time, I came to lean less on fulfilling tasks as a way to receive  significance.  Again, my deepest significance is ALSO fulfilled in actively being a child of God.  Degrees, mission trips, radio shows and lay ministry experience are all wonderful things, but these roles don’t replace who you are in Christ.  You are, as a son, or as a daughter –  secure in his love for you. You are not a slave that works for a master.  You are a child who inherits. As an inheritor, you also have a role to represent the Father. That is your purpose.  Jesus, through the Holy Spirit,  fills you to do whatever you are to do for him.  When you learn to surrender and fully trust his leading in your life, your significance is confirmed over and over as he works through you.  Your highest significance is as God’s child; and each child has a unique ministry. Proverbs teaches us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

While you spend time acknowledging God, he gives you your assignment and all necessary grace to accomplish it.  He provides the path that is unique for each of us. He prepares us in advance for whatever work we are called to do. He utilizes all of our skills, talents and gifts to work together in a perfect blend. He makes us “uniquely us,” and he gives us the power and love to jump deeply into more of who we were meant to be. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Sometimes these works look different in each season, depending on the assignment that God will give us.  When we do these works, they bring deep satisfaction: whether they are monetized as part of our careers, whether they are part of our natural helping roles, or whether  they are a supernatural ministry gift (see 1 Corinthians 12).

What is God asking you to be?  Unless you know who you really are, you’ll never reach your full potential.  You are called to fullness and success, but it is the Father who imparts your identity and purpose.   Just as it took you time to grow up physically from babyhood to adulthood, so it often takes time to grow up spiritually.  And in this process and season of “there but not yet,”  it really is all about trust.  As you trust God, he will give you tasks to do, and many wonderful surprises along the way.  Open your eyes and look for them.  He will not disappoint.  Take time with him and let him love you. Allow him access into the secret areas of your heart and give him all your plans.  He will reshape all of your life in a way that is infinitely beautiful.

When I was on my first mission trip in Northern Ireland, I discovered the music of Robin Mark.  His song “All for Jesus” was instrumental in the complete surrender that opened up healing of my insecurity.  Sure, I entered into a desert season for a while, but it was necessary to deepen my trust.  The same happened when I surrendered in the all the areas of significance and ministry.  It brought me to another desert, and again, it was essential to take out thorns in my heart.  Again, it was necessary to deepen my trust in another way.  I am not the same person I was when I first journeyed to Northern Ireland in 1995. For this I am very thankful.  Both of these needs are summed up in Robin’s song “All for Jesus“, as well as the Bethel Music song “Good Shepherd.”

Next time, we will continue our journey and learn how to deepen our identity  in seasons of silence and God saying “no.”  As we walk, we’ll sing Amanda Cook’s lyrics (from Good Shepherd).  “In the process, in the waiting, you’re making melodies over me. And your presence is the promise; for I am a pilgrim on a journey…”

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann Copple

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Book excerpt: from L-A’s book

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Hi!  It’s been a very busy summer in my admin and pastoral care volunteer work, so I’ve not been able to work on more Ways to Grow in God articles at this time.  However, I’ve not forgotten you.  I promise that they will return.  Meanwhile, another way we can grow in God is by sharing our story – especially when it comes to how we came to faith. It’s called a testimony.

I am continuing my book in little bits between the work.  What is the book about? The book is a compilation of many stories that overlap in a busy life. A lot of it is about my own  journey;  in life, in art, faith, travels, studies, insights and personal history. While I’ve had some difficult times, I’ve also had brilliant times. I cannot complain – there are and have been many blessings in my life and I trust that my story will touch some people’s lives.

At the moment, I’m up to about chapter 10, in my first phase of a “memory dump.”  The book will probably look different than it does now, but since so many of you wanted a glimpse, I’m giving you a sneak peek in the middle of chapter one.

“I entered art school at Three Schools of Art in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto while I was still attending high school. It was called Three Schools because there were three schools combined into one funky art college.  This community was located above many different stores as interlinking flats. The floor boards creaked; it was always a little cold, and the walls were bare, other than colourful brick or sometimes white drywall.  But it was Bohemian, and promoted creativity. The full time art school, New School of Art, did not give diplomas (in fact, the restrooms had labelled towel dispensers that said, “Diplomas, take one”!) but they instead excelled in avant-garde learning by artists who were active in their profession.  Some of these art teachers were quite unconventional, and many of them were opinionated. One of them, John McGregor, accused me of being on drugs because of my different art styles – I only had two at the time: the bold, expressive printmaking and the tightly detailed drawing.

It’s funny that he didn’t even consider my then-current painting style, which was based on shapes and shades of blue. He couldn’t understand that each style represented a different part of me – like the young adult I was and the little girl inside me. I continued at that school until its closing (it closed because the owners could not afford to re-mortgage their home to keep the school afloat).  So I pursued my learning at different schools after its demise:  Sheridan College, Ontario College of Art and Design, and finally, many different Toronto Art Groups that held their own workshops. Some of these classes included drawing, painting and printmaking. I learned from professional and semi-professional artists and became very serious about a career in fine art, illustration and art film photography.

I had exhibits in local libraries, cafes, doctor’s offices, group and juried shows, and at the time gained a lot of local exposure.  I even had some small commissions. I travelled to the French Riviera with local artists and worked to my heart’s content for the time we visited.  Yet, it wasn’t enough. My art career was floundering and was funded by working as a grocery store cashier, although I did have a short work stint in the art/printing department of Mississauga Library. I also dreamed of designing sets like I did in high school theatre arts productions. After all, Toronto was known as “Hollywood North” – or at least one of the major cities where filming was done in Canada. I also did black and white artistic photography, and photographed models, musicians on stage and portraits.  I was busy but it wasn’t lucrative.

Unfortunately most of the doors that I tried to push through professionally were shut tight.  No amount of banging on doors made a difference. Nothing seemed to open and I grew frustrated. Even my dream of dreams, to be a portrait artist in London, England didn’t seem attainable.

Eventually I began searching spiritually as well as career-wise.  One lady in my church choir took me to fortune tellers, and I didn’t know that these were forbidden in the Bible. This only made me more confused as I searched for answers in many wrong places! Some of these wrong turns included Scientology, befriending pimps and prostitutes when I had no idea who they were, recreational drugs, smoking, occult literature, astrology and eventually my own fortune-telling practices (including tarot cards and ‘reading’ objects). I remember going to one psychic fair looking for answers.  I didn’t find them, and grew more and more frustrated with the occult world – I had conflicting answers (well, they were getting their guidance from lying divination spirits!).  I remember saying to myself (and softly outloud), “I need to find out the answer; where do I go, whom shall I seek?”  At the time I felt like I was briefly overshadowed by evil, an ‘intelligent’ evil, and my ears burned. I had a sense that the wrong source had answered my plea for understanding.

Yet, in all my searching, I may have not drawn solace from my liberal-minded church, but I did always have a heart for Jesus. I remember reading a New Age book, of which I’ve forgotten the title.  The author stated that Christians were wrong, intolerant, narrow-minded and evil. I thought, “How could Christians be evil?”  The real Christians that I knew and met were kind and loving; even if they didn’t do all the things that I did at that time. I remember knowing this statement was not true, and I began to wonder what really was true about Christians and the church.

In the autumn of 1987, I house-sat for a friend, and I was drawing at her kitchen table. I remember saying to myself, “1988 has to be the year to change my life.”  I said that out loud, so it could have been a prayer. Then I felt an incredible wave of love and holiness wash over me. I sensed the words “Good!  Now’s the time to find God.”  While I didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was at the time, I knew somehow this voice was connected to God, and that he meant to seek out Jesus Christ.  I just ‘knew.’  The Holy Spirit was gently convicting me, and drawing me to Jesus; especially since I was searching.  And so, I narrowed my search to focus exclusively on Christianity, but I still didn’t know where to start.  I told my mother about my experience, and I asked where I may begin in reading the Bible.  She suggested I begin in the Psalms and Proverbs.  I read these, and then I skipped to the New Testament, where I read about Jesus for myself. No longer was I reading Bible stories that were taken out of context, but I read the whole thing.

I remember attending a church service during that season, and one of the scripture readings really caught my attention.  It was 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

After I heard that word, I was given a vision, or a visual picture in my mind, that I was trapped under an old kitchen floor.  Jesus opened up the trap door above my head, and looked down at me with kindness.  I was tied up and could not move, but Jesus reached out to me.  Then the vision ended.  I didn’t know that I was bound, but somehow I did know that Jesus was there for me.

Another month later, I was led to go to another church, where the pastor had the same name I did. Remember I was still called ‘Laurie’ then!  Laurie listened in a wonderful pastoral way, and encouraged me to attend a conference his church was to host in the near future.  He knew I was searching!  When I did attend this conference, I finally accepted Jesus into my life as saviour.  The speaker was Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian (Anglican) priest. He was known as ‘the father of the charismatic movement.’  He and his wife Rita, also were active in inner-healing ministry.  This was the exactly the type of thing I was looking for!  This wasn’t the liberal Christianity that I knew, but this was the active kind where the Holy Spirit actually touched people. This wasn’t dry and dusty. This was REAL.  I wanted the real thing!  All the occult things I was involved with before were counterfeit, but I didn’t know that!

The night I accepted Jesus, I heard Dennis proclaim these words:  “You can’t be a Christian and a New Ager too.  Unless you are Jewish, you must give up any other kind of faith in order to be a Christian.” And so, when Dennis led the sinner’s prayer, I prayed it and meant it.  I was full of joy and felt light as air. However, there was a battle to come, since although I was now free of my sin, I was still demonized from my past. I had to allow God to touch those areas of my life one by one. I did however, quit smoking that night.  I figured that since Jesus gave me new life in him, I was going to give him my cigarettes. That day was April 27, 1988.

The following day, Dennis and Rita taught, and I learned that after the fall of human kind, Satan set up the psychic world.  That was a game-changer for me, since I did not realize who was deceiving me the whole time.  I thought I was in neutral spiritual territory, but I was definitely not neutral at all.   Thankfully I had good Christian support in my early Christian years.  Along with my Baptist church family, I had a mentor who was a Christian counsellor, a loving Christian boyfriend (son of a pastor), and in time a second church (in the Vineyard movement) that became my ‘hospital.’  That Vineyard church eventually became “THE” Toronto Airport Vineyard (later TACF and Catch the Fire) of the Toronto Blessing in the 1990s.  What a place for a hospital!  I had them and its offshoot, Thornhill Vineyard, where I grew in leadership… but I am jumping ahead.”

So that’s your little peek at what I’ve been writing, other than this blog. Meanwhile, I encourage you to share your own story.  Remember when you do, that this is only a small part of your story.  CS Lewis writes that our lives are only like the first page of an ongoing story – it’s a wonderful ending to the Narnia Chronicles, but it’s also the beginning to many adventures beyond our lives on earth.  (Read CS Lewis’s The Last Battle to understand what I mean)

Blessings!
Laurie-Ann