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Out on a Limb for God

A friend once told me, “Being out on a limb for God is the perfect place to be in ministry.” It is such a simple yet profound thought, and it reminds me of another phrase I often hear: “The way you spell faith is R-I-S-K.” While I can envision those phrases being used as an excuse for lack of preparation or as a license for a foolhardy person to undertake every crazy idea that pops into his or her head, there is still undeniable truth in them. Church history is filled with countless examples of saints and regular modern-day Christians risking everything to follow the Lord, traveling to foreign lands to evangelize, and accomplishing heroic feats up to and including the ultimate sacrifice of giving their life for the Lord in martyrdom. In fact, Jesus himself gave the humanly risky command to his disciples to “take nothing for the journey . . . no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no second tunic” (LK 9:3). He asked them for nothing short of total dependence on Divine Providence and the generosity of others. But what does it mean in my own life and ministry to “go out on a limb” for God?

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It all starts with prayer. Communication with God in prayer fosters a relationship with God that roots us in our identity as his son or daughter, and then overflows into mission. Prayer is the first domino in the chain reaction. Therefore, the first question is not so much, “Am I bold and courageous enough?” But rather, “Am I encountering God every day in prayer?” Through prayer, we become the kind of person that can’t help but speak the name of Jesus. Through encountering the Lord in daily prayer, we gain a “fire in our bones” like Jeremiah that we cannot keep inside (Jer 20:9). Then we can echo the words of St. Paul, “For if I preach the gospel, it gives me no grounds for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). As baptized Christians, we are called to evangelize and embrace the mission of Jesus “to seek and save the lost” (Mat 28:18-20; Lk 19:10). This is our foundation, but it is only when prayer and discernment provide clarity of the specific task or mission God is asking of us that taking a risk for God comes into play. In short, God does not give us a mission without giving us the grace to accomplish it.

Therefore, it is in the response of prayerful obedience that taking a risk for God has its proper context. For example, if you receive a consistent prompting in your personal prayer life which is confirmed by the advice of a spiritual director or by the encouraging prophecies you have received from Christian brothers and sisters, then it is reasonable to conclude that God may indeed be giving you a specific mission that should provoke a response of faith. That response may very well include something out of your comfort zone. If we only trust God when it is easy, then do we really trust God at all? Many times, it is in the step of faith that the Lord will bless you with great graces.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a Charismatic group near Columbus, Ohio, with Peter Herbeck. In preparation, I kept hearing the voice of the enemy say, “Who are you to speak to a group of people who have been moving in the Spirit since before you were even born? Plus, they came to hear Peter Herbeck, not you. You will make a fool of yourself.” But, instead of listening to that voice, I took to heart the words of 1 Timothy 1:18, which says, “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight.” I reflected on and declared all the truths I had received in personal prayer that were consistently confirmed by prophecies from brothers and sisters in Christ. I said, “In the name of Jesus, I believe and I declare that I am a Kingdom Builder. You have given me an apostolic anointing to boldly preach your name and spread your Kingdom not by own ability but by your grace and power. When I keep my eyes fixed on you, I radiate your goodness and compassion, and your lost sons and daughters return to the Father’s house. On my own, I can do nothing. But with you, God, all things are possible.” When God’s truth shattered the enemy’s lies, I had a renewed conviction that God was asking me to speak boldly in his name and leave the results to Him. What followed was one of the most powerful exhortations I have ever given. It had little to do with the content or the preparation, but through my simple words and my act of obedience, the Spirit of God convicted hearts in a way that I rarely see.

You see, the Lord only gives the grace of mission when you take a step of faith into your mission. In the words of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” It is not enough to believe that we have a mission. We must have the courage to step into that mission for the glory of God and the salvation of others. This is not mere natural courage, but a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember it was the Holy Spirit that gave the courage and conviction for the apostles to preach at Pentecost, which was the spark that spread the gospel message to the ends of the earth. We need to be fearlessly open to the Holy Spirit prompting us to actions that are out of our comfort zone—and perhaps at times beyond what we would have concluded by human reason alone.

Let me pose a question. When St. Peter got out of the boat to walk on water toward Jesus in Matthew 14:28-32, was Peter more safe and secure when he was closer to the boat or closer to Jesus? While the boat is a mere creation of man, Jesus is the Creator who holds all of the universe in the palm of his hand. Ironically, the closer Peter gets to Jesus the more secure he actually is. It is only in taking his eyes off of Jesus that he begins to sink, prompting Jesus to say, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” From a human perspective, Peter had every reason to think it was unreasonable and impossible for him to walk on water. But, from heaven’s perspective, walking on the water with Jesus at his side is even more secure than sitting without Jesus on a boat or even walking on dry land for that matter. When our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we can see that taking a prayerful and obedient step of faith is really only a risk in earthly terms. Yes, we may fall flat on our face and look foolish. But, as Mother Teresa said, “God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.” Our reward is in the obedience, and the fruit is up to God. In heavenly terms, there is no risk at all. For it is nothing more than a step deeper into God’s hands and into greater dependence on our good Father who delights to give us the Kingdom (Lk 12:32), and who always gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13).

In that sense, the farther we “go out on a limb” in faith and obedience to the promptings of God, and the more we fall into the arms of our heavenly Father in total and radical dependence on Him, the more secure we will be and the more solid the ground beneath us becomes. For indeed, we are standing on the eternal Rock—on Jesus Christ, our firm foundation. Relying more fully on God will look different for each of us according to our state in life and the mission to which God has called us. But all of us must live in the constant faith-filled expectation that God will always supernaturally provide for the life and ministry He has called us to, even in situations that seem hopeless and impossible from a human perspective. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith—trusting more in God’s providence than on our human abilities and plans. When the Lord is our shepherd, we will lack nothing. When we seek first the Kingdom, we truly will have all we need.

Travelling the World to Reach One Heart

“I’m taking a rosary walk.”

“Don’t get lost.”

“Very funny.”

I stood up stiffly from the low cot where I had been reading for hours under piles of blankets and leaned against the damp windowsill, peering through the dirty glass into a bleak Alaskan landscape. The late October light was watery and faded here in the far Northwest. For thousands of acres in every direction, the tundra stretched out gray-brown and flat, with no break except for winding rivulets and pools that divided the boggy ground into puzzle pieces. No matter how far I walked, I would never get lost as long as I could still see this haphazard Yupik village huddling on the horizon.

Michelle Kazanjian holds the rosary bracelet she found in Alaska.

My husband John and I were in Alaska for a ten-day Live Free mission, but mostly it felt like a silent retreat. I was catching up on sleep (the sun didn’t rise until almost 10 a.m.), praying a lot, and teaching myself Italian for fun. We were invited by intrepid Bishop Chad, an ex-military chaplain who hung up on Vatican City when they gave him “the call”—he thought it was a prank. But, no, it was for real. Chad Zielinski, from Alpena, Michigan, was consecrated bishop of the Fairbanks diocese in 2014. It is the largest diocese in the US, with 409,849-square miles, and yet there are only seventeen active priests. The bishop travels by plane from village to village with a simple duffel; he walks a mile or so from airport to village unless someone remembers to come and get him from the tarmac in an ATV; he seems to survive mostly on seal jerky. Bishop Chad called us to bring the message of deliverance to his people, because he was concerned with the wave of suicides that were making national news, a shocking and heart-rending manifestation of the deep depression, hopelessness, violence, and addiction that grips the remotest corners of our forty-ninth state.

This village was our last stop. We had been traveling with a missionary priest, Fr. Greg, who spends two-to-four days a month with each of his five parishes. The official idea was that we would give talks on deliverance and pray with people for freedom. The unofficial idea was that we would mingle with the people, mostly native Americans, and get to know them and their stories. The reality was apathy. People stayed to themselves and kept busy with their activities, except for gangs of children who followed us around, and small bands of faithful Catholics who greeted us at the daily Mass—if you can call four days a month “daily.”

The presentations we gave were attended by eight people at the most, and these groups consisted of mothers and grandmothers who were trying to hold their families together. Most of them work full-time as well as caring for multiple children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren; additionally, there is a strong culture of taking in orphans or virtual orphans, so many of the homes held up to ten or more kids. These women were desperate to preserve the faith in their families, faith that had dwindled severely in the last few decades. The Church in Alaska has suffered from the precipitous decline in the numbers of missionary nuns and priests who used to carry the full weight of parishes and schools. There is no model—and no time—for lay involvement in church programs, so the old paradigm of catechesis and formation continues at a painful, hamstrung pace. John and I were present to witness First Communions and Confirmations of twenty- and thirty-year-olds who had finally finished their catechetical preparation, begun in grade school.

By this point in our mission trip, weariness and discouragement were dogging us. Not only was it disappointing to have come so far and invested so much for so little a visible result, but the weight of despair over the land was spiritually and emotionally draining. Every native person we talked to had stories of losing friends and family to suicide, not just one but many. Truly we were witnessing the disintegration of a people group. One eighty-five-year-old woman wailed to me,

“We used to be so rich. We had the land; we had all the food we needed from the land; we had each other. Now our children are poor. They do not know how to survive here anymore. They want to leave. They go away when the  government check comes; then they come back with nothing.”

Beyond that, we were witnessing the dissolution of faith. Missionaries had zealously criss-crossed this same tundra and brought Christianity to the Eskimo groups.  But belief in Christ was dying out as surely as whaling.

I set out walking with all of this weighing heavily on my heart, praying as I went. It felt good to leave the untidy confines of the village and shake off my lethargy. I took a meandering path, because it was impossible to walk in a straight line. I was continually diverted by impassible bogs and swirling creeks. I began talking aloud to God about the mission; about the sadness I saw around me; about the faithful, aging priests, and their overwhelming workloads.

Far from the village, I started on my rosary, counting on my fingers. It was a Wednesday, so I recited the Glorious Mysteries. The Resurrection: faith. The Ascension, hope. The Coming of the Holy Spirit . . . Something bright on the ground caught my eye, a startling pink against the dun turf. I looked down, and I saw at my feet a thin, pink thread and a sparkle of metal. I bent down and picked it up. It was a hand-knotted rosary bracelet with one small heart charm attached.

My heart pounded and I looked at the sky. This was one of those moments when you say, “God sees me.” God knew exactly where I was, in the lonely Alaskan wilderness, saying a rosary—and He knew exactly where that tiny bracelet was, half-buried in the mud. He brought us together.

I understood. The power of prayer, especially when joined with the prayer of Our Mother, is beyond the power of despair. And if we travel to the corners of the earth only to lift one heart out of the mud, it’s worth it.

Although set on the ground in Michigan, this is the small rosary bracelet that Michelle Kazanjian found while praying a rosary in the Alaskan tundra.

Affection for Sin Presents Serious Danger

The Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom, by Jacob Jordaens. Image Credit.

This article originally appeared on the St. Paul Center Blog.

I loved studying the teachings of the greatest Doctors of the Church in the area of spirituality. It took me a long time from starting with John of the Cross and working through all six of the Doctors I present in The Fulfillment of All Desire but I can’t tell you how helpful their wisdom has been for my own life and what a valuable resource this book has been for tens of thousands of its readers (and listeners!). I think God gave me the grace to be able to present their teachings in a clear, understandable, orderly way, providing an amazing road map for all of us as we continue on the spiritual journey. Let me, in this short blog, share just one of the many amazing and helpful insights that have meant a lot to many people, including myself. Francis de Sales provides important insight into something he calls “affection for sin.”                     

One of Francis’ most helpful insights is his teaching on the affection for sin. He points out that oftentimes we might turn away from serious sins in our life and try hard not to commit them, but still nurture affection for such sin, which greatly slows down our spiritual progress and disposes us to future falls.

He points out that although the Israelites left Egypt in effect, many did not leave it in affection. They complained to Moses that that greatly missed the leeks, garlic, and melons they had back in Egypt. They had physically left Egypt but the affection for Egypt was still in their hearts and slowed them down greatly on their journey to the Promised Land. The same can be true for many of us. We leave sin in effect, but reluctantly, and look back at it fondly, as did Lot’s wife when she looked back on the doomed city of Sodom.

Continue reading here.

Experiencing the Lord’s Goodness in Cameroon

Cameroonian lay leaders gathered outside to pray with each other in small groups as a part of their Unbound ministry training.

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ November 2019 newsletter.

“Now to Him who by means of His power working in us is able to do more than we can ever ask, or even think—to God be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever!” (Eph 3:20-21)

“God is good—all the time!”

“And all the time—God is very, very good, and that is His nature. Wow!”

This Cameroonian adaptation to an oft-used phrase capsulizes our mission experience. God is very, very good—we all experienced the “Wow!” of the Lord’s goodness and healing power.

The purpose of this mission was to provide Unbound teaching and training for seminarians, priests, sisters, and lay leaders. Unbound is a method of deliverance healing that utilizes the five keys of repentance and faith, forgiveness, renunciation, authority, and the Father’s blessing. We were invited and hosted by Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, CMF, formator and superior of the Claretian seminary in Yaoundé. You can read more about Fr. Jude, and his recent experience of being kidnapped and tortured, here. Remy Takam served as our translator. Remy is on staff with Catholic Christian Outreach in Ottawa, Canada; is involved in the Charismatic Renewal; and is very familiar with Unbound. He was a great addition to our team. We experienced the grace and blessing of the Lord for our entire mission.

Approximately sixty people attended our first training session. The majority were Claretian seminarians, from nine different African countries. Most were somewhat bilingual (French and English), though the majority spoke and understood French better than English. Eight sisters, from two different religious communities, had traveled far to be present. Five or six priests also attended.

Miriam Wright, a Renewal Ministries’ board member, and I alternated teaching the kerygma and the concepts of Unbound, and leading prayer ministry. The people were open and receptive. Miriam confirmed that my teaching and discernment were “spot on,” and I felt the same way about her. I experienced God at work through me as I led “activation ministry”—speaking prophetically of how God was at work in people’s lives. We thank God!

Our second training involved about 125 people, mostly lay Claretians and a few clergy. Though we had a shorter time with them, we again took time to not just teach the concepts, but also to teach how to pray with people through the Five Keys. I was amazed at the testimonies of healing, forgiveness, and newfound freedom. Participants were empowered to go forth using the Unbound method in their own lives and ministry.

Bishop Sosthène Bayemi, the national coordinator and episcopal moderator of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Cameroon, joined us for Mass and dinner. He is very pastoral, inspirational, wise, caring, and supportive.

Political Unrest

We heard many stories of the violence and unrest in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon, both from the conference participants and from my missionary friends. It is so sad. There is no doubt that the ministry Unbound provides is both timely and impactful in this situation of war and trauma. There is great need for healing and forgiveness, and of course, of the proclamation of the Gospel, now more than ever.

Fr. Jude seemed very pleased with the fruit of our training. His personal experience of healing and renewal convinced him all the more of the value of Unbound formation.

Reflections from Miriam Wright

We, the team, offered our loaves and fishes and the Lord multiplied the impact. They key question we asked was not “what can we offer” but “what is needed.” The Lord closed the gap.

One memory that will stay with me is of a seminarian who felt he had lost his vocation. He shared a little of the struggle with me during a break. After teaching about the Father’s Blessing, I asked him to come forward to receive a blessing, as a demonstration for the group. The Lord moved powerfully in his heart as he received the blessing. In an email he sent after the event, he said:

“My faith has been restored. I feel the joy of my calling once again, a joy long lost. I must confess that not only did I feel an extra force of grace flowing in me when you prayed with your hands over me, I also was moved to tears when I reviewed the video for the very first time.”

He will be ordained to the diaconate in Rome this June. This one young man’s experience would have justified the whole trip!

Also, I was deeply moved by Fr. Jude’s faith, love, and the power of the Holy Spirit moving through him. He is a mighty man of God! So often we hear about those who are persecuted for the faith, or who suffer the ravages of war, violence, and injustice. When I recall Fr. Jude’s face, and his story, I see the love and mercy of God shining brightly through him. He is a living example of how God turns all things to the good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. God be praised!

In Rwanda, Unbound is one of the vehicles that is now bringing healing after the atrocities of the genocide. My hope and prayer is that Unbound will be one of the tools in Cameroon that will help diffuse the situation and help to turn the tide from anger, violence, and unforgiveness to communication, collaboration, and mercy.

Come Holy Spirit!

Cameroonian Priest Finds Healing After Kidnapping

Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, CMF, is pictured at left with Country Coordinator Peter Newburn, translator Remy Takam, and Renewal Ministries’ Board Member Miriam Wright.

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ November 2019 newsletter.

By Heather Schultz

When Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, CMF, invited Renewal Ministries’ Country Coordinator Peter Newburn and Board Member Miriam Wright to do Unbound ministry and training in Cameroon, he did not know how their ministry would transform his own life. Unbound is a method of deliverance healing that utilizes the five keys of repentance and faith, forgiveness, renunciation, authority, and the Father’s blessing. Fr. Jude extended the invitation to Renewal Ministries in August of 2018, and that November, he was the victim of a kidnapping, along with two other Claretians and their driver. His story is below.

Discovering Unbound

Fr. Jude met Peter Newburn in 2015, when Peter and his family were serving as missionaries in Cameroon. They became friends, and even saw each other in the US during one of Fr. Jude’s travels. Fr. Jude had been introduced to the book Unbound, and he “read it from cover to cover.” Peter—who Fr. Jude said introduced Unbound to Cameroontold Fr. Jude that Unbound is the method of deliverance used by Renewal Ministries. He also helped Fr. Jude get in contact with the book’s author, Neal Lozano. Through that connection, the Claretians were able to help make a low-cost edition of Unbound available in Cameroon.

“I understood it to be a very great healing process that we could apply in our situation in Cameroon,” said Fr. Jude. “It is important, because the five keys are so easy, clear, and great to follow. Within one week or less, you can be drilled through the Five Keys, which is an effective means for personal healing and has the capacity to help others. Unbound exposed me to my vices, helped me to come out of them, and I thought it would be an effective tool to help others.” Fr. Jude added that his experience with Unbound since his kidnapping is a great testament to its ability to help other people in his country as well.

Political Unrest and Personal Trauma

According to Peter Newburn, “about twenty percent of Cameroon is English-speaking, and for the past two-and-a-half years, there has been an increasing clamoring for independence. Leaders of the insurgence, called the ‘Amba Boys,’ have promoted chaos and instability in hopes of garnering change. The predominately French-speaking government has responded forcefully, at times with indiscriminate violence. Many people have been killed.”

It was in this political climate that Fr. Jude and his companions were kidnapped. At the time, they were travelling to a Claretian parish in an Anglophone area of Cameroon to provide basic food, medication, supplies, and moral support to the parishioners and priest, who were hiding in the bush due to the unrest.

“I was so surprised,” said Fr. Jude. “When they kidnapped us, they said, ‘The Church needs to speak. It has not made a good statement about the Cameroonian president.’ They wanted to speak to the pope. However, since we lived on the other side of Cameroon, they also thought we were government spies.”

Fr. Jude shared the details of his captivity:

“From Nov. 23-29, we were kidnapped. We were tortured. They used very bad words and insults. They thought we were military people. They used machetes to cut our bodies, legs, and beat us. The used the under part of their guns to beat us on every part of our bodies. They made us look at the sun continuously for three hours. They made us go without clothes.

“The first thing I experienced was that, humanly speaking, I was afraid of dying. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re not going to survive.’ I was crying. It was really hard. We said, ‘Oh, God! When Paul and Silas were captured, they prayed, and You rescued them.’

“Any time we wanted to pray, they let us. The more we prayed, the more the days went on, the greater we were tortured. Finally, God heard our prayer, and one day, we were set free.

“There were so many praying for us and looking for us. One day, our captors just took us out and told us, ‘We are going to keep your driver, and you need to go and bring us money.’ They asked us for a ransom for the driver. As priests, our policy is that we don’t pay ransoms. But we got support from friends, because we couldn’t leave the driver there. He was in captivity for two more weeks, and then he was released. They suspected the driver was a military man, so they kept on torturing him until one of them identified him and said that he was not military.”

After their release, Fr. Jude, his fellow Claretians, and the driver were all hospitalized and received psychotherapy to help them recover from the trauma of the kidnapping and torture. They also received letters and emails from Pope Francis, who had been informed of their situation by the Claretian general superior in Rome. The pope “expressed his closeness to us in this situation,” said Fr. Jude, who added that this “feeling of closeness of the pope” was a great help after the kidnapping.

Faith and Healing

Unbound ministry also played a significant role in Fr. Jude’s healing. He believes the fact that the Unbound ministry was scheduled before his kidnapping—and then took place shortly afterward, when he could most benefit from it—shows that “God was with us, and God had a plan for it.”

When asked how the kidnapping affected his faith, Fr. Jude answered:

“All of the events that have happened since the kidnapping show that God allowed it for a purpose. During the Unbound prayer, someone shared with me the revelation that God had a plan for me. Everyone said, ‘God kept you there for a purpose.’ For me, it has been a faith-growing experience. I’ve got to understand that before every Easter Sunday, there is a Good Friday. My faith hasn’t just grown; I’ve gone through a leap of faith.

“God arranged the events so that everything fell within that period. The kidnapping experience was not just physical. They also used fetishes—magical things—within the camp, things like witchcraft, as a way of protecting themselves against the military bullets. They believed that would make the bullets not touch them. Additionally, these people took a lot of drugs. We needed physical, psychological, and spiritual freedom.

“Peter Newburn and Miriam Wright took me through the Five Keys of Unbound and prayed with me. God kept revealing there is a plan.

“As we went through the Five Keys, we were able to forgive. I thought I had forgiven, but any time I heard that one of my captors had died, I was thankful. With Unbound, I was able to more fully forgive. I found freedom from the kidnapping and other things from my whole life—situations in which I needed to forgive people, to accept Christ, and accept the freedom He offers.”

While Miriam was praying with Fr. Jude, she had a vision of Jesus being stripped naked (which is another suffering that Fr. Jude and his companions went through), with the very cloak of Jesus being given to Fr. Jude. In fact, he was named superior of the Claretians of Cameroon.

He explained, “I never expected that. I thought, ‘Should I accept? Should I refuse?’ Many people had prayed for me and told me, ‘Your kidnapping is preparing you for something.’ And with Miriam’s vision, I know it is from God. I’m convinced God gave me this responsibility. It’s very challenging, but I’m not afraid, because God will never give you something you can’t carry. He will give me all the support needed. One of my supports is the Unbound training through Miriam and Peter.”

Bearing Fruit

Fr. Jude saw his own suffering bear fruit in his role as superior, when two Claretians were kidnapped in August. He said his experiences helped him know what to do, and how to best help the men once they were rescued.

“God sent me there to get experience to be able to help others,” he added.

Now, since the training with Peter and Miriam, Fr. Jude said that he has many people asking for more of Unbound: “They say we need more—come again! So we want to offer it as many times as possible, to everybody possible. It’s a great innovation, and we want more of Unbound. We want more Christ! We want to be liberated! Please come again! We need a lot of prayer for Cameroon, that peace and justice will have reign, so we can enjoy the benefits of living in a peaceful and just country.”

“I think we were blessed,” concluded Fr. Jude. “I am so grateful to Unbound. I wish to talk to those reading: Do not be discouraged when you go through suffering, especially when you go through persecution for the sake of Christ, as the Beatitudes tell us. We were persecuted for giving food to the hungry. At times, I felt like God was far away, but my experience shows that God is never far from us. My faith is strengthened. I have found freedom in Christ. God is never far from us. He is ready to free us in every situation.”