Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 2009 Prayer Letter and Essay "If You Could Come Back"

I am writing this letter between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I can be nothing but thankful for God’s manifold blessings, in my ministry, in the lives of my children, and upon me personally. As far as I know, I enjoy excellent health, my eight children and their spouses love and serve the Lord. In the past year God has given me two new grandsons, and spared the life of my daughter, Ruthie, from being kidnapped.

And I have been honored to have had thirty-seven people saved in my ladies’ ministries, and Vacation Bible School.

Our Ladies’ Christmas Banquet this year was outstanding: Pastor Omar Torres did an excellent job, as he preached to the seventy-five ladies in attendance. When he gave the invitation, five were saved…two of those were former First Ladies of our town. Thank you for the part you had in this ministry so dear to my heart. We are already making plans for next year’s Banquet, which will take place November 19, 2010.

ISABEL, First Lady who was saved the night of the banquet

ME WITH MERCEDES, the other First Lady who was saved the night of the banquet


At least for me, one of the most touching features on the program was the participation of twenty-one orphans from a nearby town. A pastor and his beautiful wife, and three precious children are in charge of the care of these delinquent little street irchens, and I watched the wives of mayors wipe tears from their eyes as the pastor told stories behind some of these children’s lives. Hearts were so stirred, that the Lord has moved my son, Philip, who is the pastor here, to present to our church the challenge of starting a children’s home. Will you pray for this very, very needy ministry?

For many people, like my children and me, who have lost loved ones to death, this time of the year holds a twinge of sadness. This year’s banquet theme was “Not of this World.” To you who have lost a loved one this year, or who hold dear precious memories of years gone by, I dedicate this little essay which I wrote and read at our Banquet. My prayer is that it will stir up in each of us an urgency, and a desire to do more for the Lord next year than we did in the past.

I wish you a Blessed Christmas, and a New Year filled with God’s richest blessings.

Billie Sloan
Nahum 1:7

“If You Could Come Back”
Written and read at our 2009 Ladies’ Christmas Banquet
by Billie Sloan

In a few days my children and I will be commemorating the fifth anniversary of the day my husband went to Heaven. Not long ago, one of my daughters dreamed about her Dad. She dreamed that he came back to earth, and spent the day with us. I don’t put any importance on dreams, but when she told me about hers, tears came into my eyes, because I still miss him very much.

A few days later, I started thinking about her dream, and I asked myself: “What would my husband do if he could come back to earth for one day? What would he think of me, and of the changes that have taken place in my life? Would he be pleased with the activities I’ve added to my routine, with the way I spend my money?

If he could come back, I believe I knew my husband well enough, that I’m sure he’d take me by the hand and perhaps he would take me for a walk down the streets of our town, and he’d show me the little abandoned children, the little barefoot girls with tangled hair, and he’d say, “Look at the things that are not of this world. And may everything you do, every penny you spend, all your travels have an influence on the things that are not of this world. Those are the souls of these children, and their eternal destiny.”

Perhaps my husband would continue, “I have walked on streets of gold. I’ve seen the face of Jesus. And only when you can see things as I see them, are you going to be able to distinguish between the eternal, and the earthly. The things of this world will pass away, but the most precious thing in this world is the eternal destiny of those who surround you. Shop for dresses and for cars. Put your legal matters in order. Enjoy life, but if all those things you buy, all your legal transactions do not influence the eternal destiny of your friends, your grandchildren, and the street children, it’s all in vain…all of this world.

And I believe he’d look into my eyes when he said, “The only thing I could take with me to Heaven were the souls of the people I won to Christ. Every door I knocked, every Bible I gave away, every message I preached was time invested in eternity. That’s the only thing that matters.”

If God has taken from you the most precious treasure of your life, a son, a daughter, your father, your mother, your husband, I’m sure if they could come back to earth, they’d tell you, “Put your eyes on things that are not of this world. Spend more time with people than with your hobbies. Spend more hours with your children than on your job. And may all you do lead people to the feet of Jesus. Oh! And make sure you’re prepared to see your Creator face to face when you die, and that you’ll walk on streets of gold.”

That’s what our loved ones would tell us if they could come back.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Banquets, Brides, and Bubble Baths

(Written less than a week before the November 20th banquet)...

I wish with all my heart you could be here during this time. Even as I sit here, I am watching my daughter in law cut out her dress for the gala evening, our 11th Annual Ladies’ Christmas Banquet, which will take place, Lord willing, in less than a week. A lady in the church, who is a dressmaker, delivered mine to me last night, and as always, refused the money I offered her for all her hours and hours of work.

Right now, my daughter is in town with her nephew, and little girl, and my dressmaker, shopping for material and evening finery, giving out last minute invitations, and picking out gifts for the two little girls of our guest speaker.

Yes, this has all the feelings and emotions of a wedding, a wedding we hold here every year, the week before Thanksgiving. I almost feel like a bride, and I have a church and house full of attendants. And since we do this every single year, everyone basically knows what to expect, and how I will react to certain things.

I’m doing something different this year: I’m going to pamper myself. I usually work myself silly until about an hour before the banquet, and walk in feeling a bit anxious. But this year, I have reserved myself a room for the night before at the hotel where the banquet will be held. I don’t really know how this will help my disposition, but I have the illusion of somehow staying “separated” from the world, and arriving at the banquet all smiles, not having upset one single person, or without their having annoyed me.

But I’m wondering, “Does it really work that way?” I’ve wondered, ever since I was a young girl, it people who can’t speak somehow have a closer walk with the Lord. Many sins, and I’ll confess that probably most of mine, are committed with the tongue, through the words I say. Rarely do I ever go to bed at night, with the peace that I haven’t said something I shouldn’t have said…unless I’ve spent a rare day alone, and “stay away from the computer, Sloan, or you’re bound to write something that would have come out of your mouth, if that person had been in your presence.”

Anyway, aside from the spiritual aspect of my spending the last 24 hours alone before the banquet, there is the “pampering” aspect of this extravaganza. As I was combing my hair a few mornings ago, I noticed a lovely bottle of something I received in a “fruit” basket on one of my recent speaking trips. I receive these thoughtful gifts when I’m invited to speak to ladies’ groups. They’re usually setting on the table in my hotel room, and besides the flavored water, granola bars, and M&M’s, sometimes there will be a box of stationery, lovely handkerchiefs (I carry one every time I go up to speak), and once I even received a beautiful watch, which I still wear. Recently I received a whole set of goodies from Bath and Body. I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for to enjoy them, but I noticed one of them said, “Passion…Bubble Bath,” and I thought, “Why not?” Now aside from the fact that bathtubs are non-existent in México, unless you build your own home, I decided to add this, and the accompanying bottles on my list of “Things to Take to the Hotel.” I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but it should look nice setting on the dressing table.

This morning, I thought, “Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says something about our being in the world but not of the world?” While I believe my motives are pretty good excuses for simply wanting to pamper myself on this special occasion, I believe the Lord expects us to be able to remain sweet and calm, even though we’re in the middle of a storm, whether it be sudden disaster, or simply having to cope with other people.

“Lord, thank you for this special treat away from the cares and pressures of the world. But help me to always be sweet and kind, and understanding, even when things go wrong.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Anchors, Assurance, and Anna

“Anchors, Assurance, and Anna”

No event of this nature would be complete without a big setback. I have a beautiful journal which I received in a fruit basket from some ladies in a church where I spoke. I chose this thick, hard back book several months ago to use in preparation for our upcoming Ladies’ Christmas Banquet, which takes place in only three days.

If you’re a list maker like I am, you’ll understand the feeling a list gives you. It provides security, a sense of direction, a constant in the midst of confusion. For me, at least, it’s my anchor.

I also put little red letters with the initials of people who are responsible for carrying out the tasks on my lists, and over and over again as I check my list every morning, I see little red “A’s”. That stands for my daughter, Anna. She’s my “anchorman” of sorts.

Saturday afternoon, we received word that her father in law had passed away. She began packing hers and the children’s things to join Andrés, who was with his Dad at the time of his death. He was a four-hour drive away. She packed my car, loaded the children, and thankfully Andrés’ nephew and his wife were able to go with her, as she headed out about 7:30 p.m., promising to return Thursday, the day before the Banquet.

As I stood in the middle of the street, waving good-bye to them, suddenly I felt disoriented. What on earth would I do without her? What about all the things she still needed to do?

A dark cloud began to settle over me, as I prepared for bed. I woke up Sunday morning at 4:30, and decided to get up, instead of lying in bed trying to figure out who would take Anna’s place. I was also grieving with Andrés, whose father was a devout Christian man. Several years ago, he assured his son that he was ready to go to Heaven. Anna commented when she received the news of his death, “I know he had devotions with his children last night, because he gathers us around at night when we’re there, and sings in Chol, reads Scripture, and prays.”

This is Tuesday morning, and thankfully as I write Anna and the children are on their way back. They left at 5:30 this morning, and Andrés will join her on Thursday. Last night when I read her phone message, everything began to come into focus, and to make sense. I felt like my anchor was once again firm, and in place.

As I crawled under my covers last night, a sense of peace and joy settled over me. Everyone would soon be in their proper place. Anna would be back, and my life would be in order.

Then I thought, “How sinful to put our trust in man…or woman…or daughter, or husband. My anchor should be in the Lord, Who, just as He gave assurance to Andrés that his Dad is in Heaven, can give me the security, and stable feeling that He, not Anna, is in control of everything. He is the One Who took Andrés’ Dad. It is wicked, sinful I who puts my trust in the wrong anchor. My assurance should lie in The Anchor.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Babies, Banquets and Blessings

Babies, Banquets, and Blessings!

Anyone who knows all that goes into the preparation of an event like our annual Christmas banquets, knows it is not the work of one person. There are many, many people involved in this special ministry. My children, the ladies in my Sunday School class, their husbands, young people in the church, even ladies in the States…all form a team, each with his and her unique part.

My son, Philip, who is also the pastor, made a trip to a nearby town last Thursday. When he returned, he was excited about having visited a pastor friend, who also runs an orphanage. There are about 21 children, ranging in ages from 12 years to a baby a few months old. He and his wife are in charge of this challenging ministry. It was his wife who invited the first lady of their town to attend our banquet last year, and she did. I’m sure they work closely with the DIF, an organization which among other admirable achievements, is in charge of looking out for the welfare of needy women and children. The first lady of every city, and the first lady of every state is the head of this government organization, which is what makes it so easy to get in contact with them.

Philip suggested that we have these orphans attend our banquet. “They sing, and I believe they would be a blessing to the ladies. And they’re very well behaved.” At first, I didn’t know what on earth I would do with twenty-one children…not during their time on the program, but for the other three-plus hours they would need to be at the hotel.

This brings me to another challenge we face every single year: what to do with babies of mothers who are actively involved in the program, namely my grandchildren. All the ladies in our church, and the teenage girls, have either bought tickets, and/or will be busy during the evening. This year our choir will be performing, so there go our baby sitters. So I came up with a bright idea about a month ago:

Why not reserve rooms for my four children and their spouses who will be attending? In years gone by, the hotel is kind enough to give us a “courtesy room,” which is a regular room. We have all these children in one room, with four sitters. The mothers feel compelled to relieve the girls once the program is over, and dinner is being served. This makes for chaos, since babies are then brought into the banquet room. The mothers are not really able to enjoy the most relaxing time of the whole evening, because they are looking after babies, and sharing the food on their plates.

Because each of my children and their children will have their own room, they will be able to: check in as early as 12:00 noon. They can give their children lunch, put them down for naps, and leisurely dress for the banquet. Instead of loading up babies, banquet equipment, baby equipment, evening attire, and accessories, etc., they simply step out of their rooms, and into the banquet room.

Eight girls will be assigned as sitters for the evening, two for each room of babies. They will be able to rotate every hour, and will be seated at a table at the back, so as not to disturb. This way, the girls will be able to enjoy the evening, and so will the mothers…but more than that…so will the babies. After the evening has ended, my children return to their rooms, babies in jammies, and they don’t have to drag them through the cold to take them home. Except for the time at the first of the program, when they will be singing, they will be in their rooms, with their own sitter.

But what to do with 21 orphans, remembering that they also have to be fed? My girls plan to feed their babies in their rooms…cereal, yogurt, sandwiches, juices, fruit, etc. But the orphans will have to be fed from the hotel menu, since they will not be in a private room. At the beginning of the year, before I came up with the idea of reserving rooms for my children, I reserved a big play room. So we plan to use that room for the twenty-one children during the time they will not be participating. We have two major…I hate the word problem, so I’ll use challenges: what to feed them, and who to keep them.

Mr. Administrator? Philip has assured me that he will take full responsibility of this part of the banquet, so sure he is that this will be an unforgettable feature. So do I! He has already arranged for one of the men to drive the church van over and pick them up, and return them afterward. I know the other two challenges will be solved, also, very efficiently and competently.

This Banquet is geared to women…women’s needs, their challenges. And I also appeal to their nature. I believe just seeing these children, hearing them sing, listening to the pastor share where they come from is going to touch even the coldest heart that evening.

Music sets the atmosphere, and my grandchildren will touch hearts that evening, as they did mine last night during rehearsal. When hearts are moved and stirred, I believe it is easier for the Holy Spirit to speak to them.

I tell the ladies in my class: “These socialites are invited to more events than they could possibly ever attend. So why do they keep coming back year after year to this particular one? They tell me the reason every year when they tell me good bye: ‘Thank you, Billie, for a wonderful evening. This is the highlight of my year, and I would never miss it. My heart is always stirred when the evening is over.’ That’s why they keep coming back.” And that’s why I’ll keep giving them, as long as I’m able…even with all the challenges of babies at banquets…it’s the blessings.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Christmas Banquet

Friday, November 6

I love what my friend, Garry said the first time he wrote on his blog: shameless self-promotion. Isn’t that pretty funny? But I guess that pretty much sums up what a BLOG is.

More than this being about me, I would like it to be some sort of connection between you and my ministry. True, my ministry involves my children and grandchildren, since I’m a mother and grandmother. But something very, very dear to my heart, also, is the annual Ladies’ Christmas Banquet our church sponsors. This will be our 11th one, on November 20, and I can truthfully say, they get more and more involved every year. I would like to take you through the next two weeks’ preparations so you can “feel” the excitement we feel…the stresses, the challenges, and finally the reward of all our labors, prayers, time, and money required to put together an event like this.

 At exactly two weeks away from our Banquet date, this is just the “winding things up” time, which is probably why I even have time to sit at my computer. The work began, as always, the day after last year’s banquet.

My son in law, Ulises, and my daughter, “Fizzie” picked me up about 10:00, and took me out for breakfast. They were doing deputation, and wanted me to accompany them on a little “field trip” to survey the nearby town of Tuxtla. We were all pretty exhausted, but enjoyed talking about the events of the past evening.

A few days later, I flew with them to Mexico City, and met Pastor Omar Torres, and his lovely wife Ana. They graciously hosted our over-night stay. We had breakfast in their home the next morning, and then drove to Querétaro, where we would spend a few days, before driving to Chihuahua to spend Thanksgiving with my brother, Lanny, and his family. It was on that drive, having rested for several days after the banquet, that Ulises began to talk with me very openly about this event so dear to my heart. He began to make suggestions that might possibly make the banquet better, and then he said. “One thing I noticed the night of the banquet was that you were a little stressed. It’s all right to get angry, but no one should know it but you. Everyone knew you were upset at the boys for not coming in on cue to sing when they were supposed to. What you need is a banquet administrator, someone who can take the work load off your shoulders, leaving you free to prepare your essays, and organize your program, visit your ladies, etc.” So I chose him. He accepted, and while he hasn’t been able to be here like I would like him to be, he has put in a lot of time organizing and directing. He has made suggestions such as monthly prayer breakfasts the last three months before the banquet; a pre-banquet celebration of sorts. At these prayer breakfasts, we pray for the first lady of our town, and for the wives of former mayors. We even have a former lady mayor attend…the first female mayor in the history of our city.

He also suggested that starting right after last year’s banquet, each lady in the church reserve her ticket…about $18 dollars…with at least $1.50. As the year goes by, she can pay a little each week, until her ticket is paid for. Many of our ladies have already purchased their tickets, and are working on their 2nd and 3rd ones, to give to their lost friends.

It would take volumes to name all the things that go into the banquet preparations, but if you could be here, you would sense, as I do, the atmosphere of wedding preparations. Choice of invitations…Anna is responsible for that…decorations, centerpieces, personal gifts for each lady who attends, and corsages for each special lady…this is Liz’s department. Anna also is in charge of special music rehearsals, organizing the music for each singer, banquet programs. These girls homeschool their two children, and Liz also has a three-month old to care for, not to mention her duties as pastor’s wife.

Last night was the second workshop to prepare decorations, centerpieces, etc., and I’ll try to post a picture of the 20 ladies I had in my dining room last night, crowded around my table.

I have given out packets to the first ladies who are invited every year. These packets contain: corsage, invitation, ticket, and a card with my phone numbers. These have to be given out about three weeks before the banquet.

This year’s banquet will be given at a lovely hotel. We will have access to a large banquet room, complete with a platform. This will make it much easier for our ladies to see the people who will be participating in the program.

A special item on our program this year will be the children’s segment. About 20 children from an orphanage in a nearby town will be coming to sing. My grandchildren, also, have prepared two songs, and my dear friend, Debbie Morris, from Tuxtla will be coming the week of the banquet to teach them to play several Christmas songs with bells. Doesn’t this sound like fun?

My daughter, Anna, came up with the idea of taking an invitation packet to our state capitol, and inviting our governor’s wife. Excellent idea!

Ladies from the Beacon Hill Baptist Church have worked all year long purchasing gifts for our first ladies, and they have arrived, and are safely stored in my closet.

Our guest speaker for this year is the pastor I met last year, Pastor Omar Torres. He and his wife, Ana, and their two little girls will fly in the day before the Banquet, and he will be speaking that evening in Ulises church in Chiapa de Corzo, about 40 minutes away.

Anna is just putting the finishing touches on Debbie’s dress, and I know she will look like a little princess when she sings.

Ulises and Fizzie will be returning Wednesday from a two-week series of speaking engagements…YIPES, MR. ADMINISTRATOR!...just a week and a half before the banquet! But not to worry, everything is in order, and running smoothly, so far.

As in anything which requires cooperation, I always pray for a spirit of unity, and harmony in all we do. We are one big happy family, but even big happy families don’t always see eye-to-eye. So will you please pray for the Lord to keep the important things in mind, and just accept the other things we don’t like?

End of first post! Now if I can just figure out how to get it out of WORD and to you!

Billie Sloan

Nahum 1:7