Poems for the Season

Enter winter, slowing snowy time, black and white, sometimes clear blue, often only gray, yet ever green.

Earnest winds blow; birds survive; trees creak.

Light shrinks before the annual blinding.

Winter enters our habitat with the aplomb of an angel:

Greetings to the old and the cold, to the resting and sleeping. Hail also the bold, the hale and foolhardy.

Winter is here. Look out your windows. Be stilled inside. Go outdoors. Greet ice and wind.

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O Advent Morn

The waning moon is smiling

Is this the dawn of

The last age of war?

As sparrow song in

Humble chirping greets us

We kneel to praise You

Great Creator Spirit:

Thanks for this day

Please hear our prayer for peace

O God beyond the fading morning star.


Advent 3

Come, O Prince of Peace. Come, O Prince of Peace. Come and be born in our hearts.

This week I’m praying Jesus, Prince of Peace, come to Port-au-Prince. God have mercy: hear the prayers of those from 25 churches praying at 5 a.m. each day for transformation of Haiti, for a peaceful resolution to the election, for an end to the cholera epidemic, for homes, schools, churches, and plenty of healthy food and water.

The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means far more than the absence of conflict. Shalom is wholeness, restoration, harmony, personal and environmental well-being, the fruit of justice and righteousness.

Because of political unrest in Haiti, Quisqueya Christian School had to close down early for Christmas vacation. People were confined to their immediate neighborhoods. The run-0ff election is tentatively scheduled for January 16, but Michel Martelly’s supporters are claiming fraud and protesting their candidate’s exclusion.  I am praying with CRCNA Partners in Haiti that everyone will be safe, the violence will end and nothing will hinder the arrival of volunteers in January.

On January 12, 2010, the “last bucket of cement was poured” to complete Belladere Christian Reformed Church’s new building before the earthquake hit. Throughout the quake and aftershocks it “stood strong”.  In the months following Pastor Pistais and the Belladere deacons led the church in caring for handicapped people, “the weakest in their community.”

Stories abound of God’s love in action.

Advent 2

Come, Immanuel. Come, Immanuel. Come, and be born in our hearts.  Immanuel: God with us.

Into 56 year-old Cindy Vander Kodde’s complicated, drama filled life God comes each day. The Christ-light is rekindled anew each Christmas. See the shine in daughter Alexandria’s smile as she coos with delight at church in her new dress from Aunt Darlene. This week Cindy’s nephews with Vander Kodde Construction installed a ramp for Alexandria’s wheelchair outside the old house where they live in Grand Rapids MI.

I believe God blessed Cindy with the gift of motherhood. She has had 12 children–six by birth (one of whom is in heaven), six by adoption (one of which was not finalized)–and 15 grandchildren so far. Andre was born with hypoplastic left heart, had open heart surgery two days later and died three days after that. One of the adoptions was “disrupted:” she was with Cindy for seven years from five days old and still calls her Mom when she sees her. Many others from children’s choir or daycare have called her Mama over the years. Beside Alexandria who turns 13 this month, Cindy has three others still at home.

After earning her Masters in Social Work in 2008, Cindy has been employed as a case manager in addictions. She “loves her job, loves to sing and especially loves the Lord.” Cindy’s “life verse” is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She says she lives by Isaiah 40 and Psalm 91.

This past summer Cindy fell and injured her knee which later required surgery and weeks of recovery which led to job loss. These setbacks, along with thefts and constant trauma in the lives of her children and grandchildren, only draw Cindy nearer to Immanuel. She writes: “In my devotions this morning it talked about hopefully my life being that burning bush when Moses did not see the burning bush but saw God. Hopefully I pray that is what my life is or will be like. I’m working on it or I should say He’s working on me. “

Advent 1

“Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus. Come and be born in our hearts.”

The youngest of three sons, Sekou was born 20 years ago while his parents were living in Sierra Leone. Before the war their father abandoned them and soon their mother brought the boys back to her hometown in Guinea where her mother was employed by a missionary family.

At age five Sekou was weak and often sick.  His older brothers were in a Bible class with Brenda, another missionary. She prayed for Sekou’s healing, and he was healed. It would be ten years before he fully recognized Jesus as the Healer, but he would always remember receiving that new life.

One of my sister Joyce’s first memories of Sekou was in her English class at the Center of Hope: “He used to go outside into the courtyard to perform the Muslim prayers at 4:30 right in the middle of the class period. He was serious about God already then.” When his oldest brother left Islam to follow Jesus Sekou was angry. He began studying the Bible to prove it false. Instead, God’s Word drew him to the Light of the world.

In 2008 Sekou told Joyce this dream he had. First he was in a big, rundown car with his mother and brothers and the Fulbe believers; Joyce was driving on a winding road through the forest in the dark; the lights went out and Joyce continued driving carefully and without accident; when she stopped to fix the lights Sekou tried to help but Joyce said she could do it; she did and they continued on. Then he was in a nice car with his uncle’s family in Conakry; when Sekou asked to get back in after a pit stop his uncle took off without him; he ran after the car as fast as he could but it didn’t stop; he watched in alarm as the car hit a tree and landed upside-down in the branches; someone fell out into the water and drowned; others were hurt.

Sekou told Joyce this dream was from God at a time when he was facing a big decision. He had failed the big end-of-high-school exam (possibly because of corruption in the grading process): now he could repeat his senior year at home continuing involvement with the fledgling church or he could take up his uncle’s offer to pay for him to repeat his senior year at a private high school in Conakry where he would live in a Muslim household and be under great pressure to return to Islam. Sekou prayed to his heavenly Father asking for guidance, fell into a fitful sleep, and that’s when the dream came.

During his extra year at home Sekou worked with other young men and boys at the Center of Hope studying English and computer, participating in Bible study, playing basketball and other games. On his second try he passed the exam, and his first year at university was successful as well. Meanwhile inflation surged, and programs at the Center of Hope languished.

Last June Sekou came home for summer break rather than staying in Conakry where he could have had a job.  The Center came alive again as a place to socialize and learn. Sekou gave basic computer training and internet connection for a fee, plus he offered introductory English classes. The Center’s five copies of Jesus and Muhammad: Profound Differences and Surprising Similarities were in constant demand. Sekou’s middle brother began to follow Jesus as well. In fact, now that Sekou is in his second year at the university, this brother and another new believer are in charge of the computer room at the Center.

On December 10 Sekou is scheduled to take the TOEFL exam since he’s applied to Dordt College in Iowa (at Joyce and Dave’s suggestion). He is trusting God with the outcome, not obsessed with going to school in the US, believing God has a future for him in Guinea either way.

This Advent I’m rejoicing with Sekou and people all over the world in whose hearts Jesus is born.