There is Hope

Written by Anne Smith

Route Irish, once dubbed the world’s most dangerous road, is a stretch of pavement from what was the Green Zone in Baghdad to the airport. My husband, a retired Green Beret, regularly travelled this route under heavy body armor, armored vehicles and armed to the teeth throughout his six combat missions to Iraq.  Good people were lost, millions of dollars of equipment destroyed, and deep heartache sown on Route Irish. The road was ravaged and pitted with years of bombs, improvised explosives and gunfire.

Like Route Irish, the road we have been traveling in 2020 seems marked with despair, insecurity, and hopelessness.  It doesn’t take much to find someone struggling right now— financially, personally, physically, emotionally and behaviorally (talk to my 3 year old twins!).  There is a pervasive feeling of edginess, frustration and overall exhaustion.  I recently saw a meme that said “Before buying a 2021 planner, I’d like to see the preview.”  We all feel the pressure of change, of shifting ground.  It’s like we have entered a new era and can bring little we knew and expected into it.

Porch Lights has the deep pleasure of friendship with an amazing woman, Janice Allen, whose world was torn from the known and placed on a path she could never have imagined.  Janice is the CEO/President of International Cooperating Ministries (ICM), the “Global Church Developer.”  But Janice wasn’t always the CEO of an international ministry.  She was much like many of you and me, a housewife “in Richmond” putting her degree and training on the back burner to raise kids and nurture a family.  But her world turned upside down when her husband of 27 years passed away from a rare form of cancer.  “The roles I had inhabited for years had vanished.”  Janice faced an identity crisis while having to rebuild and refocus in uncharted territory.

Janice talked about how she had grown to define herself in how others thought of her, essentially “the cultural trappings of prosperity, position, and performance—of the American view of success,” she said.  With all that stripped away Janice was alone and facing a world she could never have imagined.  “I was struggling in a deep and fundamental way with who I was and where God was really leading me,” Janice reflected.

How many of us can relate, on some level, with this identity crisis? We’ve thought a lot about identity recently at Porch Lights. As we talked about in the blog Fire & Light and Living Plenty-full, we are all in some form of an identity battle. We are in a battle over our identity, who we are, who God calls us to be, and how He desires to use us for His kingdom.

Janice’s faith anchored her soul and she rested in the assurance that the God she served was holding her in the palm of His hand.  In the midst of heartache and confusion, the gentle leading of the Lord led Janice to take a position with ICM, a ministry her father had started in 1986.  It was a big leap of faith having not had a formal job or career in decades.

“Women have a clear gift of being able to pivot and move into different seasons.  We do a disservice as women to criticize other women because they’re making choices we wouldn’t make. We need grace for each other and whatever season we are in. Whatever the circumstances, God will redeem it and God will use it. There is nothing God cannot use,” Janice notes.

Ladies of Richmond, let’s be women who encourage each other, to be expectant and excited to see how (if we let him) God will use all the circumstances in our lives to benefit His Kingdom!  Under Janice’s leadership, ICM now operates in 100 countries, supporting 9,600 church projects, 99,325 Bible Studies, more than 1,000 orphanages and Hope Centers and millions are reached through innovative broadcasts and technology.

Janice faced a crossroads and had to decide how to respond. It is so easy to get caught up in our own self pity and worry that we doubt if Jesus is real, if he is active, and if he is who he says he is.  “This past year has been so challenging for everyone, how do we navigate seasons where we don’t see God? The easy answer: see what God is doing around the world,” Janice encourages.

That answer reminded me of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist while John was sitting in a dark, dank dungeon and had just questioned Jesus’ identity: “Go and tell John what you see and hear. The blind are made to see. Those who could not walk are walking. Those who have had bad skin diseases are healed. Those who could not hear are hearing. The dead are raised up to life and the Good News is preached to poor people” (Matthew 11:1-5).

It may seem like we are in the dungeons, but our hope is that God is working, He is on the move, and if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, we will see the workings of God everywhere in our midst. Janice’s story is a first-hand witness to this truth. Janice’s prayer during her grief and confusion became “give me vision for the days ahead.”  Ladies, this should be our battle cry for 2021— Lord give us vision, your vision! Let us pray to have the eyes to see the glory of God in our midst.

Janice has detailed her story and countless amazing stories “from the field” in her book titled “God in the Crossroads: Signs of Hope,” written with Ellen Vaughn (the official biographer for Elisabeth Elliot, you must check out her book “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot”).  I wish I could tell you all the stories, they are inspirational, deeply moving, and jaw dropping — like the story of the man in Zanzibar who had been in bondage to the dark realm and even ritualistically killed his 2-year-old son, but whose chains had been broken and his blood guilt removed by the blood of Jesus, and now pastors a growing church. Or how Rakesh in India was delivered from 108 evil spirits and now pastors more than 20 villages and has established five churches.  Or the story of Pastor Y-Ky in Vietnam who weathered torture and beatings under the communist regime and continued to preach the gospel in prison and can say “like the Apostle Paul, I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (God in the Crossroads pg.131).

Oh how I wish I could meet Maria, a former prostitute in Guatemala whose daughter was killed and dismembered by a rival gang, who found the Lord and now serves as director of evangelism at an ICM church.  It would be an honor to have tea with Dr. Sara, a leader in a Cairo, Egypt congregation, who, after ministering to the families whose husbands, fathers, brothers were beheaded by ISIS in 2014, proclaimed “Their faith challenged our faith.  And they made us all the more determined to do whatever we can to share the powerful name of Jesus everywhere we can, in these dark times” (God in the Crossroads, pg. 189).

During the Covid-19 shut-downs, Janice and ICM got a first hand porch view of how churches around the world weathered.  There were areas in India where police would shoot the legs of those who left their homes, yet the church mobilized and got creative in how to get food and supplies to the poorest families.  In areas where gathering sizes were limited, churches remained open 24/7 to allow small groups to come and pray throughout the day and night. Janice notes that in 2020 there has been an explosion of people seeking hope, more than 20 thousand followers joined their Arabic Facebook group seeking to learn about the Bible during the Covid crisis.

We are all in the middle of a crossroad, the road we knew has come to the proverbial Y.  We all have a path to choose in this new era.  We can either choose the path that leads to hopelessness and depression, anxiety, worry and fear, or we can choose to place our hope in the Lord, and let our hope anchor our soul as Hebrews 6:19 says.  Jesus longs to be our hope, to be our anchor in the storms of life. There is hope, hope that helps us weather the storm, stay true to our calling, and set our face like flint on Jesus (Isaiah 50:7).  As I tell my 3-year old twins, “when you’re scared, find Jesus.”  Our prayer is that in this uncertain time we will all have eyes to see Jesus, see Him working, and hold fast to hope.

Porch Lights exists to help women through all seasons of life and changes that come unexpectedly.  If you ever need someone to talk to, or want to share an encouraging story of your own, please reach out to us.  We’d love to visit with you, encourage you or connect you to someone who can help.

Last year, our sweet, beautiful friend from Richmond, found herself quite by accident, driving down Route Irish unarmed and unprepared.  But do not fear, all was okay, she didn’t need large machine guns and tanks. When Janice relayed her story to my husband and I we were amazed and laughed, for who could have imagined this road going from being the most dangerous in the world, to one where our dear friend could travel safely.

My friends, the road you are on right now may seem like Route Irish, but with hope, perseverance, and keeping your eyes on Jesus, one day you will be able to laugh and be amazed at how our great, mighty and glorious God transforms the broken into something beautiful.

I’ll end with an amazing quote from Janice’s journal as detailed in her book.

“Lord, what a delight to move beyond my life of loss in Richmond to see your hand at work in Tanzania! It’s been so refreshing to see the fervor of the believers here, to be reminded how unimportant the things of the world truly are, so great to be reminded of your “Bigness,” to get a fresh perspective of eternity, to feel the joy of using my gifts for your Kingdom.  Thank you that I have felt the Holy Spirit at work in my soul, restoring my spirit.” (God in the Crossroads, pg. 59)