Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Cross International Church Connect: Hurricane Earl Disaster Relief in Belize

This is something we posted at CrossInternational.City Church Connect. As we've watched Hurricane Earl sweep through the Caribbean,  Central America, and southern Mexico, colleagues from Cross International have been on the ground in Belize connecting with ministry partners and coordinating relief efforts. Keep up to date here.
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Since we first asked for your prayers, Cross mobilized a team to connect with our long-term partners in Belize to survey Hurricane Earl disaster relief needs. In advance of this trip, we’ve ordered 15 pallets of prepositioned Vitafood and 19 Medical Missions Packs that will be airlifted later this week.
As our team drives around Belize City, the hired cab had to avoid the tin sheets and thatched roofs - the items that many houses are constructed from - that were scattered everywhere. All visible evidence of damage point to winds in excess of 100 MPH rather than the 80 MPH wind gusts reported in the news. Belize City is situated at and below sea level (in some places) where storm surge was well over six feet.

In addition to the visible evidence of wind damage, the odor of sewage in hurricane-borne water was overwhelming. Sanitation problems are everywhere including at a Cross International partner school that has been commandeered by local authorities as an evacuation center. Even the hotel our team is staying in has no water due to post-hurricane disruption.

We are very thankful that our ministry partners in Belize are collaborating with us to distribute emergency food and medical supplies in coming days. As stated above, 15 Medical Missions packs containing 5,700 treatments are being airlifted this week. Pray that the Lord goes before us as we plan through the logistics of emergency food and medical distributions.

What follows is the general composition of a Medical Missions pack:
  • Aspirin 325mg 500tab
  • Oral Rehydration Salts 1scht
  • Multi-Vitamins + Iron, Children's Chewable, Animal Shapes 250tab
  • Cephalexin 250mg 500cap
  • Acetaminophen 500mg,  1,000cap
  • Amoxicillin 250mg 100cap
  • Amoxicillin Powder for Oral Suspension 125mg/5ml 80ml
  • Acetaminophen 160mg/5ml, Children's 118ml
  • Silver Sulfadiazine Cream 1% 85gm
  • Hydrocortisone 1% Cream, Maximum Strength Anti-Itch with Aloe 28gm
  • Triamcinolone Acetonide 0.025% Cream 15gm
  • Cefuroxime Axetil 125mg/5ml Oral Suspension
  • Ceftin 100ml Multivitamin, Performance Multi Energy Formula 300tab
  • Vitamin D3 Baby Drops 400iu 15ml
  • Imodium A-D Loperamide HCI 2mg, Anti-Diarrheal 24cap
  • Dextromethorphan HBr 15mg
  • Robitussin Adult Cold Cough Liqui-Gels Ibuprofen 200mg
  • Advil 200mg 50tab
  • Ibuprofen 50mg/1.25ml
  • Infant's Advil Concentrated Drops 15ml
  • Multivitamin, Women's Prenatal 180cap

Causes That Get the Most Love

When international charitable giving is discussed in local circles, inevitably someone will say, "What about the needy and hungry right here in our city? Shouldn't we help them too?" That's not a question I disagree with or have a strong opinion about other than the poor here in the U.S. have much more access and infrastructure for responding for needs.
For international giving, infrastructure for aid also exists, but it is not nearly as stable as domestic charitable outreach. That said,  I found this article interesting. I rather than provided a link back because it's a report that requires a sign in. Click here if you're interested in signing up for a subscription to reports from philanthropy.com

International Aid Groups Get Most Media Attention of Nonprofit Causes, Study Says

Organization: Marketing firm M+R
Summary: The median number of media mentions in 2015 for large U.S.-based nonprofits was 93, according to the study. International aid groups led the way with a median of 261 mentions by news organizations, driven by major events including the deadly earthquake in Nepal and the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis.
Groups that battle poverty in the United States saw the least coverage, with a median of 42 media hits in 2015.
The weakest month for news coverage: January, for groups in all categories. This may be because nonprofits ease up on outreach to journalists following their all-absorbing year-end fundraising work, the study says.
The study was based on a sample of 40 nonprofits from the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 400 biggest charities. Researchers studied how many times those 40 groups were named or cited by 50 major news outlets including the Associated Press, NPR, and Fox News.

Analyzing Media Coverage

When groups assess their media strategies, leaders should look at what types of media are providing the most hits and if there are specific times of year when there are gaps in coverage, among other things, the study concludes.
Among other findings:
  • Poverty groups saw their media hits peak in November, including a slew of national feature stories on holiday bell-ringers.
  • Daily newspapers gave nonprofits the most coverage: They published stories mentioning nonprofits at a rate six times that of major broadcast-news shows and 16 times the rate of national magazines.
  • Nonprofit have a harder time scoring feature stories. Fewer than one in 10 media hits were features, while the balance were just mentions.
Send an email to Megan O’Neil.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Local Missionary Distributes Goods in Sudan and Ecuador

Internally displaced refugees of South Sudan's Civil War. Photo credit: Cross International

This article was originally published in the Good News of South Florida.

While we were packing to head to South Sudan to serve those in need, a 7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador on April 16, 2016,” said Mark Mosely of Pompano Beach, FL, based Cross International where Mosely is director of Gifts in Kind (GIK). Mosely also serves as Co-chair for the Global Relief Alliance. While he was launching a project to respond to a man-made humanitarian crisis, a natural catastrophe resulting in human tragedy struck. Mosely juggled the management of GIK relief responses to two different disasters while in transit to and on the ground in war-torn South Sudan, the world’s youngest country.

GIK defined            
Gifts in Kind (GIK) donations are goods and services given as charitable donations rather than cash. It is argued that GIK giving provides market efficiency that cash donations can’t provide. For example, donated drugs help a charitable organization operate at a much lower cost than it would if it had to use man-power and cash to acquire medicines needed for relief operations. The donation of goods already at hand, especially during times of disaster relief, go much further than using donated cash to purchase the same goods at market prices. GIK are a significant, strategic component for organizations that have a long-term development aid approach as Cross International does.

History of War in Sudan

First civil war
Sudan is a country with a long history of war in the latter half of the 20th century, spilling into the twenty-first century. Conflict is ongoing today in regions of both Sudan and newly formed South Sudan. The first Sudanese Civil War began in 1955 when the predominantly Christian and animist southern tribes demanded more representation in the Muslim dominated government in the north. The south also wanted regional autonomy and shared control of profits pumped out of the oil-rich southern regions. The conflict ended in 1972 with a peace treaty that proved too weak and one-sided to satisfy the south.

Second civil war
In 1983, a second civil war started. Many geo-political analysts say that it is the same civil war separated by an eleven-year cease fire. In the First Sudanese Civil War that lasted 17 years, a half-million people lost their lives. In the Second Sudanese Civil War, the ugly consequences of the conflict were two million deaths blamed on war, disease, or famine, and four million homeless, displaced souls. The second civil war ended in 2005 in victory for the south resulting in a comprehensive peace agreement including South Sudanese freedom to vote for their own independent country in what is known as the 2011 referendum.

In 2012, fresh but brief conflict broke out between Sudan and South Sudan over management of oil regions.

Ongoing civil wars in Sudan and South Sudan
Since then, strife has not ceased. Ongoing conflict in Darfur in Sudan’s western regions continues. The United Nations has accused pro-government Arab militias of ethnic cleansing campaigns against non-Arabs. Skirmishes have spilled over the border into neighboring Chad causing instability along that international boundary as well. On December 15, 2013, a new conflict ignited over newly drawn international boundaries between North and South. Internally, in South Sudan, disputes over how oil revenues are shared has enflamed civil struggle that continues today ranking South Sudan number one on the Fragile States Index in 2014 and 2015, a list maintained by U.S. based think tank Fund for Peace.

The reality on the ground in South Sudan after decades of war is inadequate roads and lack of infrastructure. Basic supplies and medicines for relief efforts are difficult to acquire.

Cross International Outreach to South Sudan
A South Sudanese regional public health chief inspected the contents of a basic International Emergency Health Kit (IEHK) and was visibly moved with emotion when he met Mosely and his team at one of their stops on their tour. The chief hadn’t seen medicine in months. Several international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had pulled out of South Sudan with the onset of civil strife leaving the region without medical supplies for an extended period of time.

Emotional meetings like these were repeated on several occasions in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan as IEHKs arrived. Mosely and his team delivered the precious IEHKs to ten different distribution centers on their relief tour through South Sudan. “We’re calling on all of our friends to pray with us for safety and success in this region of the world that is continually under pressure from disease, poverty, and famine, caused by continual armed conflict,” Mark said in communication while on the ground in South Sudan. “The arrival of this product and distribution will bring much needed relief.”

Delivery of goods and short-term crisis relief doesn’t complete the mission for Cross International. “Our primary ministry is working to empower local churches and church-based ministries over the long-term,” says Cross International President and Founder Jim Cavnar. “If you just engage for a few years, maybe something new starts, but will it last? Will it bring about a long term benefit? We’re equipped to provide resources that are invaluable to respond to disasters, but where we really shine is in that long-term commitment to the rebuilding process including housing, water supply, medical clinics, and the rebuilding of schools.”

Response in Ecuador
In Ecuador, repeated earthquakes have hit causing massive devastation in remote areas. “The death toll is 660, 31 people are missing, in excess of 27,000 are injured, 350,000 people remain in need, and some 22,400 are sheltered in 39 active shelters and 64 temporary camps,” Mosely reported to local leaders on a recent conference call. “We’re helping with resources through the health sector, providing enough medicines and supplies to treat 20,000 people for three months.

Cross International already has a number of ministries they’ve been working with for many years in Ecuador, South Sudan, and several other locations around the world. “The disaster phase will pass after a while,” Says Cavnar, “but the long-term needs will still be there, and that’s where our real commitment and strengths lie. We’re still in Haiti. We’re still in the Philippines. We’re still in the Dominican Republic. We’re still in Belize. These are all places we have responded to disasters in the past, but we’re still in those places helping with the long-term growth and development and recovery.

Last year Cross International provided about $100 million in aid in 22 countries. Their goal is to transform the lives of the poor both spiritually and materially. To learn more about what Cross International does and how you can connect with their mission, visit them at crossinternational.org.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: Be Light

Book title: Be Light
Author: Samuel Rodriguez
Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2016
Number of pages: 212

Let YOU Be Light

When I was first handed this book, I didn’t know what I was in for. The book is wrapped in a black and white picture of a well-dressed hispanic man with his palms pushed together in a position of prayer. I told the friend who gave me the book that it looked like it was for readers with more religion than me. Before I dug into the book, I went online to watch videos of Pastor Sam Rodriguez to get a hint of what I was in for.

Rodriguez is a preacher’s preacher; fiery and theatrical; engaging and engrossing. He has a way with language and can turn a phrase; he’s eloquent and passionate.

Rodriguez get's my attention from the very beginning of Be Light with the line "Let there be light!" That's where it all starts, right? The way Rodriguez defined "light" and explores the word from so many angles gave me something to chew on all day. So, mission accomplished, Sam!

That’s right. Rodriguez wrote the book and formatted it with a thirty day “journey” in mind for the reader. Each one of the Be Light’s thirty chapters are meant to be read in less than ten minutes each day for thrity days. Each chapter’s goal is to challenge the reader to be light.

Chapter one starts with some powerful, quotable phrases that show that Rodriguez is more than a fiery preacher. He’s a thinker and wants those he communicates with to engage with him at a cerebral level always turning his phrases over in their minds. "Let there be light!" This is how Rodriguez opens his dialogue with readers. This is a powerful, biblical quote from Genesis One and echoes of the gospel of John. Rodriguez has the reader’s. It evokes layers of meaning that readers are forced to think about and personally apply.

Rodriguez writes about a "canopy of disillusionment" which seems to be a familiar concept to many a cynical Christian. We've become used to disillusionment and let allowed our faith to hibernate, inneffective, impotent, fat, and lazy. This is unacceptable, according to Rodriguez. It's time to “throw off dissillusionment” because there's no purpose for it in God's economy.

I love the way he ends the first chapter by contrasting biblical heroes with villains. We need more REAL heroes in our lives.

In chapter two, Rodrigurez employs the scientific term "reflective coefficient." The biblical application here is that sometimes I reflect God's light, and other times, I absorb every bit of it.

In chapter three, Rodriguez discusses the battle that rages between light and dark. Darkness wants to shut down light in the Christian’s life. Even Christians (especially Christians?) can live in the darkness that comes from unbelief and unforgiveness.

This chapter caused me to take a personal inventory as I read through it. Am I withholding forgiveness from somebody? I think I am. Do I have what it takes to get the process of forgiving and reflecting light into the life of the person who has offended me? I hope I do. I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me courage to be humble.

Those are all the spoilers I’m going to give you, friend. As thought provoking as it is, Be Light is an easy read. The time you invest in this book will be time well spent. As you come to the end of the Be Light journey, it’s Rodriguez’s goal that  somehow, someway, God will use you to be one of the heroes that turn on the lights in the world God has placed you in. Get the book and read it with your tribe.

»Book website

»Pastor Samuel Rodriguez on Facebook

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Rewards and Challenges of Parenting a Special Needs Child

“Honey,” my mom would say, “Don’t stare. That’s not polite. No, don’t point.”
But I couldn’t look away from a child in a wheelchair. We all grew up politely looking the other way when we pass by someone with special needs.
Our lives were suddenly disrupted when a child with special needs came into our family. No one makes a plan to parent a special needs child. The child simply arrives and the day she does is tragic and life as you know it is redefined for you.
Our special needs little girl, our Allie, is really our granddaughter. Allie was born perfectly healthy to my daughter when she was nineteen and single. Her life, our lives, were suddenly overwhelmed the day Allie became a brain injured child through a violent event when Allie was ten months old. She was shaken and suffocated by someone that was watching her when my daughter was at work. Allie was in a coma for ten days. She emerged from her coma severely disabled. Her diagnosis is cerebral palsy and quadriplegia.
As a single mother, our young daughter was not able to care for Allie. My wife and I could not fathom the thought of our granddaughter going into foster care in her condition. It was not an option. We did what we thought anyone would do: we adopted Allie and became the parents of a severely disabled little girl.
That was nine years ago. I want to say we’ve become accustomed to parenting a special needs child, but we haven’t. Being a parent is never easy, and parenting a special needs child is often an exhausting, all-consuming existence. Days are scheduled, routine and packed with hands-on care beginning with medicines and getting her dressed and into equipment needed to keep her upright while we feed her. At nine years old, Allie is not able to do any of these simple tasks for herself and, most likely, never will.
The joys of school
The part of her morning that is most fun is when I roll her down the walkway to meet the school bus. She shrieks with joy and excitement every time I roll her down our walkway, slightly running, stomping my flip-flops to meet the bus. Allie and the driver share a good laugh when she rides the wheelchair lift up onto the bus. There’s an attendant waiting on the bus that gives Allie compliments on her ensemble as she straps her chair into place for a safe, secure ride to school.
Allie loves going to school. Allie is in fourth grade this year. At school, education revolves around using cause-and-effect devices for communicating, physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. School nurses administer mid-day doses of medicine. The phys-ed teacher straps her into equipment that helps her walk and, recently, ride a big tricycle. The teachers, nurses, therapists, administrators and other staff at Allie’s school have dedicated their lives to children with special needs. We’d be lost without them.
Continuous medical care
The school day is interrupted many times with routine visits to doctors. Allie has epileptic seizures that are managed by daily medication. So we see Dr. Reznick, her neurologist, every 90 days. Once a quarter, Allie sees a rehabilitation doctor, Dr. Cohen, who orders changes on her wheelchair, prescribes orthotic braces and refers Allie to specialists when needed. On a recent visit, Dr. Cohen noticed that one of Allie’s legs was not growing the same length as the other. She (Dr. Cohen) referred Allie to an orthopedic specialist and we learned that Allie’s right hip joint was migrating out of the socket as she was experiencing a growth spurt. Due to her brain injury, bones and muscle growth were not in sync. Bones growing faster than muscles produced enough tension on her muscles to pull her bones out of socket. Surgery was needed soon or her hip would dislocate.
This surgery is traumatic and invasive. The doctor has to break and and reposition the femur. Then he breaks the pelvis and reshapes the hip socket to properly receive the joint. A metal plate is fixed to the broken femur to add strength as it heals. Finally, muscles have to be lengthened. This is done through a series of cuts in her adductor muscle and hamstring. The hip and leg are immobilized for six weeks by a spica cast extending from her abdomen to her right heel. The cast includes her left thigh with a cross bar installed into the cast to hold her legs apart in a Y-shape.
The cast adds twenty pounds to her weight which makes her too heavy and awkward for my wife to carry. My boss, graciously let me work from home while Allie was in the cast to lend my wife a hand during the six weeks of post-surgery healing and recuperation. Family and friends rallied around us to bring us meals and help with household chores.
Allie had this surgery six years ago so we were semi-familiar with the work and care Allie needed. We pray that as Allie continues to grow, this will be the last time she has to have this surgery, but we may have to face this again.
family-2Bottomless love
This sounds like a difficult way to live because it is. Raising children–any children–is no easy task and taking care of them when there are special needs adds to the difficulty. We’ve had to reorder our lives. We don’t get to do many of the things we used to take for granted (wheelchairs don’t go places that don’t have smooth, wide paths). People don’t plan social gatherings around our routine so we miss those opportunities (to be honest, we love having a bullet-proof excuse to opt-out of tedious events).
As difficult, inconvenient and unconventional as raising a special needs child is, the rewards for us in our personal lives are deeply satisfying. There is a transaction of unconditional love that flows two ways between us in our relationship with Allie. We’ve discovered a capacity to love that is bottomless. When this is tested, we reach the end of the trial long before we reach the bottom of our love. Her responses to our affection are uninhibited. There is a shorthand — an encoded language — between Allie and her caregivers that the only way to decode is through spending time with her. Joy flows when the connection is made.
A man after God’s heart
One of our favorite stories in the Bible is about King David when he is moved to bless surviving members of King Saul’s family. David was loyal to King Saul long after his death and David craved an opportunity to prove it. Saul had a surviving grandson, Mephibosheth, who, as a result of an accident, was crippled in both feet. David cared for Mephibosheth and provided for him for the rest of his life. God often referred to David as a “man after God’s own heart” and while David’s shortcomings were many, this act of compassion is an example of goodness that pays dividends to David as the giver more than to Mephibosheth, the receiver. Parents of special needs children know this experience firsthand.

This article originally posted in the May 2016 issue of the Good News of South Florida.

Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Find Holy Balance

“But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten.”—Exodus 18:21 NLT

Many sons hate the idea of working in the family business. Many pastors’ daughters quit church after high school. These kids grew up watching Dad build “the family business” or “the ministry.” Meanwhile, Dad was depleted. Their families were robbed of time together.

The day before Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, said the words quoted in the verse above, he had just returned with Moses’ wife and sons. Moses had sent them away, and while the Bible doesn’t spell out the reasons for their separation, there was tremendous conflict that preceded the separation.

Moses told Jethro all that the Lord had done to bring deliverance and provision as Israel fled Egypt. Jethro was so amazed by all God had done, he was moved to make a public declaration of faith and praise by offering God a sacrifice. “I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods,” Jethro declared.

While Jethro was amazed with all that God had done, he was a lot less impressed with how Moses was running things; Moses was a one-man show.

“I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them His instruction,” Moses says (Exodus 18:16 NLT). Jethro responds by basically saying, “Well, this is not good. You’re not really getting much accomplished doing this all by yourself. Your frustrating the people by making them wait all day and exhausting yourself. Find some guys to help you. Train them in the things God has shown you and then watch how much you ALL can get done” (Exodus 18:17-23).

Jethro, as the grandfather of Moses’s children, was invested and keenly interested in the future of both Moses and Israel as a nation. Their destinies were intertwined. Moses, as the leader of Israel, also needed to be Moses the dad and leader of his family.

Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald says, “The legacy you leave is dependent on the men you train, the men you do life together with, and the relationships you invest into and nurture for balance.”

This principle works in so many areas of how we do church, work, leadership, family, and community building. We’re called to steward this balance. On our own, it can feel like juggling with fine china. But, in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it looks, feels, and sounds like a symphony.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

How You Want to Be Remembered

“The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot.”—Proverbs 10:7 (NKJV)

Everyone dies. That’s a fact. Flesh decays and bones dry out. The only things the dead leave are memories.

The Jews had a tradition when speaking of the memory of a just man: “Let his memory be blessed,” they’d say. Nothing would be said of the unjust man. The memories of the wicked, like their rotting flesh, are useless and disgusting, “eaten with worms.”

No one wants to touch the memories of the wicked with a ten-foot pole. They are treated with contempt. Just by the mention of their name makes you wrinkle your nose like the smell of rotting road kill. Bad behavior and the commission of evil deeds leave a legacy of rottenness, and often, generations of destroyed lives.

Proverbs chapter 10 is a list of contrasts written down by the wise King Solomon to train readers in righteousness. Observe a few:
  • Wise versus foolish
  • Slack versus diligent
  • Blessing versus violence
  • Integrity versus perversion
  • Rich versus poor
These contrasting words describe choices and actions. Solomon pairs contrast with literary metaphor to strengthen the description of both desired and disastrous outcomes. He teaches that one can choose his choices, but one cannot choose his consequences.

In the New Testament, when we first meet the apostle Paul, he is introduced as Saul and he is present at the stoning of the Christian evangelist Stephen (Acts 7). He is known as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. He hunted people down and jailed them for having the wrong faith and politics; splitting up families and destroying the newfound peace early Christians found through salvation in Jesus. If that were all Saul did in his life, we would never know his name. If he had never encountered Jesus, his name would have rotted along with his flesh and bones when he died.
But Saul did encounter Jesus. In the exchange, Saul got a new name, a new life, and a new mission that was in complete contrast with the one he had. He went from . . .
  • Destroying lives to discipling men and women in the faith
  • Separating families to uniting groups of families into churches
  • Cursing people for their faith in Jesus to setting them free with the historic, holy, and transforming words we read in the New Testament.
If you encounter Jesus, make the wise choice. Follow Him. Watch Him change the memories you leave along with the lives you impact.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Devil and Debunking Jesus

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”—Matthew 12:30 (NLT)

Some of the most amazing things I’ve seen are the pyramids in Egypt. They are awesome structures. Their construction has stumped scholars for eons. When I was a boy, the bestseller, Chariot of the Gods, explained that the pyramids and other sites of wonder were built with alien technology. The structures and technology employed couldn’t be human–the achievement is too advanced! Space travelers must have lent us their technology to influence ancient science and religion.

If you’ve made up your mind about someone and you really can’t endorse them as being smart or special or talented, or in Jesus’ case, the Son of God, you’d have to come up with another theory to explain the things you see with your own eyes. That’s what happened with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They looked for a way to debunk Jesus. If God was behind the miracles Jesus was doing, then God must have endorsed Jesus healing on the Sabbath, forgiving harlots, eating with sinners, befriending tax collectors, and welcoming outcasts.

So they blamed the devil and said Jesus was doing His work by the power of Satan—basically charging Jesus with witchcraft. If they could get enough people to back this idea, it would be the end of Jesus. Ending Jesus became their agenda.

Jesus laid it out for them: If you reject Him, you are rejecting God’s plan for Israel, and ultimately, for all mankind.

This is a serious warning for us to heed today. The author of Hebrews warns believers not to drift from away from Christ. As you remember when you first came to faith in Jesus, you know Jesus did a miracle in your heart. People saw a change in you. And because you became so different they asked you about it and that opened the door for you to talk about Jesus. You didn’t know any deep theological stuff, but you had an experience with Him that changed your life and you were able to talk about it. People who witnessed it called it a miracle.

Now that you’ve known Jesus for a while, and time has passed between today and that day when you gave your heart to the Lord, you’re tempted to call that work a work of emotion or the convincing words of a charismatic leader or teacher. You’re drifting.

Don’t give anyone or anything credit for the work Jesus has done by His Spirit. There’s nothing or no one else to turn to if you turn away from Jesus.