Grace Community Church STM Trip Recap

By Tara Hubbard

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From May 23-June 6, I was with a team of 8 dear believers from Grace Community Church. We went to Madagascar to support, build up and mutually encourage Faly and Lily Ravoahangy, their family and their church. While visiting, we were able to attend two different churches in Madagascar. One in Antananarivo, where Faly is an elder. One in Andasibe-Vavatenina, a small village on the north eastern side of Madagascar.

We went to church at FBB Ankadivato, in Antananarivo the first Sunday after we arrived. FBB Ankadivato is marked by hospitality and a true thirst to pursue Christlikeness. During night church, the 9 of us sat in front of the young adult’s group on a panel discussion about dating, singleness, and guy/girl friendships. The questions that were asked were so humble and heartfelt; they all desired to know how to love one another in a way that brings God the most glory. It was a little awkward at first because I’ve never sat on a panel, and I didn’t actually feel qualified enough to speak on the topic, but it ended up turning out well. By God’s grace, we were able to give some helpful answers and point the youth to God’s Word.

The next day our team grew from 9 to 16 as we added Faly, his son Samuel, his daughter Immanuel, and 3 church members from FBB Ankadivato (Miora, Astieldo & Faniry) who gave up their week to translate for us 24/7. That day we did some traveling and hanging out with lemurs at this lemur island thing. Most of them were friendly.. but one decided to use Brian’s hood as a toilet, while Hillary and I stood around and laughed. After we left Lemur Land (as I like to call it), we were able to celebrate Rachael’s 20th birthday and eat some super tasty food. Then we made our way to the village to meet some of the sweetest, loveliest people I have ever met.

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I had expressed to some of my friends before the trip that I was a bit discouraged with my own lack of preparation, and I just want to thank you for praying for me whenever you thought of that. One of the many things that the Lord taught me throughout the week was to set aside my own feelings of inadequacy and to be obedient. When you trust God and submit, the joy of the Lord keeps pouring onto you and out of you.

The joy of the Lord was a consistent theme for me throughout the entire week. I didn’t go more than a day without crying tears of joy to the Lord for His kindness in letting me be a part of such a ministry, and for His faithfulness in these people’s lives.

We had a long drive to get to the village after the lemur day and it had been raining heavily so the roads were super muddy and washed out at parts. God supplied us with this Malagasy Vin Diesel guy named Eric who drove us through 98% of the terrain with little to no concern. We were supposed to meet up with a few people who would help us carry a generator & projector for movie nights in the village, but we had to stop about 2kms or so away from the meeting point because the road became too muddy to drive up. Faly ran to go to the meeting point and tell the guys to meet us down the road.

A few minutes later, as we were trying to figure out what to do, we see Faly returning with a village of people behind him. And for once, that expression isn’t an exaggeration. Men, women, and children came down and began grabbing everything they could from us, to relieve us in carrying some of the burden. Malagasy kids wanted to carry our sleeping pads and mosquito nets. Two men grabbed thick bamboo rods, tied our generator to the rods with rope, and began to ascend the trail. Some Malagasy women took peoples’ backpacks, balancing them on their heads throughout the hike.

This alone was amazing to witness and praise God for, but as we all began to hike together the people of the village began to sing Malagasy hymns at the top of their lungs. We hiked for three and a half hours, in the dark, in the mud, (they were barefoot!) and they never once stopped singing, praising God for His kindness in sending people to give them the training to handle God’s Word.

It was crazy and humbling to realize that they were praising God for the arrival of Bible teachers. I don’t often consider the immense privilege it is to have study bibles and resources at my fingertips, and I often waste these resources with my own laziness. But to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48); I have been blessed with these resources by God, and it is expected that I use them to glorify Him and benefit others.

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The people from Andasibe were marked by joy and worship, and they worshipped out of true reverence and love for God. Throughout the week, they would use any of their downtime to sing praises to God in Malagasy. Even in children’s class, the kids would wait patiently & without prompting, start singing Malagasy hymns.

When we arrived at the village, it was around 10pm and everyone was exhausted. But rather than dropping off our stuff and heading to their homes for the night, these precious people gathered outside of the house we were staying and sung a joyful song to God. The lyrics (I’m told) were thanking God for safely delivering us on our long journey and delighting in the days to come. All our hearts were so full as fellow believers gathered around us and sung at the top of their lungs in their own language.

We spent 4 days in total in the village. Every day, Jonny and I and one of the translators (either Miora or Astieldo) would teach the children lessons based on the Fundamentals of the Faith lessons that Grace Community Church offers. Jonny taught the main lesson and I developed questions to ask the kids, or points I wanted to expand on with them after the lesson was over.

We taught bible classes two times a day, and between lessons, we would have a couple hours of downtime. We used that time to play soccer one day… Honestly, I played for like 10 minutes, but I thought I’d throw the soccer game in here because it was still fun and something that happened… and to swim and bathe in this really fun river. After the final lesson of the day, we would rely on Astieldo to come up with a game to play with the villagers, so that we could build relationships during the short time we had with them.

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At night, we set up a big screen, generator and projector, in the middle of the road so the villagers could watch a movie. For three nights, we played Christian movies with Malagasy voiceovers, and after the movie was over someone from our team would preach the gospel to the audience. Faniry, Astieldo, and Faly helped to translate the gospel message and one man came up after, wanting to know more about how to become a believer. He had mentioned that he had lived a life that he wasn’t proud of, and he felt trapped in his circumstances. Faly talked with him more and explained to him that he will always feel trapped in life’s circumstances if he doesn’t get right with God and confess and repent of his sins. He seemed to listen to what was being said and will hopefully attend church in the village!

Conceptually, I understand translators play vital roles, but since English is one of the most common languages, I’ve never depended on someone else to articulate what I’m trying to say. Thus, I’ve always stayed in a comfortable bubble of other people conveniently speaking English. Miora, Astieldo, and Faniry (and Faly!) were so crucial to our ministry, and we all were dependent upon them to translate what we wanted to teach. They also translated whenever we wanted to have a conversation with anyone. They never complained and they even went out of their ways to ask if we wanted to communicate with anyone specifically. Not only did I gain valuable insight on the importance of knowing other languages besides my own, and how to serve selflessly, I also gained 3 new friends which was one of the sweetest blessings on the trip!

It was amazing to watch the way our entire team was knit together in love for one another and above all, for Christ. We were united in one mind, one heart, one goal: to encourage the church and equip the saints. God brought us all together as a group and we were able to serve in the unique ways that He made us. Every person was so vital, every member of our group was being used. It was a real reminder that there are no second-string players in God’s kingdom because He uses the weak to shame the wise. We were all vital and an important piece because we were all committed to loving Jesus above everything else.

Each person died to themselves and overlooked preferences. There was repentance and forgiveness towards one another. There was generosity and there was selflessness. The sacrificial love that was displayed was a love that could only come from Christ. And it was never a burden to die to ourselves. When you fix your eyes on Jesus, the command to lay down your life for others is not burdensome. Jesus’ yoke is a light yoke to bear and we receive the fullness of grace when we put our hands to the plow & keep our eyes on the King. Pursue the Lord. Serve others. These commandments are SUCH a blessing from the Word of the Lord.

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For the 4 nights we stayed, we were fed amazing meals and lived in the main room of one of the biggest houses in the village. It was a huge sacrifice for the village to host us, and the food they gave us was really only for special occasions. The believers in Andasibe were more generous with what they had (which was close to nothing) than some believers I know in America, and most of them lived in shacks made of wood and bamboo. I noticed that their lack of possessions freed them up from the type of idolatry that I’ve experienced in the States and made them less distracted in general. Obviously, there are temptations to sin everywhere, because our human heart is what generates these idols, but it did seem sweeter to live this simpler life. It’s good to remember that contentment doesn’t come from material possessions, but that it’s an inward quieting of the heart that only God can supply.

Along that same train of thought, many of the believers in Andasibe didn’t own a personal bible. They memorized scripture and met three times a week to read and pray (and sing of course!) together. This was a great conviction to me because I don’t treat God’s Word as if my life depends on it, and I’m someone who owns 3 bibles. Along with that, I am very poor at sticking to the memorization of scripture and knowing the references. This should be something I take seriously for the purpose of encouraging believers and ministering to others, and yet my life is marked by laziness in this area instead of faithfulness.

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Another thing that really stuck out to me about the people in Andasibe was that they would ask us to pray for them whenever we had time to talk to them. It was clear that they loved and cherished prayer above riches or fine gold. They asked for us to pray for loneliness, contentment, growth & loving others. Their prayers were to love God better, and the only time they ever asked us to pray for a material possession was when they expressed the desire for more bibles in their village. Their prayers were godly prayers that were according to God’s will.

After only four days of serving and worshipping alongside the people in Andasibe, my heart was full. It was hard to leave this little village because it seemed like a glimpse into what heaven will be like. And it’s sad to think that I may never see any of those people again on earth, but I know that the reunion in heaven will be so sweet as we all will stand before the King and sing praises to Him.

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Pastor John MacArthur taught me to sleep… and more

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What more could a nobody from an island pictured as a haven talking lions and penguins bring to the chorus of thankfulness to God for the longevity, depth, breadth, and fruitfulness of John MacArthur’s ministry? Not much. But I wanted to join in anyway and add to everything that has been said in the past few days because I am grateful.

I first benefited from someone who benefited from MacArthur’s ministry, so I am like a grandchild of sorts. Coming from a French-speaking country I knew very little of him in my early Christian life. Then, in 2010, I was blessed to attend the T4G conference in Louisville and heard him live for the first time as he preached on the “Theology of sleep”. My favorite line from that sermon (maybe not verbatim) was “I don’t sleep a lot, but I sleep well, knowing that God is in control and causes the growth”. Amen to that!

Afterward, I started to avidly listen to his sermons and read a good few of his books. I was puzzled by the fact that all he said or wrote seemed so obvious as it could be drawn from the biblical text and yet so profoundly thought through and so powerfully delivered.

It was at that conference that the Lord confirmed in my heart and mind the growing desire I had to study His Word. I could not think of another place to do so than the Master’s Seminary from which I graduated in May 2017; still wondering how that happened until now. I am astonished at the Lord’s provision that also enabled me to be ordained and for our family to be sent out by Grace Community Church as missionaries back to my own country! Our lives have been so profoundly impacted by pastor John’s ministries; we praise the Lord for what He has done through him.

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So here are 5 things I have had the blessing to take away from my interactions with Pastor John, from sitting under his teaching and from observing all the other pastors that are connected to his ministry. These are 5 things that I will endeavor to emulate for as long as the Lord grants me to be in ministry:

1- Fervency

No matter the occasion, a conference, a Sunday evening at Grace Community Church, a luncheon or a private meeting, his passion for Scripture exudes from every word he uses and undergirds his delivery. He has often said that he never prepared a sermon for the sake of it but always to grow in his knowledge of God and love for Him. Well, both are so evident in his life. He is not only an example at the pulpit, but every preacher ought also to learn from his keenness to study and his drive to share the truth to all around him.

 

2- Faithfulness

We are celebrating how God has kept him faithful for 50 years. This speaks to both his steadfastness in ministry and his authenticity. He genuinely believes all that he has preached and hasn’t changed his approach nor his strategy for ministry over these years. Someone attended the church 20 years after their first visit and said after the sermon: “Well, nothing has changed.” In this day and age, everyone is after novelty; we can celebrate the values of dedication, persistence, and loyalty to Scripture displayed in the life of pastor John.

3- Focus

Having the apostle Paul as his model for ministry, John MacArthur can definitely say with him “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2, NASB) He is striving to exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ at every sermon. It is so remote from the rampant anthropocentrism of our days. It is also so remote from the attempts by many pastors to draw attention to themselves. Being single-minded allows you to be stable (James 1:8), and so he has been for 50 years and counting.

4- Fraternity

He set as a priority early in his ministry to meet with men every Saturday morning to train and disciple them. The fruits of these weekly meetings will only be fully ascertained when we are in glory. This 2 Timothy 2:2 approach is still applied through the different ministries that have been founded since such as the Master’s Seminary and the Master’s Academy International, and it is what binds us together. The priority given to training men is now not applied only in an office building on Roscoe Boulevard, but in close to 70 countries worldwide impacted by his stand for male spiritual leadership and maturity. A band of brothers, that is what we are, sharing a commitment for the church, personal holiness, love for the lost and expository preaching.

5- Family

Many of us have heard the famous quote from his son: “Dad, when you are at home, you are not that special.” Or maybe have you heard him talk about the deal he made with his children, “you come to my sermons, I come to your games.” John MacArthur is a family man. He has modeled over the years putting his family first. He has faithfully loved Patricia and has raised his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. He is a sweet grand-father, remaining available for his family despite the incredible amount of responsibilities he carries. He speaks kindly to them, never raises his voice and never loses patience.

He is also such a man to his friends and long-time church members. One of our greatest shared memory is the day when we celebrated the 92nd birthday of Charles Miller, a member of the church who was bed-ridden and who Lily and the kids visited weekly at the time. As they came in with balloons and a cake to surprise Charles, they were the one surprised to find John and Patricia there to also greet Charles for his birthday. John asked Charles what he wanted for his birthday, and Pastor John went himself to get the green tamales and milkshake he asked for. What an amazing display of kindness and care.

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For all of this and so much more, I celebrate the Lord’s goodness for enabling pastor John to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58, NASB). Soli Deo Gloria!

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Working with the Young, Reformed and Restless

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Madagascar 3M endeavors to “identify, train and equip pastors for the work of the ministry.” As per the nature of the “identification” leg of our ministry, we are bound to work a lot with young people. And we made the chose to include many youths in our staff and intern team. Working with young people is exciting and has a few particularities either to be managed or to take advantage of.

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I have personally been impressed by the skill set and ingenuity the youth can offer in different aspects of the ministry. With the technological advances in the means of communication and administration, the youth have an edge on those of us who are familiar with bush-line telegraphs and telexes. There are also many young Christians who have acquired a diploma in a professional field and are looking for ways to serve the Lord with their abilities. They come with an amount of dedication and enthusiasm that are often lacking in veteran workers. They are also often very entrepreneurial, daring to take risks and explore new avenues. Their creativity is boundless, and they can bring a fresher approach to the way we do ministry, not compromising on truth, but using ways to make the communication of core truths effective and efficient.

Distraction

I would not want some of you to think that I would like to put everyone over 30 on early retirement. Working with youth comes with its lot of challenges. Millennials are notorious to have the attention span of a 5-year old in the workplace. The monotonous regularity of some aspect of the ministry bores them to death, the rote tasks are abhorring to them and they end up often wishing they were doing something else. They can end up being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Scripture repeatedly compares the work of the ministry to the agricultural field. Perseverance and patience are thus necessary elements of being in the Lord’s service. Our young people need to re-learn the lost arts of meditation and contemplation.

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With their bubbling hormones and their quest for their own identity, managing relationships, in a team replete of godly young men and women, has revealed itself to be a very interesting exercise. They are at that age when they want to identify the one who will be their mate for life and are exploring their possibilities. I have had countless hours of “crush management”, pre and post-relationship counseling and answering the question “how do I know he/she is the God-sent one?”. The rubber meets the road here as it is about applying God’s Word to very real-life circumstances for these young people.

Discipleship

All of these are amazing opportunities for discipleship. My wife and I are passionate about pouring ourselves into the lives of these youths and see Christ being formed in them (Gal 4:19). We are eager to see our church applying the model set in Titus 2 where mature men invest in the lives of younger men, and mature women disciple younger women. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 calls us to be disciples of Christ making disciples of Christ of others. Discipleship is the heartbeat of the church. We have 2 Timothy 2:2 as a pillar verse to our ministry and we are so thankful for the fruits we have been able to reap already. We pray that the Lord will continue to bring along many young men and women eager to serve Him with the specific skill set and zeal He has granted them so that a new generation of godly church leaders would be raised, churches matured and the lost reached.

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The International Summit for Expository Preaching

In October 2017, Madagascar 3M was officially registered as a company immediately set things in motion to organize the first-ever conference for church leaders focusing on Expository Preaching. Then, the day came on October 10th and we are so thankful that God in His goodness allowed such a gathering to happen.

Our name stands for what we believe the minister of God should be: a preacher of God’s Word, a shepherd of God’s people and a servant of Christ. Our vision from the start has been to work with existing structures and contribute to the identifying, training and equipping of people for the work of the ministry. Nothing embodied more that vision and desire than this conference.

To see the 200+ people from different church denominations, from the city and the countryside, pastors and laymen, young and old, really filled my heart with gratitude.

For 4 days, the preeminence of God’s Word was asserted. We affirmed its inerrancy, its authority and its sufficiency. We looked at the responsibility of the preacher to preach the Word, as per the theme verse of this conference in 2 Tim 4:2. We delved into how he must do it and why He must do it. We examined what makes preaching a unique encounter with God.

I would like here to greet and thank the speakers and dear brothers who came to serve us for that week. We are from different countries, from different backgrounds, but we all share a passion for the exposition of the Word of God. They have been examples to me in following Christ, and their messages were all very encouraging and challenging.

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My prayer is that the conference was for those who attended it a blessing and a time of nourishment to their soul. I pray that it shaped convictions in their heart as to why and how the Word must be preached. I pray that relationships were built with like-minded brothers and sisters and that this would be the launch of a movement here in Madagascar promoting faithful exposition of the Word and a faithful representation of that Word by those who preach it.

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We at Madagascar 3M want to continue to serve and equip the church to do the work the Lord has called them to do. We want to be instruments to spread the glorious gospel of Christ in our land.

Isaiah 42:10 says:

“Sing to the LORD a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!
You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it.
You islands, and those who dwell on them.”

May the Lord’s name be sung unto the utmost parts of Madagascar.

We are already planning and inviting you to attend the second International Summit for Expository Preaching which will take place on October 9th to 12th 2019, Lord willing.

Therismos – Fueling the Lord’s Harvest

We are proud to announce the launch of Therismos Investment Company, a joint venture between Madagascar 3M and iBluesky, LLC headed by visionary Christian entrepreneur and Amazon best-seller author, Steve Adams.

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“Therismos” is the Greek word for “harvest” in Matthew 9:36-37: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Our motto is “Fueling the Lord’s harvest”. We are unapologetically committed to use the profits made to contribute to the advancement of the kingdom of God.

Despite its many resources, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Almost 75% of the population lives with less than a dollar per day. Churches in major cities and in the countryside are struggling financially. Pastors are usually bi-vocational holding an additional job as a farmer or a stock breeder.

The vision of Therismos Investment Company (TIC) is to contribute to help pastors and church leaders towards a sustainable income so they can focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. TIC also desires to support the evangelism and missions efforts carried out by our partner churches and Christian organizations. Finally, TIC has been established to contribute to making Madagascar 3M self-sustaining in a few years, and thus be a model to other local Christian businesses.

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Ethanol is an alcohol found in alcoholic beverages and is used in industry as a solvent or disinfectant. Concentrated and hydrated, ethanol becomes bioethanol, a biofuel that is mixed with gasoline or diesel for the consumption of engines. Bioethanol can also be used in homes, with specific stoves, as a replacement to coal or gas. It can be made from cassava or sugar cane. Cassava is going to be the crop of choice for the project because it is a crop that grows with minimal water, and also because people are stealing sugar cane to make illegal alcoholic beverages.

In the first phase, TIC will help countryside pastors to plant cassava and then sell the produced cassava to a partner company which produces ethanol.

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In the second phase, TIC will look at diversifying by exploiting other cassava-based products for the local and international market.

Finally, our ambition is to be able to build a Bioethanol distillation plant in order to give work to some of our church leaders and members, as well as to increase their income as they sell the finished product. This will also contribute to a change in practices as we will encourage people to move towards a green source of energy.

Please pray that the Lord would be merciful to us as we will soon plant the first batch of cassava. Pray for rain, for good soil, for growth and protection of the crops. A new venture for our organization, yet with the same God and the same desire to serve Him.

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Soles for souls

The discussions are raging currently within the evangelical church in the USA around social justice. These are I believe important ponderings, especially when it pertains to the preeminence of the Gospel. Yet, one of the things that sadden me is to see how easily it has become a war on semantics and a conflict of perspectives, to the expense of developing a Christ-like compassionate heart for others. I have been even more saddened because I saw a more empathetic attitude from the members of a non-Christian organization, Soles 4 Souls, who were here in Madagascar to give away shoes to the poorest.

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I have been observing these ladies washing dirty feet, hugging children, wiping snotty noses and giving away even their own shoes and clothes to the people we visit.

They are not doing it for a photo-op, but out of love. They are all from different religious backgrounds and walks of life, but they all share the same heart and zeal for people.

In the span of 7 days, we were able to distribute shoes in 7 different locations, giving away footwear to children aged 4 to 14 in partner children clubs. The monitors within these clubs are giving their time, energy and often from their own money to take care of these children every Saturday; it was so good to see the smile on their faces as brand-new shoes were placed on the feet of the children they love and share the Word of God with.

Even though it was a short visit, these ladies have developed a heart for our country and I am thankful that the Lord brought them our way. I am thankful that Soles4souls chose to entrust Madagascar 3M with the organization of the trip. I am grateful for all the interns and volunteers who helped us with the planning and the distribution.

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As we gave to the “little ones” (Mat 10:42), we were the ones who gained the more. I pray that this partnership will continue in the future. These children are being taught from Scripture every week; the salvation of their souls remain our utmost priority. But they do need shoes, and clothes, and school gears, and health care, and so much more. Are we not to help them if we can?

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I am not confused about the priority and singularity of the gospel, but as gospel bearers in a country where poverty, injustice, and corruption are vividly part of our daily reality, every believer in this country ought to contemplate how he practically can live out loving his neighbor as himself. Why are we not as Christians pouring out into the lives of others around us the love we have undeservedly received from above?

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Material aid has never been and will never be the first responsibility of the church; making disciples of the crucified Christ is. But along the way, I pray and challenge us as individual Christians to not close our eyes to the depravity around us, not only at the spiritual level but also at the physical level. Needs are everywhere, within the church and outside. The same heart of compassion compelled Jesus to teach people many things and feed them (Mark 6:34-44). May we all seek wisdom from the Lord and follow His example.

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