Donate to our Rwanda Trip & Enter to Win an Amazon Gift Card

Could you use a $250 Amazon Gift Card? Of course, you could!!!  Now’s your chance to win one! Bridget and I will be giving one away on Saturday, March 26 and all you have to do to have a chance to win it is donate towards our Rwanda trip!

For every $10 you donate towards our trip, your name will be entered 1 time into the drawing. So, if you donate $10, your name goes in 1 time, but if you donate $100, your name goes in 10 times!

In order to be entered into the drawing, donations must be received by midnight Friday, March 25.  Simply click here and then hit the donate button to make your donation and be entered into the drawing.

Thanks in advance for your generosity and for being a part of getting us to Rwanda!

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A Return to Rwanda

IMG_0651Bridget and I have been presented with an amazing opportunity to lead a mission trip to Rwanda this June with an organization called Visiting Orphans. This is the same organization that our family traveled to Rwanda and Ethiopia with a year and a half ago. That trip was such an amazing experience for us and was used by God to ignite a burden in us to expose others to the amazing things God is doing in those countries.

While we definitely planned to try and go back, we never imaged that we would have the great blessing and honor of leading a group of others! This is such an exciting opportunity for us and we are humbled to have been asked.

Just like our trip in 2014, we are in need of both financial and prayer support. Please pray for us that we will allow God to prepare each of us spiritually for this trip. We also ask that you pray for our mental preparation, as well as this is new territory for us. We have led mission trips in the past, but this is on a whole other level! And please pray for our team. Right now there are 7 of us on the team, plus we are hoping that our friend, Katherine Rowe, who is a missionary in Uganda, will be able to join with us. (There’s still time for YOU to join with us, as well!)

If you feel lead to support us financially, we would be abundantly grateful! At this point we need to raise around $7,000 (the majority of which is needed within the next month) which we are completely confident God will provide. You can help us financially in a few ways:

1. You can donate directly to our trip here. Simply choose “Rwanda June 2016 (Leader: Phillips)” from the Fund Category section. Then, when it asks if you would like to donate directly to a team member, choose “Team Member or Ministry Name” and then type our names in. Donations made this way are tax deductible.

2. You can also purchase items from VO’s online store and a portion of the proceeds will go towards our trip. During checkout, simply enter the information from #1 above into the “Donation Information” section during checkout.

3. Finally, you can send donations directly to us at 217 Yorktown Rd. Clarksville, TN 37042. Please note that these donations will need to be made out to us and will not be considered tax deductible.

Thank you for supporting us through prayer. This is definitely the greatest way you can help us as we prepare for this trip. Finally, if you are interested in joining us, or if you have more questions about the trip, please let us know!

Blessings!
Josh and Bridget

 

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African Randomness

I’m currently in the Dulles International Airport in DC waiting on the final leg of our journey back home from Africa – which, of course, has been delayed.  As we’re sitting here, I keep having random thoughts about our experience fly through my mind.  I think my mind is trying to process all that we encountered, but there is so much that we saw and heard (and ate) it’s tough right now to fully work through any one aspect of this trip.

So, in an effort to try and begin to sort out all we experienced, I wanted to share some random thoughts from the last 2 weeks:

I WILL NEVER AGAIN TAKE PAPER TOWELS FOR GRANTED.  It was so nice to visit the Men’s Room at the airport here in DC and not have to dry my hands on my jeans after washing them.

ETHIOPIAN COFFEE HAS RUINED ME.  I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully enjoy another cup of “American” coffee after drinking the smooth, rich, black goodness that is Ethiopian coffee.  In fact, one of the first stores we passed in the terminal upon our return was a Starbucks.  I wasn’t even tempted to go inside.  Instead, I looked down upon it from my now high perch of coffee snob-dom.DSCF2117

DRIVING IS GOING TO BE BORING.  Everyday on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was an adventure.  You never knew what you were going to see: cows grazing in the median, a donkey riding on top of a semi-truck, intersections with no stop signs, stop lights, or rules regarding right-of-ways, public nudity (because a person just doesn’t have money for clothing, is using the bathroom on the side of the road, or because their bathtub is the drainage ditch next to the interstate).  There were many times where you either just had to stare in disbelief or close your eyes in fear.

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I TOO OFTEN BLUR THE LINES BETWEEN NEEDS AND WANTS.  Below is a picture of the Addis city dump.  It is 70 years old and is currently the main trash depository for all of Addis’s 6 million plus person population.  On 3 different days we visited a community called Korah which is built up around the dump.  The majority of Korah’s residents are people with HIV/AIDS or leprosy who have moved in to the city to find medical treatment.  Many of these people make a living by digging through the trash of Addis to find food to eat or items to resale.  These people truly understand what it means to live each day of life with great need.

Korah5 I’VE MADE SOME LIFE LONG FRIENDS AND PARTNERS IN MINISTRY.  In addition to the great friendships forged with the rest of our Visiting Orphans team, I connected strongly with our tour guide in Rwanda.  Our guide, Peter, pastors a church called New Covenant which was birthed through circumstances very similar to Community Life.  Peter was the first Rwandan I met and I instantly felt a brotherhood with him.  As we talked over the next several days, it was clear we had a kindred spirit and shared some of the same desires for the church.  As I sit here thinking back on the trip, one of the strongest pulls to try and return to Africa soon is to spend more time talking about life and ministry with my new friend.

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I am so thankful that God allowed our family to go on this journey together.  Please be in prayer for us over the next several weeks/months as we work to process through all we encountered.  I’m excited to see what God continues to reveal to us.

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It’s 4am in Rwanda.

Well, it’s 4:00am in Kigali, Rwanda and I can’t sleep.  I’m guessing it’s a mixture of my internal clock still trying to adjust and my brain struggling to process all we experienced yesterday (Saturday)…and the fact there is some sort of nocturnal rooster doing his thing somewhere up the hill from where we are staying.

So, instead of laying in bed getting frustrated that I can’t sleep, I decided to do a little light reading…in Isaiah.  I’ve been reading through Isaiah over the last couple of weeks so I just picked up where I had left off.  This is the first thing I read:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭35‬:‭1-2‬ ESV)

God is so good to wake me up and bring me here.  You see, yesterday – our first full day in Rwanda – we spent some time touring the Rwandan Genocide Museum.  If you are unfamiliar with the genocide that occurred here, let me give you a very brief overview: driven by the evil that is within the heart of natural man, one “tribe” of Rwandan’s attempted to eradicate another “tribe” of Rwandans.  Over the course of 3 months in 1994, 1,000,ooo Rwandans (men, women, children, and babies) were killed by their fellow man.

The genocide was described at the museum as a time when Rwanda was completely destroyed and broken.  Not only were an incredible number of lives taken during those 3 months, but indescribable, far-reaching consequences plagued this country for many years following.  One survivor whose story is apart of the museum stated that it felt like Rwanda as a whole had died.

After leaving the museum, we had lunch and then traveled to a ministry called Best Family Rwanda (BFR).  This was a perfect follow up to the Genocide Museum as Best Family was started roughly 10 years ago by 3 young men who were left as orphans after their entire families were wiped out by the genocide.  God brought these men together and they quickly realized that they were now each other’s new family.  They soon established an orphanage to provide a family for the many children in their city who where left without a home.

Today, Best Family ministers to roughly 120 children who are orphaned or who come from families who live in extreme poverty.  Whether the children who are a part of Best Family still live at home or at the BFR orphanage, they each receive an education, financial assistance, life skills, biblical instruction, and the love of a family.  The children we interacted with were so full of life and joy!  As soon as we stepped out of our little bus, we were “attacked” by hugs, laughter, hand holding, and smiles.  These children, many of whom have no mom or dad, had found something of great value at BFR: the love of Jesus and it poured out of their little lives like an overflowing fountain.

We were quickly whisked away into a small room where these children, along with their “moms and dads” and “brothers and sisters” sang and danced for us.  We were brought into the middle of the room with them and for about 15 minutes, jumped up and down, clapped our hands to the beat, laughed, danced in circles, and celebrated, with joy, the love God has for us.

Here’s why this short passage out of Isaiah was so timely.  Although Isaiah was not describing Rwanda, the imagery used sums up perfectly our experience from yesterday: a wilderness, a desert, and a dry land giving way to abundant rejoicing and singing.

God allowed us to see a clear picture of grace and redemption.  We saw where an epic, evil tragedy was used by God to bring healing, restoration, and life.  We saw first hand how God truly does bring beauty from ashes.  God took what was meant for evil (the murder of these men’s families) and used it for good (the establishment of new families for 100’s of children over the past decade).  Wow.

In a few hours, my alarm with go off (and hopefully I’ll need it!) and we’ll get up and get ready to head to a local church for worship.  Our guide this week is the pastor there and he is graciously allowing me to preach tomorrow.  My text just happens to be the first chapter of Ephesians where we will look at the amazing truth that God, in love, chose us out of our sin and brokenness and adopted us as His sons and daughters.  We will celebrate together the eternal, epic story of God’s grace and redemption!

I’m so thankful for the experiences of yesterday, the sleeplessness of tonight, and the always-living-and-active Word of God to teach me anew of God’s great plan and power to redeem all of his creation.  He is constantly turning places of desert and wilderness into places of abundant rejoicing.  Thank you Father, for allowing me to see that first hand in Rwanda today.

Now, back to sleep…hopefully.

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The Journey Begins?

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In just a few hours we will load up enough luggage into our friend’s minivan for our trip to Africa that many may think we might be moving there. By the way, my friend is not driving us in his minivan to Africa, but to the airport – just want to clear up any confusion.

It’s easy for me to look at what lays ahead this afternoon and think that our journey is about to start. The truth is, we have been on our “Journey to Africa” for at least 6 months and maybe even years.

In early January we sat down with a young lady from our church who has made multiple trips to African countries to share the love of Jesus with children through the Nashville-based ministry, Visiting Orphans. She had already shared with us that she thought our family should travel with her this summer to Rwanda and Ethiopia as she would be a Team Leader on a V.O. trip for the first time. We looked at pictures, dreamed a little bit, and told her we would “pray about it.”  For those of you raised in the church, you know what that means: “I don’t want to tell you ‘no’ right now, so give me a few days to come up with a good reason and I’ll do it then.”

Truth is, I genuinely felt that God was calling us to be engaged, but I had little faith. Finally, I said that we would at least send Bridget (she has had a dream to minister to orphans in Africa since high school). Then, if we can raise enough money, I’ll go with her and if a miracle occurs, we will take our girls as well. If, if, if… Thank goodness, God’s power and ability is not fully determined by my level of faith.

Needless to say, over the past 6 months God has completely blown our minds with the way he has abundantly provided for our entire family to board a plane in the next few hours that, will eventually, have all four of us in Rwanda and Ethiopia over the next 2 weeks to love on children he already loves and knows perfectly.

We have been on this Journey to Africa since January as God has revealed at every turn, not just the fact that he owns all resources and he moves them as he desires, but that our family is clearly CALLED to be on this trip. He has been so gracious to confirm over and over that this journey is part of his perfect will for the Phillips family.  

Because of this, I sit here typing with such great anticipation.  A kind of holy anticipation that I haven’t felt since our family was called to help launch Community Life Church almost 3 years ago.  If God has already revealed so much to us over the past 6 months of preparation, just imagine what he will reveal once we are actually “in-country!” Those of you who are close to us, know that God has been at work in some unique ways this past month and I firmly believe it is all a part of what he desires to teach and challenge our family with over the next 14 days.  Since day one we have believed that this trip was to be a “game-changer” for our family and the events of recent weeks has only strengthened that belief.

We ask that you will join with us in praying for this trip and the other team members who will be joining with us in Washington D.C. tonight before we hop on a 14-hour, Ethiopian Air flight tomorrow. We do ask that you pray for safety in our travels, but even greater than that, pray that we will face whatever comes our way with great faith and courage.  Pray that we will be open and ready to receive whatever God desires to reveal to us.  Pray for the children of the orphanages that we will love on.  Pray for their caregivers.  Ultimately, pray for God’s will to be done in Rwanda and Ethiopia as it is in heaven.

A great big thanks to each of you who had a hand in helping us raise almost $17,000 over the past 6 months ($17,000!  That’s crazy!!!)  To those of you who donated yard sale items (and then worked the yard sales with us!).  To you who washed cars and brought your cars to be washed (even though it looked like rain!).  To you who donated clothing and backpacks for us to distribute, and, especially, to those of you who encouraged us from the very beginning to step out of the boat and begin this Journey to Africa.  We will be forever grateful for your love and support.

Ultimately, thanks be to God, who has graciously invited us to be a part of his great plan to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the least of these.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  

Ephesians 3:20-21

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A Church With Palm Trees

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to The Lord on it’s behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

This verse has played a powerful role in my life. The Lord brought me to it a few years ago as I was praying through a major decision in our family’s life. I was serving in a great church, with great friends, and with great security when God began to lay on my heart that he was about to change my ministry focus.

While it was becoming clear that He was calling me into more of a preaching/pastoral role, I had no idea exactly where that would be or what that would look like. Were we to move, find another church, start a church, go back to school? At the same time, I was becoming very discontent with Clarksville – not so much because of Clarksville, but because of my own desire for a change, for something different. I was praying that God would make this ministry transition simple and have a church with palm trees in it’s front yard extend a call to me to be their pastor.

God didn’t do that…

Instead, what God did was bring me to Jeremiah 29. Now, most of us are familiar with this chapter – or at least one verse in this chapter. We often quote verse 11 when we, or people we know, need to be reminding that God is for us;

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares The Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

We know this verse forwards and backwards! And, when we are in a place of life we don’t necessarily care for, we like to remind God of this verse, too! “Hey God, don’t you remember that promise for welfare, future, and hope??? Time for you to move me out of this difficulty and into a place that matches my definition of welfare and hope!”

Here’s the problem: while we are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, we are not familiar with the context of Jeremiah 29:11. You see, Jeremiah was a prophet of God and his job was to convey God’s message to God’s children. What’s interesting, though, is that God’s children are currently living in exile and slavery. In fact, just one verse earlier in verse 10 God has informed them that they were going to be in exile for 70 MORE YEARS!

So, what is God saying to His Children? This: “Hey, kids. I know you are in a tough spot. I know you are not happy with your current location. I know the difficulty it is for you. But guess what, not only am I the one who allowed you to be taken into exile, but I’m also the one who is the source of your welfare, future, and hope. Trust me. I have you here for a reason, its for your good, and I will deliver you from it in my timing.”

Now, here is where verse 7 quoted above comes in. Before informing His children that they would be in exile for 70 more years, he told them to settle in, build houses, plant gardens, get married and have kids. In the middle of their captor’s land, they were to continue to live life as normal (v.5-6). In addition to that, they were to seek the welfare of the city in which they were now living! They were to care for the city, pray for the city, love the city, and love the people of the city (who were their enemies, by the way).

When I read this, God communicated a very clear message to my heart: “Josh, by my sovereign hand I placed you in Clarksville. It might not be where you would choose to be, but it is where I have chosen you to be. So, settle in and make it your home. Also, don’t just exist there, but SEEK THE WELFARE OF THE CITY WHERE I HAVE SENT YOU. If you’ll do this, not only will the city find welfare, but you will, too.”

God used this verse in my life to teach me that it’s His responsibility to place my family where He wants us to be and it is my responsibility to love, serve, and seek the welfare of that place. Once we started to practice this, we began to find great peace and contentment with our place in life. Not only that, but we have really grown to enjoy living here. This is our home, and we’re growing love it, because it is where God has placed us!

Yesterday, my wife shared a thought with me from a bible study she is leading at our church’s Women’s Retreat that reminded me all over again of God’s instruction to His children:

“You will not find joy in your reality until you embrace your reality as God’s present plan for your life.” (Wow! That’s tweet-worthy!)

You might be in a place right now of great discontentment. You might wish you lived somewhere else, worked somewhere else, were married to someone else, had different kids, had no kids, had more kids, had different neighbors, had a new car, etc… And, because of your discontentment with life, there is no joy to be found. The key is to realize that God has you where he wants you to be. You might be here for a while, so stop fighting against where God has you, settle in, embrace your reality, seek what is best for those around you, and look to God alone as your source of welfare and hope.

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Why?

You’re probably asking the same question I asked (and the same question my wife asked!); “why in the world are you starting a blog?  Doesn’t the world have enough, already???”

Well, yes, the world does have enough blogs and it certainly doesn’t need another one!  The truth is, I have felt a need for quite a while to begin journaling some thoughts that I have had on life, parenting, ministry, and the church.  The difficulty for me in this is that I really don’t like writing – it’s a chore!  In fact, right now, I’m thinking about how much I don’t want to be doing this!  I’m scatter-brained, easily distracted, and easily bored.  I really just want to go to the pantry and start grazing.  

Therefore, sitting down to focus on writing is hard and really doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to me.  Instead, it feels like work!

So, why in the world am I doing this?  I don’t have to blog, right?  It’s a free country, isn’t it?

I guess the answer is that I feel called to do this – at least right now.  There are a some topics that have been swirling around in my head that I feel I need to process and share in a public forum – probably more for my own sake than for anyone else’s.  That being said, though, I pray that whatever I end up sharing through this site will be an encouragement to all whoever might read it.

Whew, I’m glad that’s done!  Now, where are the Oreo’s…

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