By: Leslie Gaska

My faith journey began in fits and starts with detours along the way. I was first confirmed a Lutheran in my early teens in Velva, North Dakota . That was followed by a move to the Twin Cities, and another confirmation in a new church, this one Presbyterian. Then in my 30’s, I took another turn to United Church of Christ and was confirmed there. None of these “stuck.” At no point along the way did I meet Jesus.

The UCC pastor was removed, and I became disillusioned with church structure, so decided I could figure all this out on my own. No more church for me! Slowly over the years, I discovered I couldn’t figure it out, so I allowed myself to become intellectually complacent. I carelessly decided I probably wasn’t a true Christian, but always believed in my version of God. What I knew about the Bible I’d learned in confirmation classes, in other words, not very much. It wasn’t a book I read.

In 2006, I moved to Rochester because my mother was aging and starting to need help. After a year, she moved into my home, and we settled in. I decided to run for the Board of Directors for the Stonehedge Townhome Association where I lived, and was elected in 2008. The president of the Board was this nice guy, Brian Kaihoi, a Calvary attender, who worked at Mayo doing what I thought were fascinating things. We clicked a little. I liked his wife, Sharon too, feeling a pull toward her. But I couldn’t find any reason to get to know her much better, though. Then she retired, and I thought well, maybe now. But there was never a time when suggesting we do some – thing together didn’t feel a bit awkward. So I didn’t.

Besides, I was hiding a secret. I knew neither she nor Brian drank alcohol, and I knew by then I was having a problem with it. So I thought our interests and lives weren’t in sync enough for something to work. Or so I thought. God had other plans.

At Christmas time of 2015, my mother passed away. In short order – months, really – I had to put two of my three cats down, and I held the hand of my wonderful friend, Vern, as he passed away due to Lymphoma. While driving home from Bismarck that final time after Vern’s funeral in very early June of 2016, I had what some AA folks might call a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself. On a road somewhere in North Dakota, I made a decision to quit drinking. I felt a great relief, yet knew I needed to do a lot more than just quit. A week later I finally worked up enough courage to attend an AA meeting, and then another, and another. Very few family and friends were aware that I had a problem and certainly weren’t aware I was trying to fix it.

Initially, I was surprisingly euphoric over my decision. One afternoon, without much thought, I walked over to the Kaihoi’s and knocked on their door. Maybe we could be friends, I hoped. And I really wanted to share my story with someone I knew I could trust. Sharon was home, and welcomed me in. I gave her the short version of me, the sadness of Mom’s passing, pain over my beloved cats, the pain and hurt of Vern’s passing, and my recent self-honesty that had led me to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. That afternoon the bonds of a true friendship were born. But there was more to come, shared events that would change me forever.

A few days later, Sharon called to recommend a book she was reading called “You’ll Get Through This,” written by Max Lucado. Before I’d had a chance to even order it, she knocked on my door, handing me her copy of the book telling me that although she hadn’t finished it yet (but almost), she wanted me to have it NOW, feeling sure I would benefit from reading it. We spoke a lot that summer of 2016.

Towards the fall, she called to tell me her church was going to have a study group on this book, and asked if I was interested in joining it? I didn’t ask what church (I couldn’t remember its name, but should have – I’d been there for a few musical events.)  I thought, well, sure, absolutely. By now, I had immersed myself in Alcoholics Anonymous, was working the 12 Steps of AA, reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book, and listening to CDs. I knew my life was changing, and adding a spiritual book review in a spiritual setting sounded perfect.

Unbeknownst to me however, there was this matter of a church service following the book club meeting. Since they had picked me up in their car, I found myself going to the 10:30 a.m. service, at a church called Calvary Evangelical Free. I was uncomfortable at first, but quickly I could tell the experience felt GOOD. The “Evangelical” part I struggled with, but later I had a chance to meet with Pastor Kevin who gave me a wider view to think about. I’m still thinking.

So began my regular attendance at Calvary. My own sisters thought I was nuts after I’d made so many declarations over the years that “I’d never set foot in a church again.” Instead, I felt myself more and more drawn in to something much bigger than myself and my life.

In late fall of 2016, Sharon mentioned a trip she was planning to take to Africa. AFRICA?!! That’s number one on my bucket list! I decided to go. It was being led by a MINISTER, of all things. Its focus was on the BIBLE – Daniel and the lions – which made me feel unsure (remember, I don’t know much about the Bible). I welcomed a chance to learn more.

About a month after we got back from the trip, Sharon (bless her sweet heart) suggested I might want to join her in a two-day women’s conference called Devoted Hearts. I’d never heard of it. Sharon told me it was spiritual in nature. Day one was memorable; Day two was life-changing. I heard magnificent presentations by a host of skilled and inspirational speakers.

Closing out the conference was our speaker, Karen Kings- bury. We were all on our feet. Karen asked if there were any women ready to devote their lives to Jesus, to raise their hand. God raised my arm for me, nearly giving Sharon a heart attack and putting a shocked look on my face. But I didn’t want to take my arm down. It felt so good, so right. I was beginning to pull together disparate parts of myself into some – thing more cohesive and Christian-based. In Step 3 of the AA book “12 Steps and 12 Traditions,” it said, “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.” I had initially struggled with this step, but that day at the conference, I suddenly better understood what was being asked of me.

My journey had taken me back to God; such a miracle. Every day I say that I’m a grateful alcoholic. Without AA, I may not have listened to the call of the church. I still search for how to reconcile old beliefs with these new ones, but I’m not afraid of them anymore. I welcome having those former beliefs questioned, and I absolutely love our church and its ministers and ministries. I am now 14 months sober, and have more wonderful people in life than I’d ever thought possible. I am participating in my very first Bible study class this year! I am so grateful to so many for their guidance to a safer, more peaceful place. I’ll never know all the facts, or be a Bible scholar, but I do know I have found my way home.

Beyond the Missionary Refrigerator Magnet

By Melissa Meyers

“Mom, why is our picture on everyone’s refrigerator?” asked my five year old son. We were on home assignment from Central Asia, and had been visiting many homes, having lunch or dinner with people who supported us in some way. Indeed, almost every home we entered had our picture stuck to their refrigerator. His innocent question stuck in my mind. After trying to explain it to him, I had a nice chuckle and realized for my son, these visits probably felt like causal visits with friends and not formal updates. This in my opinion is exactly what it should be. I’d like to give you some ideas and equip you with some hints to move a relationship that usually feels formal to an organic and natural one.

In our media driven lives we are connected with hundreds of worthy causes to get involved in. So why is it important as Christians to connect with missionary families? Missionaries were present shortly after the birth of the early church. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, everyone. The apostles are strongly proclaiming the word of God, people are being saved, miracles are happening, and people are meeting together daily. There is this beautiful picture described, where new believers bring their possessions together so that their daily needs can be met and they can focus on the spiritual side of life (Acts 2: 42-47).

Continuing on, a man named Stephen proclaims the gospel message in front of the Jewish authorities of the day. He has been accused of blasphemy. After one of the most powerful testimonies in the book of Acts, he becomes the first Martyr. The church that had been meeting daily scatters, and the gospel begins to spread. Who is there to witness this? A man named Saul. Later on, this man, Saul, has a divine encounter with God, and he is given a new name, Paul. He eventually becomes one of the first missionaries as he is sent later throughout the region. Now I am skipping over a lot of little details, but you see Paul was an extension of this new church. Paul and Barnabas went not proclaiming their own gospel, but they went proclaiming the truth of Jesus that impacted many.

Growing up in individualistic societies we are inundated with stories of the hero who rises above everyone else. These stories inspire and perhaps challenge us to be better people, but to a default they focus on super women and super men to do extraordinary things. When in fact, Biblically we have the opposite; Jesus poured into the lives of twelve men, and sent them out in pairs to work together. Saul and Barnabas were sent off together and reported back to authorities in Jerusalem on what was happening in the Gentile churches. So when we look at why it is important for you to connect with missionaries and their families, it is simply because they need you. They were not meant to do it alone.

So what are some practical ways for you to support and connect with missionaries? There are books written about this, but I will personally share what impacted us over the years. First, I’d encourage you to focus on one to two missionaries in your church. Some very well-meaning people might think, they can pray for one missionary a day and cover them all. Realistically, if I were to do this I know only failure would be in sight. Look for organic relationships. Who have you met that you connected with? Is there a particular ministry or country that you felt like you wanted to know about? Otherwise, you will be so overloaded you will do nothing. Melissa Meyers and family served as missionaries in Central Asia.

#1. Read their newsletter or blog

Did you just groan? I understand. In our tech-savvy lives we are overloaded with information. The amount of words we filter through daily leaves even one more thing to read a burden. Let’s be honest, the latest article on pop culture is probably more interesting than the latest missionary update. Try to first read what is important before the extra stuff. It was wonderful when someone repeated back to me a story they read in our update. In that short exchange, I moved from feeling alone in my journey of learning a new language, and struggling to raise my young children far from home to feeling connected. So follow their blogs, updates, and other ways they are sharing their lives and let them know you are listening.

#2. Invite them out for a meal or into your home

We loved these informal/formal ways to connect with our supporters or people at church. It allowed us to share in a more personal way then a formal talk. At these meetings, I usually felt like something spiritually important happened. Not only did they connect with what God was doing in our lives, we connected with what God was doing in their lives. Sometimes, missionaries have a narrow window of time to meet. If it doesn’t work out this time  around, it may be a couple of years, but yes, ask again. They really will keep it in mind for the next home assignment and make it a priority to meet with you.

#3. Ask specific questions about what they do

Does your child ever come home from school and you ask them, “How did your day go?” They reply, “Great!” You are dying for information, and they may be excited to share something with you, but essentially you asked a dead end question. People sometimes asked me, “How was it?” This is such a broad question, only panic set in when I was asked this. How was what? The food, the culture, the church? The missionary is left with not knowing where to begin and both parties leave the conversation frustrated. So here are ten questions to ask. Feel free to add to them, but ask questions that are specific and open-ended.

Ten Questions to Ask Missionaries

1.What kind of food do you usually eat in _________?
2.Do you have to dress differently than you do in America?
3.What do you find most challenging about living in _______?
4.What do you enjoy about living and working in ________?
5.Where do you feel God has used you the most in the past year?
6.Tell me about the local church in your country? What do you do for church?
7.What has changed for you in America since you last visited?
8.When your children visit America, what is the most challenging thing for them/you?
9.When you think about returning, what are you looking forward to for your next term?
10.What is one thing I can pray for you about?

Next steps: Why not look up your church’s missionaries and start connecting.

TierneysMatt and Vicki Tierney had ministry on their minds almost from the moment they met as Lawrence University students. Graduated and newly married, this history and music major landed in Byron. Here, they made their first Calvary connections. They were called to student ministry by Tentmaker Board members, Bill and Nancy Monsen, Steve and Rosie Koebele, and Kurt and Faye Wendland. Tentmakers sought to reach and disciple teens among five mainline churches in the Byron area. For five years the ministry grew to a core of 30 teens. Their family grew, too, with daughters Paige and Abigail arriving.

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