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September devotions

Please enjoy the Daily Devotions for September.
Each day, a new devotion will be listed at the top of this page.

 

To view previous month: August

 

September 21
Window of Opportunity

A number of years ago I got to know Lily, a Taiwanese student studying in Colorado. She attended a few events and Bible studies during the course of her studies, and then moved to another state after graduation to pursue a post-doctoral degree. Just before she left Colorado, her brother came to visit for a few weeks. Lily asked if I could find somewhere for him to stay. I arranged for him to stay with one of my volunteer families.

Fast forward several years, I sensed God kept putting Lily on my heart. I tried several different email addresses to get in touch with her, but hadn’t succeeded. Then one day, I stumbled across her name in a file on my computer and quickly zipped off another email. She replied the next day, telling me that she had lost my email address too and felt so glad to hear from me again.

She shared that she had spent one year in Missouri before returning to Taiwan to work. And then she shared about going back to her hometown for her brother’s baptism! Apparently, the volunteer family who had hosted him gave him a glimpse of God's love and grace, attracting him to seek to know Jesus and then accept Him as his personal Savior. Lily went on to talk about the support and encouragement he had provided her as she learned to live out true Christianity.

Currently, Lily is on a 2-year work assignment in another country where she actively participates in an international church and cell group. After some back and forth about her walk with Jesus and more catching up, I shot off a quick email to the volunteer family who had hosted Lily’s brother so many years before. I shared with them that during that small window of opportunity, their influence had inspired him to press into Jesus and in the long run, encourage and nurture his sister’s fledgling faith into a dynamic commitment.

 

Reflection:

We don’t get to choose how long we have to speak into someone’s life and heart. Make the most of every opportunity to live out your faith and witness—you never know how it will affect their life, now or in the future.



Isaiah 55:11
It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

Submitted by:
Laura, Colorado

September 20
Playing the Fool

“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly,” Proverbs 26:11, (NASB).

Does that get your attention? It surely got my attention when I read this recently. I was awake virtually all night long. What was I doing? Worrying! About what? Things that do not really matter all that much or the things I cannot control.

So, around 5 a.m., I was reading Proverbs and came across this gem. I was being the “fool” who was repeating his folly. I was anxious for things all too often…even to the point of losing sleep. And…I was properly disgusted with myself. How many times do I play the fool, preaching one thing but living quite differently?

How about you? Are you a fool in some area? Do you repeat your foolishness over and over, never changing? I encourage you to ask the Lord---and maybe a family member---if you are such a fool.

When you find out where and how you are being so foolish, do not just say “I’m going to stop that…”  Have a battle plan---anticipate the attack! Post guards around your mind and heart. Recognize your own patterns as to what precedes the sin that so easily ensnares you. Then, if you see such a pattern developing, put your battle plan into action.

Let’s stop “playing the fool”! Remember this verse and think about to what we are compared when we repeat a folly.


Reflection:

Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Most of us would agree that this is true, but how many times do we go right back to it anyway? When you catch yourself ruminating, turn your thoughts to God and worship Him. He has the ultimate control.



Acts 17:28, 30
For in him we live and move and exist. ...‘We are his offspring.’ “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”

Submitted by: Ed, North Carolina

September 19
Just What He Needed

 

Lin came to the United States as a freshman with a heavy burden on his slight shoulders. As the only child of his elderly parents, he felt great responsibility for the investment they had made in sending him to America for his education. They had used all their savings to help him get here and relied on that investment to improve his chances of getting a great job (and in turn, supporting them through their latter years). He clearly felt the pressure and weight of this responsibility.  Right away, we matched him with an ISI Friendship Partner (FP) family for support.

Although Lin liked the idea of his connection to an American family through the FP program, he rarely made himself available to meet with them during the first semester. He wanted so badly to succeed in school that he studied night and day. At the end of the fall semester, Lin finally felt free from the pressure of his classes and stayed the entire month of Christmas break with his FP family. During this time, he bonded deeply with them.

During that first winter break, Lin accompanied his FP family to visit both sets of their parents and extended family members for the Christmas festivities. That turned out to be exactly what he needed! After five months away from his home, family, and familiar culture, Lin had felt sad and lonely. The time with his FP family (and their extended families) deeply ministered to his need for friendship and family connection. Throughout the semester, Lin only met with his FP family during breaks, but their relationship deepened.

His FP family helped to disciple and nurture Lin’s young faith, for Lin had come to know Christ personally just before coming to America. They encouraged him to meet with the International Student Christian Fellowship on campus and to join the family for church on Sundays. Lin did begin to attend the fellowship and church when he could.

Then, in his second year, Lin felt more secure in his studies and met more often with his FP family. He began to take on a leadership role in the campus fellowship and, over the Christmas break, joined a group of Christian international students attending the Urbana mission conference along with 18,000 other believing college students. That trip changed his life!

When Lin graduated with his degree, his parents made their first trip to America to commemorate the occasion.  They spent the two weeks with Lin’s ISI FP family, who gently and faithfully witnessed to them. Two months after their return home, Lin’s mother became a believer. As a result of seeing the changes that Christ had brought in his son and wife, his father put his faith in Christ a few years later.

Lin went on to attend a prestigious school in the northeast to earn his MBA before returning to his home country. Today, he is the administrator of a large Christian school in his country. He also teaches high school students weekly in his church, reaches out to a hidden people group several hours from his home city, cares for his widowed mother (as well as his own wife), and studies for his Masters of Divinity degree online.

His ISI FP family has stayed in touch with Lin through the years and recently got to meet with him and his wife for a weekend in Hong Kong. Because of their very positive experience with Lin, his FP family has gone on to reach out to dozens of other international students through ISI’s Friendship Partner ministry.

 

Reflection:

We never know how the seeds we sow will end up, but we must take every opportunity to reach out to people right where they are. We may never know whether the seeds took root and we cannot control whether they will sprout, grow or produce fruit; however, we must do our part to plant them and trust the results to God.


Mark 4:8

Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!

Submitted by:
Derrah, Texas

September 18
Quiet Witnesses

The great thing about our times of fellowship with international students, who are in different walks of their faith, is to see how those who are closer to the Lordwhether they’ve already accepted Him, or are close to making a decisioncan be models for those who are seeking.

On a recent road trip, I had such a wonderful time talking about God with the students. While some of the students and I were engaged in great discussions about God’s will for our lives, others just sat quietly and listened. At the end of the trip, one of the students took my arm and said, “Judy, I want to know more about God and my purpose.” Does it get any better than that? When students see other students—like them—following Christ or interested in seeking Him, it makes them consider this relationship as something possible for themselves.

                                                                                                     

Reflection:

Participating in fellowship with others who believe is a good opportunity for seekers. They are able to see from “a safe distance” what it might be like to be followers of Christ themselves.


John 15:8

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

Submitted by:
Judy, Texas

September 17
The Wall That Love Brought Down


Reflection:

Nothing is more winsome and irresistible than godly love for someone else, especially when shared with a stranger in need. No slogans, witnessing techniques, gospel tracts, or outreach strategies have the same strong ability to break down barriers and overcome objections to faith. Isn’t it reassuring to know that our love for others is far more important than the need to master any religious skill or strategy?



1 Corinthians 13:1
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

September 16
God Never Gives Up

Sometimes we can spend years with our international friends, talking to them about Jesus and the way to truth and salvation. And it seems they don’t hear or believe what they hear. But we continue to be faithful, as Jesus wants us to be, offering our friendship without strings attached.

Recently, we enjoyed a visit from our first international friend from 10 years ago—Binh from Vietnam. After spending hours and hours in our home, and in Bible study with Don, Binh left Buffalo seven years ago to become a professor in Arkansas…. still an unbeliever. Don visited Binh and his wife (Thien) five years ago, and prayed that God would reveal himself to them.

Well, it turns out God did just that. Thien explained that during a very difficult delivery of their first child, she turned to God in prayer, asking for help and asking for healing for their new baby. God answered powerfully, and now Thien believes in God. As for Binh, he says he has “a heart to believe God.” So he is ready. Our next step is to set up a Skype Bible study with them to encourage their growth.

How amazing! When Binh and Thien were with us, they so resisted making that commitment. We couldn’t believe they finally came to the point of believing. It just goes to show that God never gives up! And neither should we! Praise God!

 

Reflection:

Even if you spend hours with others who don’t seem to show an interest in spiritual things, do not give up on them. There’s no telling what influence you’ve already had. God is at work. Believe it!


2 Peter 3:9
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

Submitted by: Don and Ruth, New York

September 15
Minus One

Japan recorded 30,000 suicides in 2008! What are 30,000 suicides minus one? Our answer to this difficult question is one precious life saved! For several months we had managed to keep the balancing act of all the usual plates in our lives and ministry turning; a weekly ICF meeting in our home, homeschooling our kids, trips and activities with students, and all this while expecting our third child. But the overwhelming amount of our time and energy had gone into keeping one young man from taking his own life.

At first Shane appeared like any other international student, excited and ready to fulfill his dream of studying abroad. But things quickly turned serious as we learned more about his near abandonment by his parents as a child, and the abuse and neglect he experienced most of his life. We responded by giving him more and more of our time, as did the wonderful Christian family we had placed him to live with. But it felt like trying to fill a hole-y bucket with water. It just seemed to come pouring out, and have little impact. And when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, he attempted to overdose in the home of his host family.

After much scrambling, phone calls, and a quick collection of all sharp items, we brought him to our home. Throughout the day and all that night we took turns staying by his side, along with the help of two co-workers. By 10:00am the next morning, we had him scheduled for an appointment with a Christian counselor.

The time with the counselor went well, but his school psychiatrist had him admitted to the Psychiatric Ward of the hospital believing Shane remained in great danger. He stayed in the ward for six emotional days and then returned to our house for another six days. He showed great improvement during this time. We talked and prayed night and day to determine if it would be best for him to remain here in our foreign culture and receive treatment in English, or return to his homeland where most of his problems began. In the end, we felt the Lord led us to send him back home.

Since his return, we have maintained some contact with Shane. We know that he continues to live (praise God!), learn and face the issues that have challenged him for so many years. May God bless and expand the love and effort we poured into saving this one life.

 

Reflection:

We live very busy and full lives, but we need to take care not to let the busy-ness of life and our to-do’s become more important to us than the souls of those around us. Take the time to listen to what others say, even when it’s not in words, so that you don’t miss out on an opportunity to minister into weary lives.

 

Matthew 11:28-30
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Submitted by: John, Oregon

September 14
Searching for Hope

Recently, I found myself in what certainly felt like a “hopeless” situation. Circumstances did not seem like they could get any worse. I did not even know how to pray about the situation because it seemed so hopeless. Glumly, I went to my concordance and did a word-search on “hope” in the Scriptures. As it turns out, the Bible has a lot of hope in it!

As I let the Spirit of God minister to my spirit, I began to get a glimpse of God’s perspective. It helped me to see how I could pray about the circumstances going on and the people involved. When I prayed—with that clear and recent awareness of the Lord’s promises in mind—I slowly began to understand that He might actually be using these circumstances for His good purposes. Just knowing this began to give me hope about the possible outcomes. Even though I did not know how the Lord would work things out, I could pray about it and make myself available as the Lord’s ambassador in the midst of some very dark days.


Reflection:

When we don’t understand our circumstances or wonder how on earth God could be using them for His greater purpose, do we remember to go to His Word? Do we open our minds to allow Him to show us glimpses of His hand at work?

 

Romans 8:24-26
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Submitted by: Derrah, Texas

September 13
Pride vs. Humility

One of the most difficult issues we might have as Christians is giving up control. As adults, we have learned there is much to control in our lives at work and at home. Without control and discipline, things can soon begin to fall apart. Being told that we must give up control (and submit) is likely to make us feel threatened or fearful. Submitting to God is one thing because, as believers, we understand He has the ultimate control anyway.

Submitting to others might not be so easy, especially when we know we are right about something or someone. Then, pride becomes our stumbling block. Pride supposes that you have nothing to learn from someone else. Humility, on the other hand, allows for growth, learning, and wisdom.

David, an ISI staff member, shared how blessed he was to see growth in students who attended a weekly Bible study. He shared (about the group), “God is really working in their lives!” He described how one student, Jennifer, showed many signs of spiritual growth in her life.

Jennifer recently told David that one of the biggest lessons she learned in her weekly Bible study was about submission. She said, “After I followed Jesus, I realized how small and weak I am, and judgmental, too. I am just an ordinary person. I don't know everything that has happened with other people, and so I have no right to judge them. This new sense of humility gives me a different way to look at things that have happened in my life, and it helps me in my daily life, especially in my marriage.”

It truly is a blessing to see how God granted Jennifer insight into her own sinful pride. How many of us could use the same insight---knowing when we need to humble ourselves, seeing others the way Jesus sees them, and opening our minds to gain the blessing of wisdom?


Reflection:

Being prideful and having a “know-it-all” attitude not only turns people away from us, but it might also come back to hurt us. Godly humility and vulnerability is a characteristic that people are attracted to. Keeping this in mind draws others to Christ.



Proverbs 11:2
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Submitted by: David, Illinois

September 12
Strong Roots

Back in the summer of 1977, we prayed that the Lord would send us some mature believers to form a strong nucleus for our International Christian Fellowship. We set up a welcoming table during graduate student registration, and during the course of the day, we met a young man with a big smile on his face and a Bible in his hand. We happily welcomed him to our ICF. When we asked him later why he brought his Bible to Ph.D. registration, he told us, “When the Church in my country received news that I am coming to America, they started praying for me that I will find believers in Princeton. Even they prayed that if my faith does not grow, the LORD should bring me back with the intact faith I had in my country.”

During his four years in the United States, Mark prayed fervently, faithfully attended ICF meetings, banquets, picnics, church, and conferences. He also mentored new Christians, shared his faith with seekers, and touched the lives and hearts of other volunteers. We matched him up with Friendship Partners where the wife was a believer but the husband was not so that he could serve as a missionary while in the U.S. After completing his degree, Mark returned to his homeland.

Many years passed and we did not hear from Mark. Suddenly, in 2012 we received a phone call learning that he and his family were attending a Gideon International Conference in Texas. They hadn’t been in the U.S. since 1982! They made a point to include a visit to Princeton in their full itinerary. After 30 years, it was a sweet reunion and we enjoyed fabulous Christian fellowship. We connected them with former ICF members scattered from California to Washington D.C., as well as Canada and Japan.

Mark shared with us that while at Princeton his faith had grown strong, helping him maintain his vision to return home, and giving him a new passion to reach university campuses.  Now a well-respected professor and school administrator, with children who walk with the Lord, Mark and his wife provide mentoring and no-cost, long-term housing for poor university students who come in from remote villages to study. They serve on church boards, mission committees, in men’s and women’s ministries, with Gideon International, and provide material needs for struggling churches.

 

Reflection:

Do not doubt your effectiveness or fruitfulness in ministry to others, even when you do not hear from them for one, two, five or even thirty years. Whether we invest hours or years to plant seeds and disciple those the Lord puts in our paths, our call is to faithfulness, even when we don’t get to see the results. God is always at work; may the same be true of us.


1 Corinthians 15:58
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.


Submitted by: John, New Jersey

September 11
Gentle Pursuit

May came to Colorado from Vietnam in 2010; she met an ISI staff member at the international student orientation at the very beginning of her first semester in America. A confident and outgoing young woman, May said she wanted to engage in everything and fully experience America. In her words, "I want to meet often with you to talk about everything, and about God sometimes."

At the end of her first school year, May met a local Vietnamese immigrant and fell in love. Before long, they married and were expecting their first child.  Throughout this time, God had quietly begun work in May’s heart. During her pregnancy, she experienced serious concerns about losing her baby and had to be rushed to the hospital four times. The couple incurred an enormous hospital bill, which they absolutely could not pay.

God stepped in and did an amazing thing! He removed the total bill, AND the hospital refunded the money they had already paid toward their expenses! May and her husband had no idea about the existence of a special program between the United States government and Vietnam, but this program took care of all expenses. This was only one example (of several) that gave May a clear indication that God heard her cries for help and that He cared for her very personally.

May continued to attend all the ISI activities she could and even became an officer in the ISI Campus Club. She personally experienced what leadership meant as she took on responsibilities and gained experience. Thanks in part to this involvement, and also to her relationship with her Friendship Partner (Kari), May felt God pursuing her. She became so impressed by Kari’s love and concern that she began to attend church and weekly Bible studies.

Also, one of May’s best friends shared with May about her own struggles, and how God had met her needs. All around her, May heard God calling, and within several months, she put her trust in God. She asked to be baptized, so she could follow this "amazing" God.

A local Vietnamese church has embraced May and helped her learn to study the Bible in her own language. May says, "I feel so secure now," as she has come to know the Jesus who promises and brings peace.


Reflection:

We do not always feel God at work in our lives. Sometimes, we feel pretty alone and abandoned. However, God is always at work behind the scenes; sometimes, we don’t see it until later. Take a moment to reflect on the ways God has been at work in your life even when you were unaware.


Psalm 119:65

You have done many good things for me, Lord, just as you promised.


Submitted by: Gene, Colorado

September 10
No Campfire?

After booking an international student camping trip months in advance, we learned ten days in advance that the park had imposed a ban on campfires due to drought conditions. No campfire? With temperatures forecast in the mid-40s at night, would some of our campers get too cold?

But more than the weather, I worried about the loss of key ministry time. For years, our international camping trips had benefitted from the camaraderie, beauty and bonding around a crackling bonfire. We sang, worshipped and talked through deep issues around that centerpiece late into the night—but always counting on that fire to help ignite the Spirit of God in our midst. Without this focal point, would the students wander off to bed, cold and tired from a day of outdoor living?

When I told the students about the change of plans, they took it surprisingly well. We borrowed a giant tent to serve as our fire-free meeting spot and set off with 14 campers to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We enjoyed breathtaking views of the river running through the canyon, embarked on a terrific 9-mile hike and saw a black bear climb 50 feet up a tree!

And what of my anxiety about the lack of a campfire? We shared some nice times in the big tent, talked about the Bible, and laughed a lot attempting our version of Chinese shadow puppetry. By the last night, God's presence was really evident. The women all crowded into a small tent sharing and laughing late into the night. The men sat quietly, contemplating the starry canopy above. At that moment, I saw that the Spirit of God did not come with the fire, but whispered through our enjoyment of our fellow campers and the beauty of our surroundings.


Reflection:

One of the greatest challenges in ministry is to keep things from becoming programmed and rote. Even though the “fire” felt like an essential part of the camping experience, things don’t always have to be the way they’ve always been. What “fire” are you counting on? Might you be missing the whisper of God because of your dependence on the “fire?”


1 Kings 19:12
And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

Submitted by: Ian, California

September 9
A Little Help Goes a Long Way

An international student by the name of Lynn decided she wanted to organize a garage sale. She had enjoyed “shopping” garage sales in the area when she needed some items for her temporary home. Now that she had some things to dispose of before she returned to her home country, she thought she would try her hand at this entrepreneurial venture.

Lynn followed all the right steps given by seasoned garage sale holders; she requested approval from her apartment complex, tracked us down to borrow tables on which to display her items, and priced her merchandise. But, just two days beforehand, she found out she would not be allowed to have the garage sale at her complex. Determined, Lynn courageously contacted a family in her neighborhood who had hosted several garage sales over the summer. Inclined to say “no,” this family couldn’t help but think of the exhortation we had shared at their church the previous weekend, encouraging members to take advantage of opportunities to get involved with international students.

Pretty soon, Lynn had a garage sale crew on board! With the help of numerous individuals and many trips back-and-forth to haul the items from her apartment to the garage sale site, we got it all set up and Lynn had a successful garage sale! Even the anticipated rain showers hardly showed up. What a wonderful opportunity to reach into the life of an international student who just needed some help. Because of the way people pitched in to “help” her get her garage sale off the ground, Lynn saw the hand of God at work and was therefore open to spiritual discussions. 


Reflection:

Our gestures and interactions don’t have to be grand or extensive to make a difference in someone’s life. The little things we do can speak volumes and change a perception. Continue to look for little ways to speak into the lives of those around you.



Luke 16:10

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.

Submitted by: John, Illinois

September 8
Bigger Than Me

I grew up as the oldest of three in a Japanese culture that values harmony, obedience and respect above all else. So, from very early on, parents encourage their children to study hard, enroll in the most prestigious schools and eventually secure the best jobs. Social status and position promise a coveted place in the social hierarchy.

But this all-important status relies on individual effort. Essentially, the process pushes people to try to become God by their own efforts. All my life my father had reinforced academic accomplishment and hard work, and I took great pride in my accomplishments. But I wrestled with questions like: Why am I alive? Why do people die? Why do innocent people suffer? What is my purpose? Nobody seemed to have the answers, nor did they seem to care about the questions. I felt alone even though I had family and friends around me.

At university, I tried filling the void by focusing on learning English. I fulfilled a lifelong dream by qualifying for a program that sent me to the United States as an international student. It took an enormous effort to survive classes alongside the American students. Not only did I find it a humbling experience to learn a new language as an adult, but also I found it even more challenging to make friends. My limited vocabulary and understanding of English did not make me very popular, in spite of my efforts. I felt very disappointed in how few close friendships I had developed after a few months.

But I noticed a certain group of people who did listen patiently and engage me in conversation. They seemed more interested in me as a person, than what I could say or accomplish. That impressed me. They called themselves “Christians.” I could not help but notice the difference in their attitudes compared to the other students.

They organized gatherings for fun events, but also just to pray and read together. They invited me, and I observed. They seemed so content and fulfilled. When they explained their dependence on God, I wondered how they could trust anything other than their own effort? I did not want to admit I needed help! It went against all the values I had known all my life. But they made me very curious and I wanted to understand more about what they believed.

About that time, I encountered a very difficult situation with a fellow student. Everything blew up the day before a very important exam, and I felt besieged by a violent storm. I tried everything in my own control to stop these feelings, but nothing worked. Suddenly, I had a visual image of my Christian friends praying together. I fought the urge to ask for help, but finally I quietly closed my eyes, folded my hands awkwardly and prayed for the first time in my life, “God, if you truly exist and you love me as they say, please help me.” Instantly, the storm stopped and I felt an absolute peace. I could not doubt the presence of something bigger than me.

When I shared this experience with my Christian friends, they rejoiced with me. From that point forward, God put in my heart a desire for His word and my friends rallied around and became my Bible teachers. I learned about God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me, regardless of anything I have or have not done. While that concept took a while to sink in, I now live my life to please the only authority that matters, the King of Kings.


Reflection:

When we achieve success in the eyes of the world, we believe we have earned it. It goes against our very nature to realize and accept the grace and love God offers us regardless of our own status or effort. No matter what we do, we cannot increase or decrease His love for us.



Ephesians 2:8-9

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

Submitted by: Liz, Japan

September 7
Life Lessons

I always enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship with my parents-in-law. Yes, from the very first day I met my father-in-law, to the day I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage, I loved him---crew cut, pickup truck, gun, and all!

Over the last forty years, our relationship continued to grow. He affectionately called me his “favorite (only) son-in-law,” and he is actually my “favorite father-in-law,” too. He had his own unique vocabulary and caricature descriptions of people we both knew that generated constant laughter every time we were together. But, more importantly, I observed and learned about integrity, hard work, generosity, hospitality, and an unswerving faith from his life.

Things changed dramatically when my mother-in-law died suddenly, and my father-in-law suffered three strokes in only a few months. They had both come to live with us by that time, and we always sought to honor them by serving their needs in every possible way. Despite his limitations in physical mobility, mental comprehension, and normal speech, I still found myself learning practical lessons from my father-in-law.

Still understanding enough to know that I travel a lot to fulfill my ministry assignment, he said to me one day, “If you keep traveling like this—you will find it to be a job someday.” I asked him to pray that my ministry would never become just a “job,” but always remain a calling from God Himself.

Another day he asked me how my “mechanic” business was going. I paused for a moment before I said, “Fine—thank you!” From this I gleaned that some days, ministry can seem “mechanical,” but we are, in fact, called to be “missional.” 

One day, he expressed frustration with the slacks he was wearing. When I realized that he had put them on backwards, I stopped to help him get re-adjusted. It occurred to me that many days we can feel overwhelmed to the point of losing perspective and get things all turned around. What a great reminder that solutions will come.

Am I sharing this to embarrass him or anyone? Absolutely not.  In reflecting upon these lessons, I actually think I am the one who should feel embarrassed. Despite his limitations, I continued to learn from my father-in-law. Even without the limitations, am I intentional about passing on valuable life lessons to those around me?


Reflection:

No matter what my situation, am I making the most of every opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive me? Do people who spend time with me gain valuable lessons about life, faith, and God? How can I live intentionally to ensure that happens?



Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

Submitted by: Doug, Colorado

September 6
Be Bold!

Where should I go to church? Which one would feel similar to my home church? That question loomed as my biggest problem when I came to the United States. I had never seen so many churches or denominations! I imagined there must be millions in the U.S. if so many existed just around my university! I felt at a loss. Although I wanted to attend church every Sunday, I didn’t know where to go; so I didn’t go at all my first semester.

At the end of the winter semester, I met one lady who voluntarily helped international students at my school. I hadn’t had a chance to get to know her because I had to get to class by the time she regularly came to the cafeteria. But when I discovered that this American lady led a Bible study every Wednesday, we arranged to talk face-to-face. She asked me if I would like to go to her church with her, and I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” I had not had the courage to attend any of the many churches on my own, but because of this one invitation, my life in the United States changed dramatically!

I started a Bible study with this wonderful lady every week, and began attending church every Sunday. I felt so thankful that the Lord called her to reach out to me when I was lost in the maze. I had struggled with insecurity and didn’t depend on the Lord, but now I am calm and full of joy. Once I started going to church, I made Christian friends. While I believe it is possible to keep our faith without going to church, based on my experience, I think we miss out on much of God’s grace, and our faith cannot grow as strong when we don’t gather with other believers.

Living in a foreign country brings many challenges. As international students, we leave our families, friends, and relatives back home and must build a new life among strangers. Everything feels new and unfamiliar. We face culture shock, homesickness, and loneliness and usually struggle with language skills. Making new friends can help us overcome these obstacles, but making American friends can prove very challenging.

Many Americans seem afraid of speaking with us and we seldom see them outside of school or work. This makes it very difficult to get to know Americans. Even though we want to improve our English skills, many international students tend to associate with others from our home countries. We want American friends, but end up spending most of our time with non-Americans because we don’t know how to bridge that gap. So, speaking as a representative for international students, we need every chance to meet and get to know Americans and American culture. We don’t care what gender, age or race, we just need friends who will talk to us, include us and get to know us.

Reflection:

Regardless of contradictory body language, apparent independence or regular refusals, we must persevere in reaching out with Christ’s love and compassion to welcome others into our homes and our lives. Just as Jesus reached out to all kinds of people when He walked the earth, we must follow His example.


Hebrews 13:1-2
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.

Submitted by: Lynn, Missouri

September 5
The Lord is My Shepherd

One of the challenges we have as international student ministry workers is communication. We try to share ideas with students who speak a different language than we do. Yes, the students and scholars are here studying in their fields in English, but it doesn’t mean that they understand the nuances of language.

This can also be true of concepts in faith. Of course, there are experiences we all share as humans, experiences that are common throughout societies and culture. All humans have the same physiological needs for food and water. We share the desire to be safe, to have good health. We want to be loved. We want to be respected and successful.

This is what makes our ministry effective. We reach out to international students by helping to meet their basic needs. We invite them for meals; we soothe their anxieties when we help them transition from living in their home countries to living in the United States and back to their home countries again. We offer them friendship with no strings attached. We form relationships. And when we can transfer this idea that we can have a relationship with a loving God, we can be effective in bringing our students to salvation.

Margaret was able to use her student’s life experience, along with a Bible verse to help that student glimpse a loving God. Chang, a Chinese scholar, had shared that when he was a child, he had asked himself, “Why am I here?” He explained how being raised on a farm, he had been given the responsibility for caring for his family’s sheep, a task that he enjoyed. Margaret shared with Chang the 23rd Psalm. Chang read the psalm and was deeply moved. His own experience of tending sheep made this psalm very personal to him. He understood the dependence sheep have on their shepherd, how they know their master’s face and look to him for their sustenance and safety. This understanding helped him to see in the psalm God’s nature and love for us. It was then that Margaret could share her own testimony with Chang. She was able to share the Good News and how her own “why questions” were answered through following this Shepherd, and giving Him praise for all His wonderful goodness and love.


Reflection:

How can we use scripture to let God pierce the hearts of those around us? We can learn and listen to them with our hearts. We can pray that the Lord will bring to our minds the scriptures that will touch them and help them see their need of Him.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Submitted by: Margaret, Massachusetts

September 4
Multiplication

Growing up in Japan, Takashi became familiar with many religious and secular cultures throughout high school. Upon graduation, he enrolled in the International Christian University where he began to learn about the Christian God and the teachings of Jesus through the Bible. Jesus really attracted his attention. “I liked and enjoyed his messages, parables, discussions, and deeds. There was nothing more influential to me than each word of Jesus.”

When he finally chose to become a Christian, Takashi pointed to three major factors in the decision. “First, I liked Jesus, His words and His acts, and could not help loving Him. Secondly, I needed help, guidance and encouragement that never fail. Thirdly, I was surrounded by a few good Christians, including my wife.”

A few years later, Takashi and his wife came to the United States for some post-doctoral research in his field. They noticed a flyer advertising an ISI mealtime get-together and decided that finding a good local or religious group would help them settle in. The ISI couple they met turned out to be exactly what they needed not only to settle in, but more importantly to grow as Christian believers. They began meeting once a week to read and study the Bible together and also began attending the Friday night Bible study.

Takashi observed that this ISI couple “saw, understood, respected, and loved each person they encountered.” He acknowledged that this style of ministry may not be efficient, but cannot say enough about its effectiveness. He attributes learning the practicality of Christianity and the joy of spiritual growth to the time he spent in the company of this couple.

Although Takashi lost both his parents while he studied in the US, he processed his grief and memories with their ISI group and experienced a previously unimagined outpouring of their love. Both he and his wife experienced significant spiritual growth during these years. But their time in the US ended abruptly when Takashi’s wife got pregnant and simultaneously received a diagnosis of cervical cancer. Their ISI friends provided both practical and spiritual support as they rushed back to Japan to anxiously await the outcome.

God spared both Takashi’s wife and son’s lives and the cancer went into complete remission. Currently, Takashi teaches several courses and training programs at the International Christian University. He believes that in his role he is helping build a society with a firm foundation of love and hope. In addition to his professorship, Takashi participates as a member of several government advisory committees and hopes to incorporate his ideas into the reform process.

He and his family play an active role in their local church and have initiated a group in their home, styled after the one they attended in their ISI mentor’s home. Takashi says, “I’m just one person. But if one person is a true Christian, he can help [his] friends to be Christians. And then it will grow and the one person will become two or four or eight in future generations. So that’s my hope.”



Reflection:

You are only one person—but the person you are can make a difference in the lives of those you encounter. Be a part of someone’s testimony—may your life draw theirs toward Christ.


II Thessalonians 3:4-5
And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

September 3
Rainbow Promises

The room filled quickly as the students arrived for our fall welcome dinner. The smell of delicious food wafted through the room and you could sense the excitement in the air. I noticed that Lucy arrived alone and stood in the middle of the room wearing a nametag printed in clear, bold letters. When I approached her, she smiled spontaneously and before long we had engaged in a relaxed conversation. I found her very easy to talk to.

Lucy shared with me that she had noticed an unusual amount of rainbows ever since her arrival in the United States. She said, “I am excited to go to the Niagara Falls because I was told that there are always very pretty ones there. I only went at night this week and I can’t wait to go during the day time to see a rainbow.” 

When the worship portion of the evening began after dinner, I found myself standing next to Lucy again. When we reached the last song, the PowerPoint slide background showed a beautiful rainbow. Our eyes met and we both smiled to see her rainbow welcome continuing.

I said a prayer for Lucy that night asking God to reveal His promises to her during the year she spends in New York. I have great hope that her discovery of Him has begun as I know she is currently participating in an M:28 Bible study.



Reflection:

God draws people unto Himself in many unique and creative ways. As their Creator, He knows what will speak into their hearts and lives and woos them accordingly. What draws one person may not draw another; but God knows what will soften and reach each heart.



Genesis 9:12-15a
Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures.

Submitted by: Lisa, New York

September 2
Open Doors

With great excitement, we watch God opening many doors for us with the local university administration. We attribute so much to the 46-Day prayer initiative we participated in before the school year even started. Part of that was organized prayer walks and regular prayer conference calls for incoming students, faculty and administration. Now, we stand back in awe of the doors God has opened to our ministry.

At the beginning of the semester, one of the new students from Hong Kong wrote a personal letter to the school president describing what a warm welcome he had experienced from the international "group" (ISI) and our new International Student Friendship club on campus. The president followed up by having his secretary track down the advisor of the new club, Mark, who described to him some of our recent events. Subsequently, he received an invitation to a luncheon with the International Student Services department and 50 international students.

And God has continued to open doors of favor we could not have even imagined. At the suggestion of the president, the dean who overseas the welcoming of international students invited Mark to lunch and shared his vision for ISI as part of the support community helping students adjust to life in the United States. As it turns out, the dean attends one of the most missions-active churches here on the Central Coast! His mission's pastor brought us in to give an ISI presentation at the church.

At the beginning of last year, the president announced his goal to increase international student enrollment to 1,000 students. Now, he states his goal of increasing international enrollment to 2,000 students! Right now we don’t even have 300 students—we will enjoy watching what God is doing!

 

Reflection:

What fun it is to watch God at work in unexpected answers to our prayers. Keep on asking and expecting, and then enjoy the surprises God has in store.

 
Mark 7:7

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks the door will be opened.

Submitted by: Gayle, California

September 1

2 Timothy 3:14-17

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.

Reflection:

After you finished your schooling, did you put your books and brain away, determined to never learn anything again? Or did you realize it was just the beginning of a lifetime of study? Perhaps you’ve taken classes or attended conferences to increase your knowledge and you haven’t stopped reading. Treat your understanding of Scripture the same way. Never quit pursuing God through His Word. He will use it to make sure you’re ready for whatever He has in store.

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