#231. Go International: He Knew God Was With Him

These stories are from Go International, a missions organization that seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by partnering with indigenous leaders across the world. This leads to sustainable, long-lasting change as the love of Christ is shared.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to evangelize while distributing bags of food. We knocked on the door of a house and nobody opened it. We only heard a noise like someone dragging a chair. We were about to leave when a man opened the door. He told us that he was alone and that his wife had left. He was slow to open the door because he was dragging the chair. 

He said that he had lost a leg and lost his eye while working. He told us that he was chipping stones, and a fragment of stone fell into his right eye and completely emptied it. He told us that he felt lonely but that he knew that God was with him. 

He had cried out for help for several days, especially for food. We ministered to him, shared the love of God, and prayed for his life. A few days ago, we returned with more food bags, as well as coat and a pair of glasses to improve his vision. We were also able to bring him a wheelchair so that he feels more comfortable and can move better. Praise God for providing just what he needed, just in time.

#154 Steve the Cat

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I had the honor of sharing the devotional last week at a local Emmaus board meeting. It was not my turn, but God laid on my heart the burdens we see each week at our local Mission. Because of this, I am reminded of Steve the cat and his horrific journey to us and to his glorious and miraculous recovery.

I shared from Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn…” We had been alerted through our weekly prayer walks that some of our old friends from our days of church ministry had resurfaced in the neighborhood and perhaps as many as 20 are living in one location. By observation, it is obvious that they have fallen victim to those old demons. If we are reading what we are seeing correctly, its heroin, and they are all knee deep in it and it’s heartbreaking.

Steve the cat came to us on a recent Thanksgiving night while we were in New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our cat wrangler and sitter Mike realized that he had gained a new face and that little Steve was in trouble. You see, Steve had a raging infection in his body leaving him blind, emaciated, and in cardiac distress. He was dehydrated, had lost his ability to stand, and somehow found his way onto our deck through the cat door and found one of our pillowed cat cubbies where he prepared to die. However, like so many times in life, our God is in the little details, nudging us along and allowing us to see where He needs us to be.

When we returned, we scooped little Steve up—all three pounds of him—and headed to the local animal clinic, trying to decide if Steve would make it or if it would become just comfort measures for his last few and sad days. The veterinarian went to work giving Steve liquids and antibiotics and sending us home with a grocery list of do’s and don’ts to try to save our little gift from death. She told us that the outcome and his condition was grim.

This is where God stepped in, because Michael my best friend from grade school mailed a huge box of high fiber, high protein cat food to us after the loss of his cat Buddy, arriving the same week we began Steve’s rehabilitation. Slowly, through the shots, treatments, and food, Steve began to improve. I think we can honestly say that it took six to seven months before my wife and I ever said aloud, “I think Steve is going to make it.”

Isn’t Steve’s story just so God? The metaphor of how it is that we must come to Him broken, dehydrated, emaciated, and preparing to die so that the God of the universe will step in and begin our own journey of restoration, hope, and redemption. That choice is ours because He is waiting, praying that our face will turn to Him. We have a saying around our ministry: “You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and we have seen God meet person after person right in the midst of their death march when they finally become sick and tired.

I closed our devotion time with the first line of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So for us, our season and our time is now, intentionally Jericho-prayer-walking the house of our 20 old friends and verbalizing the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news that He is there with us, just waiting for these young kids caught up in the demons of Satan to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We celebrated our second anniversary this past Thanksgiving with Steve the cat. He is healthy and vibrant, and although he will never regain his sight, he is just one of the guys around the house. He has been known to chase his sisters through every room and across the entire length of the house. Steve gets into swatting matches with his brothers and thankfully allows us to sleep on one side of the bed as long as we do not bother him in his position lying sideways in the middle.

God is in the details, indeed.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#149 Little Church by the Creek

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff 

God blessed me with a good foundation. I grew up in the church. My grandmother lived with us and we shared a bedroom. She knelt by her bed every night and prayed in a whisper. I could hear her as she prayed for the less fortunate and missionaries. I heard her pray in her prayer language. It was such a blessing, a real learning experience that I didn’t realize I was getting at the time. Mamaw would always help in any way she could. She stayed in the background but taught us how to help and what to do and how to do it. She was not only an example in prayer but also an example in her life. She never preached but her life preached.  

Growing up we went to church every Sunday. I gave my life to Christ at a holiness camp meeting when I was seven years old. Our family attended a very evangelistic church. I remember during church Mamaw waving her hanky and praying with tears streaming down her face. I would say, “Mamaw,” and tap her on the hand and she would say, “Shhh, you will break the Spirit.” 

God taught me many lessons through my grandmother—to be a servant without words. All those years ago in church, she cautioned me not to break the Spirit, and indeed God showed me the fruits of His Spirit working in her life. She was a woman of patience, kindness, and gentleness. She showed love to many people and showed remarkable peace and faith when she faced hardships. When her husband died, she had a graceful, calming presence in that storm. God also showed me the importance of perseverance and faithfulness through her life. If you continue your walk, your faith grows and God gives you the ability to serve in humility. 

Music is in our family. My mom was a singer and sang at almost every funeral, wedding, and revival in our county. My grandmother and I often attended. I am now the worship leader at our church for the first service. I play piano, lead the choir, and pick out the songs. Both of my daughters sing in the choir. I try to impress upon the choir that we aren’t just singing. I encourage them to see what the song means and to convey that message to the people in the congregation and bring them to a place of worshipping God. My favorite hymn is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” as I think that is the original praise and worship song.

I have experienced God’s faithfulness throughout my life. One particular time comes to mind. I had been working with a ministry and I would hear women give such emotionally gripping testimonies. I thought, “Oh Lord, please don’t make me do that.” But I was asked to give my testimony. I was scared to death. It was last minute—another speaker quit just before and they asked me to share. I turned it over to God and He was faithful. I can’t tell you what I said but He gave me the words. This and many other occasions have shown me that God is always faithful. 

I am thankful for my family, especially for my grandmother who was such an example and inspiration to me. I am thankful for the church of my childhood and the church I now attend, for the fellowship and encouragement of believers and for the opportunity to serve Him through music. God has been good to me and I am so grateful. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#142. Little Church by the Creek: Righteous, Redeemed and Restored

 

​Photo by Anna Carroll

In 2007 I was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. I had been married eight years at the time and we had two children. My wife knew I had an addiction problem before my arrest. She just didn’t know it was meth. I was never home and she was ready to leave me. Before my arrest, it was a dark time in our lives and I was very lost. This little church by the creek was on the way to my drug dealer’s house and I would look at it and think, “I need God.” I would go out of my way not to see the church. God was calling me and I was saying, “NO!”

When I went to court, the guy I got arrested with came in with his parents and his pastor. I was upset with the pastor and told him I needed to talk to him. He agreed and I met him at his office. I asked the pastor why he was supporting this guy who didn’t go to church. He said, “My life was messed up before I met Jesus. I am supporting your friend because I was given a second chance and I believe your friend deserves a second chance, and I believe YOU deserve a second chance. If you will come to church and you will listen, I will walk this out with you, and if you fall, I will be there to help.” It felt like he believed in me. He gave me hope. This man was the pastor of the little church by the creek that I had passed on the way to the drug dealer’s. God had drawn me all those years before as I passed by, and now He was drawing me through the pastor. This time I said, “YES!”

I started going to church right after that talk. I sat in the back row. My wife told me that she had also driven past the church for years and she had felt drawn to the church as well. She began going to church with me. I was amazed by everything I was receiving at church. I thought, “I have to get a Bible.” I remember going into my little girl’s bedroom with my new Bible and thinking, “I know there’s something here. But this has just been a book to me. I want it to come alive.” I opened it up and turned to Acts and I couldn’t put it down. It became a light, a mirror, a hammer. I saw my sin, and things began to change in our home. Reading God’s Word changed my life. Two weeks before I was to serve my time, I committed my life to the Lord. 

In jail, I participated in a 12-step Christ-centered program led by the jail chaplain called Stepping into Freedom. When I got out of jail, I was required to go to narcotics anonymous (NA) three times a week for two years. I saw that people weren’t getting better. I felt such a need to bring Christ to them. I asked the chaplain, who led the Stepping into Freedom program at the jail, if I could take that curriculum and teach it at our church one night a week. He agreed and I told people at NA and AA about our new ministry and invited them to come. But we needed to become an “approved” program because it is a probation requirement to go to meetings at an “approved” program, and you must get your card signed to prove you have attended these sessions. There was no incentive to attend our program until we had this designation. For one year, I tried to tell the probation officers that I had started the ministry and tried to get them to approve it. Initially, they threw away my fliers, but I kept going back. Finally, they approved our program. Today, my probation office runs the substance abuse coalition and I am partnering with him in this coalition. This coalition now provides grant funding for our ministry.  

About a year after we started offering Stepping into Freedom at church, we went on a prayer walk and felt God calling us to something more. Mercy Street was born. Mercy Street is a recovery intervention/restoration ministry that provides worship, a meal, and fellowship. My wife and I are co-directors. We started small with peanut butter sandwiches and a man with an acoustic guitar leading worship. We only had about 10 people coming. Prominent people left the church because of the program, but Mercy Street grew, expanding from 15 to 30 people. I was still working full-time at my day job and I began to get exhausted. First the addiction took me away, and now the ministry was taking me away from my family. The Lord started exposing the junk my wife and I had buried. I didn’t want to deal with it but God led us through it to the other side. The leadership of the church pulled me from ministry for three months to focus on my family. I felt God leading me to dive more into His word and pray more. Our pastor taught us that God comes first, marriage second, then kids, then ministry. We renewed our marriage covenant and the Lord honored that. When I returned to ministry, other churches who had not wanted to partner with us initially, said they wanted to start a Mercy Street program. We are now starting our fifth Mercy Street ministry plant. 

God has used my past for good in other ways. I was asked to be part of a meth intercessory prayer team. We were shown a map of areas in the county where there were drug arrests and we would pray that God would begin to take authority over the ground. Because of my past experiences, I knew where the drug deals occurred and we could pray specifically for those areas. One of the biggest dope dealers in a town near here was on a particular street and a pastor invited him to Mercy Street. He then led others to Mercy Street, and now this whole street is cleaned up! God has drawn many people and we have baptized many in the creek by the church. We have felt the Holy Spirit powerfully during these baptisms.

We have also felt the Lord calling us to prevention efforts. We go into middle and high schools and show a documentary on heroin called “Hit of Hell.” We are starting a prevention program with the YMCA. When young people complete the program, the Y gives them a free membership which gives them a place to go and an outlet. We want the kids to not only reject drugs but to become leaders and lead others out of that culture. 

At times life has been very difficult. I have put my wife through so much and she has shown me undeserved grace and forgiveness. Sometimes it is difficult for her to juggle her responsibilities co-directing Mercy Street with me while working and raising our children and taking care of our home. This is made more difficult because she has MS. Words can’t express how grateful I am for her and how much I love and admire her.

God is so faithful. Our marriage was in such trouble and God faithfully walked through that with us. I have experienced God as a Restorer and Redeemer. I am right with God because of the cross, not because of anything I have done. So many times, I want to be right on my own merit. But knowing I am righteous because of Him takes the pressure off of me. This is a messy ministry. Often, I am the first responder—the person a teenager calls when they are high and contemplating suicide. I am dependent on God, relying on prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It is too difficult and complex and dangerous to figure this out on my own. So many things have happened since that day in 2007 and it’s all been the Lord. God has opened good doors and closed the doors that should be closed to protect us. He brought me through the darkness into light. He drew me to Him at the little church by the creek, and there He has done amazing things. 

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#115 Gaining Confidence

Photo by Erin E Photography

Ten years ago my son died by suicide. He shot himself and I found him. There really are no words to describe the pain, trauma and sadness of this. It was truly horrible. 

Within the year, my husband wanted to sell our house – the house where our children grew up. He wanted to build a big new house. I didn’t want to do this, but we did it anyway and it added to my stress. In fact, I was so stressed that I lost all my hair. The big new house did not heal our sorrow or make us happy. After two years, my husband and I were talking less. And then one day, after not speaking to me for two weeks, my husband told me that he thought I should move out. We had been married for 30 years and this was very hurtful and shocking to me. I learned later that he had found another woman that he wanted to make a new life with and that she had moved into our new house with him. 

I moved into an apartment and one evening I was crying uncontrollably in my room. So much had happened. I was devastated, broken and lost. I was crying so hard I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But then I felt a warmth, like hands hugging my heart. It was a very a physical presence. I had never experienced anything like it before. A tremendous sense of peace came over me. Someone explained to me later that this was the Holy Spirit comforting me. There was a shift in my attitude after this. Whenever I encountered a problem, I felt like I could handle it. 

Not long after this experience, a leader in my church told me about a new shelter for the homeless.  He suggested that I volunteer there. So I began volunteering at the Center and from the start, it felt right. 

After about a year at the Center, I knew in my soul deep down that I was supposed to buy a house and make it into a home for men in recovery from addictions. That was the first time I ever really felt God speaking to me. I was obedient to what I felt God wanted me to do. I bought a house and made it into a recovery home for men with addictions. After I did this, God always provided. There was always enough income to pay the bills. This was confirmation to me that I had done the right thing.

As I have became more confident in my ability, I have been able to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways with those I serve at the Center.  On a practical level, I register new clients and see what services we can connect them with. I help manage a grant that helps homeless clients get into housing. But a lot of what I do is to just LISTEN and care. Many of the homeless clients  I work with are divorced, some have experienced the tragic death of loved ones and many have experienced deep rejection, trauma, and brokenness. All of the tough parts of my life have prepared me for relating, understanding and empathizing. I can connect with clients in a special way because I have experienced some of the same difficulties they have. God put me in a place where I could use the painful experiences of my life to help and encourage others – a place that would also be a great blessing to me.

Throughout this journey there’s been a lot of heartache, but I’ve also learned to trust God. I know that He is always there with me even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. But when I stop and breathe…. I just know God is there and that gives me peace.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

2 Corinthians 1:4

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#98 Four Hours Alone with God

 Photo by Laura Wilkerson Photography

I was 23 years old and I had “known” God my whole life but I hadn’t really committed or surrendered my life to Him. I went on a prayer retreat with 20 guys at Land Between the Lakes. My pastor told us to go out for four hours and pray by ourselves. I was thinking to myself, “What am I going to do for four hours? How am I going to pray for that long?” For the first hour I was just trying to get into prayer and trying to get the distractions of the world out of my head. I was still thinking about what I needed to do at home and all the things I could be doing. I was trying to break away from the world, but I was just in my head. I spent the second hour just feeling a little conflicted. I was both embarrassed and convicted that I had been thinking about myself and my life only for the past hour. I hadn’t been thinking about anyone else; I was just thinking about me. Then, in the third hour, I walked to the water and began to pray. During this time, God moved in a powerful way and gave me a Bible verse, 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” When I thought about this verse, I realized that anxiety had been killing me.

This verse resonated with me so much because there are no other verses in the Bible that directly say, “He cares for you.” I remember saying it out loud over and over. I was walking around the lake yelling that verse—shouting it! After saying it several times, the verse changed to something much more personal. I could hear in my spirit God saying to me, “Matthew, cast your anxiety on me because I care for you right now, because I love you right now.” I began to really understand all these different attributes of God—that He loved me and cared about me.

I began to walk around the lake taking in the beauty of everything. I was looking at the lake and suddenly realized that there were so many waves in the water. There was no wind and no reason that the water should’ve been so rough and restless. As I watched the waves, I thought to myself, “That restless water is like my spirit.” I saw that there was a rock by the water that never got covered by the waves coming in and out. It should’ve been covered, but somehow it was the only rock that wasn’t getting wet or getting swept away. Finally, a wave came and water covered the rock. At that moment, I knew I needed to be baptized. I wanted to be covered in water just like that rock, so I ran to my pastor and told him I wanted to get baptized.

 

The other guys on the trip gathered around me and prayed for me and I felt the overwhelming presence to bow down before the Lord and pray. After we prayed, we ate lunch and all went down to the shoreline and I was baptized at the lake. It was the perfect moment.

A few hours later we had dinner by the lake where I was baptized. I felt such a peace in that time, and there are two events that happened then that I will always cherish. One man said to me, “It was great having those six guys praying over you.” When he said that, the only thing on my mind was that I had felt seven hands when they were praying over me. I had six guys huddled around me and I could feel everyone’s hands on me, but ten to fifteen seconds into the prayer, a hand came from nowhere on my back—a hand that was so powerful and strong. It was warm and firm, yet soft and tender at the same time. And the placement of the hand was right in the center of my back. I honestly believe that extra hand I felt was the hand of God.

The second thing that happened that I will cherish forever is looking out at the lake and seeing that the once restless lake full of choppy waves was now the stillest, most peaceful lake I have ever seen. I felt like the stillness of the lake reflected my renewed and peaceful spirit after being baptized. I kept thinking, “God, I love you.” From that moment, I have been dedicating every day of my life to Him.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#89 That is True Love

 

Photo by Lucas Wiman

One day back in November I was in a pretty sour mood for most of the day. I was having bitter feelings toward a person who really had done me no wrong. These feelings kept attacking me throughout the day because I felt hurt by the person. 

I was feeling miserable by the time my campus ministry meeting started that night. The message spoke to my heart because it talked about how desperately we needed God to perform surgery on our hearts to free us from our sinful nature and habits. I went back to my dorm and felt drawn to my knees. I started to pray, “Father, show me what true forgiveness looks like.” He cut me off halfway through the word “forgiveness” and put an image in my head of Jesus on the cross. He was beaten and had blood pouring down from him. He was bruised and in great agony yet He called out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” God told me, “This is true forgiveness.” 

Then the vision in my head went back to just before Jesus was crucified. I was on the platform with Jesus; one of us was about to be set free, the other was going to the cross. I knew my sin and that I was deserving of the punishment, but in my selfishness I thought to myself, “I hope that they send Jesus to the cross, because if Jesus goes to the cross then I can be free.” Jesus looked over at me and says, “That is why I came; go and sin no more.” God said to me, “That is true love.” 

With that vision I was finally able to really grasp Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He taught me love and forgiveness in a very powerful way that left me in awe. How awesome our God is!

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#64 The Great Physician

 Photo by Erin Drysdale, Erin E Photography

A fear and dread washed over me. The doctor had just told me that soon my mom may need to be transferred out of intensive care at the hospital to an institution if she didn’t start to breathe on her own. I was confused and intimidated by the doctor and didn’t know what to say or ask. Later, I asked the respiratory therapist that was suctioning out mom’s windpipe what the doctor meant. She explained that people could only be kept in intensive care for a certain number of days and couldn’t be transferred to a regular hospital room if they were still on a respirator. If after the designated number of days a patient still needed a respirator to breathe, they had to be transferred out, often to a “vent farm,” which was a facility much like a nursing home, except all people were hooked up to respirators.

I could not get the words “vent farm”  out of my head. The words repulsed me. Why would they call a place for people who had been the victims of terrible tragedies by such an awful name? Mom was in a coma after a terrible car accident and the doctors didn’t know if she would ever “wake up.” She had not been able to breathe on her own since that awful day two weeks ago. Every time the doctor tested to see if she could breathe on her own by taking her off the respirator, her blood pressure would go up so high, the doctor feared she would have a stroke and was forced to place her back on a respirator. Her body was working so hard just to breathe. Again and again they tried, but she just couldn’t do it. The doctor said soon he would give up on her ever being able to breathe on her own. This terrified me.

On September 16 the doctors told us they would test mom’s ability to breathe one last time. I didn’t know what to do except to pray. I asked as many people as I could think of to pray for her. Our family and friends also asked people to pray so that people who didn’t even know Mom were praying for her. Neighbors, people in churches, teachers and students in schools, mom’s high school classmates and friends, my 80-year-old father’s classmates and friends, people in different workplaces all over the US and even in Japan—all were praying for Mom to successfully breathe on her own on September 17, the day of the final breathing test.

That morning the respirator was turned off. My cousin stood on one side of the bed, holding her hand, and I stood on the other side, holding her hand. We stood silently and watched the clock and prayed for her to breathe. We watched the blood pressure monitor. She breathed an hour, then another. We watched the monitor that showed how much oxygen her body was getting. It was good. She breathed another hour and another. We stood all day watching her, watching the clock and praying. And by nightfall she was proclaimed to be successful at breathing on her own! Praise to God for answered prayers for her breathing! Thanks be to Jesus, the Great Physician, for this miracle of healing for my mom!

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.