When God Says MOVE
From the beginning of time, God has interrupted human plans, calling men and women beyond the ordinary into His surprising and often costly will. Yet, even in the most intrusive examples—the big fish spitting Jonah onto the shores of Nineveh, for instance, or the soon-to-be apostle Paul being blinded on the road to Damascus—the Lord allows man the freedom to say “yes” or “no” to Him at any time. We’ve collected these five stories of people who obeyed God regardless of the consequences, in hopes that you will be inspired to do the same.
Unexpected Gifts: Tommy & Elyse Ferrell
Every day Tommy Ferrell was in Beirut, the woman at the orphanage would put the baby into his arms. Just four months before he came on this mission trip to Lebanon, his wife Elyse had given birth to their first son—so it was only natural that he was drawn to the six-month-old boy. But soon it seemed as if the orphanage worker was playing the role of Miriam, bringing out baby Moses in a basket, in hopes that he’d be drawn out of the river. Tommy called Elyse. “I knew that I loved the baby and felt God wanted us to have some role in finding him a home,” he recalled. “At first, I didn’t realize we were going to be his family, because we’d just had a newborn. There was some struggle there in our minds, but in a few weeks, it was as if we were being drawn, and the Lord showed us we were the ones.”
Soon, everything came together: a social worker at church counseled them through the required adoption home study for free; an attorney volunteered help; a friend even gave them frequent-flyer miles for tickets to Lebanon. Yet there was one glaring problem: the child had no documentation whatsoever. How do you get a baby out of one country and into another with non-existent papers?
“But by this time,” Ferrell said, “we felt a compelling sense of the Lord’s leading. We knew we’d just have to take the risks.” First, through an acquaintance, they met a high-ranking official who miraculously granted the undocumented infant a one-time pass out of the country so they could arrive in Cyprus and apply for a U.S. visa. But soon after, the foreigners holding a wailing child found themselves stuck in Beirut’s airport as officials argued over their heads. “They’d never seen this rare document before,” Ferrell recalled “and weren’t going to let us down the jetway.”
A man from a nearby line stepped in front of them, slapped the paper as he said a few authoritative words, and suddenly, he was walking them to their plane. “Sir, who are you?” Ferrell asked, thinking he might as well have been an angel. The man smiled. “I’m the Cypriot Consul to Lebanon, and I keep seeing emails from the U.S. Embassy about your case.” The words flooded Elyse and Tommy with a sense of peace—they’d had no guarantee that, even if could get the baby to Cyprus, they’d obtain a visa—and there was no way to bring him back to Lebanon. Seeing confirmation that God had gone before them revealed that the seemingly impossible plan wasn’t impossible, because He’d orchestrated it.
In Cyprus, the child was given a visa to the United States, even though he had no identification. Just nine months later—when immigration tightened after 9/11—the Ferrells realized that if they had stalled, their son might never have been able to come home.
Today Tommy and Elyse can’t imagine their lives without their adopted child. “He’s a wonderful, extraordinary kid we’re so grateful to God for. Even when he was a baby, we knew he belonged in our family and was our son every bit as much as our other son.” –EG
Open Hearts: John & Anna Carson
When John Carson’s work in the gift industry sent him to factories in China, he woke up to the reality of how many items on American store shelves are manufactured abroad in sub-standard working conditions. “I was in a factory, and they were making a product I had designed,” he said. “The air quality was horrible. And they told me, ‘You probably shouldn’t stay here very long. The air will make you sick.’”
A crisis of conscience led him to use his expertise to help workers enslaved in hopeless servitude. Grateful for the mercy of Christ in his own life, Carson decided to devote himself to serving people of the lower caste system in India by offering them a livable wage. In 2009, he and his wife Anna founded Open Hand Designs, a company committed to improving working conditions, offering fair wages, and even providing education and medical assistance to workers and their families. The company is based in Atlanta, Georgia, but its production facilities are in India, where employees are people who were previously entrenched in an unforgiving cycle of exploitation.
Children in the slums of New Delhi are their families’ main breadwinners. Carson recalled the story of a factory worker whose ten-year-old son labored long days for slave wages. He hired the man and his crew, moved them to a clean facility, and paid them fairly. Now the boy spends his days in school instead of the factory. “The vision behind Open Hand Designs is to empower the poorest of the poor,” Carson explained. “At some point, we have to break the cycle.”
In addition to running Open Hand with Anna, Carson is a consultant who helps other companies set up an ethical supply chain and create long-term job growth among at-risk workers. –TS
Faith on the Streets: Mike Yankoski
“You need to leave—now!” Mike Yankoski and his friend Sam Purvis were used to hearing such words after months of living and sleeping on the streets. Whether trying to buy coffee or take refuge near a building, homeless men were rarely welcomed. But the first time they got thrown off church grounds was especially painful.
Just a few months earlier, Yankoski had been sitting in his own southern California church when his pastor issued the challenge: Be the Christian you say you are! That sent him soul-searching. “I couldn’t find a connecting thread of radical, living obedience between what I said about the world and how I actually lived in it,” recalls Yankoski, then a student at a private Christian college. As he pondered, a life-altering idea flashed in his mind: What if you quit merely claiming—from the safety of your comfortable life—that Christ is your all? What if you stepped out and put your faith on the streets, alongside those who live with nothing?
Even as he considered the potential dangers and wondered what people would think, he felt certain God was calling him to embark on this risky mission. “We have to ask ourselves whether it’s more dangerous to not follow where God is leading us. If we believe that He’s ultimately working to accomplish His purposes in and through us, then to walk where He’s leading is the safest place for us to be.”
After Yankoski did a short stint at a rescue mission and sought counsel from trusted advisors, he and Purvis, his travel partner, set out with an old backpack, a sleeping bag, and a guitar for earning money. For five months, they lived in six cities with large homeless populations, experiencing firsthand the struggles 3.5 million people face each year in America. It wasn’t just eating out of trashcans or attempting to sleep on concrete that proved challenging; every day they dealt with rejection and being treated as less than human—sometimes even by Christians. “But we also experienced God’s presence in unforgettable ways,” says Yankoski, “particularly through the people we were in community with on the streets.” And not all Christians ignored or mistreated them: He’ll never forget the two tattooed guys who gave them a meal and a place to shower, the elderly woman who insisted on feeding them at a pastor’s retirement lunch, or the outreach director who chased them down to apologize for making them leave. “You can never tell what the Spirit is up to in a heart, whether it’s beating under a crisp white polo shirt or a filthy, torn one.”
While Yankoski always knew that his time living among the homeless men and women on America’s streets would come to an end, the course of his life was radically redirected—including speaking to faith communities, and writing his book Under the Overpass, about his experience.
“I realized that, instead of pursuing the means of security I thought I’d wanted in wealth and climbing toward the top, my life trajectory was going to be about seeking to articulate a vision of loving ‘the least of these’—of caring for those who are in need and outcast from society.” Yankoski’s efforts to communicate that vision have motivated churches and individuals around the country to help the homeless. He now serves on the board of directors for international relief organization World Vision. –EG
Running for God: Scott Rigsby
On October 13, 2007, at the World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Scott Rigsby became the first double-leg amputee to finish an Ironman triathlon. But he didn’t always aspire to become a world-class athlete.
About two decades earlier, an 18-year-old Rigsby had just graduated from high school. He was riding in the back of a pick-up truck with his friends after a long summer’s day of landscaping when a 18-wheeler slammed into the back of their vehicle. Rigsby was thrown underneath a 3-ton trailer and dragged for 300 feet across the pavement. He suffered third-degree burns, his right leg was completely detached, and his left leg was severely and irreparably damaged.
The next decade was a haze of hospitals, doctors, depression, fear, and uncertainty. While his friends went away to college and became professionals, Rigsby became a “professional patient,” enduring 26 surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg. As friends adjusted to marriage and parenthood, he dealt with prescription drug addiction and broken relationships.
“One day I had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine,” Rigsby recalled. “He talked to me for about two hours, and the only thing I remember coming through was that he said the Lord had a plan for my life.”
At his lowest point, Rigsby offered up a simple prayer: “God, if You will open a door for me, I’ll walk through it.” A week later, he saw an amputee on the cover of Runner’s World Magazine, and a vision for a new life was born: He would complete an Ironman Triathlon on specially designed prosthetic legs. “I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t own a bike, and I’d never run more than a mile on prosthetics,” he explained. “But I said to myself, I believe God wants me to run an Ironman.”
The path was fraught with difficulty and pain. During his first attempt, he crashed his bike and cracked a vertebra. Several weeks later—and 21 years after his life-altering accident—Rigsby crossed the finish line in one of the sporting world’s most grueling and prestigious events. Today he is a motivational speaker who has completed more than 20 triathlons and set numerous world records. –TS
Speaking Out: Rev. Scott Weimer
It was a typical Sunday morning on the corner of North and Peachtree when Scott Weimer approached the pulpit. As the senior pastor of North Avenue Presbyterian, a traditional southern church in Atlanta, he was accustomed to preaching but never on the topic at hand. Without his knowing it, the very corner their church had occupied for more than 100 years had become one of three hotspots for child trafficking in the city—possibly the worst of the nation’s major hubs for such criminal activity. And what’s more, he believed they should do something about it.
The commercial sexual exploitation of children—girls and, increasingly, boys typically between ages 10 and 14—is a multi-billion dollar industry internationally. Victims are often runaways coerced into a life of prostitution, or are promised legitimate work here only to be forced into the sex trade upon arrival.
“I didn’t know how the congregation would respond to me identifying from the pulpit that this is a need in our community—literally right outside our door,” Weimer said. “It felt risky, because I didn’t know if people would rise up and say, ‘We really wish you wouldn’t talk about that,’ or ‘This is really a lot bigger than us.’”
But their response was the opposite. “We had older people in their 70s and 80s—who I thought would possibly be the most offended by the message—who came immediately to me and said, ‘We have empty rooms in our houses. If you need rooms for girls who are being rescued off the streets, just tell us.’” Younger members offered to pitch in, too, volunteering to go into the streets at night, lobby the state legislature, or do whatever it would take to save children trapped in this way.
The congregation scheduled a midnight prayer meeting and invited other churches from the community to join them. That night, groups of believers from various denominations came together to walk the downtown streets, beseeching the Holy Spirit to bring God’s justice and grace to their community. The event was inspiring, but it didn’t provide the direction they needed. “We still had this pressing question,” Weimer recalled. “What do we do in response to this need? We were creating awareness, but we weren’t coming up with answers.”
The answer came when eight churches felt called to develop a network of congregations devoted to the cause. This cooperative effort eventually became Street Grace—an organization devoted to mobilizing believers to fight child trafficking. “It’s risky because, from a spiritual standpoint, we’re taking on the forces of evil,” Weimer said. “And we would be foolish not to be aware of that. But we believe that the One who is in us is greater than the evil one of this world.” –CL