March 21, 2018
Volume 10, Issue 1
Pressing Into Joy and Sorrow
We are experiencing a difficult season of transition in our family right now. Many changes happening at once without time to reflect on what they mean and how we feel. Some of these changes are quite beautiful and even amazing. Some of them feel like they are cutting into the very marrow of our bones and being. And yet we are not consumed because of the great mercies of our God.
Dusty and Sergey are leaving on Thursday, March 21, for their new home in Houston, Texas. We all look forward to celebrating their wedding in July.
Shannon flies to Wales as part of the Heritage Concert Choir on tour in the UK, beginning April 2-10.
Bonnie packs up and moves to Pittsburgh, PA on May 19th. God is leading her with all her hopes and dreams in tow.
What is required of us in this season but to trust and obey Him. He has steered us through many storms that threatened to swallow us whole in the years of our marriage and ministry. He has kept us through them all as we have turned our eyes and hearts toward Him time and again. All that we are and all that we have is His. Pray with us as we commit ourselves afresh to the Lord in this season--and especially as we entrust each of our precious daughters to Him in this time.
—Sally Klein O'Connor
“But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back. But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved."
—Hebrews 10: 38-39
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The Love of God
Transcends the Politics of Men
by Sally Klein O'Connor
In 2016 I led a team of 16 people to Bethlehem and Jerusalem giving out 7,500 long-stemmed red roses. God was so faithful to repeatedly speak in no uncertain terms to me about this project until I knew that I knew this was what He absolutely wanted. The project was to be directed toward the Palestinians and not so much the Israelis.
But, as a Jewish believer, I couldn’t bring myself to only present the roses to the Palestinians. Still, it was the Palestinians who were hungry for kindness and responded in amazing ways. Some even prayed, asking Jesus as Messiah into their lives.
When the Lord began speaking to me about leading a new project in December 2017, directed solely toward the Palestinians, I expected a similarly-sized team. I had no idea how vastly different this endeavor would be. As I prayed with my dear friend, Mary Makarios, she felt the Lord reveal the team would be small: 4-5 people at most. It was definitely not what I wanted to hear! But at departure time there were 4 of us, along with Danny from Holy Land Missions, who comprised the December team.
Another pre-tour revelation occurred the week before departure. I was cruising my email account, noticing some headlines when I encountered an article stating President Trump would make a special announcement on Monday, December 4th possibly revealing the U.S. Embassy in Israel would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Michael scanned all the media on that date but couldn’t find word one about the President’s decision. We boarded the plane as planned on Tuesday December 5th. It was almost as if the Lord blindfolded us in terms of what was going on. We landed in Tel Aviv amid the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s statement the U.S. would move the embassy to Jerusalem.
Michael sent out a special missive to everyone praying for the project:
Dear Friends of ATOR,
I am sending this short update out this morning (11:00 AM Pacific time on Thursday) to address concerns you may have regarding our ATOR Team Members currently on a mission from God in Bethlehem…EVERYONE IS OK. You are currently reading in your news sources that today has been labeled “A Day of Rage” in Israel by the forces upset with President Trump’s announcement the United States will henceforth recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
As I mentioned yesterday we, at ATOR, do everything we can to steer clear of politics when abroad on a mission. But sometimes the political finds us whether we want it to or not… But we also believe God knew exactly what He was doing when He called this team, “for such a time as this” to minister to the very people who are raging in the streets and media this very day.
I received 3 emails alone from Michael having to do with travel advisories from the US government about the situation. And it was at that point in Ben Gurion International that I realized this was no run-of-the-mill ATOR. Quite clearly God had orchestrated the scheduling “for such a time as this.”
We picked up Bibi and 2,000 roses in Jerusalem, and arrived in Bethlehem just ahead of a 3-day strike called by Hamas to shut down all the businesses and checkpoints, etc. There were riots and demonstrations the next day—and tear gas—as we prepared the roses. Our hotel was only a block away from the checkpoint.
Every afternoon the tear gas seeped through the locked lobby doors and we had to evacuate upstairs or out of the hotel. I learned an interesting little-known fact that mentholated cough drops can offset the effects of tear gas. Danny’s sinuses slammed shut and he started having some real problems. I gave him a cough drop and his sinuses cleared up almost immediately.
For one of our first outreaches we decided to go into Manger Square where, just hours before they burned the American flag and images of President Trump. All shops were closed, and we weren’t sure where to park. But we had extreme favor because our friend, Akran, knew the man supervising the Nativity Church Parking. He let us in.
The man in charge of the parking felt it was too dangerous for me to sing in the square. He thought handing out roses might be ok. He was very strong in his point of view, and we immediately put the roses and my keyboard back in the van. I wasn’t sure what to do and then realized we needed to pray.
We decided to prayer-walk the area first. There were kids selling hot cups of buttered corn kernels in the square. We bought some to warm up and continued praying. As we did, Danny ran into his very good friend, a Muslim taxi-driver. He arranged police security for us. That was a complete answer to prayer. And so, for almost an hour we worshiped and gave out roses in Manger Square and many people were deeply touched and encouraged.
On Friday, the 4th day of the trip, even before the crowds let out from the mosques at noon, we were able to "seed" Manger Street with roses, kindness, and the love of God to shopkeepers and pedestrians alike.
Later that evening, while giving out roses with Danny, we met Mohammed at a shop in Beit Sahour. He read the card on the rose and asked why we were here and not in Jerusalem. I said, “I am Jewish and I felt God put it on my heart to bring the roses only to the Palestinians right now.” He was very touched and asked Danny and I to wait in his shop as he ran down the street.
In about 10 minutes he came back smiling, with a liter of Coke and two chocolate candy bars. We toasted in plastic cups to peace… Mohammed—a Muslim; me—a Jew who believes in Jesus; and Danny—a Christian. Only God could orchestrate such a profound and simple moment in the midst of such anger and chaos.
Early the next morning our team set up for our special women’s conference. We had no idea how many women would make it out our way in light of everything going on.
As it turned out about 60-70 Palestinian women braved the blockades, rioting—even tear gas—to participate in our little Something Beautiful for Someone Beautiful conference. With demonstrations happening only blocks away on different sides of the church, Marlys, Sharon, and I shared our testimonies with the help of our wonderful translator Tuline, as Bibi interceded.
I was first to speak. The response was amazing!! They asked questions afterward and couldn’t believe I had stayed in such an abusive situation for so many years, especially living in America.
The last woman who was allowed to ask a question actually told me, “You are like Jesus. You were persecuted and provoked—and killed.” And it was like I kind of fell apart. I just started sobbing—to have someone tell me that—because I thought to myself—no, I am not like Jesus, it’s just me—Marlys.
I prayed for one lady whose son was killed by Muslims because he was a Christian and refused to become Muslim. First I asked what she wanted prayer for… She said, “I forgave him, but I still have anger.” So I told her we can ask the Lord to help her… I told her I understand your anger and sorrow are still inside because what happened to her son was so difficult for her. The emotions in themselves aren’t bad, but what we do with them can be good or bad.
So I prayed and afterward she also prayed and gave the Lord her anger. I then prayed the Lord would fill her with His peace and heal her heart. I also told her the Lord is near to the brokenhearted. She was really grateful for prayer and seemed much lighter and was smiling.
When we started with prayers and foot washing at the conference the ladies that came up for the foot washing—I could feel they wanted everything God had for them.
They were overcome with such joy and expressed it by continual kissing my cheek. So for my testimony, I began sharing with the women that I felt more love from them than I ever felt from my mother. They ministered to me!
We were all so grateful how faithfully God met the women who came out—and ourselves. It was really amazing! At the end each woman was presented a rose to give someone in her life to whom God wanted them to express love and forgiveness.
The next day we went a second time to Manger Square and the reception was quite wonderful. Still, between smiles and appreciation—even selfies in some cases—there were some who were unhappy.
There were some gentlemen who were very angry about President Trump and what he had done. They asked, “Where are you from?” And as soon as I said I was from America they would give me back the rose and say, “I don’t want it.” Now sometimes that was all they did, and then there were others who wanted to talk with me about it. I said, “We are not here for anything political.” They wanted to know if I agreed with Trump. I said, “We are just here to show God’s love for you.”
Sometimes they would keep the rose once I explained everything but others would give it back. But I would still bless them. And a couple times when they walked away without a rose they would tell me, “God bless you too!” One man said, “Why do you have Hebrew on this card?” I was thinking to myself I don’t what to say, but the Holy Spirit knew what to say. So I said, “Because we want everyone to read the card so that everyone can love each other.”
Once I explained it he said, “Oh, yeah, we should all love one another.” He was really happy and walked away with a rose in his hand.
|There were many unknown factors as we approached our stay in Jericho. Thankfully, we had reservations at the farthest edge of town in a beautiful resort-like hotel. The staff was amazing! As we drove into Jericho it became obvious that this was even more dangerous than Bethlehem. Young men were burning tires at the side of the main road and there was loud chanting and yelling going on all during the night and into the early hours of the morning.
We carefully, prayerfully decided to have lunch in the town center first and then pray through the square. Everything went well. We even met up with the local police who agreed to let us give out roses.
People loved the roses. It was very much like cold water to people who have been in the desert a long time. We must have given out 300, which were all we had prepared. After the roses were gone we climbed into the van to drive back to where we were staying but a police car started following us.
One of the scariest moments of the trip was when the police pulled us over and began yelling through Danny’s window about how much he hated Americans and President Trump. There was something in his eyes that seemed unnatural and somewhat sinister. Thankfully, as things progressed in conversation, he seemed to calm down. Eventually he led us out of town, saying it was not safe for us to stay in Jericho.
This situation catapulted us into something of a crisis. We had paid in advance for several days at the hotel in Jericho where we had also planned to put on a second women’s conference. There were still well over 1,500 roses back there, along with all our luggage.
At first we weren’t even sure if it was safe to return to the hotel when we had been so sternly warned and escorted out of town. Thankfully, there was a back road Danny took us on that bypassed the center of town and led us almost directly to where we were staying. We had to cancel the conference and explain the situation to the management. They were incredibly gracious to us, refunding almost all our money.
But as we waded through all the issues that surfaced in wake of our sudden exit one of the most meaningful things was how God showed us where He wanted us to go next. At first Danny suggested we head back to Bethlehem, but none of us wanted to return. We felt we had finished what we were to do there.
Jerusalem came up in conversation, but Danny reminded us how expensive it was to stay there. It was only as we prayed that real direction came. I remember opening my eyes and looking at Bibi, who had previously been staying at the Father’s House in Jerusalem. This is a house of prayer established by a German church in Berlin as a continuing work of intercession in Israel.
Immediately as I locked eyes on Bibi I remembered The Father’s House and that they often put up ministry guests also, and said as much. Bibi replied that she had been thinking of this all along but wanted confirmation from God. And praise the Lord, He gave it to her!
During our stay at The Father’s House in Jerusalem one of the places we gave out roses was across from the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Everyone received them with great appreciation. But toward the end of our outreach we chose to enter the Israeli police station. Only one officer was on duty—a young man. He, too, was very grateful. There was one other officer at the station, but he was getting lunch. We left a rose for him.
Immediately afterward I encountered three young Muslim women (teenagers probably) and handed each a rose. They were delighted at first. They asked where we were from and read the cards. They wanted to take a selfie with me, but at that moment an older man across the street started yelling at them in Arabic. He sounded very angry.
The one girl who spoke English fairly well asked if I was with the Israelis. I said, “I am from America.” She asked, “Why is there Hebrew on the card also?” I said, “We want everyone to read it and learn how to love each other.” The man was still yelling as she and I were talking. I asked what he was saying but she didn’t explain. I said, “I don’t see labels. I see people and God loves people.” She said, “I don’t think so,” and she and her two friends handed their roses back to me and walked away.
On our final Sunday we gave our last bucket of roses out in front of Damascus Gate. It was an incredible experience.
I was amazed when Sally started to worship how quickly some people came. They were standing or sitting—listening. Some youth, Arabic women, even one more orthodox Muslim and some tourists were all listening. Where I was giving roses to the people who were walking up the stairs—some stopped to ask questions. I spoke a little bit longer with a man from India. He was very interested and very amazed.
He said that we are doing something very important and beautiful, especially in this place where so many fights have been taking place. When Sally was worshiping I noticed one Jewish man who was walking up the stairs but he stopped and started to listen. And he was standing for a longer time and I could see that he was really listening with attention. Sally was singing a song about Jesus right then. He started to leave and I smiled at him and he smiled back. I was praying as he was listening.
Toward the end, just before the police told us that we had to leave because there was going to be a demonstration shortly, there was one young lady asking questions. Sharon gave her a card and she was very interested in what we were doing and where we came from. So we both answered her that we were there to show God’s love for her and all the people there.
Then she started asking about political stuff—President Trump, etc. We continued to say we weren’t there for that, we only came to express God’s love. She was just grateful to hear everything we had to say. Then her husband walked up and was telling her in Arabic basically, “Let’s go.” But she continued to stay and talk with us. He tried to get her to go and we just kept saying we were there to show God’s love. And she relayed that to her husband, but I don’t think he really got it. She didn’t want to go, but in the end she had to leave.
The next morning we packed up and headed out. But on our way out of Jerusalem we stopped at the flower shop where we got the roses. Avi, the owner is Jewish. He helped us out in 2016, because he was so moved by our music and project. I told him about our last wild adventure at Damascus Gate and added he had a part in it all because of the beautiful roses he procured for us.
I saw him looking at my ATOR hoodie and asked if he wanted it. At first, he demurred, saying, "But it's your hoodie. You should keep it." I said, "If you really want it, I want you to have it." He read the blessing on the back and just seemed to consider... When I gave Avi the hoodie, he looked at me for a moment and then said, "Thank you for coming!"
It’s hard to explain why that little gratitude so touched my heart. Avi isn’t a believer—yet. But he is watching… and I know so many others were watching while we were there, watching on Facebook, watching through the prayer emails and updates, etc.
And I marvel once again that God would use such fragile foolish vessels to glorify Himself in the midst of such darkness. And none of it could have come to pass apart from prayer. Perhaps more than any other project before it felt like our every move was God-breathed. He led and we followed.
He made a way through the violence and turmoil literally and figuratively. He made it so that even in the middle of everything we seeded prayers of peace and gifts of love—bringing the Kingdom of God in the midst of the violence and politics of men.
Improbable People Ministries
As Sally has so eloquently waxed in this issue’s devotional our family is undergoing a transitional phase involving three daughters leaving home with only one returning. With the cost of raising a family these days ever on the incline I find it astonishing my empty nest fantasy is taking a Hindenburg-sized plummet.
Dusty and Bonnie both leave with our blessing for a strong launching into The Real World. But their departures give rise to the concerns any parent has while knowing they—who were once fed, diapered, bathed and taught wrong from right through extended exposure to Veggie Tales—cannot possibly survive in the wild without us.
So forgive us for feeling a bit gobsmacked when a few weeks ago our old van—the one manufactured during the Clinton Administration—developed an acute tendency to accelerate unexpectedly at the most unexpected times. This made our vehicle, already eligible in dog years for Social Security, a physical risk akin to playing in the NFL without pads or a helmet on every down.
We sank good money into the problem only to find out the solution didn’t work and nearly catapulted me and our youngest daughter Shannon into a head-on collision the last time the “repaired” vehicle was driven. We discovered the new fix would cost more than several times the value of the van. Old Betsy (not her real name,) was no longer economically viable.
Two days later we waved goodbye to our death trap on wheels as the tow truck hauled her off to a salvage yard. At least US veterans came out winners, benefitting from a small donation based on the van’s barely perceptible value. Somewhere, I imagine John McCain getting a free Big Mac on us. And as we said goodbye, Sally and I realized we had become a one car family with serious two car needs. Sally drives on many of her tours and that leaves us with no transportation at home for luxury trips like, y’know, school, food shopping and church.
So we are reaching out to our wide base of friends—the three or four of you still talking to us who live within a two hour radius of Los Angeles. If you know of a high milage, extremely ugly but relatively safe car/van/ice cream truck manufactured sometime after the Bush Administration (either one)—one that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, just a toenail and an ear lobe—could you let us know about it? Perhaps we can work something out.
Or maybe you woke up this morning and said to yourself, “Self, I’m tired of driving around in this old DeSoto. It’s time to get me a snazzy new Prius with white sidewalls, leather seats and a bumper sticker that reads, “Gas is $5.00 a gallon? I DON’T CARE!!!” If you did wake up this morning with such a joyful spirit, perhaps you also thought, “I WOULD treat myself to that new car . . . but then what would I do with the DeSoto?”
Well, perhaps you’d consider donating the vehicle to Improbable People Ministries. We, in turn, could write you a tax-deducible receipt for 100% of the vehicle’s current value. I’m sure we could also present you with a lovely handwritten thank you penned in calligraphy or chiseled in stone.
Either way, if you know of a situation that helps we would appreciate you getting in touch with the details. As the old song says, “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” but it’s considerably more challenging when you are on foot.