The Best Thing About My Faith Family

I have a great job! But it’s so much more than a job. My work is my calling.

design[1]A friend recently asked me about my favorite part of our work. I didn’t have to think twice about my response.

My favorite part of the ministry in which I am involved is not the meetings. I love my colleagues and my leaders but I’m not a big fan of sitting around a table and working through an agenda. I’m not especially fond of traveling. Crowded planes and long car rides wear me down. Dealing with bankers and attorneys and real estate agents can be taxing (sorry friends who serve in those roles). And, honestly there are a few things about my faith family that are difficult. There are politics. There are egos. There is conflict. Of course, these things are evident in all organizations.

But the best part of our faith family is the people. My wife and I have the distinct privilege of serving in a leadership role for our denomination. As part of our responsibilities, we travel to a variety of places and meet a lot of great people. Every place we go, we are reminded about how precious the people in our movement are. We meet so many hard working, faithful and competent people. Pastors, church leaders, church members…every place we visit we find a consistent batch of great folks who love God and are working hard to build His kingdom. I refer to them as the backbone of the church. They are by far the best thing about our faith family.

I find it interesting that a few people choose to leave our group. I have a couple of friends who have decided that they can do better. That is between them and God and I hold no ill feelings toward them. But unfortunately, the reasons I hear from my friends who leave are, in my estimation, shallow. The aforementioned difficulties usually make the list: too many politics, too many egos, too much conflict. I see what they are saying and I agree that these are problems. But here is my point:

The quality of the people makes the challenges well worth it!

I’m not blind – I see the problems. And many people I know are working hard on and making progress toward engaging solutions. But rising far above these issues in my mind are the men and women who make up my tribe. I refuse to throw away relationships with so many awesome people because there are organizational challenges. The more I travel and the more people I get to meet and work with, the more I am convinced, I’m in the best family on earth.

I’m thankful for my faith family; it’s a privilege for me to serve in this capacity. By the way, I am a part of the Church of God.

It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.


I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.

No One is Expendable


At a summer youth event for the organization that I serve, I was talking with a guest speaker who was visiting us from out of state. He remarked about our diversity of leaders and how the mutual respect among us was obvious. He remarked about how some of our key leaders did not fit the typical mold of our denomination. Specifically, he said, “You guys come from different nationalities and cultures. You speak different languages. You have leaders that are all inked and pierced up. How do you get everyone to accept each other so well?” I gave a pretty straight answer: “We’re not big enough to eliminate people because they are different from us.”

His reaction surprised me. He said, “We aren’t either; we just don’t know it.”

I most certainly did not mean by this answer that we have low standards for leaders or that we will let anyone lead. I simply meant that we are a relatively small organization and if we eliminate leaders because they don’t look or dress or act like me, we will cease to exist. People are not expendable. One definition of expendable is: Considered to be not worth keeping or maintaining ( We can’t throw people away. We need every qualified leader we can get. Our leaders are very qualified. They love Jesus with all their hearts and live exemplary lives. They happen to not fit the mold that some people have established.

Our guest finished the conversation by saying, “Some of your best leaders wouldn’t get the time of day in the state where I serve. We have some things to learn.”

We may raise a few eyebrows and be accused of being desperate. That’s ok – we are desperate – to see young lives changed. We are willing to do whatever it takes to see that happen.

A Humbling Stroll Down Memory Lane


Tonight, we attended a sing-along with a group of people from our tribe, the Church of God. We sang the songs from the old red back hymnal, the stuff of my parents’ generation. I went because I was invited. I much prefer more modern music and more updated forms of worship. But tonight wasn’t about me; it was about my heritage.

On the way to the event, I told my wife what song they would sing first – I nailed it. The leader announced page 393, “When We All Get to Heaven”. This stuff runs deep in my blood! As we sang these songs, both Letha and I laughed a little, thinking about our childhood, and we cried a little, thinking about our loved ones. It was more emotional that I thought it would be. I haven’t heard some of those songs since I was a kid but I knew every word.

As much as I enjoyed this evening, I do not believe that we need to go back to the way things were. In fact, that is impossible. People who try to do that get trapped in the past. But there is great value in having roots. Our heritage is very important; it helps to steer us toward a great future.

I am glad we attended the event tonight. I am not looking back, I am moving forward as fast as I can. But tonight was an important glance in my rear view mirror. I am better because of it.

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The following is a paper written for and presented at the Cooper City Church of God Missions Conference on February 7, 2012.  I was encouraged by it, I hope you are too.

“Kingdom Citizenship: Where you are coming from and where you are headed.”

Jessica Hanson, Director, Casa Shalom Orphanage

Cooper City Church of God Missions Conference 2012


We’ve come from all over the world to be here today. We’ve come from Africa. We’ve come from Europe. We’ve come from North America, Central America and South America. We’ve come from Asia. We’ve come together to spend a few days in fellowship, worship and training to return to our adopted countries to minister more effectively to people that we’ve come to love and respect.  Where we come from, both our countries of birth and as missionaries in our adopted countries, greatly affects where we are today and of course where we are going in the future.  As missionaries, evangelists and leaders, we cannot separate our past from our present from our future.  Today I’m going to share with you from the theme of “Kingdom Citizenship: Where you are coming from and where you are headed to.”  I hope to be able to share with you a little about where our ministry has taken us, where we are, and what we hope it will be in the future.

As missionaries and Christians, where do we come from? I don’t just mean a physical location like a city or country or continent.  I mean spiritually.  What is our spiritual history and heritage? We know that as humans, our innate sinful nature prevented us from communing with God like He intended.  Our pre-Christ past was therefore characterized by despair, sin, and separation from God.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Before we came to Christ, we were slaves to our sinful and selfish natures and rejected God’s offer of redemption.  But thank God He provided a way out of this bondage!  By sending His only son to die for us, He allowed us to leave behind our lives of darkness and despair, and adopted us as His own!  Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry Abba, Father.”

What an amazing concept adoption is.  My husband and I serve as the Directors of the Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala.  I want to share with you the story of a group of eight siblings by the name of Mejia Lux that we took in January of 2011.  The children, who you see in the photo above, came to the orphanage after their parents abandoned them. They simply didn’t want the responsibility of raising eight children, and they left them. The oldest child, Maria, 12-years-old, was trying to take care of her younger brothers and sisters all by herself even though she’s still a child.  The boys, ages six, seven and eight, were working in the local coffee fields picking 100 pounds a day, instead of attending school, to try to provide for the family.  When the children came to Casa Shalom, none of them had ever attended school or been to a doctor, they were filthy, barefoot, lice-ridden and starving.  They were little more than slaves and had no future.  They remind me so much of us before we came to Christ. They were doomed to a live of poverty and hopelessness! But God brought them to our orphanage, and even though we cannot legally adopt them, they and all the other children that call the orphanage home have been adopted into the wonderful Casa Shalom family and the family of God!

I wasn’t asked to speak about our present, but I don’t think I can discuss where we’ve come from or where we’re headed without talking about where we are right now.  Like the Mejia Lux children coming out of extreme poverty, we came out of extreme despair and hopeless when we came to Christ.  God’s plan isn’t for us to stay in a state of separation from Him! That’s why He sent His Son to reconcile us to Him and to bridge that gap of sin that separates us from God.  When God adopted us as His sons and daughters, we gained full privileges and rights in His kingdom.  We don’t have to live in fear like slaves anymore because we’re the precious children of the Father and citizens of His kingdom. Philippians 3:20 – 21 states, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  In this verse, we are reminded that we are not citizens of this country, or our adopted countries, or even of this world.  Our present is characterized the belonging to the wonderful family of God.

It is logical to assume that we can’t get from yesterday to tomorrow without today.  What we did yesterday directly affects today, and what we do today directly affects tomorrow.  Today is the connecting point between our past and our future!  Thus, we cannot underestimate the importance of our actions and attitudes today.  The Old Testament story of Moses clearly illustrates the connection between the past, the present and the future and how you can’t have one without the others.  At the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites find themselves enslaved in Egypt.  Exodus chapter 1, verses 12 – 14 say, “So the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor they worked them ruthlessly.” In the enslaved Egyptians, we can see mirrored our lives before surrendering to Christ and becoming God’s sons and daughters.  Like the Israelites, our past is one of slavery and bondage.  But like God didn’t leave the Israelites in slavery forever; through Moses, he provided a way out of slavery and into the Promised Lands, where they could live as his children in peace and freedom.

We all know that God’s chosen people didn’t have any easy transition from slavery to the Promised Land. We know that in between leaving slavery behind and entering their future in the Promised Land, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years.  There was no HOV lane, no fast-track from slavery to the Promised Land, just 40 years of trials, hardship and opportunities to grow and stretch.  The Israelite’s “present” wasn’t exactly what they’d had in mind when they left Egypt.  In Exodus 14: 11- 12, they said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone’ let us serve the Egyptians’?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”  And in chapter 17, verse 3, they said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst?” Nearly once per chapter throughout Exodus, the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and questioned his reasoning in leading them out of slavery.

Yet we see in Exodus that God never abandoned his children in the desert. Conditions may not have been as comfortable or pleasant as they would have liked, but God never removed his hand from them.  We see so many examples of him providing extraordinary gifts for his children, like manna from heaven, shoes that did not wear out,  and water from supernatural sources (Exodus 16:4, Deuteronomy 29:5, Exodus 17:6).

Sometimes, in our “present” we feel like we’re in a desert. Conditions are unpleasant or seemingly unbearable and we feel abandoned.  But during these times in when we need to watch for the miracles that God does to carry us through to our future “Promised Land.”  We recently experienced such a miracle in our ministry in Guatemala. We’ve recently been going through a “desert” time with opposition from staff members, financial challenges with our personal budget and just day-to-day ministry to 20-plus teenagers! In November, one of the youngest children at the orphanage, Magdalena, age 2, nearly severed her finger in a door hinge at the orphanage.  She and her twin sister are the youngest of the Mejia Lux siblings.  We rushed Magdalena to the hospital and the doctors told us that they could do nothing for her but remove the part of the finger that had been severed – they couldn’t repair the bone or the blood vessels and that without the blood vessels, the tissue would die.

We weren’t ready to accept that answer, so we took her to another hospital, where they told us basically the same thing.  The only other option they could offer us was reattaching the skin of her finger. So that’s what they did. They sewed the thumb back on, but did nothing to the blood vessels or bone.  Magdalena was admitted into the hospital where she was supposed to wait for 3 days before the doctors could remove the severed appendage.   We began to pray in faith that God would heal Magdalena’s thumb and spare her the pain of growing up without this important finger.  The next day, we visited Magdalena in the hospital and asked how her finger felt. She held up her hand, which was enclosed in an open-ended cast, wiggled her thumb and said, “fine!”  She was supposed to lose the entire thumb, but God performed a miracle and Magdalena’s thumb has recovered completely.  God repaired the bone and the blood vessels when Guatemala’s doctors weren’t able to.   She doesn’t even have a scar.  God has used this miracle to bring glory to himself.  And we have clung to miracles like this one as God showing us his favor and provision as we minister.

As the body of Christ, where are we headed to?  God has given us the hope of the Promised Land at the end of this life.  It is our duty as believers, as missionaries to bring as many people as we can from slavery, through the desert, into the Promised Land.  That is why we leave our countries, our families, our homes and our cultures to minister to people around the world, in the next city or sometimes next door.  Pastor Bill Hybels has said many times that the job of every leader is to take people “from here (where they are) to there (where God wants them to be).”  Our job as missionaries, pastors, evangelists and believers is to lead people in our God-given mission field from their past, their “here,” through their present, into their future, or “there.”  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, our role is to bring as many people as possible with us!  This is what compels us to do what we do.

I’d like to close with an update on the Mejia Lux children.  While we’re under no illusion that the children have “arrived” and need no further healing or help, we believe that a great work has already been done in their lives.  All 8 children have changed dramatically, physically and mentally. The oldest four are attending school and all are receiving medical care. They’ve come back from the brink of starvation to be happy, healthy and well.  The oldest three children have accepted Christ into their hearts.  We are so grateful that the Lord has chosen us to help bring these precious children from slavery, through the desert, and into the Kingdom of God!

As Christians, we come from a dark place of separation from God, but He has a plan of redemption that is available to each and every person. He brings us out of our past, through our present, that is sometimes characterized by difficulty, to our future as citizens of His everlasting kingdom.