Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Moses Moment

Many of you know the name Donnita Travis, the Executive Director of By The Hand Club for Kids. If you've been attending The Moody Church for any amount of time, you've probably seen her at a Sunday service or read about By The Hand in the bulletin. By The Hand is an organization that Donnita founded 10 years ago and continues to lead today -- it's an incredible organization doing incredible things. Check out www.bythehand.org to learn more.

I have heard Donnita speak on a number of occasions, but this past Saturday night at The Venue, I heard her share her whole story of how By The Hand came into existence. I was blown away. Donnita had what I call a "Moses Moment" because things changed for her in a moment when she met with God. And the impact of that moment is still literally impacting thousands of children, volunteers, donors, parents and more in Chicago and beyond. Like Moses, she didn't see this coming. Like Moses, she doubted that she heard God clearly. And like Moses, God had an entirely different plan for her life then she could have come up with on her own. 

Donnita and her husband, Daryl, were well on their way to a successful career in advertising. This power couple had a mission and were dead set on accomplishing it -- they wanted to be the best advertising company Chicago had ever seen! As Christians, they were prayerful about their business-making decisions and ran their company with integrity. You could definitely say that they were using their God-given gifts as business professionals and seeing great success.

In the mid-90s, Daryl was starting a new brand strategy company and they had a plan in place: Donnita was to get her MBA from Northwestern and she would become the President of their current advertising company. With this plan in place, Donnita really wanted God to bless it so she told Daryl she was going to slip away for a few days, head up north to get away from the city, and spend some time with God on a spiritual retreat. Donnita described this as a time where she wanted to lay out all of her plans before the Lord and ask his blessing on what they had come up with. She had been walking with Him long enough to know that without God's blessing, nothing will flourish. Insert curve ball: Donnita didn't leave the spiritual retreat with God's blessing over her new plan. She left the spiritual retreat with a mission statement and vision for By The Hand.

How did this happen!? On the retreat, Donnita was spending time in God's Word and kept finding herself thinking of John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." As she mediated on this verse, her mind kept wandering to those who do not have life to its fullness. Or those who may not even consider their life being of any value. These thoughts started to take form, and by the leading of the Holy Spirit, she began to think of the at-risk, under-served, under-educated children in Chicago. She left two days later with this vision: Donnita wanted to find a way to serve the children in the worst Chicago neighborhoods, with the poorest kids, who had the worst grades, and meet with them at the most dangerous time of the day (after-school hours).

This is where the journey began -- although both Donnita and Daryl admit that when they look back at their lives, they believe God was preparing them for this journey from day one. It took a lot of time and Donnita has faced a lot of challenges along the way, but God has used her to move mountains! Here are a few confirmations that God has blessed By The Hand (BTH) over the past ten years:
  • BTH started with 16 students in 2001 from Cabrini Green. Today, they are serving 767 students in four Chicago neighborhoods. Eighteen of their kids have gone to college.
  • They've had 15,000 volunteers help them run their programs. This equates to over 500,000 volunteer hours.
  • They've raised $17M from 2,400 donors.
  • They've served a total of 1,844 students, made 20,000 home or school visits, and served 330,000 hot meals.
  • In terms of academic success, BTH has seen 115% increase in reading, 159% increase in math, 57% of their students have gone from failing to passing, 89% graduate from high school, and 96% have gone off to college.
If your eyes are blurry from those stats, let me sum it up for you: BTH has been used mightily by God to make a holistic difference in the lives of their students. They aren't just helping them with their education, they are renewing their mind, body and soul.

The lessons I learned from Donnita and her story are countless, but I'll try to capture those with the greatest impact on me:
  1. Donnita met with God. Although she had ulterior motives, she knew her theology well enough that spending time with God is a key ingrediant to living an abundant life. She made it a priority to disconnect from the world and be alone with Him. Aren't we glad she did!?
  2. She listened. Can you imagine the tragedy of her spiritual retreat if she hadn't been willing to hear a different plan for her life? Why is it that when we hear stories like this, the person always expresses that it was unexpected? We do not have the capacity to think like God does so we can never dream up His plans for us. They are always better, bigger, and for His glory. 
  3. She moved. Once the vision was planted in her heart, she hasn't looked back. Has she hesitated a bit at times? Absolutely. But Donnita admits that she consistently prays for the faith to keep going. She shared that the more successful BTH becomes, the harder the enemy fights against them. A woman in battle doesn't sit still!
  4. She was strategic. The success of BTH didn't happen overnight. It took 3 1/2 years of a volunteer staff before she launched the ministry full-time. With each crossroad she faced, she sought the wisdom of her husband and the church. Donnita is a net-worker by nature, so she knows the value of making wise partnerships (or the pain of faulty partnerships) so she strategically places herself with people who are like-minded, passionate about serving children, and desire nothing more than bringing glory to God.
Ladies, I believe God intends each of us to have a Moses Moment. Maybe it will come in the form like Donnita's or maybe it will look entirely different. But let's believe and trust God that He has a big purpose for our lives and that if we are daring enough to ask Him to show it to us, He'll equip us to live it out. 

Much love,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prayer Circle + As Our Own

This little girl was recused before her future was stolen from her.

Does the term Prayer Circle ring a bell yet? I'm hoping to get the word out more and more -- the Prayer Circle is a prayer meeting that meets once a month to pray for our sisters around the world. And not just any sisters, but those who are at-risk, in bondage, involved in sex trafficking, and more. My first "awakening" of the intensity and seriousness of this issue came about in February when I heard the president of Women at Risk speak at our Women's Ministry Luncheon. To read the recap, go here.

The Prayer Circle was birthed from that Luncheon. A women's ministry volunteer, Diana, decided the least she could do was start praying for these sisters and ask God to stir the hearts of more women...eventually hoping the a full on movement would spring up from our church. I've seen the movement start to get going and I'm hopeful we'll soon have some tangible ways the women of Moody Church to get involved in very practical ways.

In the meantime, As Our Own is in full force! As Our Own is a community-driven movement in India that rescues vulnerable children from certain enslavement and exploitation, caring for them as our own. For over five years now, Moody has supported As Our Own. Here’s a moving account from their work. Below is a story I want to share with you for two reasons: (1) I want you to know how you can get involved with As Our Own -- the favor of God is clearly on this ministry and they are always looking for more partners; and (2) you can start making a difference by joining our monthly Prayer Circle! For details on when we meet, click here. There are no strings attached to the Prayer Circle, just come and pray and expect God to move. 

A Story of Courage, provided by As Our Own Staff

"Many of our girls have been rescued from the certainty of second-generation sex slavery. Their mothers are the ones who are enslaved in brothels—they are the ones with horrific stories of abduction and abuse into the trade.

This is true for Prema.* And so we look back to her mom’s story, to see how her mom became enslaved.

Her story starts when her childhood ended, when she was just 11 years old.

One day after school, she and a friend went for snacks at a roadside food vendor, as was typical for children in her area. These two precious girls had no idea they had been targeted by predators. Their snacks were laced with drugs, causing them to become delirious. As they stumbled about, the predators watched and waited for them to collapse.

Three days later, the drugs Prema’s mom was given wore off. She awoke a prisoner in a brothel. She endured the horrific torture and sexual exploitation that constitutes the sick initiation of a new sex slave.

In time, Prema’s mom discovered that she had been relocated some 2,500 miles across India—the same distance it would be from New York to Los Angeles. She now lived in a large city with people who spoke a different language, held captive by heartless and cruel men. She had no hope of escape and no ability to figure out how to return home again if she tried. Her captors told her she had to work off her debt. Their threats, intimidation, and torture made it clear there was no other option.

When Prema was born some years later, her mother had no way of getting her daughter out of the red-light district . . . at least, no way on her own. Hope for Prema was as nonexistent as it was for her mom.

But then Prema’s mom connected with As Our Own staff members. That’s when hope ignited, because Prema’s mom knew that if she entrusted Prema to As Our Own, her daughter would have a chance at a life outside the district. She made the incredibly difficult decision to place Prema in our family.

The love, care, education, and training that Prema is receiving thrills her mom’s heart. Prema’s mom is now an inside advocate for As Our Own—she encourages other moms to also entrust their girls into our care.

Prema’s mom is an unlikely advocate for hope, but that’s what makes her witness all the more powerful. She knows firsthand how the extreme poverty in India places girls at great risk.

She knows, as we do, that these girls will face a dark, horrific future—unless someone intervenes.

God has opened the door for As Our Own to rescue girls before they are exploited, giving us the privilege to care for each one as our own—for life. It is a privilege to love and invest in the lives of these children by giving them a new family, loving care, an English education, opportunities to nurture gifts and talents, a college education, and more.

In addition, As Our Own works to break the societal patterns that produce treacherous situations by strengthening communities through pastors, leaders, and churches that can take the transforming love of Christ to those in need. We are building strong communities through our Lighthouse Church Network and training strong leaders and pastors at our Hope College, all to break these cycles for girls in future generations.

For more information about As Our Own or to get involved, contact Sherry Quam Taylor (operations director for As Our Own—and also a Moody-supported missionary) by e-mail at info@AsOurOwn.org or visit www.AsOurOwn.org."

*Pseudonym used for safety reasons.
This moving account shows that caring for women at risk is a huge undertaking. Let’s seek the Lord together in how He might use us at The Moody Church to be His advocates for women and girls in treacherous situations. Hope to see you at the next Prayer Circle!


Friday, May 6, 2011

Are You My Mother?

My dear friend Amanda wrote the following entry -- I am so thankful for her openness, vulnerability, honesty and good spelling -- characteristics I love in a woman! We'd both love to hear any thoughts you have after pondering her words. Happy Mother's Day, ladies!
Are You My Mother?
Amanda Bennett

Mother’s Day is not my favorite day of the year.  Not even top 100 days.  As a barren woman, Mother’s Day rubs in all the wrong places.

This week, I have been pondering this question - Why should we as Christians celebrate Mother’s Day?  Is it just a silly Hallmark holiday, or is there value in celebrating motherhood?  Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of mothers, however, in this fallen world, all of our mothers are imperfect.

Growing up, I was not particularly close with my mother.  To say that our relationship was strained would be an understatement.  Today, through the power of Christ’s love and redemption, my mother is my inspiration and a dear friend.  I admire my mother not because she is perfect, but because she is a deeply flawed person who has been transformed by the love of Christ.

As I thought about my mother’s journey to the person she’s become, I’ve been reminded that God gave us mothers to point us to Him.  While our mothers have all failed to be perfect reflections of God in this world, His purpose is still there.  When we think of mothers, we think of the characteristics such as love, nurturing, patience, long-suffering, strength.  These are characteristics of God and ones that we should all be striving for as mothers or not.

I may never be a mother, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t act like one.  God designed woman to be trustworthy, loving, kind, wise and faithful.

Proverbs 31:10-12, 25-30: "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life ... Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 'Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.' Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised."

These verses describe what God wants for all women – not just ones who are mothers and wives on earth.  We can all be mothers one to another.  We may not be changing dirty diapers, but we can exhibit patience and grace to those around us.  Because our earthly mothers fall short, it’s up to the rest of us in the church in fill in the gaps.  Some of us have mothers who have been the epitome of motherhood.  Some have had mothers who have treated us cruelly or were not present at all.  Each of us desires to be truly mothered.  We can be the hands and feet of our true mother – God.  That’s reason enough for me to celebrate.

Amanda and her Mom

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This weekend was a news-doozy, was it not? First, we couldn't take our eyes off the Royal Wedding. For a "commoner", the entire event was fascinating. What woman doesn't want to believe in real fairy tales and watch the Prince and Princess get married? I mean come on...a horse-drawn carriage, an eight-foot train, a Royal tiara gifted from the Queen? It really was dreamy. And then just as quickly as we could all catch our breath, breaking news: Osama Bin Laden is dead. I was literally watching Royal Wedding coverage (still!) when CNN broke the news.

Many of us experienced the same wave of emotions -- we went from day dreaming to nightmares. We were just getting used to all the wedding details, becoming so familiar with the affair we almost thought we attended the wedding, to trying to imagine the corpse of Bin Laden. What a spectacle. I'm trying to sort out everything I'm feeling today and realize that some are celebrating the death of an "enemy" while others are praising "royalty." All the cheering and excitement about Bin Laden's death makes me slightly uncomfortable. And here is the dichotomy: unless Prince William and Kate know Jesus personally, they are just as much an enemy to God as Bin Laden was. Yikes! I hate to say it, but wouldn't you agree?

I found some truth 1 John 3 that put my spinning mind back into perspective:

13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth... 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 

Not matter where we put someone on the spectrum of Royalty vs. Enemy, only one thing will save our lives...the love of Jesus. I feel like I got caught up in the world this weekend with all that was going on -- I got a bit distracted with the headlines. But John's letter directed me to a response to all this confusion that I pray I will implement way down deep in my heart: 

1) "This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us." Thank you, Lord.
2) "And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sister." Yes. No matter how grand the crown or dirty the rifle.
3) "Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth..." No commentary needed for this one.
4) "And this is the command...to love one another." I'm sensing a theme here.

I'm still digesting -- it's hard to wrap our minds around what is happening in the world today and know how to respond as a Christian. I want to believe in fairy tales -- what joy the world felt the day William and Kate got married. And I want to find comfort in knowing the bad guys are being caught -- many expressed a sense of relief knowing Bin Laden is gone. But the world is looking to us to help make sense of such highs and lows...and when they do, "Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth..."

Are you with me?

Filled with Love,