Thursday, October 26, 2023
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…” – Revelation 7:9
This is one of those months where I’m scrolling through Google Photos trying to figure out what story to tell. With school underway our family has mostly been in the routines that the school year brings. Ezekiel is in chess club and has decided to be the school’s first Yell Leader. Caleb is taking horseback riding lessons and excelling at school. Amy works at a public behavior school as a para and has daily adventure stories, but is also standing out in the way that she loves the kids. Justin is visiting churches, communicating with more churches about potential visits, and making new strides with Salesforce programming and architecture.
Amy has had some pretty incredible encounters lately with Muslim women at work and in her other day to day errands. She has been communicating and building friendships with a few other moms. We’ve also been praying about some special relationships with kids from our school. One family in particular has some hard circumstances and just happens to have kids in class with both of ours. The Lord has even opened doors with that family in the way He brought those children to our community group’s Angel Tree kids.
On the nerdy side, Justin has basically finished the debugging process on a complicated API pull for importing gift data into our Salesforce org. He also managed to design some useful screen flows that will help streamline the day to day communication tasks that our team needs to accomplish. Now he is working on figuring out how to clean up some data from 2700 contacts and get all of the useful information into the same place (the right record fields) so that the screen flow project will actually work. He has also been providing some technical support for remote teammates who have had some challenges. Once the reports and activity task records are cleaned up and actually useful, this project that has been in the making for quite some time will be ready to launch.
Ezekiel had his 11th birthday. We are moving in a few weeks to a new place that will save us 2-3 hours a day in driving time, and make life a lot less hectic because of that. We are packing for that move, managing homework and field trips and practices and the day to day American family busyness stuff. Justin also does occasional side jobs for people who need handyman help to make up some of what we lack in the support-raising department.
Thank you for praying, writing, giving and keeping up. Being in support-based ministry often feels boring, but is also necessary and the Lord has been working greatly in our family, church, school and daily relationships. If you want a visit from Justin at your church, please reach out!
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
I hope you had a good summer. Last time I wrote a newsletter was around Independence Day… it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago! We’ve had a lot happen in the last couple of months, it feels like our lives are always busy, but the summer months are particularly so.
has quite a few different faces. People
often ask me “What does a normal day look like for you?” and I never really
know how to answer. Since we made the
transition to Encountering Muslims my official role on the team is organizing
our CRM, which is the way an organization keeps track of contacts, leads,
fundraising activities, course participants, campaign management and other
information. If we were a typical
for-profit company, this would be the heartbeat of our sales program, or
inventory management, but in the missions and nonprofit world it’s a little
different. Most of the people on our
team have “siloed” information, meaning that whether the information is “local”
to a personal computer, or even stored in other out of date systems like a
spreadsheet or <shudder> index cards, it can take a lot of time to keep
track of what we’re doing.
information also causes other problems.
A few months ago I called one of my donors to ask him if we could get together
while I was in town. He told me that he
was busy that weekend doing a fundraiser for another missionary that the church
supports, but invited me to join him there.
Long story short, that other missionary was one of my coworkers. We didn’t even know that we were talking to
the same person about support at the same time – see how that could be
have a programming background, and we decided to stay in the USA for a while,
The leader for Encountering Muslims approached me and asked me if I
would learn Salesforce, and design an org for our team to solve some of these
problems. If you’re a nerd like me, who
is also back from the field because of complex family dynamics that are unpredictable
and deserve a lot of focused attention in themselves, being asked to do a job
like this is pretty exciting!
But that’s just one part of it. It’s hard to be a person who feels such a
call to reach unreached people, and to disciple people who are young in faith
and/or leadership, but then sit in the office all day learning how to use a new
program. This is especially true when
the team of which I’m a part has a mission to reach unreached Muslim people in
the USA and around the world, while also
mobilizing US churches to do the same.
So another part of my role on this new team involves both of those
things. We live close to a storefront
called the Sudan Coffee Shop. I’ve gone
there with the kids and played cards with the guys and tried to build relationships. I’ve also been speaking in lots of churches
about Encountering Muslims and the importance of refocusing our sight on
lost people who need the gospel, but whom we typically treat as enemies. If I’ve visited your church recently, you’ve
already heard what I have to share, but that’s not the only reason I’m speaking
of you already understand, there are seasons of missionary work where the
majority of your time is spent doing fundraising activity. Mailing letters, making phone calls, having
meetings with pastors or potential donors, writing thank you cards, traveling
to various networking opportunities…it’s a full-time job in itself! That aspect of my job is always there, there
are always people to call and thank, always updates to give, always a little
bit more fundraising to do, but this has been a unique season for lots of
missionaries, including myself. Ever
since 2020, giving to charitable organizations has been tenuous. Jobs are less certain, everything is getting
more expensive, banks are failing… this
is a season where people are hesitant to take on new financial commitments, and
some who have been faithfully committed for a long time just can’t do it
anymore. Because this everyday reality
has been more pronounced in recent years, we’ve had roughly the same deficit in
our support level since joining Encountering Muslims. God has provided us with so many new friends
and financial partners, but at the same time, others have had to stop.
summer has actually been a really busy and productive season for
fundraising. It’s hard to learn new
things in Salesforce when the kids are home all day, but I’ve spoken at churches
or visited with pastors in six different states, I got to be the missionary
speaker at a kids and youth camp where I met some new churches, and have really
spent the bulk of my “work” hours (way more than 40 in a week!) on these things
while they’re available. But now, the
kids are back in school, the house is quiet, and I want to be done!
school is back in full swing, the busyness is different (homework, practices,
etc) but I’m free to get back into the Salesforce learning, and the other
various outreach opportunities that the Lord has provided me with, but that
means I have to trust Him enough to stop spending so much time on
fundraising! Pray with us that God
provides the monthly partners that we need (and maintains the ones that we
have) to ease up on that area of ministry and move into the next!
this is longer than usual, but it HAS been 2 months…and sometimes I talk to you
people at church or on the phone and realize that some of you still have no
idea what I’m doing now! Thanks for
reading, praying, emailing, giving, caring and being awesome!
Thursday, July 6, 2023
I hope you had a good time with family,
church and friends on Independence day this year. When I reflect on the summer holidays
(Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day) I’m always struck by the
harmony and tension that a Christian feels.
About 20 years ago I saw a bunch of trendy young people getting tattoos
that said NOTW (Not of this World) which resonates with the idea that we’re all
“aliens and strangers” in the world which we currently inhabit.
Depending on the church and tradition
to which one is accustomed, we can swing to political (and patriotic) extremes
one way or the other, but so often the Christian life seems to be one of
tension. Am I thankful for the country I
live in and come from? Of course! The freedoms and opportunities it
affords? Absolutely! And yet, when I really reflect on the idea of
“home” it just never quite lands where I’m sitting. Having used that name for so many different
geographical locations over the last 20 years is part of my unease with the
word, but it’s even more.
Testament authors seemed to feel some of the same tension. The obviously glaring imperfections of the
Roman Empire were hard to ignore, but being good citizens was still essential
to living out a Christian faith in the Roman world. And yet, we all feel like foreigners and
strangers in a world that no longer understands us (or never did). As we eagerly await the promised redemption
of creation, the promised home in Heaven, the promised escape from the trials
and pains of this fallen world, the blessings and joys of this world start to
pale…but they’re still blessings and joys!
and I were first dating/engaged, she used to say “I’ve never met anyone who
looks forward to Heaven (and tries to get there) as much as you do.” I hope that’s still true, but while I’m here
I want to look at the things God is doing, even when they’re painful, and the
things God has given me as small glimpses of the eternity I’m eagerly
anticipating. He gave me independence,
but it was an independence that came with a glorious, shameless dependence on
Him, the One who creates, provides, redeems and justifies. Happy Independence Day!
Justin, Amy, Ezekiel and Caleb
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
School’s out for summer. But not forever. I remember when I was a kid and looked forward to summer vacation, and then realized that it meant more chores, and getting bored, and by the end of the summer I was excited for school to start again! Now that I’m a parent with a home office, I still kind of feel the same way. The kids are home! When do they go back! We spend the month of May bringing school to a close. Justin got a pie in the face on Field Day (that was a popular item in our silent auction), standardized testing meant that the kids were an absolute disaster in the evening, and shortened schedules made everything feel pretty dysregulated. Now that we’re all settling into the summer routine, it’s kind of exciting.
The kids have a whole mess of camps to attend. Justin is the missionary speaker at a camp in the St. Louis area in July. One of the integration projects that Justin has been working/waiting on with Salesforce is basically finished, so we get to move forward to some more exciting stuff in that realm. There are lots of new churches to speak and share with, we are still trying to get our support back up to goal (Pray for that, it takes a good chunk of Justin’s time that he’d rather be spending doing other ministry). In a week Justin is officiating a funeral for his dad, which is going to be difficult. Pray that the gospel is clearly communicated.
Last week we went on a “date” and had supper at a local restaurant owned by Iraqi people. The food was great, and it was interesting to see how the owner went from being non-interactive with us at the beginning, to being excited that these Christians were so interested in their home and culture and language and religion and food. Did you know that Iraqis put sweet pickles in their Shawarma? We were a bit surprised to find it, bit that’s how we started the conversation with the waitress who said “Oh, Iraqis put sweet pickles in everything!” We also knew some of the same people from the local mosque, overall it was a good connection to make.
Cute story time: Two weeks ago Justin got to church early for security, and Amy and the kids ended up not making it for various reasons. When I (Justin) got home from church, Ezekiel had written a sermon, and he and Caleb picked songs and made communion so we could have church at home…and then Ezekiel preached a sermon on forgiveness! I remember most of what he said but I was a little emotional and forgot to write down notes!
Thanks for keeping up with and praying for us. If you haven’t heard from us lately and would like to (especially if you want me to come to your church) reach out and let me know!
Justin, Amy, Ezekiel and Caleb Cul
Friday, April 28, 2023
you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have
received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of
God..” Romans 5:15-16
past month, I’ve been remined about the reality of spiritual warfare, the
goodness of God, and exhaustion. It all
started the day I received a phone call about my dad dying. He has been an alcoholic longer than I’ve
been alive. I’ve seen him homeless, and
in other ways having to live with the outcome of his addictions. I’ve shared the gospel with him, others have
cared for him and shared the gospel with him, at one point he even “got saved”
but then fell back into his old lifestyle, and then one day a few weeks ago he
was found in his apartment surrounded by empty bottles.
weeks later at the kids’ school, we had our yearly spring fundraiser
event. It is the biggest source of
scholarship funds for the school, but involves lots and lots of work to get it
going. This year we had a committee of
already busy people who were stressed that the event just wasn’t going to
happen, or wasn’t going to be as fruitful as it has been in the past, but we
decided to do what we could do while remembering the things that are real
priorities in our lives. Last Saturday
the event happened, it was fun and everybody I have talked to loved it, and the
proceeds were actually more than last year.
week I had a plan to get caught up on calling some of you, calling new churches
where I want to go and speak about Encountering Muslims and our own
fundraising. I started the week by
changing the oil in my truck and found a broken spring shackle on the rear end,
rendering the thing undrivable until I can get it fixed. That day was a whole day of trying to arrange
another vehicle to drive, which a brother from church was able to provide. Today I was just reflecting on how much this
reminds me of working in Lohutok!
I spoke at River Oaks Church a couple of weekends ago, and Pastor Larry said, “God used twelve years in South Sudan to prepare Justin for the ministry he is doing today.” I kind of chuckled about having never seen it that way before, but man he’s right. People die while others grieve and need help, busyness just keeps going on and cars break… But the gospel is still there, and still needed, and we are the ones who have it. In the midst of all of this chaos, when giving up seems like an attractive option, the Lord still has a heart for the nations, the nations are still on our doorstep, and He is still providing opportunities all the time for mobilizing churches and taking the gospel to the unreached. Thanks for reading, praying, keeping up.