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Spiritual Reflection on 2016…

Happy New Years!
This weekend, I (Janna) was asked to speak at our church during the last service of the year.  I prepared a devotional message, and thought I’d also love to share it with you – all of our friends and family – by video.  It’s a spiritual reflection on 2016, and I hope you don’t mind me sharing 🙂  (I know the spiritual message isn’t for everyone, so feel free to skip if you want!)  In it, I just talk about five questions to ask ourselves as we look back at the past year, to look at what foundation has been laid as we walk into 2017…I’ve made a downloadable reflection guide you can print out and make notes on if you want:  Reflecting on 2016 – The Rous House Handout

The first question I asked was:  What major life CHANGE or event happened in your life this year?  (In the video illustration, I used a jar of loose change to represent “change” 🙂  Maybe you had a new baby?  Maybe you started a new job or got a promotion.  Maybe you started, or ended, a relationship.  Maybe you lost someone close to you this year.  What happened?  Maybe it was something painful, maybe something wonderful.  This change may be something that God is using or will use to help set a new direction for your life in 2017… It may be a stepping stone towards the path he wants to lead you on.

The second question I asked was:  What did you LEARN this year?    (Represented by 6 little lights.)  What did you learn this year, things that have changed the way you think or approach life?  Did you go on a training course?  Were you attending school?  Learning a new language?  Did you read a fascinating book?  God brings learning experiences into our lives to prepare us, to help us grow.  By the things you’ve learned, is he preparing you for future opportunities to minister or serve?  Take a moment a reflect – what did you learn this year, and how might that be used in 2017?

The third question I asked was:  What TRIALS and difficulties did you face in 2016?  (I’ve used a broken glass to represent trials.)  Sometimes, pieces of our lives get smashed.  We face really big difficulties.  What did you go through this year? Were you accused of something you didn’t do, yet were punished for it?  Did you lose a home, a family member?  Have you struggled in your marriage, or with your children?  In the Bible, it says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” …What????  Most trials are not joyful.  And yet, the Bible also says that God brings beauty from ashes.  In Isaiah 61, it says: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…”  Maybe God is using the trials in your life to prepare you to comfort, encourage, and have mercy on others who are experiencing something similar.  The trials of 2016 are also part of the foundation of your life in 2017…

The fourth question I asked was:  What have you learned about GOD’s CHARACTER this year?  At our church, we spent weeks and weeks studying 1 Samuel this year.  1 Samuel 3:10 says:  “Speak, for your servant is listening.”   Did you hear God speak this year?  Did you listen to him this year?  What has God taught you about Himself this year – Who He is and how He works?

The fifth question I asked was:  Who are the PEOPLE that God has brought into your life this year?  I’ve used a jar of coffee beans (because I like to drink coffee with friends) to represent relationship, friendship, visiting homes, listening, and talking.  God brought certain people across your path in 2016. Who did he want you to develop a relationship with?  Why?  Maybe you met at work, or at church?  Maybe you met at university, school, college?  Maybe someone contacted you on Facebook that you haven’t seen in a long time.  How does God want to use you in those people’s lives?

We often want our new year to start off like an empty bowl, waiting to be filled with new experiences, but instead it actually starts off half-full of all the “stuff” we bring into it from the year before.

Watch the video to see how an “empty bowl” versus a “half-full” bowl compare when it comes to God overflowing your life with Himself in 2017!

Wishing you blessings in 2016,
Janna and Steve

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Sam and Amy’s Budget Tours: Jordan’s Highlights

I love it when God places friends in your life that, despite distance and time, persist.  Steve and Sam met at a church house group in Uganda, back in 2008.  Every year or so, it seems that a wedding, a holiday, or a random flight path conspires to bring the guys together again.  Since 2008, they’ve both been married – Steve to me, Sam to Amy.  And Sam and Amy’s trip to Jordan last week was the first time that we’ve all been able to hang out and holiday together – and what a holiday it was!!  All the sites that Steve and I had visited over the last year and a half got squeezed into a single week.  It was pretty full-on, and a total blast.  Here’s the recap…

Day 1:  Airport welcome, Jerash, Hashem’s restaurant

  • Jerash: is only about a 45 minute drive from where we live, and it’s one of the most complete preserved Roman cities in the Middle East. Our tour guide accompanied us through the Oval marketplace, down the old Roman road where you can still see chariot wheel tracks in the old paving stones, into the Temple of Artemis, and to the center of the old theatre where your voice echoes in the amazing acoustics still preserved today.  We finished off with a tangy lemon and mint juice and headed back home.
  • Hashem’s: The final stop of the day was Hashem’s restaurant – a Jordanian restaurant located in an alleyway and famous because “the King ate there once”.  The service is fast, the food is cheap, the surroundings are a little dirty, and the atmosphere is…perfect.  It’s at the very center of Amman, and the place to go to feel the “vibe” of the city and its people.  A stroll past the enormous Roman amphitheatre and a quick dessert of “knaffe” sent us all home stuffed and happy.

Day 2:  Madaba, the Baptism Site, Mt. Nebo

  • The Madaba Map: Morning of the second day, we headed to Madaba, where the oldest mosaic map of the holy land is preserved on the floor of a church.  It was only re-discovered at the end of the 19th century, over 1100 years from when it was buried by a massive earthquake.  It’s an amazing preservation of the mosaic heritage of the region.
  • Jesus’ Baptism Site: We then wound our way down the side of the mountains towards the Jordan River – one of the most beautiful drives in Jordan (even if it does make you a bit queasy with all the twists and turns).  Just north of the Dead Sea, we parked our car and hopped into the Baptism Site bus that drove us to the beginning of a canvas-covered walkway, edged with bright pink flowers, which meanders beside the Jordan River to the baptism site.  The site is a series of pools that is claimed to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  A few hundred meters more down the path we came to the present-day location of the Jordan River, where we dipped our toes into the water (a small relief in the 43 degree heat) and said hello to all the tourists visiting the site from the West Bank side (the river is only a few meters wide, and is the border between Jordan and Palestine).
  • Mount Nebo: After our visit to the river, we again wound our way back up the mountain to the Mount Nebo lookoff, where Moses looked out over the Promised Land.

Day 3:  Petra, Petra Kitchen

  • Petra: On day 3, we followed the Dead Sea highway for a couple of hours, then finished the last hour of our journey winding along the scenic King’s Highway, passing the Shoback Crusader Castle en route, to end up in Petra Village.  We headed straight for Petra, at least to get a couple hours of sightseeing in before sundown.  One of the most beautiful parts of Petra is the entrance – a two-kilometer hike through a canyon called the “Siq”.  It ends at the amazing tomb façade called “The Treasury” – what you’d probably all recognize from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  We made the steep ascent up to the “High Place”, from where you can look over the rest of ancient Petra and admire the pink carved rock faces that overlook the historic city.  The high place was once a place of animal sacrifice, and you can still see the altar, with drainage channels for blood, preserved, carved into the rock.  For a special treat at the end of the day, we hired donkeys to trot us back out to the entrance instead of the hike – somewhere between a fun and a terrifying experience J
  • Petra Kitchen: That night, we spent three hours learning how to cook Jordanian specialties in the Petra Kitchen.  Baba ganooj, lentil soup, tahini salad, meat “arais” (aka “Bedouin pizza”), and baked chicken with veg.  For dessert, we were served crescent-moon sweets served during Ramadan – a perfect end to a wonderful day.

Day 4:  Petra, Camel Ride into Wadi Rum, Sleep under the stars

  • Petra (take 2): The next morning, we were ready to go again at 7:30am – hiked back through the Siq then down through Petra City towards the final attraction – the Monastery.  All the donkey owners try to tell you it’s 1000 stairs up to this final building – but I’m convinced they’ve inflated that number just to sell more donkey rides up the stairway carved into the mountain.  We opted to go up on foot and made the ascent to this final beautiful building carved into the sandstone.  A café at the top was the perfect ending, from where we enjoyed the view of the Monastery while drinking more lemon and mint juice in the shade.
  • Camel Ride: Waving goodbye to Petra, we continued south for another hour and a half to Wadi Rum village.  Parking our car, we mounted four camels (Anyan, Shahan, Mahan, and Aswan) who carried us into the desert as the sun sunk lower in the sky.  Once our bottoms started to “feel” the bumpiness of the camel plodding, we jumped into a jeep to finish our journey into Bedouin Whispers  We scrambled up a nearby rock to watch the sunset over Wadi Rum, then ate a delicious Bedouin meal “zorb” – which is cooked under the sand.
  • Sleep Under the Stars: The most incredible way to end an incredible day – we dragged four beds out into the sand, climbed under our fleece blankets as the desert night temperatures started to drop, and watched the heavens turn into sparkling goodness.  Shooting stars, planets, shining satellites – they all caught our attention until our eyes finally closed.

Day 5: Wadi Rum Jeep Tour, Snorkeling in Aqaba

  • Wadi Rum Jeep Tour: Bright and early the next morning, after a breakfast of sweet tea, rusks, and thyme on flatbread, we climbed into the back of Salama’s 1981 Toyota 4×4 and headed to see the highlights of Wadi Rum.  The rock bridge, running up a sand dune, canyon carvings, Lawrence of Arabia’s spring…and otherwise stunning scenery from the back of this old jeep.
  • Snorkeling in the Red Sea: Our next stop was Aqaba.  Donning masks, snorkels, and flippers, we waddled out into the Red Sea waters, plunged our faces under water, and were met with the cheerful colours of the coral reef just offshore.  It really makes you feel like you’re up close and personal with the characters of Finding Nemo.  The reef we were exploring goes on for 2 km.  No way did we swim that far, but we gave it our best!

Day 6: Wadi Mujib, Escape the Room

  • Wadi Mujib: We travelled north from Aqaba along the Dead Sea highway, on our way back home.  On a whim, we decided to stop at Wadi Mujib.  A pricy entrance fee, but fully worth it!  With lifejackets on, we made our way along this deep canyon, up-river, against the constant current, climbing up small waterfalls and navigating through rapids.  One waterfall we had to climb more than once, as we discovered that it was actually a natural waterslide…so, of course, every time we made it to the top, we slid down it again for kicks.  The ending of the wadi is a beautiful waterfall – we made our way behind the waterfall, from where we just sat and enjoyed the spray and the pounding noise and the immense beauty of God’s magnificent creation!  Then, laying on our backs, we floated back downstream to the entrance (not quite as peaceful as it sounds as we constantly became lodged on rocks – but fun nonetheless).
  • Escape the Room: Finally back home that evening, we enjoyed hot showers, a home-made meal, and then had one more outing before the end of the trip.  About a four minute walk from our house is an awesome business called Escape the Room.  The premise of the experience is that your group is locked inside a small room.  Sixty minutes is put on the clock.  And you then have to discover how to escape by solving puzzles hidden throughout the room.  And we did it – at 59:31 (with 29 seconds to spare) – we solved the final puzzle and the door to our room miraculously opened!

Day 7:  Goodbye!

  • Final goodbye: Early the next morning, we hugged Sam and Amy goodbye as their budget tour of Jordan came to an end and they packed up for their next destination – the holy land.

Sam and Amy – we love you and we loved having you visit Jordan last week!  Can’t wait to explore Rwanda with you next!

Everyone else – we welcome you to come experience Jordan yourself J

I have a question for you:  If you’ve never been to Jordan – what do you most want to see when you visit?  If you have experienced Jordan before, what was your highlight?  Did we leave anything out of Sam and Amy’s tour?

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World Refugee Day: We thought it would only be 3 months…”

Steve and I are proud to work with Medair, a humanitarian aid agency working alongside the most vulnerable in crises around the world.  Our friend Bethany helped put this video together to commemorate World Refugee Day 2016 – please watch, enjoy, and pass it on!

There are now more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees, most of them in neighbouring countries in the Middle East. In Jordan, Medair provides psychosocial support and community health education, pays for urgent surgeries and maternal health care, and provides cash assistance and training on refugees’ legal rights. We help refugees live with dignity until home is no longer a far-off dream.