Viva México!

On the 16th September Mexico celebrated it's 203rd Independence Day!

On the 15th September Mexico begins one of the most important dates in their calendar with the 'Grito' (shout) of Independence day. The 'grito' is where the President (and Mayors of each town around Mexico) shouts 'Viva' and the whole crowd shouts 'viva' back to him, and then he shouts 'viva México' and the whole crowd shouts viva México back etc! This is done in memory of the night when Hidalgo cried out to the native Mexicans and lower classes to rise up and take back the lands stolen from their forefathers. This was after 300 years of brutal Spanish rule where the poorer Mexicans were oppressed and exploited. (It's interesting that the Israelites too were slaves for 400 years before God rescued them from Egypt).

(Picture of the main city square where the palace is situated. Here the President delivers the 'Grito' on the night of the 15th September)

There are mixed emotions in Mexico on this historic day. For Mexico is still in turmoil and many are still being oppressed or exploited. Not least the street children. Although they too join in with the frivolities, they cannot say they are truly free. Most of them are still very much in bondage to the drugs, prostitution and exploitation they experience each day on the streets. I was recalling a story I heard of a girl who had been rescued by a street boy. She had been kept chained in a basement for several years and repeatedly raped. The street boy had stumbled across her and had somehow managed to free her. They escaped to another town and it was there they encountered God, they got married, and are now running a small house church together. We are in the process of starting up a branch here in Mexico of another OMS ministry called 'Hope 61' which aims to educate and raise awareness amongst churches of the reality of human trafficking and the sex trade here in Mexico. Slavery is still very much alive - not just here but all over the world, and it often goes unnoticed and unhindered, sadly even by the church. 

There is also much oppression that still goes on even at government level, and the 43 students that were killed last year (in complicity with the Mayor of the town), and more recently the killing of journalist Rubén Espinosa (the 14th journalist to be killed in Veracruz) and of human rights activist Nadia Vera and 3 other women show that there is still much injustice and corruption in this country.

We pray for true freedom for people here - for freedom from all the chains that bind them. For freedom in Christ, for He is truly the one who can set people free from the physical, emotional and spiritual oppression that we see everyday here.

So in a spirit of remembrance, but also of prayer for the people to recognise their ongoing need for freedom, we joined with Nisha and Anya's school to shout with them 'Viva México'. Below are some pictures of Nisha and Anya with their teachers. Anya is dressed in the typical costume of Veracruz (the town mentioned above), and both of them did a special dance for the occasion which they thoroughly enjoyed and gave us plenty of previews of! Of course Charlie had to dress up a bit as well for the occasion!

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Back to school!

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As Helen prepares to share next week how we celebrated Mexican independence day I thought I'd take the opportunity to update you all on my post-graduate studies. I can't believe a decade has passed since I sat down to begin my degree at Moorlands College. I had a wonderful three years there and learnt so much about God, ministry and myself. Since graduating I always said I would like to study some more and although I have done bits a pieces in-between, I have been praying for a few years about which course to enrol in. 

Asbury Theological Seminary outside of Lexington, Kentucky has a long and strong working relationship with OMS, it also has a very good reputation in the Christian academic world as being a leading seminary, with some of the world's most influential scholars teaching there. I was extremely blessed and encouraged that after the second time of applying I have been provisionally accepted on to the Doctor of Ministry degree, which I'll begin in the summer of 2016 with a full scholarship. The Dmin programme has different cohorts that begin twice a year with different specialisations, I have still not made the final decision on my specialisation but by next summer will have that clearly defined. I will travel to the USA a couple of times a year to complete some residential requirements, but the rest of the course will be online study, researching and writing, finishing of course with a thesis. 

So why provisional and why now?

Provisional because ATS have asked that I gain some more experience studying at Masters level this year and complete some more credit hours before beginning my doctorate. Therefore I leave for the USA on Wednesday and although I have some other things to do while I'm there (like meetings at the OMS world headquarters, a visit to a church and an opportunity to see my brother Nick), I will spend the majority of my time beginning to take some courses on the Masters of Intercultural studies degree, which I will engage with this year. That gives ATS and Helen & I an opportunity to really test whether or not being a student again is the right thing for now. 

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So why now? Well as God continues to enlarge and grow the areas I am responsible for I feel getting more teaching and equipping is essential for going forward. I have been teaching more at our seminary in Mexico, which I still have overall leadership responsibility for. Teaching theology to adults is an area of ministry I am really enjoying and if I'm going to grow in this area of seeing others get equipped for ministry, post-graduate study is essential. 

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So please join me in praying, especially for Helen and the kids as I hit the road for a couple of weeks. I look forward to sharing more as I go along in my studies, please pray for a clear mind, and discipline to not allow studying to take over my time. Please also join me in praying for financial provision this year. Although I have a full scholarship for my doctorate, I only have a part scholarship this year.

The church in Mexico is really beginning to grow and it's so important we equip new leaders and pastors to care for and teach sound biblical theology and doctrine to this new growing and developing church. I count it a privilege to have the opportunity to be equipped for this vital task. 


Lots of R & R!!

I suppose if you haven't heard this military abbreviation before it could mean anything to you. It could mean Ranting and Raging, or Riots and Romance for instance - which could be a good description of our holiday as well! But it has been mostly lots of Rest and Recuperation. 

We took a week off together as a family and decided to have a few days of 'staycation' and a few days away at our land-lord's holiday home a couple of hours away from Mexico City in a little town called Tequisquiapan. 

It was a truly a gift from God. We planned out the time so that we could all fill our tanks in our individual ways. 

So we started off with a day of baking... 'Hot Cross Buns'!!! We enjoyed Hot Cross Buns so much when we were back in the UK (not least Charlie) that we decided to give it a go, and we were actually quite surprised how authentic they tasted!!

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Then we had a family sleepover and watched 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' projected on to the wall of the lounge. The girls didn't get much sleep that night as you can imagine, but they loved the novelty of it!

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Then we met up with Eli and her kids and went on the canal boats in a place called Xochimilco in the south of the city. The girls were excited that we got the boat with their two middle names on it! Of course we spent most of the time trying to stop Charlie from jumping in the water! 

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Then we went to an awesome Kid's World called 'Kidzania' based on the version in London (which we've never been to and is apparently about 3 times as expensive!). The kids got to pretend to be grown ups for the day;  they worked in a factory making snack bars, dressed up as firemen and put out a fire, rode on motorbikes and got their 'driving licences' (They had to have a training session for this, which mainly consisted of learning what a red light meant, which Anya then completely ignored when she was out on the motorbike and almost caused a pile up!!!). They then got to make some medicines in a pharmacy (Vitamin C) which they got to keep so they could take it each day, and finally got to be paramedics in the little hospital and went in an ambulance to rescue someone who had supposedly broken their leg!! So Steve says they are now ready to be sent out to work for their keep!!

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We then met up with some friends and went to a little fairground inside a huge plaza. They all enjoyed the adrenalin fix (including Steve!). 

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We then went on our few days out of the big city (Helen's main tank filling activity!). We spent most of the time in the little swimming pool and swinging on the hammocks in the garden and searching for 'Teresa' the tortoise which the land-lord had rescued from the barren countryside surrounding the town. We also visited our favourite French and Italian restaurants that we found last time we were there. The only place you can find 'boeuf bourguignon', 'rosemary ice cream'  and 'brie and pear pizza 'in Mexico!!

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Then we came back to label pencils and crayons, cover books, put names on uniforms and have an early night ready to get up for school at 6.3oam on the Monday. The girls have done really well in their first week at their new school. We're calling it the 'Sunshine' school as the emblem looks like a sun. They were a bit nervous, and Anya has been waking up in the night again as a reaction to all the change, but they have both come back really happy each day and chatting non-stop about what they've done. They are already famous in the school as they are the only non-Mexican kids there, and Nisha had to go and chat to all the English classes on one of the days this week - to demonstrated how to speak 'proper English'!! Their teachers are really lovely and have been very welcoming, and Nisha and Anya already knew quite a few of the other kids there - our neighbour's girls go there, one of our good friend's Cari's girls go, and some of their friends from their old Kindergarten go as well. We are already sharing lifts which is God's amazing provision - it means Nisha get's a lift to school at 7.30 am with the neighbours, Anya goes with me at 8.30am and then I sometimes pick up 6 girls at 2.30 (Cari's girls and the neighbours girls sometimes come home with us). We have especially been blessed by Cari's girls Lorena and Sofia - they recently became Christians along with their mum Cari, and the whole family was baptised before Christmas last year. They have grown so much in their faith and all 3 of them come along to the Bible Study we have in our home on Thursday. They are already great mentors for the girls (and for Charlie!). 

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Here they are with their teachers. Please pray for good relationships with the other kids, parents and teachers at the school. 

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Steve is preparing to go back to school as well. He is currently sorting out his student visa so that he can start his MA in Intercultural studies, in the States in September, which will lead up to a Doctorate in 2016. He will be going twice a year for a week at a time. The rest of the time he'll study at home or online.


'No me voy / I won't leave ...'

 

This was the title of one of the songs that Nisha was singing constantly in the house in order to practice for her end of term performance. The song says (translated in to English): 

I won't leave
If you hold onto me in your heart
Forever
I won't leave
And I won't say goodbye
Until you forget about me
I won't leave.....

And if I could turn back the hands of time
I would tell you from today
That I wouldn't even change this wind
To any other direction

I was thinking about how these words have been so pertinent for Nisha so far in her 7 short years of life.  She really loved this song and I wonder whether it was partly for this reason. She has had to say so many goodbyes, too many to count, and sadly she had to say goodbye again at the end of term, this time to her friends and teachers at the school she has been going to since last year. 

We have been praying and struggling with the decision for several months (since before our return from the UK). The school had a major situation happen whilst we were away (we are so thankful to God that He protected us and the girls from experiencing it), in which around 30 teachers were fired, and subsequently approximately 60 children left. The details of the situation are not as relevant as the way the school handled the situation, which wasn't at all good. We attempted to communicate with the partners of the school soon after our return, but communication was poor, and there was such little consistency in what they said that we completely lost trust in them, and hence came to the hard decision to move the girls to another school. 

Thankfully, the girls have had a mostly positive experience in the school despite all this. They have both loved their teachers (especially Nisha), and were sad to say good-bye to them (as were their teachers as well). They also made quite a few friends, even though they were only there for 2 terms. However, we reassured them that they would be able to maintain contact with some of them if they wanted to. 

They both reacted to the decision really well, and understood our reasons for making the decision. Nisha prayed that God would help us choose the right school for them to go to, and when we found one that we felt would be the best one for them, they came with us to see it and were both really happy with it. It is much smaller and more personal, and this time there is just one director of the school, which will enable better communication! Anya just liked the play ground of course, but they were both excited when they found out that they already knew some of the kids that were there - some are even neighbours! God had obviously paved the way so that it wasn't all completely new and strange. 

I know that Nisha will hold on to her friends and her teachers in her heart, she becomes close to people very quickly, but I also know that she will make new friends and have great teachers in her new school too. I don't know if the year they spent in the last school was significant in any way for them or for us, it's sometimes difficult to understand why it seemed so right at the time, but now seems so wrong, but as the song says ' I wouldn't even change the wind to any other direction' . This reminded me of a poem that my Auntie Ruth once told me:


One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.  (Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1916)

This holds so much truth, and we pray that Nisha, even at her 7 years of age will be able to grasp this truth. The fact is that there will be many goodbyes and heart-aches and horrible situations that face us, but it is how we deal with those things and how we let it influence our lives - holding on to the past with regret, or holding on to the sweet memories with thanksgiving that is important. 

Nisha and Anya also had to say good-bye to one of their guinea pigs last week-end. 'Piggy' (who was actually Anya's guinea pig) died suddenly without warning, in fact I was racing to the vet with him in a box in the car when he died, stroking him all the way and telling him to keep holding on!! I felt like an emergency vehicle!! We don't have any idea what caused his death, he seemed happy and healthy that morning, however, it was last Saturday, so we are thankful we were all at home and we could hold a little memorial service for Piggy in the garden. We all helped to bury him, including Charlie - who had a wail of a time in all the mud and dirt! Understandably the girls were really upset, especially Nisha who had been much more involved in both the guinea pigs' care. It was a good opportunity to talk about life and death and all the mixed feelings that go with it though, and Chispas (the other guinea pig) has been smothered with kisses and cuddles since, so she's not been feeling too lonely! 

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So we would really appreciate your prayers for the girls as they take time to rest and have fun over this summer break and prepare to go to their new school on August 24th. (And pray for me - Helen -  as there is a lot of preparation I need to do too!) Thanks again to all those who have been praying with us over this decision as well, we appreciate you all so much!


Busy times

Well, the dust is finally beginning to settle after a busy month! We're about two-thirds of the way through an exciting, but busy summer. So far we've had 58 visitors, a street kids camp, a trip up to OMS world headquarters for meetings, a seminary graduation, a 25 year anniversary celebration for OMS Mexico with over 500 adults and over 100 kids, a field council meeting where we spent three days together as a team reviewing the past year and planning the next, plus a vision day for our seminary and a another for our church planting ministry. 

It has been wonderful, but exhausting. We shared a couple of weeks ago highlights from the street kids camp and hope to bring you a fuller report in the coming weeks. My trip to the USA was amazing, I met with other national and international directors from the 4 corners of the world hearing stories of how God is bringing millions to Christ through OMS. Then our President Bob Fetherlin shared how God has given him a vision to see one-billion people have an opportunity to hear, understand and respond to the gospel within the next 10 years. So through our  One Mission society, we take our One Lord, with our One life and calling and use it to bring at least One opportunity to some of the most dark and broken places on earth.

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At our seminary graduation we had a great time too (first pic - me leading everyone in, second pic, welcoming everyone). We graduated five students with their bachelor's degree in theology (third pic). We also recognised my good friend Dr. Leroy Lindsey as the rector emeritus (forth pic) and installed a new director or 'rector', Troy Gentry. Troy and is family are still trying to complete their fund raising in the USA, but I'm excited to have Troy come and take over from me when they return to Mexico, as I've been directing the seminary for the past couple of years. Now I can move into more of a supervisory role with Troy working as one of my direct reports.

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The day after graduation we gathered as many people as possible to thank God for all He has done during the 25 years OMS has been in Mexico. We shared that celebration with the national church OMS founded all those years ago, UNIFAM.  

899161_10203197093646906_1032953807_oHere Alfredo Peréz (UNIFAM president) and I were giving recognition and thanks to Willie Hochhalter, one of the founders of the field.

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In In this picture I am moving my way up the line of pastors whom we wanted to thank. The pastor I had paused with had travelled over 4 hours from another part of Mexico to join in with the celebration, here we are looking for where the members of his congregation are sat. 

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I had the honour of preaching which I never thought I would do in a million years - preaching in Spanish to over 500 people, with the front two rows filled with pastors, and with more experienced and fluent missionaries in the congregation as well! Only God can do that believe me! 

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Rounding the day off with a massive birthday cake!

None of the things we are attempting to do would be possible without the Holy Spirit's help and the grace Jesus offers us day by day. The team in Mexico around Helen and I are amazing. We are all facing some challenging circumstances, but we see God's faithful hand at work as His church grows and thousands of new Christians come into His kingdom in Mexico. Thank you for your prayers they make a huge difference, and we need them more than ever as we are all feeling quite exhausted at the moment and know we need to rest in God and rely on Him to work through us in what He has planned in the months and years to come.  


 


Adventures outside Mexico City

Late last night I returned from 10 days in the United States after having meetings at our world headquarters with our national and international directors. It was a wonderful time of sharing together about what God is doing around the world, I was especially thrilled to hear of over 5.2 million Africans coming to Christ during the past 10 years through OMS' work with local partnerships. OMS has much bigger and exciting plans beyond this, including what we're looking to do in Mexico. Another week I'll share more.

Right now we want to share about the great things that happened on the MEFI camp. Some of you will have seen my video I posted on Facebook and Twitter last week, if you didn't, here's the link. We had a team come from Ohio whom we talked about a fortnight ago, they did a really great job and we're very grateful to them. I'm going to ask one of the team members to share their story of what went on during the camp another week. However, for now we want to celebrate the 10 street young people who were baptised along with two-members of the Ohio team. Please be in prayer for the street young people especially, the youngest was 12, they have all faced trials most of us could not imagine. Over the coming weeks we will try to share more of their stories and how they're getting on. Here are the photos of the baptisms, join us in celebrating God's goodness!

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The growing world-wide MEFI team!

The last few weeks have seen quite a lot of comings and goings. Firstly we had 3 ladies from the charity shop in N. Ireland come to visit for a couple of weeks. Christina is the manager of the shop and the other two ladies are volunteers there. It was a great encouragement for us to have them here and to show them what the money they raise goes towards. The shop has been open for almost a year now, and they have now some regular customers and have built up a really good reputation in the town where the shop is (Cookstown). The shop supports both MEFI and some of the missionary families here so we are so thankful to God for them. 

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Then we had a couple from Kentucky come and stay with us for a week. Their names are Michael and Jamie Harris. Michael serves as a pastor in a church in Kentucky, but they have both recently felt called to come to Mexico full time with one of their kids, Jenna, who is currently 14 years old. They hope to arrive here in the summer of 2016. Michael hopes to teach in the Bible Seminary and working with the church planting team, and Jamie hopes to be involved in women's ministry here and in MEFI as well. It was great to be able to host them and to see their burden for Mexico and the people here. We are really excited that God is drawing more workers here to the harvest. 

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At the same time a team from a church in Oklahoma came for a week to help out in the drop-in centre and encourage the MEFI team. This church was instrumental in helping the second-level of the drop-in centre become a reality. They gave so generously and many teams came to help with the building and painting work. I often think of the huge world-wide team of people we now have praying and giving to MEFI, and then remember how it all started with one Mexican man called Fidel, who's heart was broken for the street-children and knew he had to do something about it. So he did. And MEFI was birthed. And now hundreds of people are getting involved and the team is growing. 

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The MEFI team have 4 extra workers with them at the moment. One is Mim (far left in first picture below) - a girl from Wales who is here doing a 4 month internship for her University course. Another is Will (on right in second picture) who is an intern from Texas who is here for a couple of months. Reo (far right of Mim in picture) came to Mexico from California after feeling God calling her here to work with street kids. She didn't know about MEFI when she arrived here, but found out about it through the internet and got in touch with us. She is hoping to work as a 'tent-maker' missionary here to support herself whilst she helps at MEFI. Then there is a Mexican guy called Julio (speaking to the street kids in the third picture below) who was studying at the seminary and who himself went through rehab for drugs and feels called to now help others who are struggling with the same problems. So he is doing a trial period at MEFI to see whether it is the right thing for him to join the team or not. 

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Currently we have a team from Cleveland, Ohio, here of 22, made up of young people and their leaders. It is a huge team, and several of them have been here before, so it is exciting to see them come back. One of the girls is called Olivia and has asked to stay on for a month after the team leave. She is 16 and will be staying with us during that time. Also, one of the young guys Berkeley is staying until November. Please pray for God to speak to them during their time here and mould them for what he wants to do through them in the future. 

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Please pray for the MEFI camp that will be happening from Tuesday until Friday of this week. There are around 25 street young people going plus the MEFI team and team from Cleveland. We are really excited that 10 of these street young people have been doing baptism classes in preparation for being baptised during the camp. Please pray that they all turn up to go, and that they don't get 'cold feet' at the last minute! We know that they will encounter spiritual attack, but that this will be a huge step for them and a huge testimony to the others. 


Some plant, some water, but it is God that makes it grow!

Photo of Bible Study group

 

This is a picture of some of the ladies who have been attending our Bible Study group on Thursday evenings. There were about 6 regular members missing that evening, not including me, so if everyone turns up there are around 20 of us! 

I am so encouraged by the way the group has continued to expand and (and most of this has been whilst we were away), and by how many of the members of the group have taken it in turns to lead the sessions. They continued to meet in our home with Gemma taking on responsibility, and they decided to look at the Purpose Driven Life course, which they finished just before we returned.

God has been prompting the ladies to invite people along as well - for instance, the 5 ladies at the back on the right were invited by a lady called Vicky who is one of the first ladies to be part of the group. She is a Catholic Christian and had an amazing encounter with God when she called out to Him in desperation whilst praying in a Catholic church. These 5 ladies haven't yet received Christ in their hearts, but they are really interested in the Purpose Driven Life course, and one of the ladies called Ana, said that her son, who previously had been so hard towards anything about God, had taken the book to look at and had ended up signing his name at the front (where it asks you to commit to the 40 day journey!). Vicky's son José Luis, who is quite anti the Catholic church because of his experiences growing up, also asked Vicky if he could have a copy of the book! 

Then Cari (who was baptised with her 2 daughters Lorena and Sophia) before we went back to the UK for our home assignment, invited her teacher friend - also Vicky - along to church, where Vicky prayed to receive Christ in to her heart. She has since been coming along faithfully with her sister, Ceci, who was already a Christian, and they have given a copy of the book to their aunt who lives in a different town, and are doing the course with their elderly mum at home as well! 

Even our land-lord, Rafael, a staunch Catholic, whose partner Janet comes along to the Bible Study, commented to me that they had been visiting his cousin in hospital and had taken him a Bible, and that his cousin became a Christian before he died! He was almost praising God for it even though he himself is still resistant!

God just keeps reminding me over and over again of how though we may plant the seed and others may water it, it is Him who makes the 'plant' grow and flourish, and that is exactly what He is doing here - through us and despite of us! Both myself and Gemma have been taken out of the picture for different lengths of time, but that hasn't stopped God from working in the ladies lives, and it hasn't stopped the enthusiasm they have for coming and learning more about God. Please pray for one lady called Adela who is struggling at the moment as her teenage daughter has run away with her boyfriend and has severed communication with her mum. Adela is quite depressed at the moment and isn't wanting to go out of the house, so she hasn't been along to the group for the last few weeks either. Some of the ladies that come with Vicky are a bit frightened of coming out in the evening as well as they don't drive and there are always reports of muggings and violence after dark, so please pray that God would take away this fear and that they would know His protection. 

We have actually restarted the Purpose Driven Life course as many of the ladies joined half way through, and some haven't been able to read the whole book yet. They have been getting so much out of it, and it has been great for me to look at it again too. I was reminded last week whilst preparing for the session that God wants us to worship Him in every little thing we do - whether it be changing a nappy or hanging out washing, it doesn't matter. We can do these things as if doing them for Him, and in that way they are transformed from mundane tedious tasks, to acts of worship and thanksgiving.