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Total Praise

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Being a part of Total Praise has allowed me the opportunity to experience something that I thought I might not get to again in my life.  I was in choir in high school, and was part of a small group of girls that went to elementary schools and sang.  For 35 years I’ve remembered the joy that the bond and relationships with the other singers brought to my life.  For the past few months, I have re-experienced that joy.  With Total Praise, the joy is much greater because our purpose each week as we practice and every time we perform is to offer our total praise, through our combined voices, to honor Jesus Christ.

At first I felt very uncomfortable because it had been so long since I sang with a group, but all the ladies are tremendously supportive of one another and I was quickly put at ease.  I’ve been friends or acquaintances with some of the ladies over the past few years at North Pointe, but being part of this praise team has allowed a deepening of relationships that is a great support to me throughout the week, as I look forward to seeing them and practicing again on Sundays!

Under the direction of Jan Burden, we come together each week to sing together, laugh together and pray together, with the idea of harmonizing not only in voice, but also in our relationships.  We come from different backgrounds, circumstances and struggles that we encourage each other through each week.  I think I can speak for all the ladies in the group when I say that Jan’s passion and vision for the group inspires us to work hard, prepare, but most of all have fun when we come together to offer music that honors God as well as be enjoyable to listeners.

Thank you, North Pointe and Jan Burden, for supporting and leading this ministry.

Gabriel’s Hope Foundation

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Boarding a plane to Zimbabwe for my first missions trip, I was headed to the Village of Hope in Harare and completely unaware of the lasting impact the trip would have on me.
I always said I wasn’t the “missionary” type nor would I ever go to Africa – I imagine God laughed at me for years every time I said this, and he continues to laugh as Africa is now a priority in my life.
While at the Village, I met two incredible kids: Gabriel and Pam. I was drawn instantly to Gabriel when I arrived as his joy, laugh, and infectious smile were irresistible. One afternoon, I peeked into Gabriel’s classroom where he whispered to me that he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. My heart broke, as I wanted nothing more than for Gabriel’s dream to become reality.
Pam and I bonded over talks of college when I told her I was a University teacher. Her dream was to attend Business school. While caught up talking about college life, as I would with my students, I completely forgot she had no financial means of paying for school and her dream may never happen.
Gabriel and Pam are both orphans living at the Village of Hope. Neither one has family who can provide financial support for education. They will complete high school while living at the Village but after graduation, there are few options. Funds are not available for post-secondary school, and the government requires they leave the Village once they are done school. Knowing that all the children may only ever receive a high school education and possibly end up on the streets weighed heavy on my heart long after I came home. So, I researched ways these kids could have the opportunity to attend college.
For a year, I’ve been working towards creating an endowment fund that will provide funds so the children of the Village of Hope can attend post-secondary school. The creation of this fund has been a challenge. I’ve found and lost many great ideas, felt defeated, and walked many dead end paths. However, in it all, I’ve heard God the loudest – “Where I lead you, I go with you”. I believe that God was being intentional in sending me to Africa and is now leading me in the direction of His purpose for my life.
A fund is being set up with Canada Gives, a company I feel understands the vision and passion behind this mission., a company I feel understands the vision and passion behind this mission. Thinking about the task of fundraising creates anxiety. However, the moment I think about Gabriel all grown up in a pilot’s uniform, my worries disappear.
Photos of Gabriel and Pam hang on my fridge as constant reminders of why I committed to this project. Gabriel became my sponsor child and is the inspiration behind “Gabriel’s Hope Foundation”.

Unleashed

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Unleashed is a re-release of McManus’ book, “The Barbarian Way.” BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for review. Reading the first few pages made me wonder if McManus’ observations on the contemporary Church had become the characterization of his own writing experience. “Unleashed” has a bit more “civilized” sounding approach to radical discipleship than the term “barbarian.”
I developed a love-hate relationship with the rest of the book. I hated the idea that McManus felt that such a book needed to be written and loved the style and content of the book.
The jury is still out for me on whether the church is actually “too civilized.” McManus uses a pretty wide brush to paint his picture. As the pastor of a large suburban church I resonate with McManus’ desire to mobilize the church. “When the church is a movement, our stewardship becomes the unleashing of our God-given gifts, talents, and passions. My goal is not to cast a vision that everyone buys into, but to create a visional community where everyone who enters in begins to have wild and God-sized dreams and visions.” p. 103 That is spot on with what the Spirit of God has been recently prompting us to share in our Sunday messages. Our vision is to insure that everyone in our church family is equipped, unleashed and supported in using their SHAPE to serve God wherever He leads.
I would love to put a copy of this book in the hands of everyone in our church. It’s a simple and inspiring read. It would come with one proviso – simply “going” outside our comfort zone does not make us any less a missionary than going outside of our geographic zone. The most vital mission field is the marriage you are in, the children you have been gifted to raise, the work associates with whom you spend a significant portion of your life and the neighbours you rub shoulders with. What brings the greatest glory to God is to do his will and to “be about his business” and that can be accomplished by unconditionally loving those around you. That in itself demands a selfless sacrifice made possible by experiencing the unconditional love of God. I have printed out McManus’ observation on page 61 as an inspiration to strive for intimacy with God. “We have become believers rather than experiencers. To know God in the Scriptures always went beyond information to intimacy.”  Unleash the potential of your experience with God

Brianna in Haiti

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I decided that for those who are just joining my journey now, I should write about my story and how I wound up in Haiti. So here goes nothing.

Growing up in a Christian home, I went to church all the time and learned all of the Bible stories. I did Wee College, went to a Christian school, and did all the right things. By the time I was thirteen years old, my older sister went on her first missions trip with our church. When she returned, I listened to all the stories and experiences, and I decided that the next summer I would be on the team. I was at school the year after my sister’s trip, sitting in my Social Studies class. My teacher, probably completely unbeknownst to her, started talking about the world. She went over each country in the Caribbean/Central America region, giving her two cents about each place. When it came to Haiti she simply said, “This is Haiti, and it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.” From there she moved on, but it stuck with me. I needed to know why Haiti was so poor.

I went home from school that day and got on the computer to research Haiti, its history, and the many different organizations within the country. The summer after that year of school, when I was fourteen, I went on my church’s missions trip to Mexico and Los Angeles. I looked at it like an adventure and a chance to travel, but I knew from that trip that my heart was changed. When I returned, I kept researching every possible thing I could think of to research about Haiti. I knew that I was going to one day live there, and I dreamed about it for many years. Throughout the years, I kept going on missions trips with my church, wanting to gain as much experience and knowledge about missions and helping people as possible.

When I entered grade 12, I started talking with my friends Travis and Jessie about what the year after high school would look like. They really impressed on me the idea of going to Vanguard College, which is something I always knew I wanted to do. That year was a crucial one for me, helping out in my youth group and going on a youth missions trip. Together with my friend Jocelyne, I signed up for a one-year missions program at Vanguard. During my first year at Vanguard, I switched my program from the one-year certificate to the four-year degree. It was also at that point that I decided the exact time I would be able to go to Haiti, May 2010.

At this point, I knew it was time for me to start narrowing down organizations in Haiti to ones that I felt I could work with. I had it narrowed down to three, and from there decided that Mission of Hope was the one that I wanted to work with. Preparations to head there for May 2010 started and continued, even as the earthquake hit and there were so many uncertainties about me still being able to go. Somehow through all of the chaos that seemed to go on in my head and heart post-earthquake, I knew I would still be going to Haiti. I already had my tickets booked, after all, and I wanted it more than anything. The hardest thing to hear during this time were the questions about Haiti and the earthquake and if I was still going to be able to go there. Finally I was on my way, and the amount of uncertainties about my time in Haiti made me feel so overwhelmed, nervous, and unsure of if I even wanted to go. But I knew I had made it that far, and that there was no way I could back down.

Throughout the months before this, I somehow got an idea in my mind that I should work for UN. Looking back, I know it was some sort of cop out idea where I wouldn’t have to do the ministry that God had in store for me. I had been questioning whether God actually wanted me to work for the UN or not, and had been really seeking God and trying to figure it out. After being in Haiti for a few weeks and trying to seek God out relentlessly each day, I heard from God. He told me, in the clearest voice possible, that I would be back in Haiti. This was the absolute breaking point for my heart, and the point where I started to see the massive value in how my everyday life in Haiti would affect my future.

Leaving Haiti was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was broken each day, crying more then I wasn’t crying, and wondering why I had to be apart from the place I had loved for more than six years. The last year at school was invaluable for me. I learned so much that I would have really missed out on had I not gone for the final year of my degree. The year in Canada gave me time to mentally and emotionally and physically and spiritually prepare myself for heading back to Haiti, as I wanted so desperately to do. Finally it became official, that for a time I would be heading to Haiti once I finished school.

And now here I am. I graduated a few days ago from Vanguard, I had a going away party, I said all of my good-byes, and now I am in Florida… I am here for just another day and a half, taking the time to relax and breathe with my friend before we both head into Haiti. The future is uncertain, but I feel content knowing that God gave me my desires and He knows my desires. And somehow right now that is enough for me.

Keep up with Brianna on her blog at http://briannainhaiti.blogspot.com/

Seven and One Half Hours

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Slave Lake. Up until May 16th it was a name on a map for most people. Now its International news for the worst of reasons. On May 15th at 2PM residents were advised that fires in the area were no threat to the town. In fact, people from the surrounding area were being evacuated to Slave Lake. Everything changed by 9:30PM. An order was given to evacuate the town. Within those seven and one half hours life changed for thousands of people. For many, their worst fear descended upon them thicker than the gathering smoke from the fires. Just as quickly, within seven and one half hours, aid began pouring in to meet needs of the people of Slave Lake. Firemen raced from Edmonton and St Albert and nearby areas to fight the blaze. Emergency shelters were set up. The Red Cross showed up.  Water and food were supplied. Bedding, cots, cloth diapers, clothing, blankets, and more began to pour in. Facebook sites went from zero to thousands of caring people wanting to connect and help.  Reception areas throughout Alberta were quickly overflowing with donations. Trucks delivering help were turned back from Athabasca and area because there was no room left to store all the donations.  What a difference seven and one half hours can make.  For current updates go to  http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=115084005244550

Run, Baby, Run

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This Sunday, MAY 15, 2011, at 7:30AM local time, Jocelyn and I take off on a 20.73km journey in the St. Albert inaugural Run Wild 1/2 Marathon.  We enjoy running, although some people think of it as “speed walking” when they see us training.  Our goal on Sunday is to finish what we started.  Time is not a factor.  Finishing is.  We are of the mind that “slow and steady wins the race.”  I think of Christianity in the same way.  Our faith journey is a a marathon, not a sprint.  Its not about speed but stamina.  Its about finishing well.  Faith is a marathon of hope.  When I run, I think that one day…maybe soon…NP will host a “2km, 5km, 10km Run and Walk of Hope” for our Village of Hope in Zimbabwe.  Raising money and awareness for what we can do to offer hope to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.  Better get training.

Speaking of a marathon, our “category” shifted once again on Sat. May 14th at 3:14am when our first grand-daughter, Quinn Marie Jones, was born to  Jean Marc and Angie of Leduc.  So now we’ll run the Marathon as “grand-parents.”  Wow.

Delivering Happiness

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When you come for a visit to my office you get the impression I kinda like Coke.  My shelves are lined with cans, bottles and mementos from around the world.  People know I am a collector and bring items from their travels for my collection.  Each item becomes a conversation starter.  Coca-Cola is 125 years old this week.  There is a huge birthday celebration planned in Atlanta at Coca-Cola’s head office.  I like the vision they cast about their product – “delivering happiness.”  Sounds a bit grandiose but I like it.  Coca-Cola is in more countries than any other product, except the Bible.  It has the greatest brand recognition, except for the cross.  My collection reminds me each day that my task is to help deliver happiness.  The happiness that comes from knowing Jesus.  The happiness that Jesus promised in a “fullness of life” and a purpose in living, and a life beyond this life.  Don’t keep the faith…pass it on.

Happy Mother’s Day

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“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

Elizabeth’s words have echoed in my mind since I first read her quote. Moms are unique. Someone said, “We all want a God with clothes on. Since God couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, He made moms.” It takes a mom to know a mom. For Mother’s Day I have gratefully borrowed the thoughts of a mom about Moms.

“Before I was a Mom…I cleaned my house each day. I never tripped over toys or forgot words to a song. I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous. I never thought about immunizations.

Before I was a Mom…I had never been puked on – pooped on – spit on – chewed on, or peed on. I had complete control of my mind and my thoughts. I slept all night.

Before I was a Mom…I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests…or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.

Before I was a Mom…I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body.
I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a Mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.

Before I was a Mom…I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every ten minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonder or the satisfaction of being a Mom.

Before I was a Mom…I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.”

To every mom who reads this…God bless you.
To every child who reads this…tell, don’t text, your mom, your gratitude for her.
To every father…bless the mother of your children.
To everyone who grieves the loss of their own mother, like I do, peace be to you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Oprah of Afghanistan

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MacLean’s ran the story a few months ago.  I had never heard of Mozhdah Jamalzadah but now I can’t forget her.  She is the only female host of  an Afghan TV show.  And she’s Canadian.
Mozhdah, who like Beyoncé is known by her first name, and is mobbed whenever she leaves her Kabul home, has been labelled the Oprah of Afghanistan. The comparison is of course imperfect. Oprah doesn’t sleep with a gun. She doesn’t ride in bulletproof cars or travel with guards armed with AK-47s. Death threats don’t flood her inbox. Mozhdah, whose first thought on entering a new building is how she might escape, is gutsy in a way Oprah doesn’t need to be. Her black leather leggings, six-inch heels and silver hoop earrings wouldn’t get a second glance in Vancouver, where she’s spent all but five of her 26 years, but this is Afghanistan. Until a few years ago, the bare ankles alone could have earned her a public whipping.
Todd Babiak interviewed Mozhdah in Edmonton on April 15th.  She was in town prior to speaking at an event in Lacombe sponsored by the humanitarian organization, “A Better World.”  She said, “I am exporting Canadian values, the values I grew up with. I kept wondering what the girls of Afghanistan could accomplish if they had grown up with the freedoms I had.”
I thought about Canadian freedom.  The freedoms I have.  The freedoms we all have.  Mozhdah has seized her opportunity. What is God calling you to do?

God Moments

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Its two days after Easter Sunday and I still have a ringing in my ears. Over and over I hear, “Hope is alive! Hope is alive!” With the sound, I can also see the enthusiastic faces of the choir giving their all in proclaiming those words. Easter Sunday 2011 was an experience. It was a “God moment” for me and 100’s of others. People had encounters with the Lord. Some crossed the faith line. Some experienced a renewed hope. That’s what happens when people use their SHAPE to serve God.  Some of the choir sang together for the first time.  They found their “sweet spot.”  They ministered.  You can’t help but know Sean and Jan are in their “sweet spot” when they direct the choir.   The band created a live sound that rocked.  The technicians did their thing so well you didn’t know they were there.  God works through people like that.  He does spiritual work through spirited people.  We expect every Sunday at NP to have its own unique “God moments.”  They happen in our Childrens ministry and during worship and as we hear the Word of God.  This Sunday could be your Sunday for a “God moment.” You won’t know if you don’t show.