Expect the Unexpected
Sometimes in life, things don’t go as we had planned…or as we expected they would. Often our vision of what God’s plan should look like pales in comparison to what His vision is for our lives, for His church and for His Kingdom. Over the last 17 years, Memorial Road Church of Christ has witnessed countless unexpected blessings out of our Missions Sunday projects – disaster relief trips that resulted in long-term mission work in Cuba to grassroots church plants growing to serve refugees in Vienna.
If we are open to seeing the Spirit work in our lives and throughout the church, these same unanticipated opportunities can be seen everywhere. This year for Missions Sunday, we’ll reveal the beautiful examples of unexpected, life-changing work happening in Oklahoma, our nation and the world because of the faithfulness of this church to support missions and because of the Lord’s never-ending commitment to seeing his work flourish, even when we least expect it.
By The Numbers
My favorite statement from Austin goes like this:
“Bev – I thought when you were talking to me about the gift of a second chance and you gave me Jesus Calling to encourage me, I thought you are a nice lady so I’ll read it.” He grabbed my arm and said, “now I can’t live without Jesus.”
– Beverly North
“I had no health insurance, and no way I could figure out how to afford the medicine to keep me alive, to be there for my 3 children and 3 grandchildren. I had started having mental and emotional problems, but now I can cast them away. I look forward to the future, I have gotten my mind together enough to start my own business. And I am so thankful for you saving my sanity and my life. I feel like a walking miracle. I have an opportunity to be a positive influence in my family’s life. Thank you, thank you!“
“I battled drug abuse/alcohol abuse and have been in violent relationships and was incarcerated more than once. That is my past; now I have been clean for 4 years. I reunited with my family, have a job and I know I am blessed. Yet my Hep C was still looming over me, I knew it was damaging my body and threatening my life. Then I was referred to the Hep C clinic. To know I could get treatment, be cured and continue to make a new life for myself was one of the greatest joys I could imagine. Now I am curing, it is like my past is wiped away. I am holding down a good job, being a productive citizen. It has truly been a new beginning for me. “
Rural Oklahoma Ministries
I first met Jerry at a bible study I was leading in Cordell, OK a little over two years ago and I remember Jerry coming up to me after one of the studies and saying, “I think I know why I became a doctor.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because I like to be in control,” he said. He went on to say, “I think God is telling me I need to let Him have control.”
Within days Jerry began to seek God’s will in earnest as he agreed to study the bible with me one-on-one. Meeting in Jerry’s home we were soon joined by his wife Stacey. But just when their lives were making a dramatic turn towards God, a very unexpected tragedy struck resulting in Jerry being sentenced to 4 years in prison 18 months later. Neither Jerry nor Stacey could have foreseen the tragic and unexpected turn of events that would result in Jerry’s incarceration, but God could and He worked in advance to prepare them for it. In July of 2017, Jerry and Stacey were baptized into Christ. A year later Jerry was sentenced to prison.
What would have become of Stacey and Jerry had God not showed up so unexpectedly in their lives at the time that He did? Only God knows. A better question is what became of them because He did?
Regarding Jerry, he is now serving his time at North Eastern Oklahoma Correctional facility in Vinita, OK. He receives letters from brothers at the Cordell church and I have just been cleared to make pastoral visits which will begin this month. Jerry has begun tutoring other inmates, and as an example of the heart of Jesus he is developing.
Stacey has been surrounded with love by her new sisters in Christ from the Cordell church. Not one to easily accept help from others, Stacey has grown to appreciate and rely on the emotional and spiritual support of these women. As a witness of Stacey’s growth in Christ, Melanie Hubbard described Stacey as, “fearless despite her struggle with loneliness, anger and worry. She has made every effort to serve others in every way possible. . . She is a devoted and willing Christ follower.”
– Jim Weaver
South Walker Church of Christ Hispanic Work
India - Mani Pagidipalli Work
“There is hope for every single soul! I know of thousands who are Christian now, who could not wait to wash away their sins when they heard the Gospel. I also run into people who blatantly oppose Gospel, persecuting and killing Christians for their Faith!
I know of a man (seen with me in the photo) who tried to kill (almost did) his wife because she is a Christian and she would not quit worshipping with other Christians in a village. But he later became our brother in Christ. Just when everybody thought he will never change and that there is no hope for a man like him, the Devil was defeated and Gospel won his soul! And that is just one of the many I know of in India.
Lives and eternities change and sharing a tiny part in that glorious thought with each one of you is all worth living this life the way I have been for Jesus. Every soul that I see out there without Christ keeps me going for I fully know that they too have hope and what God is offering them in Jesus!”
– Mani Pagidipalli
New Zealand - Justin & Jennifer Cherry
“When we started the Back to School Project it was our intentions to just help a few kids receive a backpack and supplies for the beginning of school year. But God had much bigger plans. Our first year we didn’t know how we would be able to provide for 10 children, much less the 30 we were wanting to help. That is when the unexpected happened.
A NZ donor gave $5,000 for the project and then commercial businesses and community individuals came on board to help make this project happen. But from there God kept blowing our expectations away. This last year were able to help 60 children due to people and businesses coming alongside.
We have been able to meet the families we are helping and get to know their needs a little more. We have had opportunities to share why we are doing this project and how Jesus is on a mission to redeem communities and we can be a part of that. This next year we are looking to take on two schools.
Future plans are to get more involved with the families to help create healthier systems through budget management courses and life skills equipping. We are dreaming big in this project, looking at all the possibilities of how we could impact community for Jesus. Because our God has taught us to expect the unexpected.”
– Justin Cherry
Kenya - Mombasa Missions
Austria - Vienna Project Apartment
“How can you tell what God is going to do with a decision that you are making right now? I‘m here to tell you that you can‘t. You likely have no idea how the decisions you make today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now will affect the Kingdom of God. But, there is hope! You can be sure that God has already planned ahead for you and He will use your decisions and actions in a major way; it just might look different from how you imagined.
How do I know? Well, I have glimpses of it from reading stories of Noah and Abraham. But also because I am living that experience in Vienna, Austria. Decisions that four families made years ago to do missions in Vienna, the impacts of politics, and decisions people made in a language we most likely will never speak collide in the Danube Church of Christ (Donau Gemeinde) and the Lord‘s Kingdom grows. Family invites family. Friends invite friends. Refugees uprooted from their homes share the gospel with others who have been displaced. Bible studies, late night conversations, inflatable pools filled, curious onlookers…God is growing His kingdom in ways entirely unexpected but immensely exciting.
Will you pray for these people He has put in our path? Will you call on God for them by name to be filled with His Spirit; to listen to His voice, His Word; to be strong and courageous in their faith? People like Martin, Abina, Adelina, Wafa, Afsaneh, Mehdi, and others. Those that have not yet made a decision: Omid, Judy, and Merhdad. The church of Christ in Vienna greets you and thanks you. To God be the power and glory forever. AMEN!”
– Jake Haskew
Croatia - Mislav Ilic
“Kuslanova Church had two baptisms in November, mother Jelica and daughter Zeljka. It was an emotional moment knowing how their husband and father Dusko was also baptised just before his passing away in March 2018.
Dusko was a good man but he did not need God in his life. Then severe sickness happened to Dusko. He got diagnosed with brain cancer which was operated. For a short period he was better. During this period he started to think about God.
He was saying to his family how they should believe in God and be thankful for real values in life. In the period when Dusko was stable, he desired to be baptized. But, sickness was advancing. Soon, he was immobile and started to have night mares and apparitions. This was troubling him very much. His family had to place him in nursing home. With rapidly getting weaker he barely managed to ask for Mladen Dominic and me to come.He couldn’t say much. We asked him same question and after Mladen asking him does he know why he wants to be baptized, he cheerfully said “because of resurrection”. After managing to admit his faith in Christ, I baptized him while he was laying in his bed. After baptism we anointed him with oil and prayed for his health.
Miraculously, Dusko gained peace and night mares and apparitions disappeared. His room mate testified of this as he was witness of baptism and prayer. In his last talk with Jelica he asked for forgiveness from everyone and how he is forgiving all debtors owning him money. His wish in nursing home was to go home. And he did, he went home to God, his heavenly Father.
Here is important message to all, believers and unbelievers: make peace with God, don’t wait until you get sick, make peace with fellow people and be thankful for every gift God gives.”
– Mislav Ilic
Guatemala - Health Talents Clinic
“In late October, I received an email from a lady that lives is Kentucky. She reached out on my blog, asking us if we could help a man who needed surgery. Her group had seen him but turned him away because they were overwhelmed with the situation. She did not have a name or the community that he lives in.
It took me about five weeks to find this gentleman and his name is Armando. He lives in the department, Jalapa. I have included the photos with Armando’s permission. He has carried his lipoma for 20-25 years and could not receive assistance.
I met him first in Chichicastenango. He and his son traveled 10-11 hours by public bus. We prepared him for surgery and he had the lipoma removed by the Health Talents surgical team in January.
Ever since Armando had his surgery in Montellano, he and his son have stayed in close contact with Gaspar and me. There are no words to express their grate- fulness to HTI for this life-changing surgery. Before and after the surgery, they have shown interest in becoming Christians. Their background is very strong Catholicism. With all the excitement and joy that they are experiencing, we wanted to be sure they fully understood what accepting Christ and being bap- tized involved. We have searched and searched for other Christians to help and disciple them, if they did want to move forward. We are still searching.
Today, Armando and his son left their home at 2 AM to come and see us in Lemoa. Gaspar and I spent about 30 minutes with them and then I started see- ing patients. I knew that their primary purpose in visiting was to study with Gaspar so before they left the office, I said,
“Ask the same question that the crowd asked in Acts 2. The answer to salvation is the same today as it was then. Gaspar will use the Bible to show you and ask him all of your questions.”
Gaspar came to get me after a three hour discussion with them. They are going to continue to study and search the Bible. Their desire was to return home, to share what they have learned with the other eight family members. They wanted to bring everyone to clinic today but did not have the money. Their hope is that the others will also under- stand and have the same desire that they have. Their dream is to plant a church in Jalapa.
They believe that the purpose for carrying this “illness” for so long was to bring them to Christ.
Gaspar is contacting other congregations to help teach and disciple this family. Again, the travel is difficult to this area. We dream of this family wanting to be baptized and it this comes to be, we will have to shuttle the family to a different area since it is a very dry area and there are no rivers.
Please be in prayer that Armando and his family will continue to seek God and that we can find people to help and sup- port this family. We expect to hear from them in two weeks.”
Brazil - Mel Latorre's Timothy Project & Niteroi Congregation
“One of the ministries the church in Niterói, Brazil offers is the School of the Bible. Through this ministry we offer evangelistic Bible studies to people in the community. In September of last year I was teaching a class on Monday nights. One night about six weeks in to a study a woman showed up early for class and I noticed that her lesson was blank even though we had gone over it the week before, so I wondered if she had some questions about the content and I asked her if she wanted to talk more about the lesson to understand it better. She then mentioned to me that she was erasing her lessons so that she could later go over them with some young women in her house.
I was very pleased to hear that and I offered to give her the four extra lessons I had printed off that week. The next week I was eager to ask her how things went and she said that it was nice to have the extra lessons; I asked her if four more lessons was enough or if she needed more. She replied that a couple more would help. I asked her if she needed more than that and she admitted that yes, even more would be nice. As it turned out, she needed twelve extra lessons! How wonderful it was to hear that this person was studying the Bible and then going out and sharing what she had studied with twelve other women.
This year she is participating in a study of the Gospel of Mark. As a church we bought her twelve Bibles so that she could continue studying with these women. She has shared that the group has grown from twelve to approximately twenty people. We have been in prayer for this effort that God will continue to work and give us more and more opportunities to share the Good News with the people of Niterói.”
– Mel Latorre
Cuba - mission team & house church
“First of all, you must know this about Cuba. Cuban transportation system is not like mostly of countries around America, it’s different in many ways, there is only one national transportation bus in a reachable price. There is many other buses but with unexplained prices just for tourists, in this case because of the prices and the lack of reachable transportations, we tried the cheap one.
Well the thing is, God has his plans and sometimes are very different from ours.
We woke up early in the morning in Trinidad, like an hour ago of distance to Sancti Spiritus city, our first goal. Finally we arrive early like we planned that morning to the terminal, thinking to have two tickets we
try to sign up on a waiting list where every time a bus arrives and there are empty vacancies they call those who are on the waiting list.
It was almost ten hours of waiting. You imagine the anguish. That day we plan to arrive before the afternoon to Artemisa, city approximately two hours after Havana. We had talked to a lady who planned to rent her house for our stay in the city of Artemisa for our mission there with the team. That had been the planned day to meet and discuss the rent and make arrangements before moving from Trinidad in Sancti Spíritus, six hours away. Finally after almost ten hours of standing and waiting for a bus, it arrived and we were able to go but only to Havana. Upon our arrival in Havana we had to take a bus or a car to the city of Artemisa. But we arrived very late in the evening that day.
The suspense factor in the story is that I called the lady of the house in Artemisa dozens of times but she did not respond to any of my calls that day. We had to stay in the building of one of the churches in Havana. We slept there that night with the idea of leaving early for Artemisa. We were worried because we did not know if the woman could not attend us the next day or if she had regretted it. We prayed that night and we hope for the best by putting our faith in Jesus. The next day we took several buses in Havana to get to a terminal where there were trucks for Artemisa. We rode one and left early in the morning.
When we arrived at the house of the lady, she was waiting for us and she told us, my sister got sick and we had to go to the hospital. I was in the hospital the whole day and I returned late at dawn. All our concern and the fact of not being able to travel the previous day was not in vain. God knew we could not get there the day before. If we had arrived, we would not have been able to fix anything with the rent lady. Definitely our plans although sometimes they seem to be out of God’s hands. God knows and wants the best for us. He has better plans. His ways are better than ours.”
“Story of an unexpected door opening: The preacher and I in Northern Ireland are involved in an inter-faith forum that works to educate others about faiths, show that community is possible together and be a support group for each other. This group involves Christians in their various groups(Catholics, Protestants, non-denomination, evangelical), Mormons, Muslims, Hindu, Baha’i. Come to find out, when I joined this group they were going through and at each meeting someone was sharing their faith.
This has been a blessing in itself by showing the humanity all of Gods creation shares and continuing the trend of people not fitting textbook definitions. Naturally being the only person under retirement age everyone was very excited to listen. The group was very thankful and appreciated the wisdom that came from the story. Most stories do.
Nonetheless the biggest door it has opened is with the Imam and the Muslim community. Even though there are distinct differences in beliefs, I am able to share Christ with them every interaction because of the relationship we now share.”
– Chris Crowder (in Ireland)
Intermission/ Third Culture Kids (TCK) Support
“I think a great story of the unexpected for me was the fact that Carissa Tripp was at our first Global Reunion ever. She was 14 years old, and hurting so badly as she left her beloved Brazil. She had lived in Campinas for a large part of her life, and the upheaval of leaving her home as a teenager was crushing.
She continued to join us at Global Reunion for several years, and we watched her find her feet, and then decide to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to bless others. Carissa and her husband, Sam, became part of our InterMission team to Nairobi, Kenya, in order to bless and prepare TCKs from East Africa for transition.
Who knew that hurting teenager would one day be such a blessing to missionary kids? An unexpected joy indeed!”
– Cherry Hart
Missions Bible Class
“When a woman sent a private message to me through the Mission Bible Class Facebook Page I was happy to hear how she had used the resources and, especially one of the songs, the “Hippopotamus Song”, for a VBS at her church. This is the “expected” way the website blesses people.
What was unexpected was the “rest of her story”. This woman was also a mother of four children. Her youngest was born in a difficult time and with many challenges. Because of his emotional problems her son cried continuously and could not be consoled. One night, this distraught mother sought the distraction of the internet as she stayed awake trying to comfort her crying child. She looked back at the website she had used for her VBS and, remembering that happy time, she listened to the “Hippopotamus Song” again. While she was listening she was shocked to find that her baby stopped crying and listened. As soon as the song finished he began crying again. She played it again and it worked a second time. She tried other songs on the internet but only these amateur, accapella videos seemed to calm him. Each night she went back to them over and over again and they always calmed him. Besides the “Hippopotamus Song” others like “If You Love Jesus” and “All Wrapped Up and Tangled Up in Jesus” became his favorites.
She went on to write…”I’d like to say we would be here now, no matter what, but I not actually sure of that. There was a time of darkness and despair that didn’t seem to have an end, and you brought light and hope then. The simple kids songs brought peace and calm when nothing else would, and I will forever be thankful for what you gave us.”
God certainly used this ministry in a way I had never expected!”
– Mary Nelson