Be Strong and Courageous!

By Kelly Bartholomew, Women’s Ministry Leader.

“No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. ‘Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5-9 (NIV).

Kelly and Evan smile on their wedding day!

As the Lord speaks to Joshua following the death of Moses, He commands Joshua to “Be strong and courageous” in leading His people (the Israelites) “to inherit the land I [the Lord] swore to their forefathers to give them.”   I imagine Joshua being somewhat fearful and overwhelmed with the daunting task of taking millions of Israelites into the Promised Land.  These were men and women who, prior to this point, were children to those who were within seconds of stoning Joshua when he tried to enter the Promised Land the first time, just 40 years earlier (Numbers 14:10).   I find Joshua’s fears and feelings of being overwhelmed extremely relatable to me through the journey of my life as I have gone from the world into being a whole-hearted disciple, from a whole-hearted disciple into lukewarmness, from lukewarmness back to a whole-hearted commitment, and finally to becoming a leader in God’s Kingdom.  The phrase, “Be strong and courageous” is found three times in this scripture, and in one of the three times, the Lord adds the word “very” to say, “Be strong and very courageous.”  Certainly, it had to be these words that Joshua needed to hear in order to stay the course.  And it is those very same words that have kept me from turning “to the right or to the left”!

While growing up, I had the same opportunities for sin as everyone else.  I didn’t hesitate for a second in taking the liberty to pile my plate high with life’s salad bar of sin, always making sure to top it off with the best dressings.  I spent much of my time finding further ways to corrupt myself as well as on the prowl to corrupt others.  I pushed the boundaries of comfort to find new, more thrilling ways to sin in a constant effort to reach something better and more exciting.  However, in my few moment s of sobriety, I found myself saturated with guilt, shame, and emptiness.  I was like a tornado consuming more and more while on a destructive path to nothingness.  It was only after a few years of complete loneliness, despite my promiscuity, that I realized the guilt was really God’s gift that He was using to call into the hollowness of my heart.  As God would have it, He used a past relationship, my ex-fiancé, to steer me in the right direction.  He had become a disciple in Hilo, Hawaii, and though I was in Texas, he adamantly pushed me to “come and see” (John 1:46) what the Kingdom was all about.  I went to my first church service in Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas in 2002, and I loved it!  As passionately as I had sought after sin in the past, I grew a new desire to find out what was in the Bible.  I asked if I could do Bible studies, and a month later, I was baptized!

Kelly is getting baptized in Dallas, Texas!

Being that I was so zealous for the Lord, I absorbed anything and everything I could about God and His word!  I was at every meeting of the body, not because I had to be, but because I didn’t want to miss it.  It was so exciting!  I craved fellowship, pursued more Bible study, and took vey seriously my call to repent and be holy in my lifestyle. I was eager to love and serve people, because that meant that I was not just serving people, but serving God!  I felt like Caleb while all the other Israelites were too scared to go into the Promised Land, and he “silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’” (Numbers 13:30)  And I dreamed that God would speak of me the way He spoke of Caleb when He said, “But because My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)  I desperately wanted to give God my all, with no reservations, and allow myself to “dream dreams!” (Acts 2:17)  It was absolutely incredible to me that I could be in a group of people who were going to be totally real and that I could be just as real back!  I loved the challenge of loving difficult-to-love people and showing them Christ’s love through me.  It was an amazing time in my life!

Some four months later, I took a trip to Hawaii.  I wanted to visit and meet some of the disciples who were responsible for helping me find the church that I had always dreamed of.  I was so blown away by the Island of Hawaii, and I felt the Spirit calling me to move there and help them build the church.  Two months later I arrived in Hilo, Hawaii to go to school and be a part the campus ministry.  I was so fired up!  I didn’t care about what anyone wanted me to do, I just wanted to help.  One time, I even remember helping scrub down the bathroom of the campus brother’s apartment as they were moving.  It was not a pleasant experience, but I was still eager to give the way that I felt God had given to me!

Kelly sits with her mom, Michelle!

Unfortunately, with the catastrophic changes made in 2002-2003 in our world-wide fellowship, and its effects on even the most isolated of places, I felt as if my heart for God and doing His perfect will was no longer acceptable.  Instead, I was made to feel that I had to be “indignant” about all the things that we were being “forced” to do.  Confused and naïve, my good intentions quickly changed to compromise in an all-out effort to be as comfortable as possible.  And Hawaii is an easy place to find comfort.  I slipped into lukewarmness so fast without any idea of what just happened.  My joy and peace was gone, and I couldn’t quite figure out why or even where I was at.  I had gone back to being so lonely.  Slowly by slowly, my goal of being whole-hearted like Caleb quickly faded away, and I began to think that the Promised Land wasn’t all that it was promised to be.

Our fellowship became infected with this same attitude.  Some shared about the “glory days”, and others told of how un-glorious they were although they themselves had once been drawn in by the brilliance of the Kingdom’s light.   Discipleship was a nice ideal, but certainly not a standard.  Few would acknowledge where things were at in public, but almost everyone would discuss them in secret.  We requested to lead the campus/singles ministry, which was completely annihilated and just left to rot with no one to step up and take care of it.  We made a huge effort to reestablish discipling and the mission of making disciples.  However, our efforts were quickly met with much resistance for fear of going back to the “old way”.  At one point, after a Sunday Service, I was so fed up with where the church was at, I begged my husband Evan to leave the church.  I told him that I did not want to leave God, but just to rekindle a fire that was almost dead within us.

Kelly likes to be with her dad, Tom, and her little brother, Pierce!

Amen! God had a plan! In Sept. 2006, after our minister and my brother-in-law, Kyle Bartholomew, asked to get help from Kip McKean, Kip came down and helped us to restructure the church that had been in total chaos.  Through his call for us to return to the lifestyle of a disciple, God fanned into flame what spark was still left in me!  Now totally unified in vision and in conviction, we started with twelve and quickly started fishing and baptizing!  It was incredible to see the hand of God come in such power and restore hope in the hearts of His people!  This was the answer to my prayers!  But God had even more in store for me than what I even hoped for, or expected!

About one year later, we were asked to sit down with Kyle and Joan Bartholomew just following the 2007 World Missions Jubilee in Portland, Oregon.  They shared with us their vision to evangelize all of the Hawaiian Islands, which we both have, and then they told us that they were asked to move to Los Angeles, California to be a part of the City of Angels International Christian Church and train for the ministry.  We were extremely excited for them!  Then they expressed that they would need someone to lead the Hilo Church.  They went on and asked my husband and me if we would be willing to take the job.  Untrained and inexperienced, once again I found myself looking at the Lord’s charge to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!”  We took the job!

Kelly and Evan Bartholomew lead our church!

Although there have been many challenges, I am so grateful to God for His belief in me in even the toughest of times!  His unlimited kindness and mercy has, once again, given me the sense of fulfillment and excitement that I have always dreamed of having.  Sisters, I would just like to encourage you, that no matter what God is calling you to do and how crazy it may sound, “Be strong and courageous!”  “Be strong and VERY courageous!”  For our God is a God that never breaks a promise and He is always faithful in bringing us to that Promised Land of victory!  Thanks be to Him forever and ever!