“I didn’t bless the rains down in Africa (they blessed me)” with Jairus Withrow

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LOFT’s own Jairus Withrow went to Uganda in January to spread the good news through music and worship. He shares his testimony and reflects on the week he spent at the camp, creating relationships and watching God work in the people attending the camp and in himself.

Tell us about the missions trip.

Well, I wasn’t originally supposed to go on this trip at all, but as God would have it, I was graciously given the chance! The Reaction Tour team had their male worship leader drop out suddenly, and they were frantically looking for someone to replace him. Through a series of connections, I was given literally one day to make a choice to join the team. But providentially, my schedule was open. So I went to Kampala, Uganda with the Reaction Tour team over New Years. The city of Kampala sits on Lake Victoria (which I’m pretty sure is the largest lake in Africa). We were in Uganda for about 8 days or so.

What exactly did you do in Uganda?

The Reaction Tour team put on a free 5 day camp for adults (ages 17-35). The camp was basically both educational and spiritual in nature–working on developing student’s skills in focused areas as well as providing spiritual direction and times of corporate worship for the entire camp. Students chose class “electives” to do in morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session had electives such as Worship, Media Arts, Fine Art, and Leadership. The afternoon session had hip-hop dance class, sports electives (volleyball, basketball, soccer) and He or She class (dealing with men’s and women’s issues). I was in charge of co-leading the Worship class and co-leading our evening worship times. My partner, Annalise Bush, and I decided to take our class a different direction that in previous Reaction Tours and focused on songwriting.

Was it what you expected? Did God surprise you in any way?

Ha! In all honesty, I was pretty unsure of what to expect. Because I had been thrown into this trip so suddenly, I was behind on all the details. Even in the previous years that Reaction Tour had put on this camp (which have all been very successful, mind you), there was still no written curriculum. I just had to get details straight word of mouth from one of the previous team’s worship leaders. But in any case, the Lord knew I would enjoy the challenge! The songwriting class ended up being phenomenal- to hear the songs these guys wrote was astounding! Many had never written a song before, and some, even though they might have been leading worship their whole lives, had never written in a group setting. So we really felt like we came in and gave them a unique learning experience. You could feel the favor of God over the whole thing and by the end of the week, no one wanted to stop writing! We were all saying, “Week 2, let’s go!”

As far as surprises, I was pretty surprised at how our team banded together so rapidly. It has definitely been the tightest, most complementary mission team I’ve been on. And it seemed God was using the cohesiveness nonstop as we would keep getting these amazing stories coming in all day and night of things that were happening throughout the camp. I was shocked at how close our team got, and by the end of it, we all had that same sad and slightly confused question bouncing around of, “Why does this have to end?”

How did this trip make a personal impact on you?

It was powerful to see the fruit of God’s faithfulness to me in my own life. He’s taken me through all these steps over the past decade– in my career as a teacher and musician, in my spiritual maturity, in leadership– and this camp was an opportunity to see it all culminate in my own life, as my role required someone who had reached a certain skill level in these different areas.

It was like the Lord was giving me a special gift (like a kiss on the forehead, really) in allowing me to find a group of people and a situation where I was able to use the full gamut of skills he’s been working in me for years.

What was your favorite memory from the trip?

One of the most profound and dearest experiences to me from the trip was on the last day of our songwriting class, we split into men’s and women’s groups. They had already presented the songs they had written on the day before, and the last day was really a day for them to process and share what God had done in their hearts as well as to confess anything and be prayed for. This was the time where they guys really opened up. People needed real prayer and direction for so many things– men having trouble leading their worship teams back home, secret sin that needed to come out, people feeling like they needed help in different situations. It felt like the Lord was bringing many things out of darkness and into light.

It was a realization, that for me, the work of teaching songwriting and leading a worship band was doing more than just producing cool songs or music, but God was working on people’s hearts the whole time, and helping us all get to a place where we could be vulnerable and receive healing. So I pray that they can carry what they learned back to their churches and cultivate the same kind of culture of trust and vulnerability.

Okay, how about another one?!

reactiontour-jackfruitSo the double rainbow story…It was late in the afternoon and our team leader, Brad, and another teammate, Keenan, had developed an obsession with finding ripe jack fruit. You could climb the trees, tap on a hanging jack fruit, and know if it was good to eat or not. So here they are, about to go scalping the Ugandan forest for jack fruit, and I’m hanging around the team hut and they come up to me and say, “Hey Jairus, come join the hunt!” So I decided to join. Now, we’re headed towards the football (soccer) fields because we’re pretty sure we’ll sight some new jack fruit in the trees surrounding the field. And as we’re going, the sky has these ominous, dark-lavender clouds rapidly rolling in behind us that are just pregnant with rain. And while we’re headed down this narrow dirt road, of course, it starts to rain- a nice tropical rain. But here’s the thing about Uganda- when it rains, the sky emanates this golden hue. It’s as if the whole country is bathed in a golden essence. And while Brad is up a tree, and Keenan and I are standing below, we look up over the soccer field and behold! The double rainbow in the golden sky over a grassy Ugandan field. Needless to say, Brad got out of tree, and then we began prancing in the field. Here’s a picture that doesn’t quite do it justice…

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Did you have any hard days or experiences during your trip?

It was pretty taxing at first for me and my partner to get into the rhythm of Ugandan band practice and worship prep. It’s just different than in America. Often times, they don’t use chord charts. They just listen to the songs, learn them, and sort of improvise with a band leader calling out chord numbers in your in-ears during the worship set. That was pretty tough for me because I’m so used to referencing a chord chart during our practice times. So if there was a part we were trying to get down exactly, I could get frustrated that no one had the chord charts we’d passed out. But really what it was was just a difference in culture. It’s not that one way is better than the other necessarily, it’s just we were trying to mash our two ways together without realizing that we had different expectations for what practice and learning a song looks like. Ha! Sounds like a relationship 🙂

Was there a Bible verse or passage that kept coming to mind while you were there?

Hmmm…1 Corinthians 4:20 was the one.

“For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.”

 

The word power was definitely highlighted to me throughout the trip. We wanted to see real, tangible life change and learning happening, not just our team being talking heads and the student’s nodding, but real power from God that transforms people’s lives forever.

What should the LOFT family know about our brothers and sisters in Uganda?

First, they know how to dance in worship! If you need a master course in it, go to Uganda. I’m not kidding. If you want to introduce dance in your church, do some R&D in Uganda and you will get what you need. And second, while there are certainly big differences from American to Ugandan culture,

I am always reminded when I visit a new place, that people all struggle with the same root things– sin, difficulties, and pain. And Uganda is no different. The very same things you pray for yourself, your church, and your family can be prayed for your Ugandan brother’s and sisters. So in your prayer time this week, please pray for the Ugandan church. That they will make their first priority to know, worship, and obey Jesus.

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Do you have plans to go back?

I would love to return, but we’ll see what the Reaction Tour leaders decide. I know that they are preparing to take the team to a Native American reservation soon. I and several others from our team are actually traveling to our team leader’s home in Arkansas next weekend to help plan future trips as well as develop curriculum so that we can expand to multiple teams.

Good Reads: March 2019

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Good Reads is your monthly dose of articles, curated by LOFT City Church’s own Pastor Sam Chacko. They can provide insight and guidance in topics like leadership, spiritual growth, and relationships. If you’re not in the mood to think, but would like a laugh, scroll to the bottom to check out Check out the links below for topics that are relevant for you.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people. (Luke 2:52)

 

Wisdom:  Leadership

5 Women in History the Church Should Celebrate

I’m Exhausted — How Do I Recharge My Body Without Neglecting My Soul?

God’s Process for Growing a Leader

How to Handle Criticism in Life & Leadership

Favor with God:  Spiritual Growth

3 People Jesus Meets at the Table

3 Things that Keep Christians from Living with a Sense of Urgency

When You Make Your Bed in Hell

A Way to Pray Specifically for Our Neighborhoods

Favor with People:  Relationships

How to Have Healthy Conversations About Race

7 Questions for Meaningful Conversations with Believers

Three Biblical Prayers to Say for Your Parents

Three Reminders For Parents In The Trenches With Young Children

Just for Laughs

10 Arguments For Christianity That Are Guaranteed Mic Drops

A Flashback to Honduras


Nicole Chacko shared her testimony from her first missions trip to Honduras. She’ll hopefully be heading back this year and you can, too. Start praying about going – the dates are August 29-September 2. 

On the first day of the missions trip we went to the Pastor’s house and told him our story and he told us his. We spent half of our day with him, ate lunch and took a tour of his land. After that, we split into groups and went to other homes in the area. Our group went to three houses on the first day. We met some amazing people that day. We went to church that night and unexpectedly found out that we had to sing on stage. We were not prepared at all.

On the second day we went back to the pastor’s house to talk about the people we had met. Then we split into our groups and went to some more houses. We went to one house and met a wonderful person. Her name is Margarita and she is so sweet and kind. It was a joy to spend time with her. That night we had a soccer night, where all the boys played soccer, and we painted the girls’ nails and did face paint. We also did their hair. It was so much fun. That night we went to church and sang on stage again, but we were way more prepared this time. That was the last night we saw most of them so we took pictures and had a great time.

On the last day we went back to the pastor’s house, then split back up to go to a house we had already been to or one other house. So we went to Margarita’s daughter’s house and got to know her. Then we went to Margarita’s house to say our goodbyes. The rest of the day we went to the market and hung out. That night we ate dinner with our missions coordinator and his family, the pastor and his family, and our amazing translators.

I had such a good time on this trip, and I wanted to thank you for the love and prayers you gave me during this trip. On this missions trip God led me to meet some amazing people and I hope to build great relationships with them in the future. I can’t wait until next year’s trip.

Is Love Blind?

Ask anyone who knows me at all and they will tell you that I work very hard to be prepared in advance and that I hate large crowds. Despite these two facts, this year I found myself two days before Christmas making a last minute emergency run to…WALMART. The horror! I jostled and “excuse me-ed” all the way to the back of the store where they hide their eggs only to be assaulted by a solid wall of pink and red hearts. Did I mention this was two days before Christmas?!?

The tide of Valentine’s day has slowly but steadily risen to engulf not only New Year’s but also Christmas. Valentine’s Day – the one day a year we all live in the fantasy that our relationships consist only of bliss and ecstasy. We turn a blind eye to our partner’s faults in pursuit of a love that makes us feel good, that’s comfortable, that’s self-serving. We idolize romance and in so doing sacrifice reality. It was Shakespeare who first coined the phrase “love is blind” (The Merchant of Venice), so the idea that the nature of love includes ignoring and glossing over each other’s warts and scars and failures is not new. But is this the kind of love that we, as children of God, should strive to give? Is this the kind of love that God shows us?

The love of God is far from blind.

I, for one, am thankful that the love of God is far from blind. God sees us as we truly are, He knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves and yet He chooses…love. I never have to fear that God is going to find something out about me and quit loving me…He already knows it all! And at the same time He is unwilling to allow me to continue in my sin. He is patient and kind, slow to anger and free from selfishness. He does not treat us as our sins deserve but embraces us as His beloved children in Christ.

When we refuse to be blind, when we take the time and effort to truly know someone, and we still choose to love them we are imaging God. It is through this I know you’re really messed up and you’ve hurt me and probably will again but I’m going to choose to love you anyway kind of love that people are drawn to and experience the grace and love of God. This is the way, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that I am seeking to love both those closest to me, my spouse, my family, my friends, and those I simply come into contact with each day. I want them to experience God’s all-seeing love through me.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we must also love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.” -1 John 4:7-11

This Valentine’s Day, let’s take off the blindfolds, look into each others lives and choose to love like God loves us.

A People With A Story

The holiday season is upon us and with the holidays often comes time with family. Time with family looks different for everyone, but for me, it usually means telling stories. When I first married George, one of the observations he made as an “outsider” was that mine is a storied family. I had never quite thought about it like that, but he was right. My family is constantly recounting stories from our past, especially on Christmas Eve.

Every year we would return home from church and settle in by the warmth of the fire and glow of the christmas tree to sip eggnog and eat shrimp with cocktail sauce and cheese ball with crackers. My mom would read a corny poem she had written about things that had happened that year and inevitably the stories would start flowing…

We would laugh at the vibrating football table my dad had gotten for Christmas as a kid and recall my sister’s tears the year my mom forgot to put any of her presents under the tree. Soon the conversation might turn to how accident prone I am, everyone recounting where they were when they found out I was hit by a car, what a diva my sister was growing up, or how my parents would strap my brother to his chair with a belt at the dinner table when he wouldn’t sit still. I could go on and on but the point is these stories are important to me. They are a part of my history and have played a significant role in shaping who I am – the good and the not so good.

Recounting stories like these brings my family together, it unifies us as we tell our common history. We remember and we’re filled with joy and gratitude, hope and love, privileged to know and to be known. Some of you may be able to relate and others may not, but no matter what your biological family is like, when you entered the family of God you became part of a storied family.

We as God’s people share a common history. We too are a family that has been shaped by stories: stories of creation in all its majesty, the triumph of the exodus, the sorrow of prophets and stubbornness of kings… stories of stunning miracles and the long-awaited Messiah, of bitter death and a resurrection of hope…stories of the early church and persecution. All too often we stop there and simply look forward to the promised end. But God’s story continues… in catacombs and cathedrals, in monasteries and missionary movements in the lives of our mentors and friends.

This is the story we are living out now at LOFT City Church, and the telling of this story brings about growth and unity in the family of God. We tell and retell, remember and reflect, and are filled with joy and gratitude, hope and love, privileged to know and also to be known. This is why God’s call to “remember” is so prevalent throughout all of Scripture – eat and remember, drink and remember, sing and remember, gather and remember who God is and what He has done. In the remembering and telling, the story shapes us and binds us to our Father and our family. God’s story is a story of grace and redemption, brokenness and healing, failure and hope, one in which WE play an integral part. This holiday season, as we gather around fires and meals, lattes and trees, let’s remember and tell God’s story, our story, to each other and to the world – inviting them to join the family.

“Give thanks to Yahweh; call on His name;
proclaim His deeds among the peoples.
Sing to Him; sing praise to Him;
tell about all His wonderful works!
Honor His holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek Yahweh rejoice.
Search for the Lord and for His strength;
seek His face always.
Remember the wonderful works He has done,
His wonders, and the judgements He has pronounced,
you offspring of Israel His servant,
Jacob’s descendants – His chosen ones…
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Proclaim His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonderful works among all peoples.” – 1 Chronicles 16:8-13,23-24

Close up photo of the church mosaic by avmedved. Dollarphotoclub