When we look back at some years it is easy to see God's hand at work in the World.
For many people, finding God's hand at work in 2016 is pretty difficult. With war in the Middle East, refugees streaming into Europe, terrorism at home and abroad and continuing polarization throughout the World, it can be difficult to see God's hand at work in 2016. Worse still, for some people looking back at 2016 only confirms their belief at God is a capricious and uncaring God or maybe even that God really is dead (despite what The News Boys sing on Christian radio).
Unfortunately, I think when we view the World and God from this perspective, we tend to miss most of what God is doing and has always done. For the most part, God embraces the World and changes the World one person at a time.
That is not to say that God is incapable of impacting the World through large, societal events. Noah's flood, the parting of the Red Sea and the Babylonian captivity certainly come to mind as examples of God's willingness to work in this way. At the same time, however, these large, societal events are the exception, not the rule.
Throughout most of history, God's actions tend to be personal, not societal. God did not create mankind, God created a man named Adam and a woman named Eve and through them mankind was created. God did not form the nation of Israel, God chose Abraham and told him that from him a great nation would be born. God did not send armies of angels to tell the World of his new covenant, he sent his Son to share and live that covenant. Jesus did not spread His Good News by meeting with kings, heads of state, or people with power, Jesus met with a rag-tag group of fisherman and other common people through whom His message reached the whole world and continues to do so today.
Like it or not, God tends to work one person at a time.
Given that fact, maybe we need to look a little closer to home to see God's hand at work in the World in 2016. Maybe we need to look at our own lives and the lives of the people around us to see God at work through the gifts he gives us. If we do that, I think we will see that God is alive, well and hard at work in the World in and through us.
If I look at my own life over the last year, I can clearly see the myriad of ways God has blessed my life and the life of my family during 2016. From LeaAnn's successful foot surgery in January to Mosie's engagement to Steven in November, from Katie's successful transition from teaching to the business word in June to Olivia's return to the basketball court in November after a season sidelined due to injury, to Maggie finally finding the house of her dreams the second to last day of December, God has greatly blessed me and my family during 2016.
Beyond all this, one of the best gifts God gave to me in 2016 was the continued opportunity to work and share life with the amazing people involved in AIM and its various outreach ministries. More so than just talent, the one attribute which I cherish most in these people is their sincere and heart-felt desire to build honest and authentic relationships with other people around the World (both Christian and non-Christian). Further, many of these people pursued this passion on their own for years without significant support from their church or faith community. To these people, living life for others is simply part of their DNA and does not require a call from or support by a church to validate their efforts.
Some of these people are old friends and have been a part of AIM from the beginning. For starters Debbie Wills and her crazy band of friends who form the core of the SWAMP-IN Team blessed me deeply in 2016. Through their efforts, the SWAMP-IN Team organized five different teams from five different churches to work with the kids and staff at the Cheyenne River Youth Project last summer. In addition, Emma Schulte became the first young person introduced to the Cheyenne River Youth Project through the SWAMP-IN Team to spend an entire summer volunteering at the Cheyenne River Youth Project. We hope and pray that Emma is the first of many such young people to make this commitment.
I was also richly blessed in 2016 by the work of Jason Crowder, Beth Schult and Jadzia Rucka in organizing English as a Foreign Language/Bible Day Camps last summer for kids ages 6 to 14 at the Lutheran parishes in Jastrzebie Zdroj, Poland and Bielsko Biala, Poland. I am also extremely grateful for the efforts of Jadzia Rucka in obtaining invitations for AIM to help organize new Day Camps next summer at the Lutheran parishes in Orzesze, Poland and Katowice, Poland. Through Jadzia's efforts AIM will be helping organize four separate Day Camps in Poland next summer. I am also extremely grateful for the commitment of new friends, Steve and Julie Buuck from Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, to help make Day Camp at the Lutheran parish in Bielsko Biala a continuing part of the faith life of the staff and students at Faith Lutheran.
I was also deeply blessed in 2016 by the amazing work of Nita Holt, Jennifer Counts, Casey Vieth, Cindy Grummich, Diane Wegener and LeaAnn Herring in organizing another successful Christmas on the Reservation Toy Drive. Through their efforts, Christmas gifts were collected for over 800 Lakota kids and youth on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Finally, I was richly blessed in 2016 by the efforts of Christy Weber in heading up both the Guatemala Outreach! Team and Shoes and Hope Team. Through Guatemala Outreach! Christy organized another successful trip to the village of Quebrada Agua, Guatemala. This team also included two members of a neighboring church, Child of God Lutheran Church, which has committed to organizing its own team to work in Guatemala next summer. Through Shoes and Hope Christy was able to help drill a new well in a village in Haiti in 2016.
In addition to these old friends, 2016 saw the addition of six new friends to the AIM family. First, we have Pat and Jasmine McCormick and their outreach to the people of Liberia through AIM's new Logan Town Outreach. Next, we have Ron and Venus Nisbet and their outreach to the people of north St. Louis through AIM's new House of Zadok ministry. Last, but certainly not least, we have Ken and Charlotte Wienski and their outreach to the people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation through AIM's newest ministry, Lakota Lights. It has truly been a blessing to add these amazing people to our AIM family during the last twelve months. I am so excited to have the opportunity to get to know and work with these folks in the future. Nothing thrills me more than to see new people join our AIM family and to help them as they try to live their faith by loving and caring for others.
As you can see, God has provided me with many good gifts in 2016. While the World may still have its issues, I believe that God is continuing to work in the World one person at a time. I also feel blessed that God has given me and the rest of the AIM team the opportunity to be a part of that work in north St. Louis, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in Guatemala, in Liberia, in Poland and in whatever other place God may call us next.
God's Blessing on Another Year of Good Gifts from God in 2017