Wednesday, September 21, 2011

God, are you saying Africa? (Part 1)

God, are you saying Africa?  posted by Michelle Barton

I said I would start posting some of the experiences that have helped us move in faith with the plan to go to Africa. Plain and simple, some people would like to claim we are crazy... but, while I agree that this is a rather  "wild" adventure for our family, there is a difference between "crazy" and "called." So the question is, how do we know we have been called? This is how it began:

It started as a whisper. I believe it was probably December that I started to have this lingering thought from my heart softly saying "Africa." I didn't make much of it at first. In fact, the first thing I did was use that as inspiration for a dance recital theme, "On Safari." It then started to motivate my movie selections, so Paul and I watched movies like Invictus and Faith Like Potatoes. But there was something about "Africa" in my head that made me start questioning God if there was something more to it.

There were actually many new things going on in our lives at that point: Paul had just taken a job working for another cabinet shop, and I was preparing to close our dance and gymnastics business in order to stay home with our three kids.  We were already spending much time in prayer over these decisions, and felt comfortable giving up control and letting God just steer us. So I asked God what he wanted me to know about Africa.

Shortly after, I noticed in our church bulletin that a team from our church would be going on a short-term mission trip to Malawi.  Paul was already feeling a growing desire to serve the Lord in some more tangible ways too, so I told Paul, "I wonder if God is wanting you to go on a mission trip." I kind of thought God was just preparing me for Paul to be gone a short while. So, still curious about this, we began to voice this thought to a few close friends and relatives. When bouncing this idea off of them, it turned out that what we thought might sound crazy, was actually really normal sounding to them: our brother-in-law knows someone who does regular missions to Africa, and if Paul did want to go, he would even maybe go with. We found out at that time too that one of our new friend's daughter had just been on a mission trip to Africa too, and she had an absolutely wonderful experience. There was also their other good friend who has been working in Africa for years, and perhaps she would be a good contact for us to ask questions to.  Oh yeah, our other friends had an awesome story too about the guy they know in Africa.

Hmmm... so a seed was planted. It isn't that strange to be thinking Africa.

The funny thing is, I was still assuming that God would not intend for me to go... I mean, let's be real.  Paul could be good for this: he has a background as a medic in the Army, he's got carpentry skills, he's strong and outdoorsy etc. I am not these things. I am not putting myself down, I just know I'm better at being a mom. So, why am I the one hearing Africa all the time?

Continued in No Really, are you for sure saying Africa, God?

No really, are you for sure saying Africa God? (Part 2)

No really, are you for sure saying Africa God? posted by Michelle Barton

Okay, we were kind of thinking, that maybe someday, down the road, possibly, Paul might be supposed to go to Africa. Cool. So, while it still seemed that conversations about Africa were popping up all around us, we kind of claimed this as a "not right now" kind of thing. Like, maybe that whispering voice is just a subtle idea, a seed being planted for the future.

Now, as I mentioned in the last post, 2011 started as a year of change: Paul's new job, closing the dance studio and shop, and also we decided to join in the group of people leaving Westwood Church to begin the new church-plant Westbrook. We were excited about these changes. God was really showing up in huge ways to direct these decisions. And he was doing amazing things helping us in our relationship as husband and wife, as well as in other relationships too. We were loving the feeling of being led by God with specific directions, and feeling his presence and blessings when we were intentional to be still and listen to him. We wanted to get better at this.

We signed up for a summer "Life Keys" class at our church in pursuit of just a better understanding of God's calling in our lives (The class is designed to help a person assess their personality, life gifts, spiritual gifts, values and passions in the hope of best putting those things to use.)  Paul was exploring the idea of a more full-time ministry kind of career, and I, wanting to be a good partner, went along for the ride.

One night, being prompted to share with the others at our tables about ways God might be encouraging us or "speaking to us," I felt the urge to throw out my whole "Africa" thing.  I said, "I really think God is trying to get my attention about Africa. I just wonder if he is wanting us to go there or what, because it keeps coming up."

Later that night, one of the leaders of the class announced that he had invited a panel of guests to come in to share the ways they have used their gifts to serve at church and in the community. Of over 30 people who were invited to share, the 3 who responded first were the ones who would be there. So, the panel began to speak and, shockingly, two of them spoke about their mission trips to Africa! Now, I get that missions are a pretty normal thing to be talked about in a church setting, but our church is involved in several missions in various locations. The people who came to speak were sharing about the needs in Africa. And the one gentleman began to pass pictures, photographs of some of the African children he had met, and he handed them right to me. The gal asked the group too, "do any of you have any children's Bibles not being used, because the people are in need of Bibles. In this village, people do not have access to a Bible. There is one Bible with just the first 4 gospels. That's it. People are dying, and they have not had the opportunity to read God's Word."

My thoughts, "Hmmm.... we actually just ordered several children's bibles... we were thinking it would be nice to share with other kids we might come in contact with.  So, I guess the bibles are actually for kids in Africa. Is that it, God? Is this another peice of the puzzle? Are you wanting us to go on this specific mission trip through church, or just send the bibles, or what?"

I went home that night in a good mood about that; God was giving us clues. When we got home, we chatted briefly with our babysitter. She actually brought up that she had picked up a book of mine, "Don't Stop Laughing Now." It was just a book filled with various short stories that are not necessarily about anything, but rather cute and uplifting. After she left, I thought I would take a look at it, as I had actually never read it. (It was a gift I received a number of years ago, and it managed to get lost or left behind on the bookshelf.) I grabbed the book and, completely randomly, opened it toward the back. The page I began to read was a list of African cities. "What?"  Really, it was a list of African cities. The book itself was not actually about Africa, it just happened to have tucked into it a story included in it which happened to have this list of African cities. It went on to share humorous road signs and building signs the author had encountered in her travels. But what I got was a list of African cities.

"So, God, is there a particular city or part of Africa, or particular thing we should do? I'm totally getting Africa, but what is it that we are supposed to do exactly?"

Now it is maybe important to note that my attitude at this point, while being excited to hear God speaking into my life, was still kind of "just give me the bare minimum expectations, Lord. I kind of have plans already."

The next day I felt very strongly that God had imprinted on my heart, "There is not just any one thing you can do to check off a list to gain my approval. I am asking you to care about the children. Care about the African people.. Just as I care for you, I want you to care for them "

So there it was. Our mission was to care. And almost instantly, I went from having a completely ignorant and self-absorbed viewpoint to having a hint of what God's viewpoint is. He cares about his children. All of them.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for a brother of mine, you did for me."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Donations

Your generosity is very much appreciated! We are so very thankful to the people who have been offering to donate to our mission.  You may make a donation online at http://www.ywam-mn.org/ and under the tab "contact," you may select the "payment/donation" option. You will then be prompted to select "student tuition and/or outreach," and continue to note that it would be for Paul and Michelle Barton. 

Donations made out to YWAM or the Bartons may also be mailed to our home:
5995 Loring Drive
Minnetrista, MN 55364

Thank you, thank you, thank you! And may God bless you richly in return!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

MISSION: AFRICA

AFRICA, HERE WE COME!

The Mission

Our heart’s desire is to show the love of Jesus in very helpful and practical acts of service to those in need, while sharing the hope and peace that can be found in Christ. Our specific mission will be to show love and care to orphans, to minister to individuals involved in human trafficking, and to offer support to Aids patients and their families.

The Plan

Our family will be joining YWAM this fall and preparing for a two-month outreach to Africa. YWAM is the largest mission sending organization in the world, and we will begin their 12 week Justice and Mercy Discipleship Training on September 26th.  By Christmas, our family will be in an African country, either Mozambique, Tanzania or South Africa (TBD). Here we will be directly involved in the lives of real people.

The Prompting

God has stepped into our life circumstances in such a profound way, both closing doors and opening doors, this past year and a half. As he has steered our lives in this new direction, he has gifted us with great faith and trust.