Tag Archive | Justice and Mercy International

Cultivate: A Women’s Gathering Around The Word

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I remember the first time I went to a women’s conference.  I was 23 and the sister-in-law of a friend of mine had invited me.  I’d told her no a few times….I didn’t really “do” women’s ministry…I thought women’s events were only for middle aged women with perfectly coiffed hair who had memorized half the Bible, prayed for others 24 hours a day, and never made any mistakes.  I was a newly minted college graduate with big dreams and little direction and couldn’t imagine what I would have in common with anyone else in attendance.  Plus there was that tiny issue of the admission fee.  I was playing violin at churches and weddings on the weekends and working part-time as a sales clerk at a high-end children’s boutique during the week.  Neither of these jobs brought in a whole lot of money and I figured paying my electric bill was more important than buying a ticket to an event.  The third time I tried to decline the invitation, an “extra ticket” magically appeared and I found myself agreeing to be picked up after dinner the following Friday night.

The speaker that weekend was a young, vivacious Bible teacher named Priscilla Shirer who spoke truth to places in my soul that I didn’t even know needed it.  A month or so later, the director of my church’s women’s ministry asked if I would be interested as serving as the first ever “young women’s” rep on the 25-member women’s ministry committee, to which I agreed (although to this day, I feel that I was an unlikely candidate).  When Priscilla returned to our church a year or two later, I found myself leading worship for the conference instead of being the scared kid sitting in the back of the room.  But when I moved to Nashville, I moved here for music and for a new town, not for anything to do with women’s ministry.  I’d enjoyed my time serving on the committee but it honestly never occurred to me that it would circle back around and end up taking center stage in my life.  But then the opportunity to work for Kelly Minter came along and I am so blessed to be part of seeing ladies lives impacted each day.  And I’m grateful daily for those ladies that poured into me ten or so years ago.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and as I look back to the hours I spent planning a “Bible Study Introduction Tea” and prepping for the annual women’s conference, I recognize that those experiences weren’t happenstance; they were preparing me for the tasks that I do on a daily basis at work.  But never has my women’s ministry journey come into play more than this summer as I work to plan the first ever “Cultivate: A Women’s Gathering Around the Word.” It has been on Kelly’s heart for a while to create an opportunity for women to come together and study the Word and worship in a simple environment.  Kelly will be teaching three sessions and our dear friend Michelle Margiotta will lead worship (Adam Moritz who produced my album will jump in on acoustic guitar and I’ll round out the trio on violin).  And because Kelly loves the people of the Amazon jungle dearly, all proceeds from the event will go to benefit the work of Justice & Mercy International, the organization that I traveled to Brazil with last year.

If you are in the Nashville area, or looking for a fantastic weekend get-away with friends, I invite you to be part of this event.  If you think that women’s events aren’t really your jam, I would encourage you to step out and join us anyway.  Sometimes the thing you don’t think you need is EXACTLY the thing you need, and we pray you’ll feel comfortable in our simple and contemplative environment  And if attending feels like a perfectly natural thing for you to do, I’d ask you to consider bringing someone else along.  You may never know the impact that an invitation (and a ticket) might make on a person.  And isn’t that what we’re called to do as Christians?  To pour into one another?  To encourage and build one another up?  We know there are so many things vying for your time and attention, but we pray that you’ll choose to spend a few hours with us in August.  Event information is below and you can purchase tickets HERE or by clicking on any of the event logos.  If you have any questions, you can leave a comment below or email me at info@kellyminter.com

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What:

Biblically focused and stylistically simple, this will be a time to seek God’s Word, worship with an elegant trio of musicians and enjoy the warmth of community.  This event features Bible Teacher Kelly Minter and worship leader Michelle Margiotta.  All proceeds will support the work of Justice and Mercy International.

When:
7:00pm-9:00pm – Friday August 15
9:00am-12:30pm – Saturday August 16

Where:

Rolling Hills Community Church ~ Franklin, TN

Tickets:

Tickets can be purchased online HERE, or in person at Rolling Hills Community Church or by calling their box office at (615) 861-3663.  All tickets are general admission.  For group ticket purchases of 10 or more, it is possible to reserve seating together. Please contact Bethany Bordeaux at info@kellyminter.com to reserve your group seating, or with any questions you may have about the event.

 

an invitation to make justice personal….

Even though Mary-Hall and I have a pretty tiny corner of the interwebs, we love when we get to use it to speak up for causes that we believe in.  You’ve heard us talk about our Compassion International sponsor children on a number of occasions, and many of you will remember my summer adventure to Brazil with Justice & Mercy Amazon (an outreach arm of JMI).

On Tuesday, October 8th, Justice & Mercy International will be having their annual fundraising gala in Nashville, Tennessee and I’d LOVE to have you all there if you’re in my neck of the woods.  Seating is limited but there are still a few tickets available if you’d like to attend.  You can find more info by clicking on this link to the gala website.  The evening is going to be a blast including music from singer/songwriters Andrew Greer and Cindy Morgan, and maybe even a couple of quick songs from me and my fiddle….

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Or, if you don’t live in Nashville, or parties just aren’t your thing, there’s another new way to support the work that Justice and Mercy Amazon is doing in Brazil.  We just rolled out this awesome line of t-shirts two weeks ago and they are selling like hot-cakes.  The baseball tee is super comfy and soft and I’m sort of obsessed with the line drawing of the boat that we sail down the Amazon River on.  (That tee comes in v-neck OR crew neck)  Or if t-shirts aren’t really your thing, there’s a handy tote bag as well.  So many ways to help make a difference in the life of an orphan, the poor, the forgotten.

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Further Reflections on the Amazon

View of one of the villages from the front of our boat.

View of one of the villages from the front of our boat.

The last time I posted about my trip to Brazil with Justice & Mercy Amazon, I was still fresh off the flight home and my heart was still reeling, so I gave you facts, because facts are easy.  They don’t require heart-searching or deep thought, emotional processing or involvement of feelings, morals or points of view.  Facts are simply statements of things that are, and truth be told, that was the easy way out.  But since then I’ve been hoping to bring you something that reads more like an Ann Patchett novel and less like the REI summer catalogue (although camping gear advertisements can be fascinating).  A way for you to see what I saw in the eyes of the people I met, hear their voices, comprehend their needs, and experience the Lord as I did.

This particular trip was a survey of sorts…to connect with villages along the Rio Negro, the branch of the Amazon River just outside the Brazilian city of Manaus where JMA has a ministry center…in the middle of the jungle.  But beyond Evernote files of photos and GPS coordinates and several legal pads of carefully documented notes of physical needs: diagrams of improvements that can be made in the future to school and church buildings, plans for sustainable projects and school supplies, we came home with hearts and minds full of stories of people.  Stories that didn’t end when I stepped off the boat and headed home to my tidy house in America, but stories of people that are continuing on each day and are being lived even as you to read this.

As I clambered off the Discovery boat and down the gangplank into one of the villages…a precarious task in and of itself that was further complicated by the ever present violin strapped in a pack on my back…I noticed a teenage girl with highlighted hair watching our group with keen interest.  She made a beeline for me after I played my violin in our short worship service, stuck her hand out, and said in perfect English, “Hello, my name is Emily…it’s nice to meet you.”  Although this ended up being the extent of her non-Portuguese language skills, I commandeered one of our translators for a few minutes so we could chat.  She wanted to know if I was friends with Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, or any of the boys from One Direction. I was curious about her knowledge of pop culture and she explained that she’d only recently moved in from another village where a friend had a TV that picked up the South American Disney Channel. My mind went immediately to my niece who is almost thirteen years old and also named Emily, and how she too loves celebrities and fixing her hair and makeup.  But unlike American Emily who is presently absorbed in summer break activities before returning to middle school in the fall, Brazilian Emily is not currently attending school as the government has failed to provide the village with a teacher for anyone over grade 6.  Teenage pregnancy is common among these villages as many of the girls have little opportunity for school or work or any kind of spiritual discipleship or guidance.  We’d seen it over and over in our travels on the river, and several of Emily’s peers, who were standing a short distance away, were already balancing babies on their hips.  My heart broke both for these other girls and at the thought that Emily might be next.  I could tell that she was smart and that she had big dreams, but also that she was impressionable and could easily be swayed by the things that the world paints as desirable.  The wistful glances she threw as a few boys her age with trendy haircuts ambled by us made me afraid for her heart and her future.

Another team member gave her a Bible and asked if she’d heard about Jesus.  She said that yes….some other missionaries had come and told the village all about Him and that she’d probably believe some day.  Just not yet.  As we sailed off, I watched her splashing around in the river, flirting madly with a boy who seemed a few years older than she was.  I just wanted to reach out and pull her on-board with us and take her home and disciple her.  Because that was not an option, I fervently prayed that she would be kept safe and that she would not only be provided for physically, but that the longing in her heart would be met; that she could find her identity in Christ and the prosperous hope and future that He plans for her…and for each of us…to have. (Jer29:11)

Emily and Me.  My prayers for this young heart are constant.

Emily and Me. My prayers for this young heart are constant.

Several of my team members and I met for dinner last Thursday night to debrief from our trip and brainstorm ways that we might translate all the information we collected into game-plans for future trips.  As we took turns sharing memories around the dinner table, a single theme seemed to resonate in all that was being said: our ministry is nothing if personal connections are not made.  And doesn’t that perfectly mirror the gospel?  That Christ calls us not to a checklist of good things to do in our fleeting time on earth, but to relationship with Him and with the Father, and with each other.  I’ve been reading through the Biblical New Testament books of Mark, Luke and John this past week and time and time again there are examples of how Jesus conducted His earthly ministry: by meeting a physical need and pointing the person straight to the Father.

“Son, your sins are forgiven…Get up, take your mat and go home” (Mk2:5&11)

“Daughter, your faith has healed you…Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mk5:34)

“He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God…AND healed those who needed healing.” (Lk9:11)

I love this model.  Jesus demonstrated that it is equally important to give someone a food bag as it is to share the Gospel with them.  To give a young girl an education and a useful skill as well as discipleship and instilling in her a sense of self-worth in Christ.  In line with this, JMA seeks to empower and bring dignity to the people of the Amazon River Basin not only through sustainable projects, relief supplies, building projects and education, but also through teaching the Word, care for the jungle pastors, and other forms of evangelism and discipleship.  I am excited to watch as they continue to find new avenues to further the Kingdom of God in Brazil, and blessed to have played at least a small role in their work.

{If you would like to make a donation to the ongoing work in the Amazon or participate in a future trip to Brazil, you can find more information by visiting the Justice & Mercy International website and clicking on their link to The Amazon.}

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Reflections on the Amazon

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I think I’ve written and re-written this blog a hundred times in my head already and I’m thinking that even once I hit “publish” I’ll be re-writing it for a while to come.  Part of the difficulty is that there are so many directions I could go on this.  There’s the “travelogue” version that tells you what I did and saw.  Then there’s the “introspective” version that tells you how what I did and saw made me feel and think.  Or the third version that tells you the stories of those I met.  I think for now, I’m rolling with the first of these that focuses on the facts.  I’ll probably share stories and thoughts later on…when I can formulate it all into something sensible.

The Amazon is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been.  We flew into Manaus on Sunday, (see map below to get your bearings) and then hopped on the Discovery boat which would be our home base until last Friday evening.  We had quite a full boat…12 of us traveled from the States with Justice & Mercy Amazon and then once in Brazil we added 1 jungle guide, 2 translators, 2 cooks and 3 crew members for a grand total of 20 folks on board!  Fortunately, our team all got along well and the open air boat prevented things from feeling crowded.  We slept in hammocks strung up on the upper deck (see the “Gear” section below for a rundown on my rig) and each night I fell asleep feeling like I was a baby being rocked by the gentle rolling of the boat on the water and woke up to the sunrise….well, actually I woke up each morning to Mary Katharine shaking me to wake me up…I slept so hard each night!

I swiped this map from the Lonely Planet website....they are my favorite Travel Guide source and also publish an excellent Brazilian Portuguese language guide.

I swiped this map from the Lonely Planet website….they are my favorite Travel Guide source and also publish an excellent Brazilian Portuguese language guide.

The "Discovery" boat.  Home sweet boat for most of our journey.

The “Discovery” boat. Home sweet boat for most of our journey.

Our daily schedule went something like this:

  • Wake up about 6:00 AM
  • Team meeting/devotional on the boat
  • Visit a village: short worship service, home visits, crafts with kids, sports with older kids
  • Get back on boat and drive to another village while eating lunch/napping/breaktime
  • Visit second village of the day: same worship service, etc. activities.
  • Back on the boat for dinner/travel near next village (so we’d wake up already near the first village of the morning)
  • Team meeting or nighttime activity or free time
  • Go to bed between 9:00-11:00

The ministry aspect of the trip was challenging for me.  I found it overwhelming to absorb the many different faces of poverty and assess how to serve those in need in a short term setting.  Especially when short-term means about two hours, and every conversation you have has to go through a translator.  But I know we gathered lots of useful information on how we can serve in the future: basic needs that can be met such as food, school supplies, education or repairs to buildings.  Many stories also emerged of individuals that have overcome great odds and those who are still facing seemingly insurmountable situations, and relationships were established.

One of the most exciting parts for me was getting to connect with people over music.  None of the villages we visited had ever seen a violin in real life and they seemed to really enjoy it.  At one village, the ladies had lots of questions about how the violin worked and at another village I got to spend time with a group of musicians: a guitarist and several singers who lead worship at the church services they hold 3 times a week.  We talked about everything from how to not be nervous “on stage” to what it means to worship versus just being good at your instrument.  On a sightseeing tour of Manaus on the last day I even ran into a fellow in the square outside the opera house named Victor who was playing the violin along to a boombox of accomaniment tracks.  Even though I don’t speak Portuguese, he picked up on the word “Bach” in my initial question and what resulted was a slightly out-of-tune, but nonetheless fun, rendition of  “Air on the G String” (arranged from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major)…proof once again, that music is the universal language.

Me with the worship team from one of the villages.  So proud of what these young people have taught themselves.

Me with the worship team from one of the villages. So proud of what these young people have taught themselves.

Busking on the street with Victor, the wandering violinist, outside the opera house in Manaus.

Busking on the street with Victor, the wandering violinist, outside the opera house in Manaus.

We also got to see some of the sights the Amazon has to offer along the way.  The pink river dolphins were everywhere although I never captured a good photo of them (but you can see what they look like here), and we saw some of the grey river dolphins as well.  We also saw several sloths, parrots and other exotic birds, and a few monkeys in the wild.  I even fed one monkey a treat after some kids cornered him in the principal’s office of the village school.  One afternoon we went piranha fishing and although I didn’t catch anything, my team pulled in 5 small black piranha.  (I kept waiting for Jeremy Wade to pop up somewhere and share a commentary on my poor fishing techniques…instead Jeneson our river guide laughed at me and muttered in Portuguese as he re-baited my hook for the umpeenth time.)  We also went “cayman hunting” one night….no worries, no cayman were harmed or killed during this adventure…but we did see lots of the crocodile-cousins and even got to hold one of the baby ones.  I also enjoyed the chickens that ran rampant in every village.  No two seemed to look alike, and none of them really looked like chickens we have in the US.

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Me feeding treats to the spider monkey after the principal banished the children from his office.

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One of the more bizarre chickens I saw on our trip.

I know I’ll post again about my trip so I’m going to wrap it up here for now.  I’m so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity, and thankful to be safely home as well.  The Lord is gracious for sure.

Gear

For those of you interested in what I brought….here’s the rundown.  I had done some extensive hammock research before I went and decided to purchase my own hammock and mosquito net rig to bring with me instead of using the hammocks and nets provided.  This proved to be an excellent decision and I would highly recommend all the products I purchased for anyone interested in hammock camping in the States, or making a similar Amazonian adventure.  I am an REI member, and they carry all of these products, but I also have Amazon Prime, and they carry everything as well…usually significantly cheaper.

  • ENO (Eagle’s Nest Outfitters brand) Double Nest Hammock  (Mine is the Navy/Royal color.  I’d recommend this over the single nest because it’s so roomy…and the DoubleNest Deluxe apparently has an uncomfortable seam down the middle.)
  • ENO Atlas Hammock Straps (Fork out the extra cash for the Atlas straps….and avoid the Slap Strap and Slap Strap Pro like the plague.  I had read this online so many times, and after watching others hang their hammocks, I realized firsthand how awesome the Atlas straps are.)
  • ENO Guardian Bug Net (again…after seeing the other mosquito nets, I realized how great this one was…especially if you’re in an area where Malaria is an issue.)
  • ENO Possum Pocket (I hung this from my atlas straps via this Black Diamond Carabiner at night to hold things such as my journal, Malaria pills, and flashlight that I wanted closeby…and then it transformed into the perfect mini day-pack to tote my camera, sunglasses, bug spray and a small Bible when we visited the villages.  Plus, my hammock, bug net, and atlas straps all fit inside at once so I can use it to store my hammock rig all together when I’m home.)
  • Cocoon Microfiber Mummy Liner (The packing list suggested a “light sheet or blanket” but I didn’t have room for anything that heavy or large in my suitcase so I opted for this sleeping bag liner and LOVED it.  It was enough to keep the breeze from being too chilly, was easy to slip in and out of in the hammock, lightweight to pack, and best of all…machine washable upon returning home.  A must for camping no matter if you’re sleeping in a hammock, or the more traditional sleeping-bag-and-tent sort of setup.)
  • Jeep Duffel Bag (I know it’s not part of my hammock rig, but I used this suitcase (in the black/blue color) for my trip and was really pleased with it.  I have a Victorinox Swiss Army suitcase that I love that I usually use for trips, but since I had to live out of my suitcase and couldn’t unpack, I found the six exterior pockets on the Jeep bag vital to staying organized this trip.)
  • Yamaha Violin Gig Bag (This was the hardest thing to find….probably because no violinist in their right mind wants a soft-side case for their acoustic instrument (this case was intended for use with an electric violin)…except me.  I would never recommend putting an instrument of any value in this case as it doesn’t offer much protection, however I have a $30 garage-sale violin that I take with me when I travel overseas and this case was perfect as it was lightweight, waterproof and had backpack straps and easy access pouches…all essentials when playing violin in the Amazon jungle.  Even still, I carried it on all my flights.  It would have been obliterated if it had been checked luggage.)
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My hammock and mosquito net.

Hammock City.  All our hammocks and mosquito nets in a row.

Hammock City. All our hammocks and mosquito nets in a row.

Brazil Bound…almost

Today I left for Brazil. Thanks to mechanical issues with not one but two planes, I did not arrive in Brazil. That won’t happen until tomorrow. But I did make it as far as Miami, Florida, so that’s better than nothing. I guess.

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I’ve been longing for an opportunity to sail down the Amazon river on a boat since 2005 when a friend at the hospital where I worked did just that and made the mistake of showing his photos to me. I totally took the bait way back then, and the hook was set last fall when I started hearing my boss Kelly Minter talk about her trips there. I’ve been praying for an opportunity to go and then two months ago this trip came together and I was able to join in.

I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen. I know we’ll be doing crafts with kids. And our nurse, Cassie, will be doing some mini mobile clinics. And Kelly and I have our guitar and violin in tow for some jungle worship action. We will be sleeping in hammocks. Beyond that, I’m rolling with the punches.

And boy, were there some punches today. Flight delays resulting in missed connections and I’m writing this from my hotel room in Miami where American Airlines put us up for the night and bought us (most of our) dinner.

The team is an amazing group and I’m already so excited to serve alongside them. Everyone has something unique to bring to the table and they are all just really fun folks to be with. I cannot think of a better group to be navigating travel delays with.

While I know I’ll have amazing stories and photos for you all, unlike my trips to Mexico, Kenya and India, I’m going to be going off-grid on this one. I didn’t even bring my laptop and I’m blogging via my iPhone ap tonight. However, there will be some updating of the JMI twitter feed and Facebook account in case you want to see how the trip is going. You can check those out by visiting the following links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/justiceandmercyinternational

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JMInternational (@JMInternational)

There’s been so much going on this week too that I’ve not even had time to tell you all about. Keith went to Kenya and returned home, the chickens are still not quite one big happy family with Beverly Clucky, my mom came to town and we organized the house, hiked, and went toy the zoo and then I shopped for camping gear for the Brazil trip with my good friends Alexis and Jason who just happened to be in town and just happen to be outdoor gear junkies. (The sentence “you should buy that…this Swede that we met when we were hiking in Patagonia recommended it” actually came out of their mouths whilst shopping). Whew. So much.

So if you pray, I’d be grateful for you to include the following things in your prayers. And if you don’t pray, but would like to make an exception and pray for these things I would be even more humbled.

*Safety for the group as we travel.
*That each of us would find ways to use our unique giftings to make this trip a success.
*That there would be ample opportunities to serve the people we encounter by treating them with dignity and kindness and meeting physical needs where we can.
*That information gained on this trip will help shape the future of the work being done in the Amazon.
*For the families and friends (and awesome house-sitters!!) we leave behind.

Mary-Hall will keep you entertained with a few blogs up her sleeve this week and ill give you a full report when I return.

Grace and peace.

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