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Issue 8-04

Count Days, Not Calories

Several nights back, I was wakened at 1:00 A.M. by this urgent thought: You only have fifteen years left, you know.

Obviously, I didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, I slipped out of bed and went downstairs to seriously pondered what I had just heard. You only have fifteen years left, you know. This wasn’t a gloom-and-doom message; more the kind of reminder a spouse gives when you’ve lost track of time: “You know we have to be ready to leave the house in half an hour.” Or perhaps, it was more like the gentle words of a friend, “We really need to attend that meeting; it will mean so much to Julia if we are present.”

I’m suspecting the Holy Spirit was nudging me, since I’ve never really been any good at math. At least, something was prodding my subconscious in the middle of the night, after I had slept for a while and my mind was rested, and when I was not distracted with any of the “to-doings” of my daily life.

Let’s see … 15 years x 365 days equals 5475 days left to me. In 15 years, I will be 81. How much world traveling, strategic-living do I think I will be doing then?

In the last Soulish Food, “Western Diseases,” I asked you to help me brainstorm why, with so much spiritual help available to us, we are still so spiritually ineffective. Thank you to the two who responded with suggestions. (WHAT DO THE REST OF YOU THINK?) Maybe I should personalize my question: Why do you think your life is spiritually ineffective?—if it is. What is keeping you from being more spiritually fruitful? Where, exactly, is your soul starving?

Since we’re getting personal, here is one of my own answers—I am more likely to count calories than days. Now counting calories is a good thing.  I’ve lost 20 pounds over the last four years and kept it off, and I am starting on the last phase of weight loss—another 15 pounds to go. However, I confess (this is a confession of repentance; receive it with the seriousness in which it is given, please), that I have not (until a few nights ago) been counting my days. Since Monday night, February 23, 2009, three days have passed; that makes the time now allotted to me 5472 days—we’re counting down fast here, folks.

David and I are part of a read-and-intercede book group. For the last five months we have read books written by and about people from the international community. For the first part of the evening, we discuss the book of the month, and then we spend the last half of the evening praying for the nation the author represents. Last month it was Iran; we read the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Many of the books have been stories of Christians in hostile environments. We were stunned when we read The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. Despite the title, which I couldn’t get around for the while, this is an autobiography of a leader in the house-church movement in China. It is a record of faith learned in the hardships of beatings, imprisonments, privations, tortures and starvation. It is a page-turner. Once started, I couldn’t put it down. Not only were David and I amazed that anyone could survive such physical brutalities, we were shaken with the vision of hundreds of thousands of Chinese Christians for the Back to Jerusalem movement.

This plan is to take the Gospel along the old Silk Road (there are three branches actually—one through Central Asia, one through southwest China, and one through Tibet), presenting the Gospel along the way, until they reach Jerusalem. “Today, the nations along the ancient Silk Road are the most unevangelized in the whole world. The three biggest religious strongholds that have refused to yield to the advance of the gospel—Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—have their heart here. More than 90% of the remaining unreached people groups in the world live along the Silk Road and in the nations surrounding China. Two billion of the earth’s inhabitants live and die in this area, completely oblivious to the Good News that Jesus died for their sins.” –Brother Yun

The motto of the first Chinese people who were obedient to this vision, starting in 1921 in Shandong Province, was, “Sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering, death.” In addition to theological training, the Back to Jerusalem missionaries learn how to: (1) suffer and die for the Lord, (2) witness for the Lord under any circumstances, on trains or buses, or even in the back of a police van on their way to the execution ground, and (3) escape for the Lord. “We know that sometimes it is the Lord who sends us to prison to witness for him, but we also believe the devil sometimes wants us to go to prison to stop the ministry God has called us to do. We teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-story windows without injuring themselves.” Not the typical seminary training, to say the least.

“Who will do this?” they ask. “Who will take this message of redemption all the way back to Jerusalem? Americans will not give their lives and risk torture and imprisonment for their faith.”

Yes. He is right. Most of us, Karen Mains included, have been counting calories—metaphorically speaking—rather than the days remaining to us.

I confess that I have been slipping into a comfortable old age. I like flying under the radar, away from the “friendly fire” of my own compatriots in the church. I confess I love having most of my evenings free of meetings and responsibilities. I confess I cherish spending time with our grandchildren, as well as the uninterrupted “one-more-days” with my husband. I confess I’ve been recovering from decades of overwork and unending deadlines and hoping this tranquility will be the nature of life until my decline. And besides, there are all those eager young recruits out there who neither know us nor the battles we’ve fought and lost and won. I confess I’ve been thinking—ever so subliminally—“They don’t really need us, or want us; I guess it’s time for them to do it.”

Nope. These “calories” I’ve been counting are empty. Tomorrow there will be 5471 days left to me. I cannot tell you how energized I have become since having this thought whispered to my heart in the middle of the night, February 23, 2009. I have written “5471” on tomorrow’s date in my Day Runner.

“So teach us to number our days,/ That we may gain a heart of wisdom./ Return, O Lord?/ How long?/ And have compassion on Your servants./ Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,/ That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!/ Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,/ The years in which we have seen evil./ Let Your work appear to Your servants,/ And Your glory to their children./ And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,/ And establish the work of our hands for us;/ Yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:12-17, The Orthodox Study Bible)

Five thousand, four hundred seventy-one—and counting.

Karen Mains

Kenya Journey

Will you pray for us as we leave for Kenya on March 24-April 15? There are five who are going for the purpose of solidifying our human relationships and clarifying the manufacturing systems for the Global Bag Project. We will be taking photos and video interviews with some high-end home cameras (on loan to us). My goal is to come back with enough stories and material to write well about what God is doing in the lives of the African people with whom we have connected. We will include these video testimonies on the Web site and create a 15-minute DVD that can be used in small groups.

Please pray:

• For the two others who are still deciding. One is a professional photographer and would be invaluable to the Global Bag Project efforts, but she would need a gift of about $4000 to journey.
• I will be making some contacts with periodicals to see if I can go with some writing assignments in my pocket. If you know of any editors who might be looking for articles about Africa, please contact me.
• For health and safety and strength as we travel.
• For God-ordained connections—the right people at the right place at the right time.
• That we would have the GBP brochure and Web site completed before we leave the States.
• That I will find a church (or two) that would like to work with me to test and frame church involvement with the Global Bag Project. Just think of what it would mean if everyone in one church in a community carried reusable shopping bags imprinted with the church name and Web site:

First Church of Shady Nook Supports The

[Global Bag Project logo]


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"Most of us, Karen Mains included, have been counting calories—metaphorically speaking—rather than the days remaining to us."

Recommended Reading

The Heavenly Man:
The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

By Brother Yun & Paul Hattaway

Praise for The Heavenly Man
from an reviewer

"Many Christians in America are causally aware that outside the West, Jesus' followers experience difficulty because of their faith. We observe November's Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and afterward go on with our lives. You cannot read this piercing biography of Liu Zhenying, better known as Brother Yun, and remain unchanged.

These recorded experiences show in a concrete way what it is for Chinese Christians to live hard lives of extreme danger because of their faith: police raids in the night, long imprisonment without trial, beatings (no citizen of the West is equipped to imagine what a beating is), forced abortions and sterilizations, starvation, dehydration, isolation, nakedness. But from this, God produces lives of commitment to Christ, lives of joy, and and intense motivation to carry the message of the Gospel around the world, at any cost.

... Unimagined miracles side by side with heartbreaking hardship -- happening daily half a world away.

After reading this book, you'll appreciate the impact Jesus has on civilization as we know it. You'll see how dark and brutal civilization becomes without Christ. You'll understand why the freedoms and protections we take for granted are a treasure.

But you will also see how dangerous peace, safety and material prosperity can be to your spiritual health and to your commitment to serving the cause of Christ.

What will it cost you to NOT read this book?"

Review from Rev. Dr. Mark Stibbe, author of Thinking Clearly About Revival

"An inspirational and heroic story of a radical Christian in the house churches of China. This book is like reading a modern-day version of the Book of Acts. Prepare to be deeply encouraged as well as rudely awakened. An absolute must for the sleeping churches of the West."

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