Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And let the waiting begin...

God has showed me that He is more amazing than I thought. I apparently didn't have very high expectations. Of course He can do a little thing like raise $11,000 for His work when He owns the whole universe. Of course He can do a little thing like provide me with amazing Christian brothers who want to provide for me in my time of need: He provided for us all in our own most dire time of need as He gave His Son to die for us on the cross. So now I am left with nothing to do but trust Him in His wisdom and timing when it looks as though my much anticipated Czech Visa, paperwork I must have before I can leave for the Czech Republic, isn't going to be ready until the beginning of March. I am praying for several things at this time. I'm praying that He will make it so that I get the visa in January in spite of the 90-day wait period that usually accompanies the preparation of one of these visas, so that I can get to Cesky Tesin soon. My plan B in prayer is that He will work a miracle so the visa doesn't come through until the middle of March so I can go to my dear friend Elise's wedding on March 8th.

Am I really telling the God of the universe that I don't like His timing? It's ridiculous for me to try to tell Him that I know better than He does. But I find myself doing that all the time. I think that I want to be in control because God isn't doing things the way that I would have them done. But I don't really want them done in human fashion. If God did things the way humans wanted, we would be stuck here trying to earn our salvation. Man always tries to work that out on his own, but God knows that man can't fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. And so, even though whether or not my visa gets here when I want doesn't determine my salvation, I have decided to still prefer God's way. Yes, I want to go as soon as possible. Yes, I would also like to wait and go to my friend's wedding. But I want God to do what He wants. After all, I am going to the Czech Republic in the first place because its what God wants. I don't want to abandon His perfect plan just so that I can have things my way. My way is tainted with sin and my desires are wrong, falling so far short of God's perfection.

This wasn't meant to be a sermon, just a way to confess my frustration at being shown yet again that I am not in control. God is good and He has a good plan for my life because of His Son's sacrifice. Since He figured out salvation, I guess I'll leave the visa to Him, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Undeserved Blessings

This past week God taught me a lot about His goodness and His amazing ability to come through in need (again!). This time, however, it was in a context of particular unworthiness on my part.

I bought a new bike this summer that I absolutely LOVE. The picture above IS my bike. Sweet ride, huh? I ride it almost every day between City and East campus. This has been a fun adventure to see how fast I can make the commute and has been an very enjoyable time, allowing me to spend time outside that I never would have had I driven or ridden the bus this whole time. It has also been about my only source of exercise all semester.

Since it has been getting a little colder, I've gotten lazy and started driving instead of biking. This is important because before Wednesday, November 14, I hadn't biked for about 5 days. This means that my poor bike was locked up all by itself (and a hoard of other college students' bikes) outside my building for five days. But this particular morning I went to my bike to ride it to class. My breath caught in my chest as I went to remove my U-lock. My back wheel was gone.

It could have happened at any time during the past 5 days. And as I walked across campus to my class, I was livid. Who would steal my bike wheel? Why would they do such a horrid thing? Didn't they know that the bike BELONGED to someone, a real, live person? Needless to say, my faith in this foolish idea of "innate human goodness" was crushed (okay, okay, I don't believe in anything like the goodness of people- people are all utterly depraved apart from Christ- but at times one likes to think that people have a twinge of goodness in them, it makes being a social creature a little easier), and my morning and afternoon were nearly ruined. Also, due to my own sin, I was behaving particularly badly that day, which didn't help matters. I was pretty much a creep on Wednesday.

By evening, after mulling the situation over in conversation with my Abba, and after thinking about turning the other cheek, offering the cloak as well to a person who demands your tunic, and going two miles with the person who demands one mile from you, my attitude on the subject had changed from anger to sadness and wondering if it wouldn't have been right, had I been there when the person was preparing to steal my wheel, to offer to unlock the whole bike and hand it over. Of course I didn't LIKE the idea, but thought that it was probably a meet thing to do. I also had changed my view a little on the idea of possessions and what one truly owns, in light of the fact that you can't keep it. Yes, that's a bit extreme, but I was mentally on that topic because of what had happened.

As I went through the buffet line at CPN for dinner that night, Matthew who goes to my church was there working, and as he always does, asked me how my day had been. I told him that it had not been too good because I had discovered that I'd been robbed. He lamented that with me briefly while I was there in line, and then I moved on to go eat.

The next morning I received a phone call from him. He told me that he and two other men from the University Lutheran Chapel (my church) had been praying for me about my bike the previous evening, and they had decided that they wanted to fix it for me.

I couldn't believe that.

It is very difficult for me to accept the generosity of others for myself. So at first I hesitated, not wanting to make them do that, almost preferring to take care of it myself. But, after thinking about it for a while after our phone call, God showed me that it was good for me to let them do this for me. They had come to this conclusion while lifting me up in prayer, they are my brothers and they wanted to show an act of kindness and love to their Christian sister. So I agreed and took my mangled bike to the Chapel for them to fix. This was at 11:30 AM on Thursday.

I went about my day, going to lunch and class and so on. After I left my Biochem lab around 4:00, I saw that I had missed a phone call from Mark, one of the other men involved in taking care of my bike. He had called at 12:48 letting me know that my bike was fixed and that I could come pick it up at the Chapel at any time.

Wow! He had gotten it fixed in an hour and fifteen minutes! I rushed to the church, and there it was, two wheels and all!

I write this so that I may let you all know a couple of things. First, God is amazing. He worked in my brothers to do a wonderful thing to bless me in the midst of my disappointment. Second, God is amazing. He blesses us wonderfully beyond anything that we could ever "deserve." I was a pretty slimy person on Wednesday and Thursday, but God did a wonderful thing for me in spite of it. I have no merit before Him of my own, but only Christ's sacrifice for me and His blood covering me allow me to be worthy before my Father. And finally, God is amazing. He's got all kinds of good plans for not only me, but all people who love Him (Romans 8:28). I can't wait to see what He'll do next!

Monday, November 5, 2007

God has done it!

I did nothing.

God did it all.

In one week, God raised over $10,000 for His work in the Czech Republic. And all I have to do is go along on His great adventure and simply do what He gives me to do.

On October 9th, I suffered a massive blow: I was discouraged beyond any hope that God would provide for me to go serve Him as a missionary. But He showed me that by only being able to see the "impossibility" of the situation of having to raise all that support myself, that I was leaning on my own understanding and not trusting Him. He brought to my mind the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."

He began encouraging my heart with those words, and the following day, He provided that my pastor here in Lincoln and at home in Cordova began setting up appointments with me to speak to my congregations about my work that they might be able to raise support for me.

And here, less than a month later, before I have even spoken to half of the congregations that I have made appointments with, He has provided ALL of my support.

On Saturday, I learned that He had, in one week, provided $7,360. And then last night, I learned that He had provided the rest of it. God has called people to provide $10,000 for His work that He has prepared for me to do in the Czech Republic.


And so, in thanks, I speak to those who have supported me and will continue to do so with their prayers and their contributions with the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi: "I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Philippians 4:18-20)

Praise the Lord, for He is good, His mercy endures forever!

Let me tell you what God has done!

The following post is one that I wrote as a note on facebook, so it may not be new to some, but it still is very important and exciting to have on the blog documenting my missionary journey to the Czech Republic.

As many of you know, after I graduate in December, I will be going to the Czech Republic to be a missionary via World Mission, the mission support arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The process of preparing myself to go has been going on since the middle of this summer, when God used my dear mom to speak wisdom to me about the use of my time after graduation.

Since the conversation with my mom this summer, God has been flinging doors wide open, one after another, to enable me to serve Him as a missionary. The latest door He opened before me was in the area of my financial support. No missionary goes to the field alone, but goes, sent by other Christians who have a heart for missions but do not have the blessing of the freedom from constraints that would allow them to go themselves. And so every missionary raises up a team of supporters who commit themselves to praying for the missionary and providing for the financial needs of the missionary's ministry.

On Saturday, November 3, my parents and I went to Mission Central, in Mapleton Iowa, where a former farmstead has been turned into a major headquarters for connecting missionaries from the LCMS with potential supporters from within the church body. Also at Mission Central on Saturday was a charter-bus load of Lutheran Christians from Holdrege and Arapahoe, Nebraska. They were there to learn about missions within the Synod and about how God has provided for the needs of Mission Central and all of the missionaries by calling people with means to provide for the needs.

Near the end of the day, the director of Mission Central, Gary Thies, formally introduced me to the group from Nebraska as a brand new missionary. He told them in brief about how God has been working to call me to His work in the Czech Republic. He also then told them that I had gotten in touch with him only a week and a half prior to that day and had told him that I had no idea how I was going raise the $10,000 that I needed in order to be able to go. As I sat in front of the Mission Central guests, Gary told them that he had called World Mission a week ago and discovered that I only had $55 in my support account. Then he told them that during the course of the previous week, he'd received phone calls from people from around Nebraska and Iowa, wanting to know if there was a brand new missionary who needed support and how could they help.

He was holding in his hands a manila folder as he told them this. At this point, he opened the folder and said that during the course of the week, God had called just a handful of people to provide $7,360 for my service to Him.

I wept. It was the first time that I had heard this. I could hardly believe it.

After I had recovered somewhat, and the female members of the group had had a chance to dry their eyes, Gary invited a number of them to come up and surround me and help commission me, in the style that Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), with the laying on of hands and prayers for me. After I had been commissioned, Gary, as well as many of the guests, took a few pictures of the group of us in the front of the room.

Since then, I have been completely amazed by our big God. I do not know a single one of the people who provided for that $7,360. Not one. God raised three-quarters of my money in a week from people I didn't even know.

If you would like to know more about my service as a missionary, there are several places you can go to check that out. First, you can call me (402.417.5254) or email me (Ashley.Effken@lcms.org), or facebook me (duh). Second, you can check out my information on the LCMS World Mission web page: , . Finally, you can continue to check out this blog. I will greatly appreciate your prayer support during this time of my mission work, as I prepare and while I'm serving God in the Czech Republic.

"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cesky Tesin?

So, you may be wondering about exactly where I'm going for my service. I know I was pretty curious about this place. One day after I first learned where I was going to be serving, I was enjoying a raspberry frappuccino and the pages of Walden in a Barnes & Noble. While I was reading, my mind began to wander, and I started thinking that it might be a good idea to figure out a little bit about the place where I was going to live for at least 6 months. So I finished the frap and put my book away, and meandered to the Travel section. There I picked up the Lonely Planet book for the Czech Republic, and it really didn't have much good to say about Cesky Tesin. Basically the gist of the entry was that the only reason to be in this town was because one had just arrived from Cieszyn, Poland, or was on one's way there. Hmm.

I didn't see that as a problem, since I've lived in the middle of the United States my whole life, in a state that many see as just a boring, flat piece of land to get through on the way to Colorado. So I actually figured that in that regard, I would feel quite at home in Cesky Tesin. I also learned that Cesky Tesin and Cieszyn were, up until about 1920 and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the same city, with a river running through it. When the empire broke up at the end of WWI and boundary lines were drawn for the new nations, that river was used as the boundary for Poland and, at the time, Czechoslovakia, and so the city was divided in half. Pretty interesting, I thought. This can be seen in the following map. These "twin cities" are located on the far right-hand margin of the map. I know it's not an excellent graphic, but I did what I could. For perspective, the upper right corner of the map is Poland and the lower right corner is Slovakia.

For more information about the Czech Republic (since I've provided SUCH a wealth of knowledge here...), the official website for the nation, www.czech.cz, seems like a pretty helpful and well-informed source :P Another website that I've stumbled upon that I anticipate using extensively is http://www.locallingo.com/index.html It's a pretty good website with all kinds of audio files (RealAudio) that have a native speaker pronouncing all kinds of words and the alphabet and various different pronunciations for the vowels. In short, I'm excited about that, too. And what a blessing that I will be leaving at the end of January instead of at the beginning, so maybe I'll get a chance to teach myself some of the language before I go!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Blog

There. My first blog page, my first blog entry... I'm traveling through uncharted territory here. Today was my last day of my last fall break as a University student. I spent most of the day asleep (yay!) and working on paperwork that I received yesterday at LCMS World Mission HQ in St. Louis. My dad and I traveled there so I could have my training/information day on Monday. I learned a lot of things about the logisitics of coping with life in a foreign country, about communicating with my supporters (all of you who get to read this brilliant blog), about finances, travel insurance and my visa.

The next thing on my list to do is send in all of the paperwork for my visa. The visa preparation process takes an estimated 90 days at the Czech consulate, so I will be leaving for the Czech Republic around the end of January. This is good, because it allows me even more time for the second thing on my list: support raising. I still don't know what my percent raised/pledged is because the lady in charge of keeping those records, Debbie Feenstra, has been on vacation in Asia since the beginning of October. She will be getting back to St. Louis soon and will be processing all of that information for me. I can't wait to find out where I stand.

The whole support-raising thing is a kind of daunting task, and about 2 weeks ago, I had a pretty serious freak-out session thinking about it. But God is good, and He led me to His word by placing the words of Proverbs 3:5-6 as a cadence in my head: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." It was so good to be reminded that if God is going to send me to the Czech Republic to work for Him, He is going to make it happen. I have no need to be anxious about this.

If you have any stories of how God has led you to trust in Him in a specific way recently, do tell. Also, please send along your prayer requests. As much as you are supporting me with your prayers and your donations, I want to support you by lifting you up in prayer to our heavenly Father, "who is able to do immeasureably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Prayer Requests:
-Health: I have had a low level of sickness for several weeks, and I'm planning on going to the doctor tomorrow, but you know what they say: a treated cold lasts a week, a treated cold lasts seven days.
-Safe Travel: This weekend I'm traveling to Austin for the Texas game with the marching band.
-Motivation: I have set myself a goal of sending my visa paperwork back to St. Louis and of making a number of more support calls before the end of the week.