Ann Lovell

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Travel light: Justice matters

“God saw the Israelites, and He took notice.” 

Exodus 2:25

The issue of human exploitation is as old as the fall of man. Satan exploited Adam and Eve’s vulnerabilities in the Garden of Eden, and with their fall, the human experience was forever marred. From there, human exploitation subtly weaves its tentacles through the stories of Cain and Abel; Abram, Sarai and Hagar; and Joseph and his brothers.

Throughout those stories, however, we see a God who cares for hurting people. When Cain thought no one was looking, God saw and executed justice on Abel’s behalf (Genesis 4). To Hagar, He was “the God who sees” (Genesis 16). To Joseph, He brought good out of evil, to bring about “the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

In keeping with the theme of justice for the oppressed, the Book of Exodus begins with the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. They cried out in their misery, and God took notice, sending Moses to rescue them and foreshadowing the coming Messiah, Jesus, who rescues us from the slavery of sin.
January is human trafficking awareness month in the U.S. This month, your heart may have been touched with poignant stories of men, women and children victimized by human trafficking and oppression. You may have been compelled to take some sort of symbolic action. While these actions certainly help raise awareness of the problem, remember this: Not a single victim will be freed because we disappear from social media or mark a red X on the back of our hand.

But God will take notice as we cry out to Him on behalf of those who are oppressed.

This week's reading: Genesis 48-50, Exodus 1-15
Post #5: Discovering how to live missionally through a chronological reading of God’s Word.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Interview: A short story

Image courtesy of Brandon Sigma at

I knew I must not speak, though the night was dark and I was afraid. I clung to my mother’s tattered skirt as she walked quietly and quickly toward the river. I knew where we were going. Oma (Korean for “mother”) had softly explained it to me earlier as we did our chores.

Baby Brother, who should have been able to walk, couldn’t. Starvation had stunted his growth. I was so hungry, too. My mother carried my brother close to her breast, using a single piece of cloth as a makeshift sling. He was the reason for our journey.

The water was cold. Oma and I stepped in together, but it was so cold I hesitated. My shoes did nothing to protect my feet from the icy water. Oma rebuked me quietly but harshly.

“Hurry,” she whispered, “we must go quickly.”

I took a few tentative steps. The water came to my ankles, then my knees. Soon it reached my chin, and my body went numb. I couldn’t swim. My mother knew that, but she’d heard the river was shallow enough for wading at this spot.

My hand clung to Oma’s skirt. Baby Brother was too listless to notice the cold. Oma bent low so the border guards would not see us. Carefully, we moved across the river together.

Our lives had always been difficult, but I didn’t know that. Opa, my father, had died the year before. At least that’s what Oma said. The guards may have taken him away as they had taken others. I’m not sure. The village people would not speak of him.

A few months after Opa died, the famine came, and difficult times grew worse. I knew then we were suffering. Rumors spread, though muttered softly, that food was being diverted to the North Korean army. All I knew was that we had no rice in our village. Oma taught us to enjoy the taste of tree bark, leaves, and grass.

But when Younger Sister grew sick and died, Oma decided we should cross the river.

“Opa would be ashamed of me,” she said. “I will not allow another of his children to starve.”

So, on the first moonless night after the spring thaw, our journey began. Just when I thought the water and the cold and the hunger would swallow me, we reached the shore. Dripping wet, freezing and covered in mud, we climbed out. Oma let us rest for a moment before she rose again.

“Where do we go now?” I asked.

She said nothing, but we started walking. I was shivering from the cold. She pulled me close with one arm.

I didn’t know how to measure time then. I don’t know how long we walked, but we finally arrived at a small village. This village was different from ours. Lights burned in some of the windows. Now, I know this happens because of electricity. Then, I did not know the word.

We came to a building and went down an alley to a side door. My mother knocked lightly in a rhythm we had used when chopping wood in the village. The door opened slightly, and an elderly woman peered out. She was Korean, just like me.

She ushered us inside, shutting the door quickly behind us. A handful of men, women, and children sat against the walls, wearing the same type of ragged clothing as us.

The elderly woman gave me a towel and lifted Baby Brother from Oma’s tired arms. A younger woman led me to the kerosene heater in the center of the room. She placed a bowl of hot soup in my hands—soup with real vegetables, vegetables I hadn’t seen since before the famine.

I drank it slowly at first. It was hot and delicious. Though it burned my tongue, my stomach cried for it, and I gulped it greedily. Later I would regret eating it so quickly. My first taste of freedom was a bowl of hot soup that I vomited moments later.

“What happened then?” the official asked.

I blink. I have forgotten where I am. The memories of those first moments in China are still so vivid, though they happened years ago. I stare at the official. I trust her, somewhat reluctantly. But I know I need her help to complete my journey.

I tell her about our first few days in China, of being helped by those who called themselves Christians.

“They were Korean people like us and some Chinese people,” I explain. “I did not know what a Christian was, and when I learned, I was surprised. I had always been taught that there was no God, that the Dear Leader was our God. These people said nothing about our Dear Leader, but they spoke of God as if they knew Him. They were kind to us. They fed and clothed us. Baby Brother and I began growing stronger. Oma still did not smile much, but she didn’t seem as worried or as old as she once seemed.”

I stop speaking. I do not want to talk anymore. I do not want to talk about the struggles I experienced on the way to South Korea. They had been many, and I had met both good and bad people. It had taken me years to reach this point.

Now, I am sitting in a small cubicle at the American Embassy in Seoul. I have struggled to learn English, and I still struggle to be understood. My sponsor is with me, and she is kind. But, I still feel alone without Oma and Baby Brother. I do not want to talk about them or about what happened to them. 

“Where is your mother now?” the official asks.

I do not want to think about it. I do not want to tell her, but I do.

“I do not know. When we were still living in the border town, Oma went out late one afternoon to buy a few things from the market. It was dusk. She carried Baby Brother with her as she always did. She still did not trust him with me or with the others in our small apartment. I waited for her, but she never returned.”

“Was she taken back across the border?” the official asks.

“I do not know, but I think so. Some say she was captured and sent to a prison camp. I cannot think about it. If she was captured, she may have been executed. I watched an execution once in my village of one who had crossed the border. The young woman was blindfolded and shot by firing squad in front of us. They made us watch so we would learn the penalty. I can still hear the sobs of her family; they haunt my dreams. But Oma, I do not want to think about it. She only wanted to save us from starving. She was a good mother.”

“How old were you when you crossed the river with your mother?”

“I was ten years old.”

“And how old are you now?”

“I am eighteen.”

“Are you sure about that? You look younger than that to me.”

Truthfully, I do not know how old I am. I do not want to say this, but I say it anyway.

I also say, “I know that eighteen is considered an adult in the United States. I want to be able to enter the United States. In my home country, I heard many bad things about Americans, but I think they were mostly lies. After I arrived in South Korea, I learned that many of the things I was taught as a child were lies. I’ve met some Americans since I’ve been living in Seoul and going to school. Most of them have been kind to me, especially those who work at my school. Sometimes near the bars I’ve seen other Americans, too, soldiers or teachers. Some of them drink too much and talk too loud, but they still have the smell of freedom about them.”

“What does freedom smell like?”

I answer quickly, “It smells like soured milk.”

The official blinks. She looks confused. “Why does freedom smell like soured milk?” she asks.

I hesitate. I don’t know how to answer this in English. I realize I should not have said it because I can’t explain it. I hesitate again, trying to force the English words into my head.

My sponsor has been silent throughout the interview. Before the interview, she told me to speak for myself and to look the official in the eye. She said Americans like that. I do not want to disappoint her.

Now, she chuckles softly and speaks for me, “I’m not sure she means that freedom smells like soured milk. I think she may have confused some of the words.”

But I had not confused the words. Americans do smell like soured milk. I am told this is because they eat lots of cheese and milk. They do not smell like Koreans who eat lots of garlic and onions and red pepper paste. I have talked with Americans in my school, and I have watched American television and movies. I have noticed that Americans come and go as they like. They eat what they want, and they say what they think. They live every day without fear. To me, this is freedom, and it smells like soured milk.

Still, I keep silent. Perhaps Americans do not know they smell like soured milk, and maybe I will offend the official if I explain it.

My sponsor continues speaking, “She is eighteen. The malnutrition of her early years makes her look younger. She was in China for three years before arriving in South Korea. She has been in South Korea for five years, learning English and improving her education. She is a smart one, one of our most promising students. I told her that if she studied well, I would help her attend university in the United States.”

“Where do you intend to study?”

This is an easy question. I will not offer any more of my thoughts on freedom. I will stick to the facts. I look the official in the eye. I smile.

 “I want to go to the University of Georgia. I want to study nutrition and medicine. I think it is a crime that children should starve.”

The official nods, and for a moment, tears fill her eyes. She blinks, and they are gone. I do not know what this means. I am afraid that I have spoken badly again. I was supposed to stick to the facts, but I keep giving my opinions.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“You do not need to be sorry. Tell me how you will support yourself and pay for your education in America.”

“I will work. I will scrub floors and clean toilets and empty trash. I will find a job. I will do whatever it takes. I am a good worker.”

My sponsor speaks again, “I will support her. I have included my financial statements along with the application. I will pay her tuition and room and board in advance. She has been accepted at the University of Georgia, and I have a family living near there that is willing to look after her. If we obtain a work-study permit, she may find a part-time job as well, but I will be her primary means of support.”

The official closes the file. “Very well. This interview is complete. We will notify you within two weeks of the status of your application.”

The official nods and stands. I notice for the first time that she is very tall. I look up into her eyes. She looks as if she understands. I pray, if there is a God to pray to, that she does.


By Ann Lovell, copyright 2013, all rights reserved. 
This story is fictional. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Journal of a missional mom, Entry #2: What's next?

This is getting weirder. In the chaos of kids and breakfast and gettting out the door, Cody said this morning, "We need to talk." Met for lunch. He's feeling called, too. 



Follow this fictional mom as she experiences God's call to the nations and figures out what to do about it. Based on a compilation of experiences of real-life moms called to the nations, we'll post periodic journal entries over the next several months so you can follow along as if the story is happening in real time.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Travel light: Wounded

"Jacob went on his way, and God's angels met him." 
Genesis 32:1

Through detours and false steps, Abraham still managed to pass his faith to Isaac who passed it to Jacob. In each generation, God reveals himself, calling us to journey with Him. 

Jacob's life also involved detours caused by his own deception. On his return to Canaan, Jacob was no longer the deceiver. Fourteen years of indentured servitude and warring wives had left their mark. Humbled by his years with Laban, he prepared to meet Esau, his twin whom he had defrauded of his birthright and his father's blessing.

Like Jacob, our experiences humble us. As Christian workers in cross-cultural settings, we learn just how little we know. Cultural confusion, community drama, even political unrest may leave us off balance and feeling unprepared. 

Before Jacob could meet Esau, he first had to wrestle with God. God, in His grace and mercy, wrestles with us through our insecurities, our ignorance and our fear. The purpose of this wrestling is two-fold: to teach us to depend on Him and to help us face our enemies with the grace He provides. 

The wrestling will leave its mark, to be sure. Like Jacob, we may walk with a distinguishing spiritual  limp for the rest of our lives. Jesus called this "pruning" (John 15:2). But what a privilege to be marked by God as one who has fought through the hard questions and learned to trust Him more. 

This week's reading: Genesis 30-47
Post #4: Discovering how to live missionally through a chronological reading of God’s Word.  


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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Journal of a missional mom, Entry #1: Go WHERE?

Weird thing happened last night in Bible study. 
Felt God say, "I still want you to go." 


Follow this fictional mom as she experiences God's call to the nations and figures out what to do about it. Based on a compilation of experiences of real-life moms called to the nations, we'll post periodic journal entries over the next several months so you can follow along as if the story is happening in real time.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Journal of a missional mom

Want to impact the nations? Trying to figure out what that looks like? Follow this fictional mom as she experiences God's call to the nations and figures out what to do about it. Based on a compilation of experiences of real-life moms called to the nations, we'll post periodic journal entries over the next several months so you can follow along as if the story is happening in real time.

Be sure to sign up to follow me on email to be notified when new posts appear! The first one starts tomorrow!


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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Travel Light: Living through the hunger months

“Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” Genesis 12:10

Who led Abram to Egypt? No one. When famine came to God’s Promised Land, Abram didn’t consult God. Instead, he freely chose to leave God’s Promised Land when things got tough. 

Sometimes in crisis we act too quickly. Logically, Abram’s actions may appear justified, but Abram failed to include God in his plan. He forgot that God had called him and led him to Canaan. Abram was where God wanted him to be, famine and all.

Like many of us, Abram had difficulty believing God when times got tough. Instead, he acted out of his own strength and intellect. While we don’t want to ignore our intellect, we also don’t want to rely on it to the extent that we stop listening for the voice of God in difficult circumstances.

It takes more faith to wait than to act. If you are where God wants you to be, stay put, even when famine comes. If He is silent, rely on the last word He’s given you.  By moving to Egypt, Abram made a significant detour in his faith journey.

The good news is that God did not abandon Him there. God was with Abram, even on the detour.

This week's reading: Job 40-42, Genesis 12-29
Post #3: Discovering how to live missionally through a chronological reading of God’s Word. 


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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Travel Light: Two things to remember when adversity comes

“Job’s wife said to him, ‘Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!’ ‘You speak as a foolish woman speaks,’ Job told her. ‘Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?’ Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said.” 
Job 2:9-10

Early in the journey, almost from the very beginning, we realize that life may not go as we expect. Job’s story is one of Scripture’s oldest. From the very beginning, it raises the questions: How will we respond to adversity? How will we live our faith when those closest to us encourage us to curse God and die? When the worst happens — the death of a child, a serious illness or a significant distraction — how will we respond? Job’s story emphasizes two reactions:

Job did not lose faith in God. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” he asked. Through all his trials, the Bible records, Job did not sin “in what he said.” He did not lose faith in God.

Job questioned himself. “Teach me and I will be silent,” Job 6:24 records. “Help me understand what I did wrong.” While Job didn't lose faith in God, he wasn't so sure he could trust himself. Had he sinned? Were all of the struggles he was experiencing his fault?

When we encounter adversity or failure on the journey to make Jesus known, the temptation is to try to figure out where we messed up. “I moved too quickly.” “I shared Jesus too soon.” “I misunderstood the cultural cues.”

Sometimes our failures and adversities are not necessarily our fault. Remember, Satan wanted to test Job not because of Job’s mistakes, but because of his faithfulness. In the same way, failure and adversity may be Satan's response to our faithfulness to make Jesus known.

Consider this: the gates of hell, described by Jesus in Matthew 16:18, are stationary. They do not move. We rarely experience spiritual opposition when we are doing nothing. However, when we are making Jesus known, spiritual opposition increases as we approach the “gates of hell” and encroach on enemy territory with the Good News of Christ. 

So, as you begin the journey, expect adversity but do not be overcome by it. Remember, the testing of your faith builds the endurance you will need to take the Gospel to the darkest places on the planet. 

Get ready for the workout. 

This week's reading: Job 17-39
Post #2: Discovering how to live missionally through a chronological reading of God’s Word. 


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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Warning: When I am an old woman ...

To complete today's celebration of my 50th birthday, I will close with one of my favorite poems by Jenny Joseph. Many of you may know it well. I first heard it as a sophomore in high school in English class. I loved it then, and I love it now ...


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

Poem taken from
Image borrowed from

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50 years: What now?

This week marks the beginning of the second half-century of my life. From the time I committed my life to full-time Christian service as a 14-year-old, I’ve wanted my life to count. I want to make a difference. As I look back at the last half-century and forward to the next, this is how I feel:

1. Profoundly grateful

According to a study by Harvard Medical School, children who contracted cancer between 1979 and 1982 are the first to survive childhood cancer. Prior to 1979, kids who got cancer simply died. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1981 and am part of that first group of cancer survivors. I am profoundly grateful that God has allowed me to reach the half-century mark. I am even more grateful that those years have been filled with the blessings of family and friends across the globe and the wonder and privilege of seeing Him work among all sorts of people in all sorts of contexts.

2. Eager to serve

As I look to the future, I am also eager to serve. As the Israelites stood on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of the way God led them through 40 years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:32). As we stand on the edge of a new era in my organization with new leadership and vision, I am both terrified and exhilarated. Although I don’t know how all this will play out specifically over the next few months, I know that God will prove Himself faithful, and I am eager to be a part of His plan, however it looks.

3. A little confused

And finally, I’ll admit that I’m a little confused. Looking back, every decision and experience in my late teens and twenties was uniquely designed by God to move us where He wanted us to be. Through my thirties and forties, we knew, in spite of the challenges of international living and ministry, that we were where God wanted us. When we chose to come back to the U.S. in 2012 and transfer to full-time staff in November 2014, we could sense God’s leading.

But since we’ve been to the “ends of the earth” and experienced God’s presence and power in inexplicable ways, what now?  Every sermon and plea that calls for workers to make Him known tugs at my heart — because I’ve been there. I understand the need. I get the urgency. The harvest IS plentiful, but the workers are few. But instead of “there,” I am “here,” by God’s leading. So questions remain: How do we best exalt Christ in the “normalcy” of day-to-day life in America? How do we make Him known among those who've yet to hear in the ordinariness of mortgages and car payments and 40-hour work weeks and after school activities?

I don’t pretend to have this figured out, but I am certain of this: the promise of Philippians 1:6 is just as true for me at age 50 as it was at age 14. He will finish what He has started. I just need to trust Him.

So at 50, this is where I stand (so far, without a cane): trusting Jesus is enough. The rest is just details.

Travel light and wear comfortable shoes!


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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Travel Light: The reason for the journey

"Then Cain went out from the Lord’s presence ...”
Genesis 4:16

Cain chose his own way. Then, banished by the Lord for his sins, he went out from the Lord’s presence. Today, more than 4 billion people in more than 6,000 people groups are living in what Nik Ripken, author of “Insanity of God,” calls a “pre-Pentecost” environment: with few believers and few, if any, churches. In these settings, many people have yet to experience the Holy Spirit’s power among them. They are living outside of the Lord’s presence.

Jesus made the journey to our world to reconcile all people to God, the Father. He came to restore what sin destroyed. At His ascension into Heaven, He commissioned His followers to take this Good News of reconciliation to those living outside of God’s presence. Reaching these 4 billion people is our responsibility, whether they live across the street, in the world’s largest cities or in the most remote villages.

The journey, however, will not be an easy one. Making Jesus known to those who have never heard often invites misunderstanding and persecution. For Jesus, the path to reconciliation meant death on a cross. For us, it means dying to self—taking the risks to make Him known.

This week's reading: Genesis 1-11, Job 1-16
Post #1: Discovering how to live missionally through a chronological reading of God’s Word.


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