From The Field

Part of our team debriefing right after the outreach.

With our first SMI Philly outreach under our belt, I wanted to send you a report “from the field” that I hope will encourage you and guide your prayers over the next three weeks as the project continues —

Yesterday afternoon, we held our first Summer Medical Institute (SMI) Philly outreach for the year.  Based in Philadelphia’s second-poorest community, we offer free health screenings and discuss spiritual matters with anyone and everyone who wants to.

Although we held four hours of training the day before, including what to say when we knock on doors and how to address spiritual concerns, we came away with a profound sense that there’s really no script for this kind of thing.  In all honesty, that can be kind of scary, and all of us had some level of anxiety even though most of us had done it before.

After all, following Jesus can land you in some pretty interesting situations.  Like a community hair salon, where we wound up spending our entire afternoon.

At first, I’ve got to admit, it was a little awkward.

Although the owner had invited us, when we opened the door we discovered other members of our team were already there due to a change of plans.  No one on our specific team had ever done the screenings we were about to offer.  Demographically, none of us looked like we belonged there, something that was not lost on the salon’s patrons.  And, as a guy, I felt a little out of place.

But, there we were, and we weren’t about to miss the opportunities God had put before us.  So, with hair dryers blazing all around us, and our interpreter as our primary ‘lifeline’ between us and the Spanish-speaking customers, we started screening anyone who was interested.

Our last interaction turned out to be our best one.

“Maria” (not her real name) is a woman in her early forties, and she was clearly worried about her health.  Although she had been seen by a local clinic, she was not getting adequate services for her high blood pressure and GI issues.  Without getting into all the details, she had been eating just once a day to avoid embarrassment at work.  And, as the single parent of a two-year-old, she was (rightly) scared about what would happen to him if her health didn’t improve.

Although we weren’t able to do much for her medically on the spot, we did connect her with Esperanza, the local, Christ-centered clinic that will provide excellent care for her.  And, although she wasn’t ready to discuss spiritual concerns deeply in a public setting, she responded to our offer of pastoral follow-up, even requesting a worship service in her home.  Only God knows how Maria’s story will end, but our team left encouraged, feeling privileged to be part of God’s work and believing she will receive the medical and spiritual follow-up she needs.

So, although the day didn’t unfold anything like we expected it to, God’s script was better than ours.  And that’s exactly what we needed to see – practically – on our first outreach.  Strengthened by that experience, we’re resolved to trust Christ for every interaction we have over the next three weeks:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If there’s any ‘script’, it’s Him!

Please continue to pray for us, the people we’ll be meeting, and our partners who will be following up in the days ahead.  Thanks, as always, for your heartfelt prayers!

With Christ’s love,

Bryan & Sharon

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SMI Outreaches Starting NOW!

Students in small groups during yesterday's evangelism training

In just a few hours, we will hold our first Summer Medical Institute (SMI) Philly outreach of the year!  We will be offering free health screenings as a service to the Hunting Park (in North Philly) community, and using that as a bridge to share about Christ to anyone who will listen.

Here are some quick prayer requests for our outreaches and other aspects of the project:

  • Pray that the evangelism training I led yesterday would be helpful as we do the outreaches.
  • Please pray that our team of 20 students and other healthcare providers would trust in God, not ourselves, for every moment of the outreach.  Pray that we would not be fearful of rejection and not knowing what to say in difficult interactions.
  • Pray that we would be mindful of the spiritual battle all around us, and ask God for help ‘in the moment.’
  • Pray for the people we will meet on our outreaches.  Many of them are un/under-insured, in significant poverty, and facing many other challenges most of us have not experienced.  At the same time, this is a blessing because often a sense of physical need translates into a sense of spiritual need, and we have much to learn from them.  We long for them to know Jesus deeply.
  • Of the 20 students on project, only 4 this year are men, so pray that I (Bryan) would invest in Alan, Dan, Luke, and Sam deeply.  At the same time, I am so thankful for Sharon, who is spending a good deal of time on project and ministering to the women, so please pray for her as well.
  • Please pray for the many graduate healthcare “faculty” who will be joining us at various points throughout the project.  They will model for the students how to care for “the whole person”, but more importantly just “living life” with the students and investing in them informally.  Pray for us, also, as we do some teaching throughout the project, the next session being Thursday morning.
  • I’d like to express real thankfulness for Medical Campus Outreach (MCO), another medical ministry in the city, and Esperanza Health Center, a local Christian clinic, who are sponsoring SMI and have invested so much of their time and resources in this project.  So many people have come together to make this project a reality, and we are truly grateful to be joining them in this Kingdom work.  Please pray that God blesses them in every way.
  • Finally, I will be at SMI Texas next week (Monday 18th – Friday 22nd), serving in a similar capacity, before returning for the third and final week of SMI Philly. Please pray for my time at SMI Texas, where roughly half of the students are from the Philadelphia area.

As always, we are thankful for you, our partners in this work.  We have a deep sense that you are there with us through your prayers and gifts that make it all possible.  We can’t wait to share more with you as the project unfolds.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By God’s grace, this past month was another solid season of ministry.  Here are a few highlights, as well as a look ahead:

Men’s & Women’s Nights

God gave us two great nights with key men and women from around the city!  For our men’s night, I led the guys through a study in 1 Samuel 17, which you’ll recognize as the story of David and Goliath.  For our purposes, we were considering insights on what it means to be a godly man.  I chose this topic because we’ve noticed fewer men becoming involved, and especially taking leadership, at our local healthcare campuses.  We are incredibly thankful for the many women God has given us, but we want to see men stepping up as well, and feel that this was another important step toward achieving that goal.

During women’s night, Sharon led the ladies in a study on bitterness and forgiveness.  As she interacted with the women on this topic, it became clear that it was something everyone was wrestling with in ways that are very real and personal.  In His wisdom, God had matched those who came with what they needed to hear.

Intermed

Another key event this month was “Intermed”, a student-driven gathering for worship, fellowship, teaching and, of course, eating.  Although our ministry did not personally sponsor the event, a number of different ministries and ‘people groups’ came together in making it happen.

Our informal hope for the evening was that the students would come away with a picture of what their own futures in medicine might look like as they considered how God had led our two speakers.  They were incredibly different: one, a younger geriatrician (treats older patients) at Penn, the other, an older nurse practitioner in the Dominican Republic who practices medicine and also raises up national pastors.  At the same time, both these men are tremendously dedicated to serving Christ through healthcare, and the students came away inspired to follow Christ into their own futures.

I was thankful to have played a role in the planning process, in addition to having many significant conversations during the evening and in the days that have followed.  It was a tremendous time of connecting with key students, as well as meeting new ones that I hope to influence in the months ahead.

Upcoming Plans

In the next few months, I’m excited to participate in several important events.  The first is our annual CMDA National Convention in California.  It will feature some of the very best speakers in the healthcare field, and I will be traveling with one of our key student leaders.  Since he will be graduating in May, it will be one of my last extended opportunities to spend time with him, which I cherish.  At this year’s convention, CMDA is also rolling out its National Student Council, a student-driven group designed to shape the future of healthcare and CMDA, so I’m excited to get in on the ground floor.  And, as always, the convention promises to be a rich time of networking and ideas.

As the summer approaches, as usual, my family and I hope to participate in parts of both SMI Philadelphia (July 9-30) and SMI Texas (July 2-30).  If you’ve been with us for some time, you know these are medical missions projects that teach participants how to share their faith through medicine while living in community.  They’re absolutely critical in that they allow us undistracted seasons of investing in the students, something that simply isn’t nearly as possible during the academic year.  In fact, we get more time with them during project than we do throughout the rest of the year combined.  This is discipleship at its best!

SMI Philadelphia is easy for us to participate in since it’s so close (1/2 hour), but SMI Texas is naturally more challenging.  At the same time, we are passionate about it because it allows the students to truly get away from the city and out of their comfort zone.  It also affords our family the opportunity to live on site with them, which is key both for us and the students.  One of the ways we will decide whether we should go is by seeing if the Lord provides the needed funds (about $5,000).

And so, without any fanfare, we want to put this need before you.  If you feel God leading you to contribute, would you please let us know in the next two weeks?  This will help us be good stewards of the summer God has placed before us.

Regardless of your decision, we thank God for each one of you.

Warmly,

Bryan & Sharon

Please join us in prayer/praise:

  • Praise God for wonderful men’s/women’s nights.  Please pray for lasting fruit among the students.
  • Praise God for a focused season of prayer and fasting leading up to the Intermed retreat.  We believe that much of its success was due to this foundation, largely driven by the students.
  • Pray for my times of investing with key men from around the city: Sam, Erik, Dan, Burton, Shane, Loren and others.  My heart is that God will take these men and multiply their lives in those around them.  Pray also that God will continue introducing me to other key men around the city.
  • Pray for our medical evangelism (“International Saline”) training ‘taster’ at Drexel on 5/3, and especially that believers among students, residents and “attending” physicians would come and get excited for the full version training in the fall.
  • Pray for my time at the National Convention (4/28-30), and God’s wisdom/provision for SMI Texas.

Stories of God’s Faithfulness: SMI Texas, Part 2

In my last post, I promised I’d send along a few more stories of God’s faithfulness.  I think you’ll find they speak for themselves!

Denis & Gina pray with a patient

– One team member (Doug) was looking for a bathroom and approached a man he later described as deeply lost. Later, the man was surprisingly the first patient at clinic and said he was there for GI issues, but later confided that he “had to come back because Doug truly ‘saw me’ when he looked at me.” Turns out he was the last member of his immediate family alive – he had been involved in drug wars in Mexico, and had been planning on going back to kill the people who had killed his family. But after coming to Christ, he cried for an hour (“I don’t cry”) and said, “Now I don’t need to go back and kill them anymore” [because of what Christ did for him].

– Our teams would stop and pray for the people at each house, even if they were not there or didn’t answer. As Dr. Johnson was driving around to pick up one team, they saw a woman at the end of the street, so he encouraged the team to go back and talk with her. By the time they got there, she was gone. But Mari (a young translator) called out to her two times and eventually she responded. Later, she told the team that she was hiding from them, but prayed, “God, if you’re real, you’ll send them back.” They did come back, but still she hid.  But she finally responded and then gave her life to Christ!

Heavy rains threatened our last outreach, but God provided!

– On our last outreach, my team met Angelica, whose husband had been killed by (presumably Mexican) authorities on a trip to Mexico in March. His nine-year-old daughter, whom we met, was there when it happened. In addition to her daughter, her household includes her five other children and other, extended family. After all this became clear, I had the privilege of leading Angelica to Christ while our translator led her niece to the Lord as well. The look of peace and joy on her face was quiet, but deep. It was also wonderful to have my oldest daughter, Carissa, there to experience God’s power.

Thanks again for your love, prayers, and gifts that made this trip possible!!!

SMI Texas Update

Getting ready for an outreach to the colonias

Five young children, three impulsive chickens, and a distracted, frazzled mother whose visiting sister had been trying to share the gospel with all day.

This is the situation one of our SMI Texas door-to-door outreach teams encountered as it entered a sparse home in one of Macallen’s colonias (think rural ghettos). It was hardly the stuff classic conversion stories are made of.

But God had been at work. As the team entered the home, all of a sudden the children became calm. The woman became spiritually-open and focused. After she received the free health screenings, she also received something – or Someone – far more important: Jesus Christ.

By the time our family’s airplane touched down in South Texas last Monday night, God had already been powerfully at work through the SMI team for two weeks. We have enjoyed the privilege of joining what the project’s directors are calling the most spiritually responsive climate they have ever seen during SMI’s eleven years here. On Monday and Tuesday alone, 33 people came to Christ through the outreaches! Local pastors are already following up with these new believers.

As Sharon and I participated in the outreaches, we were so encouraged by what God is doing. It’s exciting to see the students – many of whom are from Philadelphia – powerfully incarnating the love of Christ to “the least of these.” This hands-on experience, in addition to watching older Christian physicians modeling whole-person care, is radically transforming the way they think about the practice of medicine.

Thank you so, so much for making this trip possible. Your investment in us is reaping eternal rewards!

For the Kingdom,

Bryan & Sharon

PS – Within the next week, I’m going to send along a few more pictures and stories from our outreaches.  There simply was not enough space here!

Please join us in the following praise and prayer requests from our time away:

  • Praise for God’s lavish grace in bringing so many to faith through the team.
  • Praise God for the many spiritually significant conversations He’s given us with the students. By the time we left on Tuesday, we had been “grafted in” to the team!
  • Praise also for God’s blessing on my (Bryan’s) teaching. I spoke on “how people change” from a biblical perspective, and the implications for the students and their future patients. The students also asked to give another talk I had prepared on “The Ancient Principle of Sabbath and Why You Can’t Survive a Life in Medicine Without It.”
  • The team is currently wrapping up the project, which will end this Saturday. Please pray for successful closure and safe travels home.
  • As we witnessed profound poverty on our outreaches, Sharon and I are realizing again just how blessed we are. At the same time, God is showed us that the people we met are rich in other ways – their humility and appreciation for relationships and openness to Christ. Please pray that these lessons “stick” and come home with the students and our family.

SMI Philadelphia – and Texas!

Whip cream fight!

Last time, I provided an update on God’s work through us at SMI Philadelphia.  This time, I want to let you know what God did during the project’s last few days, and “preview” our time at SMI Texas, which will begin July 19th.

Looking Back: SMI Philadelphia

By all accounts, SMI Philadelphia was a resounding success, especially considering it was a pilot project that really came together in just the last few months.  Here are a few highlights from the last few days:

  • we held two more days of outreach, some of which focused on following-up with those who had shown interest
  • the leadership/planning team held a final debriefing session that was extremely valuable for thinking about improvements for next year
  • while on project, one student received the blessing of her parents to move to Philadelphia (from S. Dakota!) this coming year to find a job while she applies to medical and physician assistant programs.  She had been here before on other projects, but God used this recent mission to “seal” her enthusiasm for this community, and to increase her vision for serving it through healthcare!
  • on Friday, we held our “Return Training” to help the students think about living out what they learned on project as they transition back home.  I was thankful to, along with others, lead this day-long session.
  • everyone involved in SMI – students, faculty, and neighborhood partners – held a celebration banquet Friday evening to rejoice over all that God did during our two weeks together
  • on Saturday, our family joined the students and others as we said our goodbyes.  We’re already planning on an SMI “reunion” for the fall!

For prayer requests, please see our previous post.

Looking Forward: SMI Texas

Chris with Hector, one of our translators

From July 19th-27th, our entire family will be heading south to participate in SMI Texas, which begins today.

Please pray for:

  • details to come together as we get ready and travel – Pray for Matthew especially as we travel – although he will be medicated, the results are sometimes unpredictable.
  • our love for each other on project.  Pray that God gives us real patience and unity – not only to honor Him, but so that we can serve as an example of a Christ-like family to others on project.
  • the medical outreaches – pray that many come to Christ, and that our team is changed into Christ’s image, during these times.
  • for my teaching – please ask that God gives me wisdom in preparing, and power in presenting what He would have me say.  I’ll be speaking on rest, a topic that’s critical to an overworked population!
  • for lasting impact – in our lives, the students’ lives, and that our time in Texas serves as a “springboard” for further ministry when we all return to Philadelphia.
  • for God’s financial provision – at this point, our family is $1,000 short of covering our costs for the project.  If you’d like to contribute, you can find giving instructions (via mail or online) by clicking the “giving” link on the right side of the page.  Just mention code “SMI HRL 2010” to make sure your contribution is directed properly.

Thanks so very much – we’ll keep you posted as the summer unfolds!

Bryan & Sharon

SMI Update: Community Outreach

Ven, Espiritu, Ven (Come, Spirit, Come,)

Y llename Senor (And fill me, Lord,)

con tu preciosa uncion (with your precious anointing)…

te quiero conocer (I want to know you)

These words, sung in Spanish (Spanish-speakers, please forgive the lack of proper accents!) during worship at our home church for SMI Philadelphia, capture so much of what God has done in and through us on project.  God has filled us with “His precious anointing” so that we can serve the community and know Him more deeply.

I’ve sent along two updates from our students, but now I want to update you more personally myself about our outreaches in particular.

By all accounts, the outreach to the community has been a resounding success.  Nearly everyone in this section of North Philadelphia (Hunting Park) is medically uninsured, so they have appreciated the free medical screens we’ve offered, and this has opened many doors for the gospel.  Several people have come to Christ, and many others have shown deeper interest.  For example, today Dave and Lauren had the opportunity to share about Christ with a local Jehovah’s Witness.  Although she was not yet ready to put her trust in Jesus alone, her idea of who Christians are was changed through her time with Dave and Lauren.

On a related note, we’ve recognized that the neighborhood has blessed us as much – perhaps more – than we’ve blessed them.  Most of the people here don’t have much materially, but they are rich in other ways: they value relationships, they’re willing to slow down to help and talk, and (most importantly) they recognize their needs.  This creates fertile soil for the gospel, and has opened a window for our team into a world that is so different than the one we inhabit.

Finally, God is using our team to encourage the considerable number of believers in the community.  Though redeemed, many of them have difficult lives that are characterized by heartbreak and loss. Santia (pictured above with Deborah and Dave), for example, mentioned four or five family members who are experiencing serious illnesses. We have been able to pray with, and comfort, them.  This too is the work of Christ through us!

As the project heads toward completion on Saturday, please keep the following requests in mind:

  • pray for the Holy Spirit to continue leading unbelievers to Himself through our efforts, and that He would transform us even as we minister to others.
  • pray for physical and spiritual stamina.  At this point in the project, and with temperatures in the mid-nineties, patience is in shorter supply.  We want to be unified in our commitment to the Lord and each other!
  • pray that God gives me, and our other leadership team members, wisdom as we continue to “think for” the team both logistically and spiritually.
  • pray for God’s blessing as our local church partner, Spirit & Truth Fellowship, follows up with those who’ve shown spiritual interest after we leave.
  • pray that God enables our team to take what we’ve learned from the community and apply it in “normal life” after the project ends.  On Friday, we will have our “Return Training” to get us ready for “re-entry”.

Thank you so very much for your prayers!  They continue to create an open door for the gospel here in North Philadelphia!

Warmly,

Bryan & Sharon

Summer Medical Institute Begins Tomorrow!

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.  – Matthew 4:23

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  –  Jeremiah 29:7

Just 6 months ago, our SMI Philly planning team held its first meeting in the dead of winter.  Should we even attempt to restart SMI here after a ten-year absence?  We had no infrastructure, no students, and (in my opinion) not nearly enough time.

But thanks to God and faith-full others, tomorrow 10 students and 7 staff (myself included) from Philadelphia and the Eastern seaboard will converge at an out-of-the-way, nearly-invisible home in Northern Philadelphia to begin the adventure God has placed before us.

Although we have a schedule, we know that God is not bound to it, and we expect to be surprised as God does “more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

Our mission is to partner with God Himself in teaching and healing the city.  Our team will be doing free health screens, sharing the gospel, receiving instruction, and worshiping and living together.

Even as we minister to the community, we will receive its ministry to us.  People here understand their brokenness and many have learned to deeply rely on God.  Relationships are more important than stuff and efficiency.

As for me, I’ve helped with planning and strategic thinking for the project, and will serve as one of two on site pastors.  I will go on several of the outreaches, handle part of the instruction, help make needed adjustments and keep a pulse on the “spiritual temperature” of the project.  Sharon and the kids will be joining me as often as possible.

And so, I’m writing to beg you for your prayers.

Pray for protection from the enemy, who is real but subject to Christ.   Pray also for my family and I to remain connected to the Lord and each other during this intense time.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the community, and our own, to Jesus.  And, that He would make our efforts “stick” as local churches follow-up.

Pray for our team of students, staff and medical faculty.  Not only for our ministry, but for us, for our dependency and transformation.

Pray for our students by name: Dave, Dave, Dave & Lauren (married), Chris, Zach, Jenna, Casey, Johanna, Danielle and Kelli, and for Sharon and I as we minister to them.

Pray also for our staff team: ChrisAnne, Jose, Karen, myself, Steve, and Susanna.  We will need wisdom and endurance.

Finally, pray for God to multiply our efforts well after the project ends.  In many ways, its end is just the beginning as we hope to build on SMI throughout the year and expand the project next summer.

THANK YOU for coming alongside us as the journey begins.  I’ll keep you posted along the way!

For the Kingdom,

Bryan & Sharon

Update on God’s Work

This update is a series of short updates on what God is doing through us.  You’ll find a short report, and prayer requests, under each section.

On Campus

As March draws closer, we are now solidly into the ‘core’ of the semester.  “The grind” of the academic calendar is starting to take its toll on many, bringing problems to the surface.  God has given me a number of opportunities to counsel students going through relational challenges.  These included thorny dating issues, and some tension on one of our campus leadership teams.  By God’s grace, all of these situations are heading in the right direction!

Campus leadership team transitions are also taking place.  This has already occurred at PCOM, and will happen at Drexel in early April.  Please pray that God provides momentum at PCOM after a slower start, and that God gives us wisdom in selecting excellent leaders at Drexel.

In a previous email, we mentioned our hope that a physician friend of ours would be coming to the area so that we could continue expanding our ministry.  In God’s wisdom, our friend will complete the next stage of his training in New York, rather than Philadelphia.  We view this as God’s wisdom, though, and already we’ve seen signs from believing physicians at Penn (where we had hoped to expand) that they are increasingly ready to step up and do more with the students.  Please pray for this effort, and one of our council members, Dr. Jim Kirkpatrick, as he provides leadership.

Pray also for an interfaith forum taking place at Drexel on March 25th.  Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Paul Tripp, so please pray that God helps him present the gospel in a compelling and relevant way.  Pray also that the believing students follow-up with their peers, and that believing students from other campuses come out.  My hope is that each of our five medical campuses will get excited and do something similar in the 2010-11 academic year.

Support-Raising

The Lord blessed us with a phenomenal December, and we met our budget for the year!  THANKS SO VERY MUCH to all of you who contributed, and especially to those who were able to give something extra.  God has also blessed us with $650 in new monthly support since January 1st.

Please keep praying for new monthly partners, and contacts, as we continue progressing toward full-funding.

Summer Plans

This summer, our family is praying about several missions opportunities, both involving students from Philadelphia.  The two primary opportunities are the Summer Medical Institutes (SMI) in Texas (7/3-31) and Philadelphia (6/12-26).   While we have been to the project in Texas before, the Philadelphia site is beginning again as a pilot project that we hope to expand in future years.  (I have enjoyed serving on its planning team).  At this time, we believe that SMI Texas would be the best option for our family since we would be able to live onsite with the students for an entire month, whereas the Philadelphia project is shorter, and its housing cannot accommodate us.  However, the financial cost (approx. $7,000) for SMI Texas is significant, and it would take time away from our summer support-raising efforts, so please keep this matter closely in prayer.  We know that, however God leads, we will be blessed.

On that note, we consider ourselves blessed to have each one of you on our support team, regardless of the role God has led you to play.  Please know that we are deeply thankful for you!

Bryan & Sharon Stoudt

Discipleship in Community


It’s official – the honeymoon is over.

As we begin Week Three of SMI, the ‘real me’ in each of us has come to the surface as the heat of the project, both literal and figurative, has pushed us to our limits. We’d like to say we’ve handled it perfectly, but we haven’t. Roommates have argued over bedtime routines, leaders have questioned the validity of our schedule, and project members have struggled to do their share of the work. Everyone has come to see what we meant when we told them SMI would be “the hardest summer you’ll ever love”.

Through it all, though, God has been so faithful! We are learning the reality of God’s grace described in 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [and, I might add, even our sin]. In God’s mercy, our weaknesses and sins, though a threat to the unity of our group and mission, have served to show us who we truly are and how desperately we need Christ. They have given us opportunities to speak – and receive – the truth in love. And they have demonstrated that Christian community is vital for our discipleship and growth in Christ.

This may not sound radical, but it is. Long after SMI is over and the hectic pace of medical school makes Christian community seem nearly impossible, the students will recall their time here. They will remember how God used the community powerfully throughout the summer, and seek to recreate that on their campuses even when it’s difficult. They will invest in others, showing them through word and deed what it means to practice healthcare for God’s glory. And, perhaps most importantly, they will teach those who come after them to do the same so that new disciples will be made until the Lord returns.