Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christian Challenge February 2017 Update!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Wait, it's already February. Guess that would have been a better opening when I started writing this update back in December. It's amazing how time flies when things are busy. Anyway, hope you had a great day celebrating our Savior's birth!

Rachel and I went up to Colorado Springs to spend some time with her family. Then we came back to Durango to celebrate Christmas with my mother. We had one of our Japanese students, Ayane, join us for our church's candlelight service which we followed up with dinner afterwards.

After hearing our pastor preach, Ayane was filled with so many great questions that we got to answer. It was an awesome night.

We then headed back up to Colorado Springs to take our students to Life Impact, a conference with 350 other college students from all over the nation.

It was an amazing time up there for our students filled with great speakers (Rachel's dad even got to lead a couple of sessions) and a lot of spiritual growth. And of course, we took our rap album cover picture which has somehow become a tradition.

We had two of our Japanese students attend it with us. One of those from what we understand said that she now believes everything in the Bible including what it claims about Jesus. Though she is not yet ready to call herself a Christian. I think the biggest obstacle is the worry of if there will be support for her to continue to walk with Jesus when she gets back to Japan. It seems she doesn't want to commit to something if she can't follow thru. We've assured her that we can connect her with people to encourage her over there but it may just take some time for it to actually sink in. The Holy Spirit is certainly working though!  And also working in the life of the other Japanese student who was there as well but you'll have to keep reading to find out more about that.

After Life Impact was over, getting back to Durango was interesting. It started with a night of extremely little sleep. Then, we had to deal with multiple mountain passes closing. We'd head in one direction, they'd close the pass. Then head in another, and they'd close that road. It turned what should have been a six-hour trip into a fourteen-hour trip.

And to cap off the trip, after dropping off the students on campus, I hit a deer. It was so ridiculous, I couldn't help but laugh. I managed to avoid the deer until it got spooked by an oncoming truck and darted back into my lane. Thankfully, I was in our Xterra which is made really well. The deer couldn't have hit in a better place. It only did $100 or so in damage as far as we know breaking off the plastic grill. We're thankful because it could have been much worse.

We finished up the last couple of days before the semester started with shoveling three feet of snow. Or was it wet concrete? The snow this year has just kept coming and been extremely heavy. We surpassed our normal peak two months early. We've probably already received around 160 inches so far.

Our original plan was to pay someone to plow it right before we got home from Life Impact. We started calling plow drivers three weeks early but none of them would call us back. Thankfully, for one of the storms, a guy from our church came out and plowed our 60-yard driveway after our pastor put in a word for us.

A few storms later, our neighbor brought his snowblower over and surprised us by clearing our driveway while we were away at church. His wife told us that she was really making an effort to practice random acts of she sent her husband over to do the snowblowing. Both kind acts of clearing our driveway were huge blessings and saved our backs from shoveling at least a couple of times...which saved us from a couple of chiropractor visits.

Despite being on break, we still pour a lot of time into students.

Part of our time in between semesters this year was having one of our Japanese students, Rikako, join us for our trips to Colorado Springs.

I'll preface this by saying that over the summer, I'd been praying a lot for my wife and the ministry God was doing thru her. Ministry can be a very discouraging place sometimes. It's not all fun and games. Discipleship is messy. It can be heavy and wear on a person. At the time, I felt like my wife really needed a season of encouragement. In sports terms, she needed a win. Whether she needed it or not, that's what I wanted for her because I wanted her to be blessed in that and encouraged. So that's what I prayed for. And God answered.

We first met Rikako at our first international night of the year. She immediately connected with Rachel. Over the next months, Rachel was really able pour into her. One night, Rikako spent the night with us at our cabin. The plan was to watch Christmas movies and go to church the next morning. Rikako wrote this on her Facebook page that Sunday night:

      Stayed at Rachel and Mike's house❤ I made chocolate cookies (with too much sugar and a whole butter lol) and Japanese curry for them!!! They like it and I'm so glad!!! We talked a lot and watched Home alone and Last holiday!! I love both movies!! Everybody, I'm getting ready to spend Christmas!! haha. And today's morning, I went to church and prayed for God. I want to go there every Sunday!!

That afternoon, I was talking with a good friend of mine from high school, Jimmy Arcisz. He was a youth pastor for years and now takes young adults around the world to do mission work. We started following Jesus around the same time back in the day and have been sharpening each other ever since. He's just a super encouraging dude. Anyway, we spent an hour catching up over the phone, sharing ministry stories of what God's doing, and then prayed together to finish it up. Part of that prayer was for Rikako that she would get saved. When I got home, I found out she accepted Christ. Rachel and I are so stoked for her and praise God for that!

Rikako followed up that first post with another Facebook post:

      Happy Thanksgiving!! I am thankful for this studying abroad!! After coming America, many people help me!!! Especially I want to say thank you to Christian Challenge!! They gave me a chance to be a Christian to me!! My God, Christian Challenge staffs and my friends. I love you

Of course, the next step was getting baptized. Despite us offering to do it indoors, she was set on doing it in the river:

     At the pretty snowy day, I was baptized in the animas river!! You know I was freezing. lol However, I'm so glad to do that!!!!! SUPER EXCITED!!! Thank you very much for God and Christian Challenge members!!

We got it in just before the blizzard came in. Praise the Lord for her baptism...and that she didn't get hypothermia!

Rikako then followed that up with this on Facebook not too long after:

      I want to share my story. For almost all Japanese people, to believe some religions is strange thing. So many Japanese don't have their religions. Actually though, I have some friends who is Christian and they went to church every Sunday and read bible. I couldn't understand why do they trust God so deeply? Why do they try to build up relationship with God? It was a big question. But I know now. God is super cool guy and awesome!!!! I want to know about you more. I know some people think I am so crazy but thanks for God we are here and this world is satisfied with Happiness!!! I believe you. I trust you. I follow you forever. Because I love you. Thank you for celebrating everyone❤ I love you guys, too!!

Now, this would be a really amazing story just in of itself but it's even more amazing when you see what God was doing behind the scenes.

Rikako's first experience with God was when she was younger. Long story short, she saw someone in need and helped them out. After doing that, she said that she felt something like a higher power smiling upon her. Having no background in Christianity, she couldn't put a name to that presence she felt but she knew it was good and that there was something more out there.

And then when she was in high school, Rikako came across a friend who was a Christian from South Korea. Now, as far as we understand it, it wasn't the complete Gospel but this friend was planting seeds when they'd have conversations.

Fast forward to when Rikako went to college, she had a professor who is a Christian. This guy and his wife are actually missionaries in Japan and use being a professor as a way to open doors to share Christ. Soon after Rikako was baptized, he tracked us down on Facebook and sent us this message:

      I am sending this message to let you know that I am rejoicing with you about Rikako becoming a believer. I was moved to tears watching her baptism video. You see, she was a student in my English class during her freshman year at the University of Kitakyushu.

      I will continue to pray for her. It's very encouraging to know that the church body there will help her grow in knowledge of the Lord.

      One of the most difficult things for Japanese believers after they return to Japan is connecting with other believers. It is especially challenging for someone like Rikako who lives in a somewhat rural location because the number of churches are very very small.

      Having said that, let me share something that can only be explained as God's provision. Rikako's hometown is about 40 minutes from her university. It so happens that my family live in the very same town! We have a vibrant church, a mix of old and young people. So she is welcome to fellowship with us. We would be happy to connect her with other Japanese believers that are her age.

      Thank you again for the partnership of the gospel. It is very encouraging to pray and watch God answering prayers, both there and here.

So how did Rikako even find Fort Lewis College from halfway around the world? Let me remind you of a student we had named Ryo. Awesome guy. He was a guy who bonded with us almost immediately. Even though he wasn't a Christian, he was very missions-minded. He'd help us brainstorm ways to reach the other Japanese students. Even when he went back to Japan, he told all of his friends who were going to study abroad to get involved with Christian Challenge. He even "Likes" Facebook posts about when our students get saved. God is definitely working there. Side note: Ryo is actually going to visit us this month which we are excited about.

Alright, so anyway, Ryo and Rikako didn't know each other. They weren't friends really beforehand. They didn't go to the same university or anything like that. No, they met at a seminar Ryo spoke at about studying abroad. After the seminar, the two spoke briefly. He told her to go to Fort Lewis. Out of all the places she could have gone across the world to study abroad, she came to the Fort. God blessed us to be able to connect with Ryo and plant seeds. Those seeds produced fruit when Ryo connected with Rikako and sent her our way. Isn't God amazing! My mind is still blown by how He orchestrated it all! Just incredible!

For years, our ministry towards our Japanese students has been one of planting seeds. We have those students for such a short time, we rarely see if those seeds are growing while they are in America. We don't always see much immediate fruit and that can be discouraging. We just have to hope and pray that God will use those seeds that we were able to plant some day in the future. Rikako is proof that God does that, only God had been using people to plant seeds in her before she even arrived in Durango. We were able to be on the receiving end of seeing the fruit happen right before our eyes. It's extremely encouraging. When you look at how God is growing her, it's awesome. When she reads her Bible, she actually does what it says. Because in her mind, why wouldn't she? That thinking alone is a breath of fresh air. She has embraced the mission of reaching other Japanese students at Fort Lewis. She holds dinners for them so that she can tell them about Jesus. She wants to start up Christian Challenge when she gets back to Japan so she can reach people there.

This is what we have always prayed for. We've been praying for it since we started the ministry. God is answering those prayers. We know that you play a big part in that so keep praying. I challenged everyone in past newsletters to really be praying for the ministry and campus, to set at least 5-10 minutes a day aside to do that. We have really seen fruit from that, maybe more fruit that we've ever seen. I don't believe that's a coincidence. So please, keep praying. Don't stop. God is moving thru your prayers!

Thank you for all the support and encouragement you give! We are super thankful for that! As always, keep us, the ministry, and the FLC campus in your prayers! #Pray4FLC

Cheers and God Bless,
Mike and Rachel

If the Lord is leading you to give, please follow this link to our giving options:

Prayer Requests:

- Pray that God would continue blessing us with awesome student-leaders. Lord-willing, one of those student-leaders, Ryan Evanyo, will be coming on staff with us next fall.

- When semesters get busy, it's easy to neglect things big and small. We get so focused on ministry that we lose track of the things that help keep us going. We lose track of taking care of ourselves. Pray we have energy and get good sleep as the school year continues.

- With as many things as the ministry does, it's easy to take on way too much and get burnt-out. Most of our staff really didn't get much downtime, if any at all, between semesters. And now, we are in our busiest month of the winter with the ministry. Pray that we would be good stewards with our time so that we don't fall into burn-out.

- Throughout the year, the semester can wear on a person in college ministry, and it can be easy to find yourself discouraged at times. It happens in just about any ministry at one point or another. Pray that God would keep us and our staff encouraged throughout the year.

- Being Christians, we are in a spiritual battle. When you do ministry, you become a bigger target in that battle. Keep praying for us and our team that God would protect us from any spiritual attacks. Pray that God would give us the strength and encouragement to endure. Also pray for everyone praying for our ministry because when you pray for the ministry, you become a bigger target as well.

- Atheism is a big belief system at FLC. On any given year, about half of the students we work with are atheists or non-believers. Pray that God would open doors for the Gospel to be received and understood. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be working on the hearts and minds of those students on campus.

- Over the years, our staff has had a lot of health issues that can really be a discouragement. Right now, our staff is a mess in the health department. Josh had an issue with his medication over break and ended up in the ER. With that, the doctors think he may have had another stroke or seizure. His meds make him tired a lot but he's been even more tired since that episode. Rachel Horton is having debilitating migraines throughout the day. Aleksandr and Anna seem to be fighting off the tail end of the bronchitis that was going around last semester. I caught a illness at Life Impact. After a week of being home, I got over that but then got a splinter in my eyeball. Between that and the meds they put me on, I couldn't read for a week. Thankfully, my wife is pretty healthy right now other than being a bit sore from falling on the ice the other night. She does tend to catch whatever the students end up getting though so we pray that doesn't happen. Now, all of these health issues may just be a coincidence but with as fruitful as the last five months have been with the ministry, they may not be. I suspect the enemy may really be trying to discourage us. Pray that God would heal us up and keep our staff safe and healthy.

- Our staff has meshed pretty well over the last five months. It's a huge answered prayer. I think it's one of the reasons why the ministry has been so fruitful. Keep praying for our new staff members and our team that it would continue to mesh well.

- In our last letter, we asked you to pray for discernment for us concerning our summer mission trips. After a lot of prayer, we feel the Lord leading us back to Peru. One of our goals with the ministry we do has always been to get students involved in overseas missions. We feel it gives them a chance to be exposed to serving the Lord overseas in possibly a longer-term fashion and also gives them a chance to put their faith into action. This year, we had a lot of interest from students in the Peru trip. Unfortunately, with there only being so much funding to go around, that means we won't be able to do the other trips unless God miraculously brings in extra funding. We still hope to get Rachel back to where she grew up in Eastern Europe for closure in the next few years. We also hope to get back to the Philippines to do mission work while also stopping over in Japan to visit our students in the next few years as well. Be praying that we can get to those places in the coming years, and also that funding will come in for us this year for our mission trip back to Peru.

- With the recent warm temperatures that we have had, the mice are coming out of hibernation. I recently heard some mice already scurrying in our walls. Pray that God would keep those pest problems under control.

- For our water situation, we are still praying for hopefully, a coming solution but we've got some good news in the short-term. Miraculously, our water truck guy made it up to our place just as our water cistern was nearly empty. Our roads up to our place weren't good but I guess they were good enough that he didn't get stuck. So we got our water just in time. And more good news, the crazy amounts of snow that we've gotten this winter have melted a bit sending water into our well a bit early. It probably sounds strange but I got really excited when I saw the murky water come thru our bathtub faucet instead of clear water. It means our cistern is filling up with well water. It certainly won't last especially as the temperature cools back off but we are thankful while we have it! Pray that we continue to have water, and that we can find a long-term solution.

- During spring break, March 4th-12th, Rachel and our other staff will be taking up to 25 students down to Juarez, Mexico on a mission trip. They will be working with a school down there that our ministry has worked with before. The team will stay at the school compound which is pretty safe but nonetheless, be praying for the team's safety. We will have many non-Christian students on the team as well so be praying that this trip would open their eyes to the Gospel. Also be praying that God would work thru the team and be glorified.

- Over spring break, we also have a bunch of our former Japanese students coming back to Durango to visit us. I am staying in Durango for the break and will be able to catch up with them. Pray that God opens the door for more seeds to be planted and for the Holy Spirit to be at work on those former students' hearts.

- Often when ministries are fruitful, the enemy will try and cause division in an attempt to discourage and stifle God's work. Pray that God would protect the ministry from any division.

- Rachel and I trust God to provide for us and the ministry but we'd appreciate you praying as well that the funding needs would be met. If you would like to give for the on-going ministry happening at Fort Lewis or towards our Peru mission trip, please go to: Give Now.

- With as fruitful as the ministry has been, I want to end this section on a high note. We're so thankful for what God is doing on campus! Praise God for the fruit we are seeing at FLC and pray that He continues to bless the ministry and campus with that fruit.