Harder Family

Harder Family

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Rebecca's Ramblings: Our One Job

 Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

If you have grown up in the church at all, you have most likely heard these verses repeated many times, especially when a visiting missionary comes to church. We recently studied this verse at church during our life group. The one command that Jesus leaves His disciples, thus any follower of Christ, was the verses above. Why were these Jesus' last words and why was it important to Him? We have to remember that Jesus suffered a terrible death on our behalf to save us from our sin and He conquered sin and death when He rose victorious from that grave. He leaves us this command because He desires everyone to come to salvation. It was His whole earthly mission...to save us and redeem us. He didn't just give us a gift to keep to ourself, but a gift that we are to share joyfully with everyone around us. 

It was interesting to break down the verses using English grammar: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Who is to share: disciples - student, followers of Jesus. They are to accept and assist in sharing the mission of spreading the gospel. What: make disciples for Jesus. That was Jesus' expectation for all of His disciples. Where: all nations. How: intentionally - go out of your way to do the job that Jesus has commanded us to do. Why: obedience - people are dying and going to hell. We need to tell others how they can experience grace, forgiveness, hope, and freedom. We can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. 

I recently feel like God is working in my heart in a unique way. This blog post is going to just be a bunch of thoughts that I am trying to process and work through as God shows me. I am not sure what God is preparing me for, but I feel like He is trying to teach me something and I want to have open and receptive ears to hear from Him. I know I blogged in December "Is Jesus Worth It?" about a video I watched called "The Insanity of God". It deeply impacted my heart and I recalled how God had been pointing me toward this story (seeing the book read on an airplane ride to Nebraska and then "just happening" upon the video on Facebook). I purchased the book right after watching the video with the good intention on reading it right away. Unfortunately, life got chaotic with the holidays and it sat on my nightstand since then. Last week at church, I heard that the author of the book, Nik Ripken, will be speaking at our church one week during our missions month. I was excited to learn that I would have the opportunity to hear this man speak in person. It revitalized my desire to finish the book I had started, as well as read the other book he wrote "Insanity of Obedience". I have literally been devouring this book. As I turn each page and read about stories from believers around the world, I feel not only challenged, but simultaneously encouraged. I feel like these people’s stories were stepping right out of the New Testament pages of Acts and sharing their powerful testimonies. The Bible has come alive in powerful ways as I am reading through Acts, Romans and Corinthians along with this book. The Holy Spirit is kindling a passion and desire deep in my heart and I just want to seek His face and know what it is He desires me to do with this information. So for now, I'll share some of my thoughts. Maybe God has something for you too?

As I have been reading the book, I cannot help but repent of once again putting God in a box and making Him smaller than He really is. When you read powerful testimonies of God calling people to salvation through dreams and miracles, you can't help but feel like you've stepped back in time. Many times we hear that the signs and miracles were for the early church to help people believe during the early stages of the church. But the stories in the book and the testimonies I'm hearing from overseas are are current stories. They are powerful stories of the Holy Spirit calling people to salvation. Many times, people have had dreams and then they find a believer doing what God has asked them to do and they are able to point them to the answer they are looking for...Jesus. An interesting question that lingers in my head: would that Christian missed that amazing chance to share Jesus with that person if they hadn’t been obedient to the Holy Spirit to do a certain task? How sad would it be not only for a missed opportunity, but how would God then reach that person He was drawing to Himself? We each have a chance to play a vital role in the work the Holy Spirit is doing around the world! Are we missing out on opportunities around us because we are too busy?

I found it profound that Nik, when questioned about his call to be a missionary when he and his wife were applying to be missionaries, that his response to them was that Matthew 28 was his call to missions. It was such a simple answer, but it totally ties back to the verse above where Jesus is giving us His final words on earth: our one job here on earth. Nik said, "No, you don't understand. I read Matthew 28 where Jesus told His followers, 'GO!' So I'm here trying to go...When I read that chapter, I notice that Jesus never says if or whether you go; He simply talks about where you are to go! God may have to give instructions about the location - the where. But there is nothing to negotiate about the command to go- God has already made our primary task perfectly clear."

Are you seeing a theme that God is showing me? He is working on my heart and gently, but consistently, reminding me of what my mission is to be in life. I am to be sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. The beautiful thing about technology is that it really leaves us without an excuse. God has granted me and Wayne an amazing privilege as a couple. Last year we met a family through the University of Kentucky  Christian Student ministry. The family we have grown to love came to America to let their son experience America and for the wife to take some classes at U.K. The husband signed up for an English Partners at UK to practice his English. He and Wayne hit it off and then COVID hit. Unfortunately, after months of waiting around to get back to China and to their other family, they left. God is so good though. We are able to stay connected through technology and God has given us the privilege to weekly meet with this couple who are seeking to know more about Jesus. Wayne is studying the book of John with the husband and I am studying the book of Luke with the wife. The questions they ask are deep and it challenges me to really get in and study the word so I can answer the questions correctly. I know that God has been preparing us for this unique opportunity. I fell in love with the Chinese people when I traveled to China to adopt the boys. I remember seeing all the lost people around me and my heart broke within me. I saw lost people praying to idols in hopes to be heard. They don’t know about the One who loves them and died for them, who can actually hear from heaven and listens to the cries of our heart. I told God that I would move there and serve Him if that was what He wanted. Instead, God has provided a way for us to minister from our own home. I have been pondering on this concept: technology missions. How many of us could reach other people, not just our neighbors, family, and co-workers that need Jesus (they need Jesus too), but people around the world with technology and the right connections? 

As I've been pondering on this, it made me recall a sermon we listened to back 2016 from David Platt about the refugee crisis. He shared how God was moving nations around through refugees. Nations that have been shut off to the gospel are coming to free nations where they can learn about Jesus. It was a powerful message and challenged us years ago to reconsider some of our own fears. I remember God bringing neighbors into our lives in Chicago from different regions, like Jordan. It was amazing to see how God moves when you open your heart and are obedient. I had dreamed of opening a learning center to help foreigners in our area learn English and also show them the love of Jesus. I took a TEFL certification class in hopes that God would use us in this way. God had other plans and I ended up being able to use the certificate to teach our boys English. But this is one thing I constantly want to do...make myself available to God to do whatever He wants us to do. We are constantly putting seeds out to see where God may direct us. So far, God has consistently directed us to the people of China (our English partners, our sons, Chinese tutors, and others that God has put in our path).  

I jumped into bed tonight and bombarded Wayne with all that I was learning in the book and all the thoughts that I had rolling around in my head. We decided to turn on Amazon and find something to watch. We came across a documentary called "Jesus in Athens". Once again, I was blown away by God and His message to me. This documentary was a powerful testimony of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing all over the world, but especially in Greece. It reemphasized what we had listened to in the sermon by David Platt all those years ago. Testimony after testimony of God calling people to Himself. God is moving in mighty ways and when His children obey, mountains are moved and lives are transformed. 

When we first learned about the refugee crisis, we got in touch with local mission organizations in the United States who are working with local refugees. We quickly learned what a powerful ministry this was to show the love of Jesus to people in tangible ways. The love of Jesus is what distinguishes us from the rest of the world. It is what Wayne's English partner noticed coming to America and meeting believers...their love and affection for others. And the love of Jesus is what has drawn countless Muslims to salvation in Athens. 

As we spoke with people at the refugee organization, we quickly learned that the most powerful way to spread the gospel is by sharing it with those who can take it back to their own country. As refugees and students come to America and encounter the saving knowledge of Jesus, their lives are transformed. As their lives are transformed, many are then called by God to return to their countries and share the Good News with others. How much more effective is that kind of mission work? They know the language, the culture, and the environment. They have connections and hit the ground running for Jesus! 

When Jesus says to go into all the world and preach the Good News to all nations, there really is no excuse for any of us. If we open our eyes, the world is all around us. We just have to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to them. There are lost people everywhere. They are in our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplace, our college classes, and then there are those around us from all nations. There are so many opportunities if we just surrender to God and be obedient. God will provide us opportunities if we truly seek them out and want to serve Him.

When we moved to Kentucky from Chicago, I thought that all chances of reaching other people groups would be over. Chicago had so many different ethnicity groups and opportunities to reach out to them. What in the world were we going to do in a predominantly white area in the Bible Belt? I thought our options would be limited. Who would have known that there are refugees right in Lexington and that there are Christian groups working with them? Who knew that there were opportunities to build friendships with people from around the globe as international students study at University of Kentucky? When you make yourself available to God, watch out and see how He moves. God is never going to stop working here on earth to save people. He offers us an opportunity to jump on board with Him and help spread this Good News. 

But what might this look like? If I completely surrender to God and allow Him to use me, will it be easy or challenging? In the book "The Insanity of God", Nik wrote, "I had sense it in the spirit of enthusiasm and vitality of the young university students who I had met in Beijing. Those students didn't merely accept the potential out of their commitment to Christ, they embraced what they considered the adventure of following Jesus." He went on later to say, "They were personally aware of many of their spiritual brothers and sisters who had endured persecution and had come out of it with deeper spiritual roots, and more mature faith, and a greater appreciation for fellowship with other believers." Nik wrote on page 162, "I was captivated by the thought: what if persecution is the normal, expected situation for a believer? And what if the persecution is, in fact, soil in which faith can grow? What if persecution can be, in fact, good soil?" 

This statement made me stop and ponder. Our brothers and sisters in China are praying for persecution in America to help us grow. Why do they pray that? It seems like they have learned a secret that we don't know...in persecution, your faith grows and it helps spread the Gospel! In America we try to avoid and flee it. I wrote down some thoughts in my book and said, "if/when persecution comes to America, will we see the gospel prevail more and believers dig deep in to their walk with the Lord? Maybe the easy life has left us complacent instead of motivated to share the Good News." 

Between scripture verses that God has been leading me to during my quiet time, and this book, I know that God has a message for me. All my ramblings in this blog is my way to trying to process what it is that I am to learn from God from all of this. I know one lesson is about having a renewed passion to share the Gospel. I also feel like the other message is that I need to prepare myself and my family for when persecution comes. We read many missionary stories to the kids to help expose them to missions. In those stories, we read of suffering for Jesus and how God used these amazing people for His glory. Some of the stories baffle us, but we can see how faithful service to God is used to change lives. We have been struck by the times people have asked the hard question, “How long have you had this good news? And why are we just now hearing about it?” I never want to have to answer that question. 

The Bible says to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15) One of the many meetings Nik had in China with believers resulted in this conversation: "You must listen to this man! Listen to this man! What he is teaching is true. You can only grow in jail what you take to jail with you. You can only grow in persecution what you take into it." In other words, these believers were warning others that they need to be in God's Word, meditating on the truths that are in it, and memorizing it. This was further emphasized by the testimony of Dmitri who was imprisoned for seventeen years. Every time he found a scrap piece of paper, he would write down any verses or songs he could remember as an offering to Jesus in his cell. I want to make sure that I am fully equipped and prepared to not only be able to share the hope of my calling, but to also have God's Word so treasured in my heart that if my Bible were to be taken from me, I have God's Word in my heart. 

There was so many messages and testimonies in the book that I could write all day about the book and God's sovereignty and sustaining power through persecution. But I did find this warning tucked into the pages of the book. I know that God's Word speaks to this truth as well. After sharing testimony after testimony of God's work in Russia and Ukraine, Nik wrote about another nation. It was a nation who gave in to the government by making the go-along-get-along strategy for survival the most important part of their faith. In doing so, "...they pretty much forgot the very last instruction Jesus gave His followers - to go and make disciples. Since the government concluded that the church posed little threat and would probably soon wither and die, there was no need for concerted persecution to control the believers. These compromised churches had shackled themselves." It is my prayer that the church in America never bows a knee to the whims of this world. We must hold tight to the truth of God's Word and we must not back down from that truth, even if it means going to jail. The church in China shows us that jail/prison can be used as a mission field. Believers shared with Nik how they started church services in jail and witnessed to the prisoners. By the time their jail sentences were up, there were numerous believers who had not only been saved but discipled. These people then traveled to their own home towns and started new churches and the whole process began again. This is how the church in China has grown...through persecution! 

So where does this leave me? I feel in one way that I am seeking answers, much like what led Nik on this journey to travel the world and meet believers who have been persecuted. Throughout the book he shares many of his different questions he was wrestling with. One of this last questions that I read today is one that I am working through: "Is the resurrection power that the New Testament describes still ready and available to believers in our world today? I left China convinced that it was! I had learned of millions of Chinese believers who had found it and were living it. I had heard resurrection power in their words. I had sense it in their spirits, and I had seen overwhelming evidence of it in the lives and ministries of so many people still during persecution all over that country."

I know that God is moving in the world, and I know that I have the Holy Spirit living in me. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is working in me and molding me and shaping me into who God wants me to be. But how do I fully surrender and allow that power to shine through me so that I impact the world around me? What other ways can I be sharing the gospel or praying more fervently for persecuted believers around the world? How can I suffer more for Jesus to allow Him to create that fertile soil that allows roots to grow deep into Him? Asking these hard questions also stirs fear in my heart. Last time I asked these types of questions, Wayne ended up with terminal cancer. Then I am reminded of the testimony of these many believers and how God used these terribly hard things in their lives to grow them into mighty voices for Him. So many thoughts are pouring through my brain. I think all I can conclude is this: Teach me Jesus how to live fully surrendered to you so that you can use me any way you desire. Give me a willing, serving, compassionate heart for the things that break your heart. Give me your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your hands to help, and your feet to go wherever you lead me.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Year of the Ox and Ice

Job 38:22 "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail..."

Since 2017, we have enjoyed adding new cultural experiences to our family’s holidays. Every year we celebrate Chinese New Year as a family. We try to bring other people along side to introduce them to the amazing culture of China. I have such a deep love for the Chinese people. I love reading the biographies of missionaries who traveled to China so many years ago: Gladys Alyward, Hudson Taylor, and Lottie Moon. I also love reading real accounts from believers currently in China. When I traveled to China to get the boys, I fell even more in love with China and the people there. If God ever called me to go to China to be a missionary, I would jump at the chance. But God is amazing because even though I'm in Kentucky, God has given us numerous unique opportunities with people in China. Wayne and I talk weekly with his English partner and his wife who lived in the US for a year and then went home. COVID made meeting in person difficult while they were here, but Zoom and technology has allowed us the opportunity to continue building our friendship from across the ocean. Additionally, Shan Chen has an amazing tutor in China that we meet with 2 times a month. It is crazy how many people God has put in our lives that are Chinese. I always thought I'd have to travel to China to be a missionary, and yet God has given us opportunities right from the comfort of our home.

A few days ago, we experienced something unique: an ice storm. Even though we lived in Chicago 18 years and had numerous blizzards, we have never had an ice storm like we had in Kentucky! Although I agree with my northern friends that people in the south aren’t great drivers in winter weather, it’s also more interesting here: less plows and salt, hills (something flat Chicago has no clue about), etc. But I’ll be the first to admit when I heard an ice storm I thought, “How bad can this be?” I learned really quickly how crazy it can become in an ice storm. Literally our whole world became an ice rink and everything was encapsulated in ice, even the grass! It was so beautiful and scary at the same time. Now we received word that on Monday we are supposed to get more ice and possibly 8-12” of snow! The only thing that keeps me from moving further south for warmth is the knowledge that winter here doesn’t last very long and I can survive. Instead of complaining, I’ll enjoy God’s beauty from the comfort of my warm home!

Below are pictures from our Chinese New Year celebration. 2021 is the year of the ox! Every year we add more ornaments to our tree. The boys just beam with excitement when we set everything up to celebrate their heritage. This year we hired a friend from Chicago to make them a special gift for New Year. The boys had them displayed in their bedroom. It was worth every penny to see their reactions when they received them. Adoption isn’t always easy, but it is so worth it. Not only do you get to obey Gods command to care for orphans, but you open your heart to embrace more cultures around you and learn outside your comfort zone. I’m so thankful that God brought us our boys and has given us the privilege to show God’s love to them and to others in China. 

Over the years I have learned new culinary skills. Shan Chen has proudly told me that I make Chinese food as good as people in China and way better then Kentucky Chinese food. 😂 I upgraded to a cast iron wok since my other ones kept losing their coating. Next, I would love to upgrade to a street vendor wok! 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Phone Call That Changed My Life

 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

I love the verse above because six years ago I learned what God's comfort is like in my darkest days. Six years ago, I received a phone call that forever altered my life. It was six years ago that Wayne called me from Northwestern Hospital to inform me that he had a grand mal seizure at work. Although it has been many years, those moments are forever branded in my mind...the fear and the unknown of what was going on as I traveled on the train to get to Wayne in the hospital. Little did I know just how much my life would change in a short time. When I arrived at the hospital, Wayne told me that the doctors had found a mass in his brain and that he was getting ready to have an MRI. He said that the doctor prepared him to hear the news that it was probably cancer. When he spoke those words, I felt the air just sucked out of me. Cancer? How can this be? I didn't understand then that God had a crazy story that He started weaving that day. 

As I reflect back, I know that God was spending at least a year preparing us for this difficult road we were going to walk. God is so good to us that He doesn't just send us into battle unprepared. He prepares us, even if we aren't aware of it at the time. In fact, Facebook reminded me of some posts I wrote just days before Wayne's grandmal seizure:

"It is not enough to begin to pray, nor to pray aright; nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray; but we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we obtain an answer." George Mueller (1 Thess. 5:17 Pray without ceasing; Romans 12:12 ...be constant in prayer; Matt. 6:6; Eph. 6:18). I love studying the life of George Mueller. May I walk by faith and not by sight!!!"

"So thankful that God's mercies are new every morning and that we serve an amaing God. I LOVE the new devotional we are doing called "God's Names". So far we have studied Elohim (Creator) and Jehovah/Yahweh/I AM. Highly recommend this study to any of my friends with kids looking for a devotional. It goes deep and helps teach kids a proper view of our magnificent God."

"'My Heart is Yours' is a powerful song! God's timing is always perfect and He is enough! I was singing this song with the girls this afternoon." This post was written as I was on the train to go see Wayne at the hospital. God's timing is always perfect and I can see now how He was preparing my heart for the difficult road ahead.

Recently in my life group at church we have been talking about sharing the gospel. One thing I have discovered in sharing my faith with others is that if you share how God has moved in your life, no one can dispute that fact. They may try to argue things about the Bible and argue about other things about God, but when you share about the power of God in your life, it is irrefutable. No one can argue with you that what you have experienced isn't true. That is how I see our journey with Wayne's terminal brain cancer. We have seen nothing but the powerful hand of God every step in the last six years and this provides us a great opportunity to share with others about what an awesome God we serve!

In reference to the verse above, Wayne and I have been privileged to walk along others who have suffered from brain cancer. We have been able to point them to Jesus as our only hope in those dark days and share how He has been our comfort. I cannot explain what it feels like to be able to share your testimony of how God worked in your life, and is still working to this day, with someone who doesn't know Jesus. What can you share from your life with others that points them to Jesus?

Our family knows that every day God gives us with Wayne is a precious gift. Not only is it a gift because of his presence in our lives, but his cancer was a gift because we learned how to treasure each day. Although living with the knowledge that you have a loved one with a terminal illness is daunting, it is also freeing because you can talk about things most people don't want to talk about and you are able to prepare yourself, as much as humanly possible, for what is to come. We know that we need to cherish every moment with our kids and each other. This is a blessing in disguise. There are many people who lose a loved one unexpectedly and don't have the time to say goodbye or prepare. We have been given the gift of time to prepare.

Another special gift was our e-retreat with Inheritance of Hope last year. They gave us the special gift of providing Wayne the opportunity to make a video for each of our kids. They also encouraged him to write letters to each of the kids. After hearing from kids who have lost their parents and the impact the letters and videos made in their lives, I wrote a letter to each child too. I want them to know how much they are loved and cherished...not only by us, but by God. That is one reason I started this blog, to document the faithfulness of God through our journey. I wanted our kids to have something to read in the future that demonstrated how awesome of a God we serve. I never want my kids to forget that it was God who gave us the strength to endure such a dark and difficult trial. Our deepest desire is to raise kids who love Jesus with all their heart and fully trust Him with everything. Life is difficult, but with Jesus on your side, He gives you hope and a purpose.

We rejoice today in the six extra years that God has given us with Wayne. It is cray how much trauma affects the brain. Even just posting about all of this and bringing up old pictures has stirred so much emotion in my heart. The biggest emotion is gratitude to Jesus for leaving my best friend a little longer here on earth. Together as a team, we want to keep living each day that we have to the fullest for Him and His glory! (If anyone is new to our story, you can click here to go back and read our story).

Wayne getting an EEG
Wayne after his biopsy
Family photos taken before his brain surgery

Wayne after his brain surgery to remove a lemon sized tumor
The girls visiting Wayne in the hospital after surgery.

 Wayne in rehab: relearning how to walk and talk