Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Tapestry of Connections

Every once in a while I am amazed at how God weaves seemingly unconnected threads of life together, much like a tapestry. I often heard that when you view a tapestry from behind, you cannot always discern what is going on. It is only from the top view that you really see the design of the artist. This week I feel like I've gotten a glimpse at the top of a tapestry over a decade in the making. And it's exciting.

When I left California in 2005, I left behind a longstanding friendship with Mike Broyles, a pastor on the staff of another church in my city. Mike had been a constant encourager and partner in ministry in our community. After my departure, Mike's role at his church ended and he transitioned into serving in the jail ministry he had been a large part of while on the church staff. This involvement led to his becoming director of Awana Lifeline, a ministry to prisoners that uses two Bible study curricula to lead prisoners to Christ--Malachi Dads for men, and Hannah's Gift for women. Mike stayed in touch and would let us know what God was doing as these ministries expanded. 

A few years after I came here, Kevin and Tia Reilly returned from Costa Rica because Kevin's leg injury from years ago had created such pain that the solution had to be amputation. Kevin and Tia settled here in Cedarville, took on lots of ministry, helped our church's missions program, and wondered if God had another chapter in missions for them. Kevin got his M.Div., Tia got a Master's and went back to teaching as they served on our Global Outreach Team.

Meanwhile, LuAnn Ragle had heard about a nurse she knew who had wound up in prison in Dayton. She sensed God calling her to reach out to this woman, named Leah. It was out of her comfort zone, but she continued to meet with her weekly to share Scripture and teach her the truth about God through Scripture memory, Leah's faith came alive, and she became a strong testimony to her fellow prisoners as she waited to be released. Once she was released, Leah began to use her testimony to speak to women about how God's grace came to her and redeemed a horrible circumstance. My wife, Kathy met Leah and became a friend, and had her speak to her ABF class here, at "Beat the Blahs," and at Safe Harbor, where she was eventually hired.

A few years ago, Mike asked if Grace might want to help Lifeline take its prison ministry to the Dominican Republic in 2016. We decided to fund their "Returning Hearts" event (reuniting prisoners with their children) through the Harvest Offering and to send two couples to help: the Reillys and Chris and Pam Miller. Kevin and Tia decided to go because it was a Spanish-speaking opportunity. 

Mike came to Grace last July to say "thanks" for our help and our decision to support this ministry to the DR. While here, he mentioned the need to find a woman who could help lead Hannah's Gift and his desire to see Lifeline programs come to Ohio. Kathy thought of her friend Leah. She called LuAnn who called Leah, who came to Grace the next day to meet Mike. He encouraged her to start teaching a Bible study, so she began to do Hannah's Gift at Safe Harbor. 

So, guess what's happened?

Leah's ministry continued to grow, and she received permission to lead Hannah's Gift in the facility where she had been a prisoner--an unheard of development. Mike facilitated training at her church for volunteers. And as July began, Leah led a team of 16 into the prison to begin Hannah's Gift. with 30 women prisoners.

Kevin and Tia Reilly found the Malachi Dads experience in the DR to be a confirmation that they could return to overseas work. We prayed and sought God's will for them, and we determined to send them back to Costa Rica, where one of their ministries will be to begin Malachi Dads for Lifeline there--a new country for this ministry. They arrived back in that country the same week as Leah's ministry in the prison here to take up their work. 

And this fall, a second "Returning Hearts," funded by Grace, will serve Malachi Dads graduates in the Dominican Republic, but also will model the effectiveness of the program to chief law enforcement and prison officials from all over the Caribbean and Latin America. 

A friend far away stayed in touch.

A friend sensed God's call to reach out to a prisoner.

A couple sought to find ways they could serve God again in Central America.

And in God's amazing plan, these three threads were woven together in our midst, and now we celebrate the beginning of a ministry in a prison in Dayton, the renewal of a ministry in Costa Rica that will reach prisoners there, and an upcoming event that will reunite prisoners in the Dominican Republic with their kids and show a whole region of the world what the power of the gospel can do behind prison walls. 

What an amazing weaving together by God!

What an amazing God!

What a privilege to be here at Grace in Cedarville and see how God used us to be the point at which these stories intertwined!

And who knows what God may weave into the the design, or who might be a part of it, next?