A Major Transition – The Final Countdown to Turkey

My Confession of Trust for the Days Ahead

The days and weeks are slipping by ever so quickly.  Sooner than later, I will fly to Turkey to begin a new calling, one God has orchestrated in ways I could never have imagined.  The adventure I embarked upon more than two years ago has stretched me to my limits, yet, one step at a time, it has led me to travel a journey of faith.  Convinced of God’s gracious favor, allowing me to enter into vocational ministry after being in the mortgage business for over 16 years, I was able to sell my home in Wheaton (a city where I have lived for more than 39 years), prepare myself in a variety of ways spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and begin to face every imaginable fear for the huge move to Antalya, Turkey.DKM Antalya

As you may envision, this journey has been filled with all kinds of feelings and emotions ranging from joy and wonder to sadness and grief.  Oh, make no mistake; there is a sense of expectation and anticipation as I surrender my total being to the purposes of our great God.  Reflecting upon the close of a 16-year career as a mortgage broker and looking forward to being the Senior Pastor of St. Paul Union Church in Antalya, my heart almost leaps out of my chest.  The privilege I have been afforded to pastor an international church comprised of many cultures and faith traditions has been overwhelming.  The Gospel truly is the unifying force.  With excitement and contentment, I am entering these new challenges, new relationships, and new hope for the redemptive plans of our Lord to unfold in a culture which needs the impact of Gospel; it simply thrills me.  I have a sense of peace in anticipation of this major transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from a culture that is saturated with the Gospel to one that is predominantly Muslim, and from a position of strength to a position of weakness.

I have always embraced change in my life but the realities of this transition are dramatic.  It has put me in a place of total dependence; a position I do not choose easily.  After many discussions with those with whom I highly respect, many tearful times of prayer, and much encouragement from a community of believers here and in Turkey, I am realistically taking the plunge.  This is a step of obedience, uncomfortable and even unfathomable at times, but I face the weeks, months, and years ahead with confidence and determination from the Scriptures.  At my weakest moments, the promises of God’s Word have encouraged me, strengthened me, and enabled me to move forward.

Over the past several months, the outpouring of encouragement and support has been incredible.  I have been humbled at the care and love showered on me.  God has used so many people to speak words of truth I needed at precisely the right time.  Each opportunity to tell the story of God’s redemptive work in my own life has been a loud reminder that the journey is about God, not me!  Only God!  And so, I admit, I confess my need for Him in my life today and even more in the days ahead.  And, I humbly ask for your continued prayer and support.  My challenges ahead will be significant and I am hopeful this blog, “Ramblings from a Ragamuffin,” will provide the venue to vulnerably and humbly share my heart and my concerns along the way.  Are you willing to walk with me on my journey?  I hope it will be a blessing to you as you watch the Gospel at work in Turkey.

Today, there are three issues which are difficult for me at the start of this journey . . . and I ask you to read, pray, and walk with me through them.

One of the significant barriers for me is the natural transition of relationships with family and dear friends in the States.  My parents are in their 80’s and I know it is difficult for them to face my indefinite relocation overseas.  I do not want to feel guilty nor do I want to shirk my responsibilities as a son.  My folks certainly would rather I be in the States, but they have sought to trust the Lord and have accepted His will for me.  Please pray for my dad and mom, Amos and Ruth Massaro, as well as my extended family.  I know many close relationships with dear friends will change due to proximity, even while technology will help bridge the gap.  I value deep and significant relationship.  Please pray I will strike a balance as I seek to maintain significant relationships in the USA and to develop new relationships in Turkey.  I know that the weeks ahead will bring a sense of grieving and loss . . . I suppose it is natural.  I want to embrace these emotions and desire to handle the “leaving” in a supportive manner for those I love.  Please pray for me in this area.

Another hindrance bears the name Self-Reliance.  To put it bluntly, I did not want to raise support in order to serve overseas.  For many years, I have been on the giving side.  Now, to switch roles and become the receiver is very uncomfortable and often overwhelming.   I like my independence and I struggle depending on others while I work to respond to God in obedience.  Needless to say, God is working in this area of my life.  During my twenty years of ministry at Wheaton College, I always encouraged students that “God’s work done in God’s way would never lack God’s supply.”   The truth is, when a person gives sacrificially, it is an opportunity for each individual to hear from God and respond in obedience.  Thus, I have simply tried to tell my story, God’s story, and have asked Him to supply the financial resources for me and for the overall ministry in Turkey.  I am learning to trust in this area but it is still a struggle.  Yet, God has been very gracious as many have responded in generous ways.

As of today, I still need to raise 25% of my monthly support in order to be fully funded.  Would you join me in praying and asking the Lord what part you can play in God’s work in Turkey?  Should you decide to support me, you can send your tax-deductible gift to Faith and Learning International, P. O. Box 480, Wheaton, IL 60189 and indicate it is for my support.  You may give a one-time gift, an annual gift, a quarterly gift, or a monthly gift.  If you would like to give online, please go to www.faithandlearning.org and find my name and follow the instructions.  For your convenience, you can also set up a revolving direct debit on the site.  My departure is scheduled for January 12th.  As you finalize your commitment, it would be helpful for you to do so prior to December 31st.  In addition, if you are planning to regularly support me, please drop me an email: Dennis.K.Massaro@gmail.com  and provide the amount and the frequency for my planning.  I am so grateful for any contribution, large or small, as you respond in obedience to God’s direction.

The final area of challenge for me is based in my fear of inadequacy.  I know, apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit, I do not have what it takes to shepherd the dear folks in Turkey.  The balance of relational development, administration, teaching and preaching, and sharing the Good News beyond the doors of the church will force me to be disciplined.  I deeply desire to be God’s man for this time at St. Paul Union Church but I desperately need your prayers on a regular basis as I assume this strategic role in this strategic place.  I will need to navigate the Turkish language even though my teaching and preaching will be in English.  There are also so many gifted women and men in the congregation which is often intimidating to think about leading them, providing ongoing vision for them, and feeding them each week.  I need to spend time in the Scriptures daily, to develop a committed prayer life, and to remain sensitive to the Spirit in everything.  Obviously, as you can see, I do not feel adequate.  Would you join me in praying on a regular basis?  There are normally 30 days in each month — would you please identify one day each month to specifically pray for me?  Also, please send me an email or a Facebook message and let me know which day it will be.   I know, in my weakness, He is my strength.  Your prayers will certainly make a difference.

IDKM Profile Mountains will endeavor to update this blog as frequently as possible and provide details from the ministry in Antalya.  Sometimes I will share stories; sometimes I will share requests; sometimes I will simply record thoughts and feelings so you can journey with me.  I need you in my life and I hope you will keep in touch as God puts me on your heart.  This journey is “our” journey— so join me— I cannot do it alone.

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador . . . pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”    –Ephesians 6:19-20 NIV

Blessings,

dkm

P.S.  Please feel free to share my blog with your Facebook friends, post on other blogs, or forward to others in order to invite them to pray for the ministry in Turkey.

A Glimpse of Life in Turkey . . .

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This Wednesday will mark my seventh week in Turkey. It is difficult to think that in four short weeks my time of ministry here at St Paul Cultural Center and St Paul Union Church will come to a close. I thought it would be good to take an opportunity today to reflect on my time here to this point.

From the first day I arrived until the present I have felt welcomed and adjustments have been very minimal. Antalya is an amazing place . . . a city of about one million on the Mediterranean coast of southwest Turkey. Antalya was visited by the Apostle Paul, as recorded in the book of Acts: “From Perga, Paul and Barnabas went down to Attalia and sailed from there to Antioch after preaching in Pisidia and Pamphylia” (Acts 14:25-26). How incredible it is for me to be here in this place. In recent years, Antalya has been named the fourth most visited international city, boasting of 10.5 million tourists. It is a great place to visit and how privileged I have been to live in this place. The climate is mild . . . it has been 55 to 65 degrees while I have been here and it sure beats a Chicago winter. I am within a five-minute walk to the Mediterranean and the view of the Taurus mountain range is breathtaking. St Paul Cultural Center is located in Kaleiçi (the Old City), with its narrow cobbled streets and historic Ottoman era houses. It is quaint and wonderful. I walk by Hadrian’s Gate almost every day. It was constructed in the 2nd century by the Romans in honor of the Emperor Hadrian. With all the ancient walls and historic sites nearby, it is rather incredible to be able to live in this place.

I have had the privilege to travel to other ancient and historic and biblical sites such as Perge, Aspendos, Side, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. Two full days was devoted to exploring these areas when Doug Wall visited me last month.

My time here so far has been extremely fulfilling . . . I have plunged into this community with total abandon and am grateful for the privilege I have been given to serve St Paul Union Church. As you may know, Jim Bultema, the pastor invited me to replace him for these months as he has been working on the dissertation for his PhD. Jim and his wife, Renata, are ’84 Wheaton College grads and I knew them in my days serving as director of ministries at Wheaton. They have been in Turkey for more than twenty years and are the founders of the St Paul Cultural Center and St Paul Union Church. The English speaking international church is housed in the cultural center as well as the Turkish church. Along with one other small Turkish church, these three are the only evangelical churches in Antalya. So, if you can imagine being in a city of over a million people with three evangelical churches, there is a great need here. The international church is truly that indeed . . . I have been privileged to worship with believers from countries all over the world – Germany, Holland, Norway, England, Philippines, Australia, USA, Iran, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, Russia, Iraq, and the list goes on and on. How incredible it is to worship across cultures as we focus on our common faith in Jesus Christ. I have found great joy in worshipping in the global church!

My pastoral responsibilities are diverse in nature and have allowed me to use many of the gifts that the Lord has entrusted to me. How great it has been to give myself to people in this place! Each week I spend time in studying and preparing for Sunday messages. During my time here I will preach at least 7 times in the series, Journeying with Jesus. Several others are joining in this series and Jim Bultema, the pastor, will conclude the series on Easter Sunday. I lead the Wednesday night Bible study each week. We are looking at the epistle of 1 John and have had a great time in an interactive time together digging into the truth of that book. I participate in the advanced conversational English club once or twice a week, working with Turkish professionals as they improve their English speaking skills. I have certainly enjoyed my involvement there. I have had people into my flat for meals several times while I have been here for I believe that the gift of hospitality is a wonderful way to get to know people. Cooking and preparing meals in this culture has had some challenges (especially my treks to the grocery store) but honestly, it really has not been that bad at all! I have eaten lots of Turkish food . . . and although I don’t always know what it is, I have found the food to be delicious! I still prepare typical American meals at my place. The flat that I am renting is more than adequate for my needs and has all the modern conveniences. I am not suffering too much in that area. It is sizable enough so that I can host folks in my home. This week I will have the church council in for dinner and our monthly meeting will be at my place.

I have met and interacted with many folks one on one in the weeks here. Most of the time it is an opportunity to simply be available to them for prayer, counsel, discussion on topics that either interest or confuse them, and usually gives us the chance to learn and grow together. I have sought to take a learning stance while here and it has been wonderful! I am learning so much from so many folks. I have sought to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Muslims as well as non-Muslims who are far from God. If you know anything about me, you will realize that these encounters are taking place once I have established a relationship with someone and I am not just “out there” pounding people over the head with the Bible. It has been thrilling to see how God is at work and how several folks are open to the Gospel . . . it takes time, much prayer, and perseverance . . . and I am not worried that people need to make a decision before I leave here. It is the Holy Spirit that convinces men and women of their need to embrace Christ – it is my responsibility to present His claims to them! And I am comfortable with that division of labor!

This morning I served communion in the Sunday worship service and how thrilling it is to remember the death of our Lord, knowing that each person that takes the bread and the cup, someday, will gather around the throne, as Revelation 5:9 paints the picture – “from every tongue and tribe worshipping the Lamb”. I felt like I experienced just a little taste of heaven this morning! This weekend is our annual women’s conference and there will be a great opportunity for Turkish women and English speaking women to come together with the theme, Real Refreshment. I will have to honor to emcee the Saturday evening gathering.

Well, hopefully you have been able to experience a slice of my life in Turkey . . . I could not be more pleased at God’s provisions for every need while I have been here. I am so thankful that His grace has been sufficient in my life and that He is the One empowering me for the task He has set before me. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers during these weeks here – they have been foundational in the day to day journey and I am extremely grateful for your partnership in this Gospel-centered endeavor. For those of you who have already partnered with me financially, I am extremely grateful for your investment. For those who would still like to invest financially in my ministry here in Turkey, you can go to faithandlearning.org and look for my link.

The month ahead will be filled with many events, activities, interactions, and opportunities. Jim will return on March 15th and we will be able to overlap for a couple weeks . . . I am looking forward to that so much! Holy Week will bring the month of March to a close and we have a full schedule that week as we rehearse in new and fresh ways the triumphal entry, the death, and the resurrection of our Savior. I will preach on Palm Sunday and share at the Easter Sunrise service as well as sing in the Easter choir and participate in the other services. Continue to pray for Turkey, the work of St Paul Cultural Center, St Paul Union Church, the Turkish church, and the ongoing work in Antalya for the glory of God!

I will board the plane on April 5 . . . probably with tears and sadness, as I leave a people and a place I have grown to love . . . but thankful for the unique privilege given to me to serve in this wonderful place.

And what is next? How will I keep this vision of the global church and the people and needs of Turkey alive in my heart . . . well, that is God’s problem and I am thankful to be able to entrust the future to His care . . . for NOW, I must faithfully serve here and now!

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. -2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV84

Blessings to all,

dkm
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The Power of Story

I have been thinking about this idea for a long time and now that I have been in Turkey for these many weeks, this theme has surfaced for me again. During my stay here in Antalya, I have met with scores of folks from countries all over the world. I have asked them questions; I have listened to their stories; I have shared my story. In each exchange I have been challenged, enriched, and encouraged. The global community that I have been privileged to be a part of these weeks has made me think about the power of story. In exploring this idea, I went to the internet to see what others had to say about the theme . . . I found a blogger, Jeff Goins, who expressed himself in a way in which I was able to resonate.

“I believe in the power of story. Story is where we came from. Story is where we’re going. Story is what connects us and binds us to each other. It is in the story of God and mankind — amongst love and fear and failure — that we make meaning of our lives. Story is what defines us and sets us apart. It’s what allows us to connect with each another — to truly know and be known. Story is powerful.”

I wholeheartedly embrace Jeff’s thinking for my experience over the years has validated what he says. Everyone has a story — some stories are sad and others are happy; some stories are deep and others are shallow; some stories are filled with drama and others are very normal. In any case, every story is personal, real, and authentic because it comes from the very heart and the life experience of the person telling the story. I have heard thousands of stories in my lifetime from a wide variety of people from places all over the world. And to be honest, I have told “my story” thousands of times to those who would listen. The wild thing about all of our stories is that they change as time passes by because our lives are not static; they are fluid.

Turkish Sunset

Almost thirty years ago, I was visiting students who were serving in several countries in Africa. One of the countries I visited was Zambia. I met scores of people and interacted with them during the brief two-week journey. During my stay in Zambia, I was invited to a leper colony in Kasempa to meet with the poorest of the poor. I went from hut to hut and prayed with each person . . . it was an incredibly humbling and moving experience for me. When I got to the last woman, my translator told her that I was from America and that I had come to pray with her. After my prayer, that leper, an incredibly kind and sensitive woman, asked the translator if she could pray for me. As she prayed, I could stop weeping. I did not understand the words she prayed but my spirit was stirred. As we walked away, I asked the translator/nurse what she had prayed. And this is what she prayed: “Lord, as Dennis meets with people today and throughout the entirety of his life – as he ministers – may they not simply see him but may they see Jesus in him always, and may all who encounter him be strengthened and encouraged to fix their gaze upon the Savior”. I was blown away . . . and that experience has marked me for life!

My own story has taken many twists and turns. It is a story of struggle, pain, and conflict but it is also a story of redemption, grace, and victory. Not every part of my story is easy to talk about for at times I still feel shame and guilt. But the intersection of my story and the story of the gracious Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus, has freed me to live my story with a sense of hope and passion. If, in fact, the forgiveness and redeeming work of Jesus has helped me to rewrite my own story, can He not, indeed help others to rewrite their stories? As much as others’ stories have impacted me, the story of Jesus has been the most crucial story I have ever heard. The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, has dramatically altered the course of my life for in it I find life as it was designed to be. Left to my own vices, I am selfish; I am a control freak; I am prone to do what I want to do when I want to do it. The songwriter has said it well, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”. I do not know how to love the way I should BUT God, in His great mercy has loved me with an unconditional love, has sacrificed His life for me, has offered the forgiveness of sins, and by His Spirit, has empowered me to love and serve and live in a way that loves and honors Him and those whom He puts in my path. Yes, His story has and is changing me, a day at a time.

In reflecting on the opportunities that I have been given over the course of my life, I am thankful for the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people, who have shared their stories with me, who have allowed me to walk with them in different stages of life, who have given to me in ways that have contributed to who I have become. Never in a million years will I ever take for granted the relationships that God has allowed me to enjoy. The power of story finds its greatest impact as we are vulnerable with one another in sharing out of our life experiences. It involves pain and joy, despair and hope, hatred and love, conflict and peace, separation and reconciliation, reality and dreams, past, present, and future. It means that we are sensitive listeners, respectful of one another, and always willing to learn from one another. We can decide to disagree with one another as long as we do it in a loving and respectful manner. Not one of us has the same story . . . each one tells a different story. We cannot begin to tell someone else’s story in the same way that they can tell it but we can seek to identify with their story, seek to understand their story, and seek to accept them for who they are.

Being in Turkey has reminded me that even though everyone has a different story, there is a longing in each person’s heart to be loved, accepted, and known. People were meant for relationship. I have listened to lots of stories during these weeks . . . how thankful I am to hear and seek to understand the journeys that people from all over the world have experienced. I have been humbled as I have listened. When I share my story, it always involves the redemptive work of Jesus in my own life. I seek to point people to Him; I try to allow them to see how He had compassion and love for each person he encountered in the Scriptures. For you see, His story, as far as I am concerned is THE story that ALL can identify with . . . Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, whoever . . . because He came to give His sacrificial life for ALL people in ALL nations for ALL time. His offer of love, acceptance, forgiveness of sin, and life in abundance (not in material things, but in richness of life) is really what the power of story is all about! And entering His story simply involves inviting Him into our story to be the leader, the healer, the reconciler, and the Savior . . . and believe me, in so doing, our stories will never be the same!

I would love to hear your story . . . where you are these days. Would you be willing to take some time to share your story with me by emailing me at Dennis.K.Massaro@gmail.com? I will not publish it or share it with others but I will read it, respond to you, and be encouraged with the sharing. It would mean a ton to me to hear from you. Thanks to all for allowing me to be a part of your story! Thanks to all for allowing me to share my story with you! Thanks to all for opening up your heart to the story of Jesus . . . for to truly know and be known is to experience in a personal way, His story! Blessings to all!

dkm

What Really Matters . . .

Dennis

From a very young age, I had a spiritual sensitivity.  I was raised in a Christian home with a legacy of faith as my grandparents had led godly lives and both of my parents knew the life of faith as young children.  At an early age I declared Jesus as my Savior and throughout my elementary and high school years, I sought to love the Lord and live for Him.  I had many significant and memorable spiritual experiences throughout my growing up years.  The church I attended, camp experiences, family and friends, were vital to my early growth as a Christian.  Prior to my entrance to Wheaton College, as a freshman, I sensed a “call to vocational ministry” but at that stage in my life, I did not know exactly what that really meant . . . I had supportive people around me that encouraged me in my areas of gifting and I began my trek at a liberal arts college, determined to dedicate my life to ministry.  My years at Wheaton provided many opportunities for leadership, ministry, relationships, change, and growth.  I was seeking to sort out my faith, having come from a Pentecostal tradition and studying at an institution known for a historical commitment to evangelicalism.  In four years there, I wrestled with all kinds of theological issues and grappled with practical areas of my faith.  Should I pray specifically and does God hear and answer my prayers?  Am I eternally secure or can I backslide and lose my salvation?  Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit an action that occurs at my salvation or is it a second work of grace?  Did I choose God or did He choose me?  Some of the conclusions I arrived at were a blend of my study of the Bible, my interactions with friends – students, faculty, and administrators, alike.  They helped me think through lots and lots of nagging questions and throughout my life I have learned to keep asking questions, keep studying God’s Word, and keep seeking Him.  I don’t have all the answers but I have learned to be comfortable with ambiguity and creative tension in some areas.

Here is what I am discovering these days – I can pontificate on all kinds of theological subjects; I can change my views many times throughout my lifetime; I can side with one group today and another group tomorrow when it comes to the details of the Scriptures.  I can adopt a Reformed or Armenian view of the Scriptures or I can straddle the fence and have one foot in one camp and one in the other.  Whether I speak in tongues or not really is not the crucial identifier in my life!

What really matters is that I know and love Jesus, that my standing is rooted in His finished work on the cross, that I have committed myself to Him and His purposes, that I desire to live out Gospel priorities in my daily life, that I am unashamed to share His Truth with all those whom I encounter, and that, covered by His grace, I seek to walk in obedience to Him.  Ministry is not my vocation; it is my life!

Rest assured that someone reading this will either say that I left out something or another might be offended with my declaration but it is where I am.  My life, as many of you know, has not taken a very nice, clean path.  It has been riddled by selfishness, sin, brokenness, and pain.  That road has impacted my living as well as others along the way.  Thank God for His amazing and redeeming power in the person of Jesus . . . He has freed me, forgiven me, and allows me to live in the light of His grace every day.  For those who have been hurt by my choices . . . please accept my sincere apologies . . . I may stumble along the way, but my desire is to be a reflection of the character of Jesus.  I want others to see Him in me.  Is that too much to ask?  I trust not!

I know that I have been given gifts and abilities but I must never default in using those in my own strength for my own selfish gain.  More and more, I am realizing that without the work of Jesus in my life, I am worthless.  My attempts to impress others are a dead end.  I want to bask in the sacrifice of Jesus for me and live my life in light of that truth.  I have come to understand grace and forgiveness in new ways.  I have come to read His Word with new eyes and ears.  When I look at so many people in the Scriptures, I realize that my only hope, and their only hope, is to embrace the promises and the commands He has offered – they are life-changing!

And the other thing that I have come to understand is that I cannot do life as a loner, as an individual, as someone out on a limb.  No, I was meant to live within the joyful confines of a community.  I have known that for a long time and I have sought to live that way but many communities exist simply as insular groups shut up unto themselves and miss the point.  I long for true community where we are able to be real, be authentic, work through the many issues of life with a focus on pleasing the sovereign Lord who created and sustains us.  Being in Antalya, Turkey has given me time to think and reflect and I believe that the community here is one that promotes growth and encourages authenticity.

If you have read any of my posts, you know that Henri Nouwen is one of the authors that speaks into my life time and time again.  His words about community are music to my ears . . .

“The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals, and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naivete. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not, “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?””

Thanks for allowing me to share. . . it is so good to get my thoughts on paper as it clarifies what is rattling around in my head and it settles my heart . . . good to be moving in the right direction . . . this old Steve Green song, Oh, I Want to Know You More has been running through my head in recent days and it expresses my heart today . . .

Just the time I feel that I’ve been caught in the mire of self.
Just the time I feel my mind’s been bought by worldly wealth.
That’s when the breeze begins to blow I know, the Spirit’s Call.
And all my worldly wanderings just melt into His Love.

Oh, I want to know You more! Deep within my soul I want to know You, Oh, I want to know You.
To feel Your Heart and know Your Mind, looking in Your eyes stirs up within me, cries that says I want to know You, Oh, I want to know You more.  Oh, I want to know You more.

When my daily deeds ordinarily lose life and song,
 my heart begins to bleed, sensitivity to Him is gone.
I’ve run the race but set my own pace and face a shattered soul,
 But the Gentle Arms of Jesus warm my hungering to be whole.

Oh, I want to know You more! Deep within my soul I want to know You, Oh, I want to know You.
And I would give my final breathe to know You in Your Death and Resurrection, Oh, I want to know You more. Oh, I want to know You more. Oh, I want to know You more…

Thanks

Thanks for journeying with me . . . your prayers and thoughts are so precious to me . . . love to hear from you by email at:  Dennis.K.Massaro@gmail.com as I come to your mind . . .

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.  Philippians 3:10NIV

Much love to all . . .

dkm

Arrived in Turkey . . .

One week ago I traveled on a United flight from Chicago to Munich. The flight from Chicago to Munich was uneventful and the time went by pretty quickly. I was supposed to leave from Munich and fly to Istanbul an hour later. However, once I boarded the flight in Munich, I sat in seat 23D, an aisle seat on the Lufthansa airplane for about five hours – that’s right, five hours sitting on the runway, due to the snowstorm that had hit Germany. Isn’t it crazy . . . there had been next to NO snow in the Chicago area this winter and I flew across the ocean only to have my flight plans interrupted by a snowstorm. Fortunately I did not have to get out and experience the inclement weather. I have had the unique privilege to be able to fall asleep as soon as the seatbelt clicks and in keeping with my normal pattern, I was off in a dream world for most of that flight and most of the time we sat parked on the runway. Once we took off, I was out for another couple hours . . . yes, out like a light for eleven of the almost fifteen hours. It is a wonderful problem to have so I cannot complain.

I arrived in Istanbul late in the evening on Thursday and got transport to the home of a friend where I stayed for two nights. The young (25-year old) Turkish shuttle driver got so lost but he would not give up in getting me to my destination. Believe it or not, two and a half hours (for a one-hour trip) later he dropped me off beaming with a smile of accomplishment . . . I tipped him and thanked him for his perseverance. So, the first day of travel was VERY long; all my luggage arrived and since I had slept most of the trip, I was in pretty good shape.

I spent last Friday visiting several sites in Istanbul including the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque . . . walked for probably eight hours but it was a fascinating and productive day in the city. The faces, the sites, the Muslim call to prayer five times during the day, the experience of actually seeing buildings that were literally thousands of years old, the food, the customs – all come together to heighten the senses and invigorate one’s total being. The opportunity to be in a new place is always enhanced by the conversations of old friends and that was my privilege with Teri and Jesse throughout the day. It was a great way to begin my time in Turkey. A quick flight on Saturday brought me to Antalya and for the last several days, I have been immersed the life of St. Paul Cultural Center, St. Paul Union Church, as well as getting used to navigating around a new city, where I will spend the next few months. The warmth and kindness of so many new folks has made these days memorable.

From the moment I began to think about accepting the invitation to come to Turkey until the moment I stepped on Turkish soil, my mind has reflected on Isaiah’s words in 43:18-19 . . .

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

The last few years of my journey took me down a path that I did not expect although it was part of the molding and shaping and pruning process that the Lord intended for me. Painful experiences never are welcome but they enable us to see clearly how awesome and faithful our Lord really is. To know that God is doing a “new thing” in and through me has been refreshing and restorative and I could not be more excited.

Thanks to the vision of Jim and Renata Bultema, I have the privilege to be in Antalya, Turkey. In the mid-90’s, at the invitation of several believers, they came to Antalya from Istanbul to start an English-speaking international church. Their obedience and faithfulness over the years is an amazing testimony. Today St. Paul Union Church has a clear presence in the city and is housed in the St. Paul Cultural Center located in the Old City. From this very city, Paul the Apostle sailed for his missionary journeys. This place has an amazing history but in the midst of all the history, people from many nations gather to worship God, to fellowship with like-minded believers, and to live lives of intentionality with Gospel priorities. Jim and Renata have given leadership to this church for almost twenty years and the results are inspiring and encouraging. I am so thankful to them for inviting me to be a part of this community for almost three months. What a privilege I have been afforded!

In the short week I have been here I have participated in English conversation classes, which are attended by many professionals who live and work in Turkey. They want to improve their English speaking skills and it is such a blast to be with them. We launched a mid-week Bible study Wednesday night in which we will look at the Epistle of I John for the next ten weeks – had a great start. I will begin the Journeying With Jesus preaching series this Sunday with a message from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus has an encounter with a paralytic and with a woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years. His touch made an incredible difference. I am hoping to show how the transformational power and presence of Jesus is available for us today just as it was in the Scriptural accounts. I know that I cannot do any of this apart from the empowering that comes from the Spirit so I ask for your prayers throughout my entire time here. I really want to be a learner and a servant to the people here as I seek to give myself to them. The opportunities are plenteous . . . pray that I would be a good discerner of time – how to manage it and where to invest it.

There is so much I can say . . . I will try to talk about the culture next time, what God is doing in my own heart, as well as keep you updated on how it is going . . . thanks to so many of you for your support, encouragement, and love. It would be great to hear from you at my email address – Dennis.K.Massaro@gmail.com. I could not be here without so many of you . . . every day I thank the Lord for the unique privilege, for the people here, for you, and for God’s grace . . .

Blessings to all . . .

dkm

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20130125-120804.jpg Jim and Renata Bultema

The Countdown Begins . . .

My Life

For the last week and a half I have been trying to focus on all that needs to be done before I head to Turkey . . . wow, the list keeps growing and growing.  My mortgage world has been heating up and lots of clients whose files have been sitting dormant are finally being underwritten.  As well, I am working on several new files and seeking to get them started in the process of either a refinance or the purchase of a new home.  Grateful for the opportunity to be able to keep this part of my life going even while I am gone as my colleague, Lana will be assisting me – thankful for her willingness to jump in while I take some time to pour myself into a more focused time of ministry.

This past week has delivered a few challenges . . . but God is so much bigger than any circumstance that we encounter.  Sarah left the country for her ministry in South Africa with Youth With A Mission – not as easy to text or pick up the phone for a little conversation.  I will miss that but I know she is exactly where she belongs.  My uncle Tom Maruso, my mom’s brother, left this world late on Saturday night and he will be sorely missed.  On the other side there is no pain, no sorrow, and great joy, but for those of us who remain, the overwhelming sense of grief is present.  We grieve as those with hope but the pain is real.  Both of these goodbyes this week have caused me to reflect and thank the Lord for the privilege of significant relationships.  Sarah, young and vibrant, has left for a journey exploring what it means to know the plans and purposes of the God she loves.  And uncle Tom has lived a long life . . . 83 years . . . he has left for a journey of peace and joy with his Savior as his time on this earth is over.  I have the privilege on Saturday to officiate at his funeral in Pennsylvania and offer words of remembrance and encouragement from the Scriptures.  How kind of our sovereign Lord to allow me to have this special opportunity right before I leave for a three-month journey myself.  Yes, the countdown is beginning and soon I will be in Turkey . . . an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, love, invest, share, preach, teach, mentor, and build new relationships with folks I have never met before.  The reality that has been ever present this past week is that I will be leaving significant relationships back here in the states . . . the face to face encounters with people I hold dear will change for a season . . . the thought of that brings a sense of sadness yet I know in my heart that God will preserve those relationships for the months we are apart and so I trust Him.

People, places, and the purposes of God . . . that is what I am thinking about these days . . . and in many ways, it is with a sense of excitement and joy that the countdown begins.  Yes, as I prepare messages with a theme of Journeying with Jesus, I am focused on Jesus’ encounters with people in the Gospels and I get pumped about sharing about His character, His compassion, and His transforming and powerful presence in the lives of each person with whom He came into contact.  I am praying that these next three months will be filled with stories of folks who will open up their lives to me and to the Savior whom I love.  I marvel at this opportunity and ask that many of you would determine to pray regularly for me and St Paul Union Church, the team of leaders there, and the missionaries and founders of the church, Jim and Renata Bultema.  Pray for the people to be open to what the Spirit wants to do in their lives and pray that I, too would be open to what He wants to do in my life.  Pray for God-appointed encounters in a country, where once the apostle Paul, himself, lived and ministered.  Pray for a hedge of protection and for great glory to be given to our amazing God!

Thanks for your love and support . . . I am overwhelmed how so many of you have already gotten on board financially and with your commitment to pray.  It means the world to me . . . and I am grateful for each one of you.  This is not just my journey; it is our journey and the countdown begins . . . seven, six, five, four, three, two, one and my flight to Istanbul and soon after, Antalya, and then the journey into the wonder and mystery of God takes off . . . so glad you have joined me!

Much love and many blessings to all . . .

dkm

A Tribute to Sarah on Her 22nd Birthday . . .

Sarah PhotoI remember the day as if it were today . . . a quick ride to Central DuPage Hospital in the middle of the night and by 3:50 AM, Sarah Elizabeth was born. She tried to enter the world the previous October by literally coming all the way down the birth canal but through much prayer from people all around the world and bed rest for her mother until Thanksgiving, she waited until New Year’s Day, three weeks earlier than she was due. She weighed in just over six pounds and besides some biliruben issues, she was fine. We were so excited that she arrived that we took her to church the first Sunday of her life – she was only five days old!

From a very young age she was driven, asked lots of questions, and was very verbal. She had a sweet personality and was an incredibly loving child. Because her mother and I both had to work, during the school year, Sarah had several amazing caregivers over the years. Each of them cared for her like she was their own, and their godly influences combined with her mother’s care enabled Sarah to be nurtured in wonderful ways as she was growing up.

Unfortunately, as a result of my inability to be the husband I needed to be, our marriage was broken when Sarah was almost eight years old. Those difficult days were challenging but still allowed interaction and many good times together . . . we traveled, participated in lots of fun activities, and I sought to keep things as normal as possible but eventually with her mom’s remarriage and a potential move to Nashville, I allowed Sarah and her sister to be adopted by their mom’s new husband. I gave permission because I believed that the quality of life that Sarah would experience around family and the creation of a new family unit would be best . . . but it was the most difficult decision of my life.

We entered a very lengthy period of silence – almost seven years to be exact. Those were confusing and difficult days of adjustment but I knew that all I could do was pray for God’s sovereign care for Sarah. I never prayed that she would come back to me; rather my prayer was that God would work in her life, that He would shower her with his unconditional love and care, and that He would allow her to know His favor and blessing in whatever she did. I knew that the Lord would enable her to be the woman that He created her to be so I simply entrusted her to Him!

Fast forward about seven years . . . it was August of 2010 and there was a message on my cell phone with Sarah’s voice one day, saying that she was going to be in town and wondered if I would like to get together. My heart was racing and my mind was spinning! Could this be for real? What would I say? What would it be like? How would I even engage in any kind of conversation with her? I had missed many of the major events of her life . . . most of her growing up years from 12 years old on . . . her maturing years going from a child to a young lady. I had wondered how she navigated through high school, when she was baptized, what graduation was like, who became important role models in her life, what her college experience was like, and on and on the jumbled thoughts rolled around in my head. In many ways, I felt shame and guilt that I had been responsible for great pain in her life and wondered how she would even respond to me. To be honest, I was somewhat scared and a little uptight.

We met face to face . . . awkward we both felt, I am certain . . . and within a couple hours the awkwardness turned to honest and open dialogue. Forgiveness was offered and received on both sides and a new journey began! From that day to this, I have been blown away at God’s gracious hand in our relationship. Lots of healing has taken place and I have found in this young woman, a depth and breadth of wisdom and understanding that is one of the most precious gifts I could ever have received. I marvel at God’s goodness in my life!

I am SO thankful to Doug and Kathy, who have been great parents for Sarah during the formative years of her life. Their godly love and care for Sarah is evidenced not only in her love and commitment to Jesus, but in the values that she espouses. She got an excellent education and graduated from the Honors College of Middle Tennessee State University in English and Journalism this past May. Kudos for her amazing accomplishments! She has been involved in her church in significant ways and has developed significant friendships everywhere she goes! Her relational skills and genuine care for people, are marvelous attributes and contagious as well!

Of upmost importance is Sarah’s sensitivity to the whispers of the Spirit in her life as well as her heartfelt desire for people all over the world to see and experience the love of Jesus that she has experienced herself. The summer between her junior and senior year of college, Sarah did a study program in the Czech Republic and was able to visit Amsterdam and connect with some ministry folks that I had been involved with many years prior. In a surprising way, God allowed her to have ministry opportunities in almost every encounter she had overseas. She studied, learned, and grew in ways that she never imagined possible. Her worldview expanded and in tasting just a small slice of God’s bigger world, she was smitten by what He could do through her in the world.

This talented, still driven, sensitive, mature young woman has answered the call of God on her life, and as best as she can discern at this time, she has responded in obedience to go to South Africa with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to their discipleship training school and outreach for at least six months. She has prayed and trusted that this leading will allow her to prepare in a hands-on way for whatever God has for her in the future. God has provided bountifully all the financial resources for this short-term mission through many family and friends and in three short days (January 4th), she will board a plane and begin this journey of faith. You can follow her journey at: gospelnomad.wordpress.com

As her birth father, I could not be more excited at what God has done in our relationship and in her life. She will experience so much in the days, weeks, and months ahead. And part of the joy is that, as I have been preparing for my three-month season of service in Antalya, Turkey (leaving on January 16th), we have been able to talk about our parallel journeys, share thoughts, pray for one another, watch God provide all that we need for our service for Him, and the mutual encouragement has been wonderful!

Today, on her 22nd birthday, I thank God for His goodness and grace in our lives. I thank God for a young lady who has a deep desire to be the hands and feet and mouthpiece of her Lord. I thank God for the difficulties over the years for it has made these days even more sweet!

Sarah . . . “and this is my prayer: that your love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11 NIV84

As this new year of 2013 begins, I am blessed beyond my imagination . . . and I pay tribute to an amazing young lady, Sarah Elizabeth Gallagher, born this day, twenty-two years ago. May God use you for His glory all of your days. Much love to you . . .

dkm