So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. ~ Romans 8:15-17a
Tanja and I love to pray. We believe prayer is powerful and effective. We've been blessed with so many stories of prayer being answered in undeniably supernatural ways. That, of course, leads us to believe in prayer even more.
We have also discovered over the years that prayer is not a one-way conversation. It has taken a while and a lot of practice but we have learned it is just as important to be quiet and listen in prayer as it is to talk to God.
One particular subject of conversation in prayer has been, of course, our children. We probably pray for them more than anything else. We talk to God about every aspect of our children's lives, their health, their friendships, their hopes and dreams and especially their relationship with God. As they have grown up, we have often prayed for their future spouses as well.
About 4 or 5 years ago, we met a family in the church we were leading in Albania. From the very beginning, I sensed something special about the Biçaku family. There was just a special presence of God's peace covering over them. The husband and wife clearly loved each other and loved their children - four girls and a boy. The children, all of them, were very respectful of their parents and very well behaved which is sometimes a rarity in Albania as it is in many places around the world.
When I first met their daughter Hengrida, I felt God speaking to my heart that this was the girl I had been praying for - for my son Robbie. At the time, she was 13 or 14 years old and he was just a couple of years older so I simply tucked that word from the Lord away for continued prayer. As I continued the ministry in Albania, though, I took special note of her family and of her. Hengrida always had a beautiful smile on her face. She was always looking for ways to serve and loved helping out with the children at church. She just had the light of Jesus' love flowing out of her.
I shared with Tanja what I felt God had said to me and she joined me in prayer and also in observing Hengrida and her family. ...and we continued to pray.
in the fall of last year, I noticed on Facebook that Hengrida's older sister, Qendresa, was betrothed. In Albania, it is still quite normal to do arranged marriages. Early this year, as I was praying, I felt God leading me to go ahead and talk to Robbie about Hengrida. Robbie and I sat down in my office one morning before he was to leave to return home to Kansas City. I said, "This is going to sound strange and quite counter-cultural." He was probably thinking, "What's new?" [We're a pretty counter-cultural family in case you didn’t know that already.] I continued, "I am only going to share this with you once and ask you to pray about it. I will trust that you can hear from God about this one way or the other." I shared with him about Hengrida and her family and said that I felt that God wanted me to arrange a marriage for you with her. In Albania, unmarried single guys and girls don't do much with each other, especially if they are from conservative families, and the Biçaku's are pretty conservative - in a good way. So even though Robbie and Hengrida went to the same church for over a year, they had not really talked much. Robbie knew her and her family and they, of course, knew us but that was about it.
Robbie agreed to pray about it. He actually fasted and prayed for a few weeks. He told his mom and I over the phone that, yes, he believes that this is what God wants for his future. Having lived in Albania, he understood quite clearly the serious nature of this arrangement. This is not something you do lightly and it is absolutely not something you propose and then back out of.
We proceeded to communicate with Maksut and Mirjeta, Hengrida's parents, through mutual friends, Nick Wakely and his wife Sarah. The Biçakus were understandably quite surprised by this news from far away America. We asked if they would pray about it and, if they were in agreement, share this with Hengrida. We also asked, even though this is not culturally expected, that Hengrida have a say in the matter. We really wanted to make sure she had time to pray and hear from God on this as well. After several weeks of prayer, they communicated back to us and said that they also agreed that this was an arrangement made, literally, in heaven. Robbie and Hengrida began communicating via video chat and messaging. They have spent the past couple of months enjoying getting to know each other and falling in love.
Yesterday, my son and I arrived in Albania and, in the evening, we met with the family to do the official betrothal. Though jet-lagged and tired, Robbie was very excited and also quite nervous! I asked Maksut for his daughter to join our family through marriage to my son and he said, "Yes! Of course!" We ate and drank together. Robbie also asked for his blessing to marry his daughter. Maksut stood up, walked over to Robbie and Hengrida, laid his hands on their heads and prayed a beautiful prayer of blessing. As the sun was setting, we looked out of their apartment balcony and noticed a beautiful double rainbow in the sky. This felt like a little kiss from God and a beautiful promise of a blessed life together.
As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe in Elbasan, Albania. I just dropped Robbie and Hengrida off at the top of a small mountain overlooking the city. Even though we have gone the traditional route of arranging this marriage and doing the betrothal with the family, Hengrida also wanted the "western-style proposal." Maybe, at this very moment, Robbie is on his knee, holding out his arm with a diamond ring in hand and a very important question on his tongue. Though the answer to that question has been prayerfully pre-arranged by God and family and the parties involved, it carries no less weight. In fact, I believe it carries even more meaning than the romantic surprise questions being popped and put on Facebook for the world to see. I can't describe in words how much this entire thing has been saturated with the wonderful Holy Spirit of God.
Do they know all they could know about each other before making this commitment to marriage? No, no engaged couple does. Will they continue to get to know each other more and more after they are married? Yes, every marriage is a journey of greater and greater knowledge of one's partner. Will there be days in their marriage that are hard and forgiveness is needed as well as a decision to keep on loving even if the feeling isn't there? Yes, every marriage will have those days and that is why every married couple needs God and His grace. Every couple in covenant relationship must understand that love is a daily decision and only the Spirit of Christ gives us the strength to do this. Do they need our prayers? I certainly hope so, who doesn't? Is an arranged marriage between an American boy and a European girl in the 21st century strange? Yes, of course, but maybe it's should not be so. I can say that this particular arranged marriage sure feels good and right and purposeful and blessed and filled to the brim with that special unconditional love whose source is found in Christ alone.
GALLERY OF THEIR ENGAGEMENT PICTURES:
GALLERY OF THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY:
VIDEO OF HENGRIDA'S BAPTISM A FEW DAYS AFTER THEIR ENGAGEMENT:
We are so very excited to announce that our four new additions - Jalynn, Josie, Bryan and Elly - are now officially SHACKELFORDS!! We are so blessed to permanently add the four beautiful children to our family. Thank you for your prayers during this almost 2 year process! (Okmulgee, Oklahoma)
Ken and friends have been working hard the past few weeks to get Lumenations up and running as an official non-profit organization. We are excited to announce that we are now ready to receive donations, including the support from those of you who have partnered with the Shackelford family.
NOTE FROM KEN:
Many of you have continued to partner with our family and our global ministry. If so, thank you so much! We pray that you will stick with us in this transition and join this new exciting vision that focuses on mission, ministry, mobilization and media.
For the rest of you, would you prayerfully consider joining with our family in a powerful global mission? All donations are tax deductible.
For information on how to give, click the picture above. For more information about the vision for Lumenations, go here: www.lumenations.org.
After we stepped down from our role with All Nations, we thought we would most likely be looking for a church ministry position. Back in July, we began immediately getting the word out and sending out resumes. Full time church ministry is a “comfort” place for us and, after 10 years of challenging and sometimes gut-wrenching global work, it sounded “nice” to say the least. BUT, we always want to do exactly what God wants for us, no matter how challenging it may be, so we continued in earnest prayer and fasting - seeking God for HIS next step for us. We were blessed to get some interest from some churches in Indiana, Kansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. Before we began moving forward with them though, we felt redirected by God - convicted that we were to continue our focus on disciple-making on a global scale. God is leading us to step out in faith yet again and move towards a vision that He has been working on Ken's heart for many years. We are calling this work “Lumenations”. We feel the work of Lumenations has incredible potential to impact the Kingdom both here in the states and around the world by meeting several needs that we have witnessed in our stateside and global ministry and training work. We plan to stay in Kansas City through the end of the year to allow our adoption to finalize and then move to Searcy, Arkansas to "set up shop" for this work. We are partnering with J.P. and Heidi Wornock in this work. Heidi is Tanja's sister for those of you who don't know and their involvement was one of several BIG confirmations that this is the direction God is taking us. We also feel convicted to be closer to our parents in this season of life. Ken's mother has Alzheimers and is will be a blessing to help care for a woman who cared for so many so well in her younger years.
I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of coffee and share with you about Lumenations and all the ways that God has convinced us that “now is the time.” Hopefully that can happen soon but, until then, I have created a video to tell you all about it. This is a very unique form of global ministry that does not fit into any preconceived boxes so I feel it takes a video, at least, to give you a picture of what Lumenations is. You can check it out on our web-site:
Would you please take some time to sit down and watch this and prayerfully consider how you might like to be involved with Lumenations and with our future work? As you will hear in the video, the are four "levels" of involvement we would love for you to consider:
- PRAY - join our prayer team: https://www.lumenations.org/pray/
- JOIN OUR PROFESSIONAL RESOURCE NETWORK - we won't be able to do this alone! https://www.lumenations.org/network/
- GIVE - partner with us in this work! One of the reasons I held this vision at "arms-length" is because of the resources needed to make this happen. We are praying that God moves on the hearts of His people to partner with us financially for this strategic Kingdom work: https://www.lumenations.org/give/
- JOIN LUMENATIONS - watch the video. Maybe God is calling you to be a part of this on a full-time or part-time basis? If so, let's talk: https://www.lumenations.org/connect/
Please pray for us as we transition our family back to Arkansas. Please pray for our adoption to finalize. Please pray for Bethany who will be moving back to the states, for Robbie who will be on his own as he continues work and college here and for Shelby who is making plans for global work in the near future. And please pray for Lumenations - for God to make this vision a reality and use it to spread disciple-making movements and cross cultural missions around the states and around the globe.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you have.
Thanks and God bless!
Ken and Tanja
This coming weekend, I will be speaking at a missions conference in Emporia, Kansas. They asked me to make a promo for them to show the week before (last Sunday) - here is what I came up with:
I love getting away, getting into God's word, and worshipping. Still in the process of writing this one but I thought I'd record it while it was still fresh. (thanks to Tom Shpakow for letting me borrow his guitar when inspiration hit!)
It has been a while since I've posted on the ShackLOG (the KenandTanja Shackelford Facebook profile has replaced it I suppose. BUT, this news is worthy of a new blog post! (see video below)
NOTE FROM KEN:
Hi friends and family,
My time in the states is flying by and I have some BIG NEWS to share with all of you (news much better served face to face). For those of you in Northwest Arkansas, I would like to invite you to a gathering this coming Monday, June 29, 6:30 pm at the GO Center on College Ave. in Fayetteville (next to the Prayer Room, click here for directions). If you are able to attend, would you shoot me a message (click here) and let me know?
I know summer schedules are crazy so if that time doesn't work for you PLEASE GIVE ME A CALL, [nwa area code] 684.7475. For our supporters, if I don't hear from you, I will be calling as I have some important information to pass on.
Thanks and God bless you all!