Glimpses of a Big God

Colton Burpo was about four years old when he found out Heaven is for real. His near–death experience after suffering a ruptured appendix so astonished his parents that his dad, Todd Burpo, wrote it up in the book Heaven is for Real. Now Colton’s story is the subject of a movie coming to theaters April 16th. In this conversation with Managing Editor Jeff McDonald, Mr. Burpo talks about how Colton’s story shows what God wants people to know.

Jeff McDonald: What impresses you most about what Colton saw?
Todd Burpo:
What impressed me most was not what he saw but how he explained it. Childlike faith is so valuable to God. I think God knew that He needed a kid to talk to the world about heaven. It intrigues us adults because we recognize innocence when we see it, and realize we have lost it. When a child so innocently describes and defends it accurately with information he couldn’t have gotten down here you accept it. Many adults with near death experiences talk about tunnels or white lights and things get vague. Then Colton says specifically “angels carried me” and “I saw Jesus and this is what He looks like” and “I met family members,” his witness is unfiltered and uncontaminated.

JM: Colton reports seeing so much in a very short time in heaven. How do you explain it?
TB:
That was one of my first big struggles. How could he see so much in such a short amount of time? There isn’t an earthly explanation, but a couple of heavenly ones. When God told a prophet something that was to happen a thousand years in the future and the events that prophet shared came true, it becomes obvious that God operates outside of time. I think heaven is a place outside of time. Peter says with God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. If you’re a mathematician you figure out how long three minutes would equal it comes to two years and 12 months. These are explanations I arrived at for how Colton saw so much in such a short time.

JM: Colton talked about being in class with Jesus, and seeing you preparing for battle. How could a four–year–old absorb all that?
TB:
He could tell me about my past and talked about my future. I know what he told me about had happened, even though he wasn’t even born. It was mind blowing. There came a point where I just had to accept it.

JM: How does what you have learned impact your everyday life?
TB:
Peace is a powerful thing. So many things come from peace, like hope and faith and boldness. The Bible talks about a peace that passes understanding. I experienced it that day Colton unwrapped information about my daughter. All my wife and I knew was that before Colton was born we had lost a daughter to a miscarriage. When Colton said he met his sister in heaven and that she knows my wife and me and can’t wait for us to get there, you know that you know God it going to make everything okay. It’s funny how adults sometimes debate theology or what we think is right. Colton has a peace about it. He doesn’t stoop to the level of confrontation or argument, because when you know you’re right. You just don’t get offended. When he debated faith in God with the physicist Steven Hawking, Colton didn’t argue about the existence of God, he just said “he can believe what he wants to, but I know what I saw.”

JM: How is God using Colton’s story to reach people?
TB:
Let’s face it, the verses about heaven in the Bible are kind of like a big jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces, but no picture at the front of the Bible showing you how to put it together. Colton has given me and many people, I think, a picture of how the pieces fit together. And Colton doesn’t contradict Scripture. He just explains those dangling verses so they fit. Now when I speak to a group of people I don’t need to say well “this is what I, Todd, says,” I just want say “the Bible says this, Jesus says this.”

JM: While we are not to think God planned Colton to almost die, what message is He conveying to people through it?
TB:
We’ve seen people touched in three big ways. Where people have lost someone and it really, really hurts, Colton’s story has given healing to them like nothing else. Assurances from a little kid that “I met my sister, my dad’s grandpa, and this is what he’s like,” lead people to accept that God has promised to take care of everything. Colton also delivered a message especially for me. He would approach me many times and say “Dad, Jesus wanted me to tell you He really, really loves the children.” This was something I evidently needed to realize as a pastor. I know that arriving in heaven I will be asked several questions: What did you do with Jesus and what did you do for Jesus? Colton told you I really love the children. What did you do about it? So now I prioritize and emphasize children’s ministry. Another thing I’ve been taught is just to be open and honest about my journey, about how God took something so painful in my life and turned it into something good. When I was in that hospital and my son was yelling for me not to let people wheel him away, I was so angry. It was the lowest moment in my life. At those moments do you run away from God or run to Him? I took all my anger and ran to God and said “Hey I’m in trouble here.” It was the most unpastorly prayer I have ever prayed.

After Colton recovered, I remember he was in his bedroom playing and I asked him “Son, remember when you said you came back from heaven? Did you want to come back?” He looked up at me and said “No Dad I wanted to stay.” Then like so many other times he took over the conversation. “You know Dad, remember when I was yelling for you when I woke up in the hospital? The reason was because Jesus came to me and said He was answering your prayer.” I learned that God can handle your lowest low. Many times we pretend God doesn’t know everything. But when we are honest, God can connect with us in our deepest hurt and deepest thoughts and He can handle it and is not afraid of those moments when we think we are unraveling. God wants to be there with us.

JM: So what is required on our part? Just be open and honest?
TB:
Jesus said His Father looks for those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. Even in the best of our relationships, such as marriage, we hide stuff from our spouses, thinking that if they knew everything we thought or are tempted with, they wouldn’t like us very much. We forget that when we come to God, He knows our thoughts. He knows everything about me and He still sent His Son to die for me and He loves me anyway. How do you square the fact that while I was in the hospital yelling at God He was holding my son on his lap, comforting and blessing him? His faithfulness is never dependent ours.

JM: Had any kind of faith formed in Colton before this experience?
TB:
I have come to think that there is an age of accountability, that we all have to take steps of faith. Colton was never baptized as an infant, and of course my miscarried daughter wasn’t either. Where was sin dealt with? On the cross. God is never going to condemn an innocent person. You just don’t get more innocent than an unborn child.

JM: Did you anticipate Colton’s story ever being made into a movie?
TB:
If God had told me that millions of people would read my book and that it would become a movie I would probably have run away like a chicken. This has been too big for me to handle. One day when I was resisting writing the story I was praying “I am not an author God, I’m a fireman, I put in garage doors, I pastor, I coach wrestling. I’m just not that guy.” Then God reminded me “remember when you found out about your daughter? Remember the peace you experienced? Is it right for you to keep that peace to yourself?” I have never won an argument with God.

When do you stop helping people? When do you stop being the church? You can only be the church when you extend God’s love to somebody else. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are love your Lord God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second is like it—love your neighbor as to yourself. I have to be that person who helps others. Regardless of the haters out there and the people that attack us, it’s worth it because those people matter to Him and that they should matter to me.

How many times did Jesus tell people go and share with other people what he did for them? That’s all Colton is doing. When God interrupts life and he answers prayers He address those doubts and gives people assurance and confidence that this is a big God, this is a prayer answering God, that He is still alive and hasn’t ceased answering prayers, His spirit hasn’t ceased showing up in peoples lives, heaven hasn’t stopped taking in those that love Him. We have a world out there that needs to know that God is alive and well and is still the God of the Bible, that needs to know that the God of the Bible is still relevant today. Heaven is for Real has now got contracts for thirty-six different languages and the last one they just signed as Hebrew.

JM: How do you answer those who doubt the validity of near death experiences, who think the cause is rooted in neurological pathways or something physiological?
TB:
Colton was too young to have false memories or memories in place. He never knew my granddad. My granddad died before I was seven. He had never seen a picture of him. And for him to recognize a picture taken of him back in the 1940s. The only explanation for that is that he had an experience with my granddad outside the reality that we know of here; there is no other option. Tens of thousands of people have contacted us about what they have seen and experienced near death. Documenting all these stories would show how similar experiences have taken place over and over again. Some people refuse to accept it just because they can’t reproduce it.

JM: What do you hope the movie will accomplish?
TB:
It is a huge conversation starter. My editor was very nervous about seeing it for the first time. Her reaction was “Wow, I can’t wait to take all these people with me to see it. A question we faced with the book was “How do you stay uncompromising without being too preachy?” The movie has maintained that incredible balance. I think this movie is going to challenge everyone sitting in the theaters, Christians and non–Christians, to consider what they really believe and should you believe in what you say you do. There are some people in my life that because of some hurt in their past or something a church person did to them will never come to a church door, but they would go to a movie with me.

Some will say “I believe in heaven, and not because a kid said so.” But other people need stories. This is an opportunity to be loving and caring for people who could benefit from seeing this film. Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world. He came into the world to make it right.

JM: How much input did you have in the film?
TB:
Randall Wallace, the director, and I talked on the phone many, many, many times. I didn’t tell him what to write. He did a magnificent job. Randall Wallace wrote Braveheart and Pearl Harbor and has directed many films. He is a great storyteller. Dean Semler, the cinematographer, got an Oscar for “Dances with Wolves.” The person who edited “The Passion of the Christ,” all these guys came together and agreed that this is Colton’s story and said “We have to tell it the way Colton would want us to tell it.” How have you tried to maintain a normal lifestyle for you and your family with all the notoriety surrounding your book and movie? With the notoriety and Colton how has, I guess you have had to protect him from this attention and he’s a normal kid I mean he is well spoken and he is quite direct.

JM: Now that Colton is 14, has his memory of what he saw in heaven faded?
TB:
Some have faded, but a lot of them are still very, very clear. I attribute that to two things. Once we started realizing what he was sharing with us as parents we have prayed ever since then, “Oh God please don’t let our son forget this, this is too important to forget.” I believe God has answered those prayers. Second, when you talk about something over and over again you remember it. When my little son went to preschool, to kindergarten, he would talk to his friends and people in class about heaven. All his life he has never known not to talk about heaven. Now that he is a freshman in high school, he the same kids he has grown up with are still there and to them he is just Colton. The book is new, but the story is by no means new to his friends.

JM: What is Colton like now?
TB:
When you meet him and hear how direct he is and black and white in his thinking you would say “yep that is the kid I read about.” He’s not perfect. He has his issues, and struggles with the teenage years and raging hormones, just like everyone else.

JM: How have you tried to maintain a normal lifestyle for your family amid all the notoriety?
TB: People ask us “You still live in Imperial, Why?” Well, because I’m a dad and here is where Colton still gets to be himself. Notoriety? He doesn’t have any here. That is why we stay here. And people protect him. One of his classmates was on Facebook last year when these people were saying terrible things about Colton. She was so mad. “How can you say these things about my friend? You don’t know him and you have never met him and I know he is telling the truth and everything he has told me has been the same since the second grade.” People will ask young people “Hey Colton Burpo is in your town, where is he?” He’s in the group but they won’t give him up. Now some friends will say “I’m Colton Burpo” and try to pick up girls every now and then and that’s kind of funny and comical sometimes.

We are not special here. People think somehow that my church is all of sudden packed and exploding because of the book. That’s not the case. There is sometimes competition between churches and unfortunately Satan kind of riles things up and the book has brought a lot of false rumors about us. People say we contradict what we say in the book. There are still some hard things about staying in your hometown. Jesus had that same problem let me tell you I am nowhere as good as Him.

JM: Did Colton come back with a strong sense of God’s judgment against evil?
TB: Even though we don’t generally talk about hell very often, we definitely talk about how Colton saw Satan and how there is a final battle between good and evil and all the followers of Jesus are saved and Satan gets thrown into hell. We didn’t skip that. In the book I write about being at a funeral service and Colton is like “Dad did he know Jesus, Dad did he know Jesus, he has to have Jesus or he can’t go to heaven.” We didn’t step away from that anywhere in the book from the beginning to the end.

JM: Are you concerned about how Christianity is understood in today’s culture?
TB: One of the things that bother me the most is how North America the Christian world is slowly in decline and it is growing everywhere else. We have such an Americanized, commercialized, materialistic view of Christianity and even though we are the most educated and maybe the most blessed country, our churches in many instances don’t reflect a biblical worldview. I think you at Salvation Army, you deal with that everyday. Your bell ringers let people know you are here to help people and people duck their heads and walk right past you. I am going to be held accountable for the people that I have influenced here and we definitely have to be more the hands and feet of Christ and show our faith by who we are and how we treat each other and help others.

As a pastor I sit down with my leadership, my congregation and say there are two types of people that go to church in America. One type of person wants to go to heaven. Then there is type of person that wants to take as many people to heaven as they can. Unfortunately the second group is smaller than the first. We’ve got to be sacrificing, giving, sharing, doing things for people who are not coming to church and those who are not in the church because we care about them.

JM: How did you come to faith?
TB: I don’t believe you become a Christian because your parents take you to church. I believe you become a Christian because you meet God. I was nine years old and at a children’s camp and all of a sudden when this man was speaking God started speaking to me and His voice overtook the man’s voice and it was like “Todd I want you, you have been following me, your parents have been taking you to church, but I need you to follow me because you want to. God broke through and God became real to me, that’s when I became Christian. You don’t become a Christian because someone convinces you that Jesus is right, you eventually open yourself up and you meet Jesus.

JM: How is God using you to reach skeptics and people from other cultures?
TB: Sometimes I have gone on TV shows and have had to debate people on the spot who say they are agnostic or an atheist. I tell them “I really don’t have an argument, I just have to ask you if you are honest because if you are honest I just want you to pray one prayer and mean it. ‘God are you for real and if you are for real prove it to me and is Jesus your Son?’ God is the one that proves himself to people. I’m just here to tell you what God did for me, but if you were to pray that prayer God is really good at answering it.”

When I was in Spain I was on a Spanish radio program on national public radio studio talking through an interpreter the host asks me “Do you believe that Jews, Muslims, and others all are going to hell? I told him “You’re asking me the wrong question. You shouldn’t ask me what I believe because my belief is just an opinion. My opinion doesn’t matter anymore than anyone else’s, but here is the deal. What you should be asking is “What did God say?” All that matters in the end is what God said. It reminds me of Colton saying “Jesus told us kids if you believe in Him and follow Him, His dad is happy with that and we get to go back to heaven.”

JM: To sum up, what problems that people that struggle with today are addressed by your son’s experience?
TB: In our very first interview the interviewer asked “Colton what do you want people to know?” He said “Heaven is for real and you are going to like it.” People are afraid of the unknown, but you don’t have to be afraid. You can get into scripture and see what Colton is saying is true and you can start looking forward the future. Jesus came to come get Colton and take him to heaven to comfort him and to deal with his hurts. Anyone who wants to give their life to Jesus, Jesus wants to do no less for them than what He did for Colton.

The Most Blessed Place On Earth

Disneyland, which shares the same neighborhood as the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Anaheim, bills itself as the “happiest place on earth,” That may very well be, but the residents and staff at the ARC counter that theirs is “the most blessed place on earth.”

The ARC in Anaheim was the first Salvation Army center in the United States to offer rehabilitation services to women suffering addiction, in addition to the programs this and other ARCs traditionally offer men. Until recently Majors Bill and Laurie Heiselman administered the center, having since been succeeded by Majors John and Katherine Reed. Despite the change, the work of repairing peoples’ lives moves forward.

The six-month program has a fourfold emphasis to treat the whole person: spiritual, social, psychological and biological. In commenting on how this uniquely relates to women, Major Laurie Heiselman says, “Women are uniquely built and there are issues that are particular to women, whether from a sexual standpoint, or issues involving relationships— including ties to children and family—in addition to issues of emotional wellbeing, including self-esteem and self-worth. Their issues are more intense. This is a place where the healing can begin and we know it happens here.”

Noting the differences between men and women in recovery, Major Bill Heiselman notes, “Women tend to be more open with some of their issues. The pain is greater so the healing needs to be greater. The rewards of completing the program and maintaining sobriety are also very great if they can get back with their family and change the generation that is coming.”

The Anaheim center has emphasized the physical aspect of healing in unique ways compared to traditional programs in Salvation Army centers. Using methods based on the research of Dr. Daniel Amen, the Anaheim ARC works with men and women clients to shut off cravings in the brain by adopting a strict food regimen coupled with an aggressive exercise program. Believing that many who abuse drugs and alcohol have done so at the expense of proper nutrition, the emphasis is on getting the body back in balance to enhance efforts made in the spiritual, mental and emotional spheres. Once the body is in balance, the chance for success improves markedly.

Ms. Jin Kim, who now serves as intake counselor at the ARC, struggled with an addiction to methamphetamines. It began while she was trying to complete her college degree. Things spun out of control as the drug claimed more of her life. She remembers how she first met the Army. “My family was tired of me. They were tired of my lying about wanting to get sober and clean. They were tired of my unpredictable nature, my actions, all of it. They were sad, upset, frustrated and didn’t know how to help me. I didn’t know how to help myself.”

Her brother found The Salvation Army online and urged her to go there. She recalls him driving her to the center. “I never thought I would be in this position. I never thought my life would have led me to where I was at that time, driving to a drug and alcohol recovery program.” But she stayed, not only completing the program but remaining as an employee of the center.

Not all succeed the first time. Susan Coburn recalls how she failed and then made it right. “I left here and left Jesus at the door. I missed something: a personal relationship with God and having that with me everywhere. God is ever present and He sees me, not just when I pretend like I’m hiding, like He can’t see me. It’s not hide-and-seek with God and that’s what I was doing.” Realizing that her lifestyle of addiction was killing her, she went to her grown children and told them she needed help. She was surprised that they were thrilled with the news. They urged her to stay until she got well and then promised to support her in her new lifestyle upon her return home.

She rejoices at where she is now. “The future looks wonderful. I’m starting my job search. I just started taking classes to become a soldier (member) in The Salvation Army. My dependency has been replaced by relying on God and having faith in Him, not in a substance.”

The Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen Salvation Army Group.Karen Ribaudo worked for Orange County, California’s child protection unit. Karen and a nurse practitioner examined children who were molested and/or suffered physical abuse. Because she had to control her actions and emotions in front of the children, she found it increasingly difficult to deal with her personal pain from seeing their suffering. The professional who witnessed others’ pain found that her own was overwhelming. The drug abuse that followed led her to realize that she was an “addictive personality.” She knew she needed help. It was on her fifth try that she realized she needed more than rehab. “I needed God in my life.” Admitting herself into the Anaheim ARC, she rediscovered God and with that, her healing.

Entering rehabilitation is not easy. In fact, it can be terrifying. Naomi Malaluulu, originally from American Samoa, remembers her first night. “I was afraid. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The fear was gripping. But I knew I didn’t have any other options. I just jumped into it. I believed God was in control of my life because I had been out of control for so long.”

Rosanne Verzosa looks back with gratitude, scarcely believing the transformation that has taken place in her. “Never did I have a moment when I thought I would become the person I am today.” What is the best thing about how she lives now? She quickly answers, “My mom doesn’t have to worry about me at night anymore.” She sums up her experience in words that all the women would echo: “This is where my miracle happened. In The Salvation Army.”

He Kept Me

Words are but mere descriptors when I try to describe the impact of the ARC on my life. I have been a part of the Southeast Michigan Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) for a little over three years. I am a recovering addict and the ARC has been my home church and the place to which I have gone for solace and spiritual growth throughout the duration of my recovery. I am quite sure that without it, I would not be where I am today.

I began getting high at the age of fifteen. I went to my uncle’s house to baby-sit and he asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint. That was my beginning. It was fun at first, because I didn’t know any better. I got high on marijuana and drank into my early twenties. At that point, nothing was too terribly unmanageable in my life. I danced, partied and played fairly innocently. Then, at one of those parties, I was introduced to cocaine.

I thought I was in love. I couldn’t get enough of it. The highs from alcohol and weed paled in comparison, but I still used it all. I wanted to be as high as possible. I was an addict then, but I didn’t know it. I fancied myself a young, naive girl who was enjoying life with no hard or fast rules. The trouble was there were hard and fast rules. I just chose to ignore them. My rule was, “Die young; stay pretty.” I thought I was on the journey to self–discovery. I explored this self–discovery by letting men explore me. Confused, I equated sex with the love I so desperately wanted.

After The Party
In 1983, I was introduced to freebasing cocaine. Even the first time I just wanted to do more and more. I was waiting tables at the time, and I wanted all of my money to go toward drugs. It was at this point in my life that I began to know better. I knew there was something wrong with my getting high. It was no longer social or part–time. I had to get high. I started having trouble keeping up with my habit. My desire to use had begun to far outweigh my ability to pay for it and to get up for work in the morning. My nights of drugging emptied into my days at work and my appearance and performance showed it. It was the beginning of the unmanageability of my life.

On March 13, 1987, I was standing in the heart of Cass Corridor in Detroit, searching desperately for my car. I had loaned it to the dope man, so I could stay in an abandoned building smoking crack all night. I was tired and scared and still wanted to get high, but I knew the party was over. My car was nowhere to be found and wouldn’t be found until a month later, completely stripped. My boyfriend refused to come and get me, fed up with the constant deceit that I brought to our relationship. My brother picked me up and took me to my first twelve–step meeting. I remember being exhausted with the chase. So I sat down and decided to give staying clean a chance.

Rising Then Crashing
I went to meetings regularly for 10 years straight. I helped make coffee. I did open talks. I got and used a sponsor for a period of time. And I began to get my life back in order. I gave birth to two daughters, got married, started school and began a successful career. I managed to accumulate all kinds of things. But with all this “stuff” I accumulated, I made no room for God. I thought I could handle life, and managed to put together 17 years of clean time. Yet, I had no concept of “recovery.” I thought I had graduated from the disease of addiction. I was making $130,000 a year, driving a Cadillac Escalade, living in a half a million dollar home, traveling extensively and maintaining a 3.95 GPA in college. But without God and with very few coping skills, I was lonely and miserable. I was merely staying clean and abandoned all twelve–step meetings. My spiritual walk with God was non–existent. And, after 17 years clean, all the “stuff” that I had accumulated fit conveniently right back into a crack pipe.

This time, I fell so rapidly, I was scared to stop and reflect on anything I was doing. I was on a self–destruct mission and the cost was exceedingly great. Eventually, the money ran out. I began watching the prostitutes working up and down the streets, and decided to give it a go. I added heroin to my drug use. Things I said I’d never do for drugs— turning tricks, shooting up and letting men beat me became part of everyday survival.

As a prostitute, I was raped numerous times, forced to perform sex acts at gun point, beaten when I tried to get away. One day while I was working the streets, it seemed rather slow. The Salvation Army bed and breakfast truck stopped to give me a sandwich, wish me a Merry Christmas. I was so lost, I didn’t even realize I was working on Christmas.

I relinquished custody of my daughters to my ex–husband. Having never been arrested, I caught six felonies in six months along with several misdemeanors. I was on and off probation, in and out of jail, able to bond myself out at first, but not even having a dollar for snacks in the end. After a five year run in and out of the legal system, I was homeless. I had become a derelict with only the clothes on my back, and prostitution had become my job. I truly believed that this would be the way I’d die. I didn’t think I had any choice in the matter. But God is merciful.

Lynne A. WilliamsThe Plan
In 2010, God rescued me. He led me to the Southeast Michigan ARC while I was completing court– stipulated treatment at another facility. I knew immediately that I needed to be a part of this great program and began attending church there regularly, becoming a member and a Salvation Army soldier on September 11, 2011. I returned to my studies at Wayne State University while working at the treatment center where I was once a client. In May, 2013, I graduated with a BA in English Honors, summa cum laude. Recently, I began work at the Women’s Campus of the Southeast Michigan ARC as a Spiritual Counselor, a calling I believe is divinely inspired and part of God’s perfect will for me. I am able to give back what was so freely given to me by the ARC. Today, I know that God kept me through the storm of active addiction because He had a plan for me. His plan brought me to the Salvation Army ARC where I could truly learn how to recover and not just stay clean–– a place where I could experience and know God’s wonderful grace and mercy and walk a closer walk with Him.

____________________________________________
By Lynne A. Williams

Patchwork Prayers

“Are you safe?” Alesia asked the girl on the phone. Sobbing, the girl a nswered Alesia’s question without speaking. Without a verbal response, help could not be summoned.

“I want to help you,” Alesia pleaded. “Are you safe?”

“No.”

“Tell me where you are and I’ll send someone to help you escape.”

“I don’t know where I am.” Without an address, Alesia can only give counsel and prayer.

Alesia Adams, Coordinator Against Human and Sexual Trafficking for the Salvation Army Southern Territory, referred to such struggles and issues concerning human trafficking when she spoke at a Salvation Army corps in Clearwater, Florida. During her presentation, Alesia suggested making quilted prayer squares in remembrance of human trafficking victims.

Afterward, an elderly woman asked, “How can I help?”

“Make prayer squares,” Alesia said.

Three weeks later, a letter and over a dozen prayer squares arrived at Alesia’s office. In her letter, the woman wrote, “After I got started I was so enjoying myself making different squares and putting them together that I bought more material and made more.” Some squares had Bible verses. Others had just one word—hope, love, peace. No matter the fabric or sentiment, every square had one thing in common—Jesus. Alesia visualized making prayer squares to form a large quilt. Word spread to every division across the Southern Territory to make 12 quilt squares. Lunches were spent cutting fabric. Volunteers rose to the challenge of piecing squares. Some even donated fabric. We were all eager to make the human trafficking quilt a reality. With 300 people working at territorial headquarters (THQ), I only knew in passing a few of the people who offered to help. Now these same people stopped me in the hallways and spoke to me.

A woman in IT said, “Hey, I’m almost finished with my square. I’d like to make another one.” A man in Finance said, “My mama taught me how to sew when I was little, but I haven’t sewn in years. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but now I’m ready to make another square.”

I found it amazing how one simple square held such powerful testimony from so many hearts, hands and prayers. I saw a woman’s tears as she pushed a needle. Jesus wiped away her tears. I saw a woman struggle to straighten her back after cutting fabric for an hour. Jesus eased her pain.

The quilted tapestry was draped against a 20–foot burnt orange wall in Phoenix as onlookers drew near to touch squares, read verses, whisper prayers. After several months, prayer squares began arriving at THQ. Varying in colors, sizes and complexity, some had sequins and lace.Others had one word written on a single piece of fabric. Yellow and red stripes lay against brown polka dots. Tapestries of every color imaginable were intertwined with prayer.

Only Jesus knows who touched the quilt. He watched a homeless man write “My soul is not for sale.” He watched a child write “I’m 8–years–old. I care.”

Jesus watched His children come together as fabric was cut and squares were sewn. For those who had never sewn, Jesus provided a teacher. We came together and prayed for victims of human trafficking. Prayer knows no boundaries. A woman in El Paso. A man in Florida. A child in Kentucky. Hands and prayers united across the Southern Territory.

Many who dedicated time and energy to this quilt remain anonymous. Likewise, many bound into human slavery worldwide remain anonymous. Jesus knows who did their part. He also knows who suffers on the streets with no voice, freedom or justice.

On September 22, 2010, a Family Time gathering at THQ commemorated the Fifth Anniversary of the Annual Prayer and Fasting for the Victims of Sex Trafficking. A large wooden cross stood with prayer squares draped around the base. I arrived early to sit near the cross. The power of the squares and beautiful colors overwhelmed me. Unbleached muslin lay atop rich purple paisley. Plain and colorful— they were all at the cross. Jesus loves all His children— even those who don’t shine as bright as others.

Two years later, Major Betty Israel from National Headquarters requested the quilt be displayed at the National Social Services and Disaster Management Conference in Phoenix.

Energy surged again. Pulling boxes off shelves, Alesia’s THQ team jumped into action.

We converged in the conference center to lay out quilt squares. I stood on the stage and observed the unveiling. Squares were placed side by side on the floor. Orange lay next to purple next to gray next to pink. A grid of 13 rows consisting of 11 squares without any rhyme or reason stretched out in front of me. Observing the quilt squares, I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but feel the power of so many prayers.

To help bring the quilt squares into a somewhat cohesive order, I called out, “Third row, fourth square.” My words served as Rachel’s cue to pounce and lift the square that made an area too dark or too light. When the layout was complete, I watched Sandra and Ann struggle to stand up. Without hesitation, they had kicked off their shoes and sat on the floor to work. Hands reached out to help them.

The quilt required 40 yards of navy fabric to separate every square and to serve as the foundation on which all the squares were sewn. As I attached row after row, I wondered if the lightweight fabric would support the weight of 143 quilt squares.

I had not leaned across a table to cut fabric or hunched over a sewing machine in several years. Back and shoulder pain cut my projects short. I had never attempted a project this size and I feared searing pain would stop me. So I prayed. As I whispered words for guidance and strength, I felt sweet peace only Jesus can give.

The weekend before shipping the quilt to Phoenix was strenuous.The gargantuan quilt lay across my kitchen table. Row by row, the quilt slid onto surrounding chairs.

Hours later, I folded and folded and folded the quilt into a square weighing 32 pounds. I finished what a homeless man, an 8–year– old girl, and countless other men and women began— a patchwork of many colors and prayers.

In a Southern Spirit article Alesia wrote, “I am often asked how I stay focused, committed and devoted, able to embrace young women who have been branded, tortured, raped and abused. These young women are often angry, distrustful and yes, at times, unlovable. But my reply is simple: God says to love the unloved, to love like Jesus would.”

God uses us through His wondrous ways to protect His children. We are all God’s children. When we hurt, God hurts, too. In the midst of life’s pain, we can pray and God hears our prayers.

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By Jalane Rolader

Great Promises of the Bible

The courageous Native American Chief Joseph fought a long and hard retreat before the relentless pursuit of the US Cavalry in the American Northwest. But it was finally enough. In his surrender speech he addressed his followers, “It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Despite a heroism that caused even his enemies to admire him, Chief Joseph was worn out and he needed it all to stop.

To people who were spiritually exhausted Jesus’ words of sweet invitation felt like a warm blanket on a cold night. Any joy in their faith had been taken away by the heavy burden of enhanced law that they were to scrupulously observe. They were caught. To observe the law as the Jewish leaders taught was exhausting. To forgo it was to be saddled with a sense of heavy guilt. How wonderful it must have been to hear Jesus say to them, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The struggle, the weariness are to be laid at the feet of Jesus.

Note that this is rest and not the sloppy, sleepy indifference of laziness. It is not inactivity because work remains. It is not isolation, because a believer disconnected from his world fails to be salt or light. It is not a vacation away but the constant renewing and strengthening of the Spirit to stay. It is to find that hard to explain state where we are as content with our burden as we are without it. It is to realize that we do not carry grace but grace carries us.

Lest we be tempted to nod off in a chaise lounge somewhere, Jesus continued with a seeming contradiction. The soul at rest is to take up a yoke, the symbol of hard work! What could that mean?

The expression, “take up the yoke” in Jesus’ day was used to describe someone who had become a disciple. There is rest in being in sync with the Spirit of God as He teaches us the way of Christ. The rest comes in accepting Christ’s way of life for us. Pride will chafe because nothing ever fits. But humility and yielding bring rest.

The yoke of Christ is well fitting. In order for oxen to properly do their work, it was necessary to custom fit their yokes. William Barclay shares that one of the legends about Christ was that before He began His ministry in Palestine, He was known for the well–fitted yokes He crafted in the carpenter’s shop. The legend says that outside of His shop a sign hung that said, “My yokes are gentle.” Barclay explains, “It is not that the burden is easy to carry; but it is laid on us with love; it is meant to be carried to love and love makes even the heaviest burdens light.”

Matthew 11:28-29To those who have no interest in having children, little ones can represent a tremendous burden that weigh a person down. The truth is, they are. But to the parent, the weight of their children is easily borne by the love in their hearts for them. While taking seriously the cost, the joys of parenthood increase as love is poured into the life of another. I have never heard of a parent that kept an expense ledger to reckon his child’s worth. And we would think such a parent never deserved children at all. Love dictates paying the cost without an accounting. It is a well–fitted yoke to bear.

In a greater sense still, taking the yoke of Christ upon us is not to be enslaved but to be fitted to God’s greatest purposes for us. As a fish is meant for water and a bird for the air, a man or woman is meant to live in relationship with God through Christ. The yoke fits. We are at rest.

I met the Army when I was a young teen in Corry, Pennsylvania. The old Army hall was literally falling apart and soon after I first attended, it was condemned by the city. But what I remember most clearly was the motto above the altar: “Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Under that motto in that place I found the rest for my soul. The hall is long gone but the message remains. You, too, can find rest for your soul.

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By Major Allen Satterlee