Book Review: Total Abandon by Gary Witherall and Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse
This is the gripping story of a modern-day martyred Christian missionary. The martyr is Bonnie Witherall and her widowed husband Gary (who has since remarried) tells the story from his perspective.
The book tracks the life of this young Christian couple from when they met in college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Bonnie was from the Pacific Northwest and Gary is a native of England. They fell in love, felt a call to the mission field and then went to Sidon, Lebanon to work with a Christian clinic for pregnant women among the Palestinian refugee community. Bonnie was brutally murdered at the clinic one morning in 2002. They never found the killer. Gary went through a great deal of trauma (which he chronicles in the book) and now speaks to groups about his experiences. His challenge is to all Christians that following the Great Commission is neither easy nor safe. It requires a total abandon of everything we hold close, dear, and valuable – even the price of our own lives.
I was particularly interested in reading this story not only because I can relate to the feeling of being young and married with an interest in the mission field but also because I once met Gary Witherall at a wedding for my close friend Michael Kaspar. Michael and Gary work with the same mission organization: Operation Mobilization. I recommend this book to anyone. Be cautioned: you will probably cry. I know that because I do not often cry and this book caused me to weep.
I would love to hear from any of you who have read this book. Thanks, Jesse
I just got back from a great summer camp in Lake Placid, FL. I had the priviledge of sharing the gospel through juggling for a group of kids from various Nazarene churches from central Florida (Tampa, Orlando, and between). God really moved on Thursday night when we put forth an invitation for the kids to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ. I was reading the book, No Compromise (the biography of Keith Green written by his surviving wife, Melody) in my free time during the camp. In the book, Melody talks about how Keith learned to just proclaim the good news and then “get out the way” so God could work in the hearts of people. I tried to follow that example and not get in the way of the Lord’s work. Many children came forward with genuine hearts to respond to the love of Jesus. Praise God!
Thankfully, each child had loving counselors that got to know them throughout the week, so I asked the kids to find their counselor and pray with that person during this time. I know that the Christian life is not just raising your hand or coming forward during an “altar call.” But that is one way (out of many) that serves as a starting point of the path of the cross.
I might be a juggler. But this is what it is all about – bearing news that is good, true, and wonderful. News that God is love and that our old lives are made new through the power of the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
"We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by
faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in
our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 1:3, NIV).
People always ask me, "How did you get into juggling?" I tell them that a
friend taught me in middle school. I learned how to juggle three balls
and then wanted to learn more. For whatever reason, I was fascinated with
juggling. To me, it was fun and I could challenge myself to learn new
tricks and juggle more objects. So I did whatever I could to learn more.
I checked out books on juggling from the library and devoured them. I met
some local people that also juggled and learned things from them. Before
I knew it, I was performing for parties and events.
People also often tell me, "Oh, I could never juggle" or "I tried that
when I was younger and I could never really figure it out." You see,
people think juggling is some sort of innate gift that people have from
birth. That is not true. Anyone can juggle – as long as they endure the
I cannot tell you how many times I have dropped my juggling props. I have
spent hours at a time trying to master a certain trick or numbers goal in
juggling. And much of that time is spent picking everything up off the
ground after a failed attempt.
You cannot learn how to juggle without dropping. I remember Darren
Collins teaching a class on juggling and telling the group to
intentionally drop their juggling balls to the ground. Then he said, "Get
used to doing that!" I once read or heard a good juggler quote that went
something like this: "A good juggler always picks up one more time than
So why do some people endure in juggling and others don't? It has to do
with the love of the game. If you have a passion for juggling (which I
do), then you will make a way to get to your goal despite all the drops.
If you are only somewhat interested in juggling, then you will quickly
give up after a few failed attempts. But if you have a genuine hope that
you will finally juggle those three balls, then you will make it.
Here is where this matters for our faith – the hope we have in Jesus is
what inspires us to endure in our faith (1 Thess 1:3). Endurance in the
Bible is often tied to persecution. People would endure trials and pains
because they kept their sights on the bigger picture of life –
relationship with Jesus Christ. And that is better than life itself.
Jesus endured the cross because of His love for us. It is His love that
draws us, and we respond with a passionate love for Him. When we are
passionately in love with Jesus, we will endure, despite our many failures
and the constant temptations of the world. But this is not because of our
strength. Rather, it is God who gives us endurance (Rom 15:4).
Here is where this matters to our jobs and ministries – when we refocus on
the end goal of our ministries (bringing God glory and spreading His
Word), we shall endure. Let us return to Jesus Christ as the sole object
of our love and devotion. It is easy to lose hope and lose sight of our
purpose several years into a vocation. But when we remember why we are
doing what we are doing and return to the bare minimun purpose for our
vocations, we shall endure.
In all my years of serving in children’s ministry, I feel that I have just stumbled over something that I have missed for so long – the importance of genuinely connecting with the kids. I have tended to think sometimes that a dynamic children’s ministry should be focused on having creative and impressive object lessons that really “Wow” the kids.
But the statement that many of us know applies to children’s ministry: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We can amend that and say, “Kid’s don’t care how flashy your teaching skills are until they sense the sincerity of your friendship with them.”
I believe this is one of the main keys to a successful children’s ministry. This is the practice of Christ-like connection. What does this look like? Well, it starts with knowing the names of the kids in your children’s ministry. It is also nice to know things like their birthdays, what school they go to, some of their favorite interests, etc. And then there is the very important connection with the parents and siblings of each child. I have grown so much closer to kids and families just by doing simple things like going to lunch with them after church or visiting them in their homes. Basically, we want to grow in knowing kids in their full context. That will help us better minister to them in their needs, their joys, and their faith development.
God is a Triune God – meaning that He is Father, Son, and Spirit. This Trinity is the great prototype of genuine connection (see Larry Crabb’s book Connecting). Therefore, let us bring the love and joy of the Trinity into our children’s ministries and truly connect with our kids. Then, they will listen to what you have to say (even if you are terrible at presenting object lessons). They’ll learn more about Jesus in how you model friendship to them than they will ever learn through any animated presentation. So, you don’t have to learn how to juggle to be a great children’s pastor. Just love your kids with all your genuine heart.
So my wife and I just discovered Facebook, the connectivity engine for plenty of humans between the ages of 15 and 35. It started as something exclusively for colleges and universities, thus leaving out a large portion of the population. Now, it is open to the public, and it is way cool. It is very different from myspace in the sense that the interface is much more simple and user-friendly. You also do not have all the gaudy advertisements that show up all over myspace (mostly dating services and personals that use ads with way too much skin in them). Therefore, Facebook is my pick for a site that lets me find old and new friends without having to pay fees (such as the ones that classmates.com asks for).
The only problem is that Facebook can become an addiction just like anything else 🙂 In lieu of our recent fascination with Facebook, Sarah and I have decided to take a break from anything internet for Easter Sunday (tomorrow) in order to focus on the most foundational and earth shattering community of all time – the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Spirit.
Facebook will never replace face-to-face relationships. In fact, the only fun on Facebook is finding people you have met in real life anyway – so the real life connection will always supercede the connections we make that are merely internet based. Rob Bell said that the highest form of friendship and connection is “flesh.” I like that. Jesus came in the flesh, not through an online web community.
So, look for Sarah and I on Facebook. But we would much rather meet with you face-to-face – laughing and crying, sharing food, playing board games, or just hanging out. By the way, we just rented the movie You’ve Got Mail! Maybe we’ll finish that tonight. Peace out.
My brother, BJ, theorizes that during the days of Westward expansion and
settlement in America, the most ambitious people made it all the way to
the West Coast. Then they had to stop because they couldn’t go any
farther. The result is that you have “established” people on the East
Coast, “the give-ups” in the Midwest, and the crazy weirdos with endless
motivation on the West Coast.
Well, I’m not really speechless in Seattle. But I wish I had the words to
describe the “coolness” of this city. This city is more cool than Snoopy
himself. Sarah and I are here in the great city of the Northwest for a
few days for the wedding of some good friends.
I have never been to Seattle before. I must say that I have not been let
down. The people here are eclectic, earthy (they recycle everything), and
open-minded to just about anything. Last night, we went to a Thai
restaurant in Queen Anne’s and a local told us how during the summer, all
the shops and stores have dog treats and water bowls for the canine
population. Now, what other city caters to dogs like that? Where I’m
from in Kentucky, horses are treated like royalty, but dogs are seen as
Sarah and I also went to the famous Pike Street Market. Yes, we saw the
guys who chant at customers and throw fish at one another. That was
pretty neat to see. We knew that the longer we stood there, the more
susceptible we were to becoming a customers without realizing it. So we
continued on through the used book stores, the large magic store (with
juggling equipment) and even “Lefty Store.” That store sold left-handed
scissors, can-openers, and novelty shirts with quotes like, “Hire
Left-Handed People, It’s Fun to Watch Them Write.” Another good one was,
“We’re All Born Right-Handed, Only Some of Us Overcome It.”
Here is another neat thing about Seattle – it is a pedestrian’s city.
Cars honor and respect those on foot and bike more than any other American
city I have visited. The sidewalks are wide and smooth – and the rolling
terrain provides plenty of hillside views of the city, the water, and the
mountains. I wish Sarah and I could spend more time here. I can’t
imagine enjoying the city without her. And we get to attend a sacred
nuptial worship service together tomorrow at 11am. If festivities are
over in time, I might try to make it to the Seattle Juggling Club (Cascade
Jugglers) in the late afternoon. Then we take the red-eye back to
Louisville starting around midnight Saturday.
Now I’m drinking coffee in the city that founded Starbucks. And it’s made
by Anna Abernathy, the hospitable wife of Luke Abernathy (former manager
of the first Starbucks). But more important than that, they are friends
from Taylor and if they respresent the way people are in Seattle, then I
love the people of Seattle.
-Peace Out, Jesse
My childhood athletic hero is Cal Ripken, Jr. I had the privilege of going to Baltimore as a child and watching him play many times. Today, he and Tony Gwynn were elected into the Hall of Fame, baseball’s most distinguished honor. Whereas baseball has gone through strikes and steroid abuse, Ripken and Gwynn have been enduring role models of integrity, work ethic, and sportsmanship. Both played for the same team for twenty years (only 16 total players can claim such devotion to one team). Ripken is a two-time winner of the MVP (1983 and 1991) and he was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1982. He holds the record for the most consecutive games played (over 2,600). This is a man who went to work everyday for twenty years, and he still gives back to the community in many ways today. Congrats Cal Ripken, Jr. Congrats Tony Gwynn. May there be more professional athletes like yourselves.
Things to do in 2007 (one per month):
1. Make a new juggling video (January)
2. Attend the Marriage Retreat with my wife (February)
3. Stand in Michael Kaspar’s wedding (March)
4. Celebrate my wife’s birthday (April)
5. Graduate from seminary (May)
6. Attend Ichthus Music Festival with family in town (June)
7. Go to the 49th annual International Juggler’s Association Festival (July)
8. Watch my wife stand in Ginnie Wiseheart’s wedding (August)
9. Celebrate my birthday! (September)
10. Juggle for someone’s Fall Festival (October)
11. Thanksgiving in Mexico? (November)
12. Christmas – nuf said (December)
I have recently been grappling with the whole Calvinist-Wesleyan debate recently. I have read a great deal of John Wesley’s original works this semester. He is a great preacher. But some of the key points of his theology fly in the face of Reformed/Calvinistic doctrine (to which I feel attracted in my heart/spirit). I grew up in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church (which was Armenian-Wesleyan). Now, I am at a Wesleyan seminary. But I still want to believe that we as humans have absolutely no claim on our salvific status. I listened to a John Piper podcast tonight, and he said something about justification coming by God’s grace, not by any work of man.
Now, even Wesley believed that justification comes only by God’s grace and not through works. But Wesley would say that God enables us and woos us to have the faith that chooses Christ. In the podcast, Piper continued to say that God justifies by His grace alone – not by works, nor by God enabling us to do anything that would in turn save us (because that still gives even a tiny bit of credit to man’s action). Piper holds the bold view that God plainly imputes righteousness unto his children. They are saved by grace. In the courtroom (by the way, the metaphors of king or judge are often used by Calvinists), God looks at us and calls us “not guilty.” Why? Because Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross and rose from the dead because of His great love for us. This is cause for us to simply respond in praise and glory to the great sovereign Lord who by his grace has saved us.
In other words, though Wesley says that God saves us by his grace, in practice and principle he believes that man has a choice in this whole matter. I’m still grappling with this one. I want to side with the view that takes all claim away from man. This is an ongoing thought process of mine.
Hello all. Thanks for checking out my meager blog. I have this week off from classes for Thanksgiving. But I still need to put in many reading hours (and volunteer hours at the Catholic Action Center). The CAC is for my mentored ministry class. It is a homeless ministry. I’m learning that the men and women we often walk by in disgust on the streets are actually very fun people to get to know. I like playing cards with many of them (particularly Rummy and Spades). On Thanksgiving, Sarah and I will be having a meal with some folks at our church, and we’re inviting a few of our homeless friends from the Catholic Action Center. Someone in our group told us that homeless people don’t want a meal as much as they want someone with whom to eat the meal. Ponder that…
I’m trying to learn Spanish from a friend of mine named Augustine. I’m getting a few words and verbs. I never took Spanish in school but that should definitely be a requirement for elementary school kids these days (go Dora!).
Last night, I got to juggle for an Upward Event at Burlington Baptist Church in Northern Kentucky. I pulled out the unicyle for the first time in a show. I had a blast in the show – especially when I pulled four coaches up for the human table. They thought they were volunteering their wives when they raised their hands. Then I told them to come forward. I stole that idea from a friend of mine named Roger Fields 🙂
Also, Shawn Hoke, an eighth-grade juggling student of mine, got to come along and be my assistant for the evening. He was a great help. I know that I was greatly inspired to perform juggling and use it as a ministry when I saw other performing jugglers who were ahead of me in life.
One more thing – Sarah and I are graduating in May 2007. We still do not know our post-graduation plans, and we are currently in the process of gathering options and praying for the Lord’s guidance. Please keep us in your prayers. Right now, I am applying to four PhD programs in Biblical Studies (Baylor, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). Sarah is interested in some sort of family counseling with her Counseling degree. We would also like to explore options of international missions (YWAM or a similar organization). Virginia is an attractive location for us, because that’s where most of our extended families live. Or, I may just become Jesse the Juggler full time around the year (I love my job). We’ll let you know. But for now, happy Thanksgiving.