Thursday, September 15, 2016

Yoshi

His name is Yoshi.  He’s a young Japanese man enrolled in our BOOST Bible/agricultural training.  Last week we had a record 17 students begin a 3 month training with the goal of each one eventually returning to their home place to start house churches and assist their communities in agricultural development.

Yoshi’s father is Japanese and his mother is Filipina.  The family lives in Japan.  But recently Yoshi’s mother returned home for a few months, bringing Yoshi with her.  The mother saw our sign advertising the BOOST training and inquired about Yoshi signing up.  She and her husband own a farm in Austraila which they hope Yoshi can help develop.

The problem with Yoshi is that he can’t speak Ilonggo – the local dialect and the mode of instruction at our BOOST training.  His second problem is his limited knowledge of English.  Still, he was eager to learn.  The idea of leading Yoshi to Christ and seeing him carry his faith to Japan and Austraila was enough reason for us to sign him up.

During the first day of orientation, I took Yoshi aside and talked to him in simple English.  I learned his father was Buddhist and his mother Catholic.  Early next year he plans to return to Japan and then eventually transfer to their farm in Australia.  For about 2 hours, I went through the Scriptures, explaining the way of salvation.  Then Yoshi closed his eyes, said a prayer, and put his faith in Christ.

Yesterday, our project manager gave a good report about Yoshi.  Several hours each morning, every trainee works on developing his own vegetable garden, utilizing the techniques they learn in class.  Yoshi was one of the hardest workers, sometimes staying longer in the field than the other students.  In the afternoon and evenings he learns the Bible lessons in English, then sits attentively in class as he tries to understand as much as he can.

Please pray for Yoshi and the other students that they will encounter God during their 3 month training.  Interceded in their behalf that they will be protected from the evil one, and that God’s Spirit will have total freedom to convict, encourage, and lead them toward spiritual maturity.  Imagine the influence each of these trainees can have in their home communities.  Imagine the influence Yoshi could have in Japan and Australia.  But most of all, imagine the glory God will have when each one seeks to please Him in all that they do.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Runaway Wagon

Danny is the owner of Rusco’s Car Dealership, one of the largest in our city.  A Christian, Danny decided years ago to set aside one hour every Friday, 8 to 9 a.m., for a company Bible study.  About 20 gather in the main office room, shuffling chairs and benches to hear a message.

Last Friday I drove my car, the oldest in the mission, a 12 year old manual transmission ‘wagon’.  Arriving a few minutes before 8 a.m. I parked in my usual spot on the side of the road, just after a bridge.  Bridges here are always built higher than the road, with the exits sloping downward. 

As I parked, my cell phone beeped, giving me a message that occupied my thoughts for a few moments.  Then I locked each door (no automatic locks on this antique) and proceeded to walk along the road toward the car dealership.  Just before turning in, a car identical to mine passed me on the road.  It was dirty and unkept, causing me to think badly of its owner.  I looked to see who was the driver.  

What, no driver!  A quick turn of the neck revealed, to my horror, that my car was no longer in its parking spot.  I had forgotten to lift the parking break!  Now my car was on its own well ahead of me, beginning to veer into the far lane.  Frantically, I began chasing after the self-driving vehicle, waving my hands and warning the oncoming traffic to watch out for the runaway wagon.

Amazingly, no accident occurred as the car finally left the road and the front wheels feel into a ditch.  Once inside, I quickly realized that the front-wheel drive vehicle wasn’t going anywhere as the tires spun in the muddy ditch.  Fortunately, several men at the car dealership saw the predicament of this old clumsy missionary and came to my rescue, pushing and lifting until the antique was back on the road and headed in the right direction.

Had this occurred in the U.S., security cameras surely would have caught sight of a panicking man running down the middle of the street with his arms waving wildly, chasing a dirty car with no driver.  A YouTube sensation, thousands of viewers would have been delightfully entertained.  As it was, my embarrassment was limited to the staff of the car dealership who now have a designated parking space for me near the office. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Knowing Who is 'Saved'

From my last entry, I commented, “I usually don’t list a person as ‘saved’ until he or she is baptized.”  I was asked about that and, of course, the truth is we don’t know if a person is really ‘saved’ until we see consistent evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) in his/her life.  But supervisors, supporting churches, and statistical reports all want a number in the ‘saved’ category.

Years ago, I learned that it is easy here to have people, especially children, raise their hand if they want to ‘receive’ Christ.  I have seen pastors from the States speak in front of large crowds, then ask the people to raise their hands to accept Christ.  Afterwards, the pastors report thousands coming to Christ.  Large numbers can look good for organizations that depend on donations for their support.

Of course, I’m glad that the gospel is being preached, no matter how the numbers are reported.  But the eagerness of Asians to please their guest speaker, or their hope that God will bless them if they raise their hands, can easily leave a foreign preacher with the wrong impression.  For me, the real test of a person’s sincerity in following Christ is their willingness to be baptized.  That’s what baptism is for. 

In 2004, we had 2 U.S. organizations send two dozen American preachers to Iloilo City.  After a week of evangelistic meetings, together they reported a total of more than 24,000 “decisions for Christ.”  Several months later, I know only of 7 from that number who were baptized.  In 2009, I participated in “Christ Emphasis Week” at a local Christian University where more than 1,000 students came forward during the invitation time.  But the following week, only 12 came to the follow-up class, and 6 of them were eventually baptized.  Of course, the seed of the gospel may take time to bloom.  So we are always hopeful that others will eventually respond in obedience.
   
Again, I am excited whenever the gospel is preached.  But one of the advantages of being a long-term resident here is knowing better ways to present the gospel, then helping those who make decisions to grow in their relationship with God, which starts with baptism.  My greatest joy is watching those who are baptized experience a changed life through the power of God’s Spirit working in them.  So, like Paul, I can say, “Regardless of their motive, I am glad that Christ is being preached.  In this I rejoice.  Yes, I will rejoice!”  Philippians 1:18.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Professions of Faith

San Dionisio, a coastal town just a few miles northeast of our BOOST agricultural project, was ground zero for super typhoon Haiyan nearly three  years ago.  Buildings were destroyed.  Livelihoods swept away.  Many died.  But the town slowly recovered.  Today, little evidence remains of the catastrophic destruction that hit on November 8, 2013.  Houses have been rebuilt, public buildings restored, and the trees are blooming again.

Yesterday, I arrived in San Dionisio at 3 p.m., parked my car on a dusty road, and walked along a dirt path to a bamboo and nepa structure, under which had gathered about 20 Filipino men, women, and young people.  This was the home of Lydia, one of our BOOST graduates.  She had gathered some of her friends and neighbors to hear God’s Word.

Refreshing ocean breezes brought waves of relief from the tropical afternoon sun.  Some noisy children were playing in a nearby field while dogs barked their complaints.  Close by, a lady worked a hand pump, bringing up water for her laundry.  Lydia’s sister was preparing a snack of cheap bread and pineapple juice.  But under the shade of our little bamboo sanctuary, the people sat to hear what this white foreigner and his team had to say.

After introducing myself and my Filipino friend, Bro. Eliu, I shared a brief testimony of how I met Jesus and began my relationship with Him.  Next, Bro. Eliu shared the Bible story of the Pharisee and tax collector who both went up to the temple to pray, but only one was accepted by God.  We asked questions that generated good discussions.  Afterwards, a brief gospel presentation was shared.  About 15 of them then bowed their heads and prayed to Jesus, asking Him to forgive their sins, confessing Him as their Savior,  and asking Him to take control of their lives.

In the days ahead, Lydia will continue meeting with them, sharing more about God and their response to Him.  In a few weeks, she will invite them to be baptized.  Time will tell how many of them were sincere in their decision.  I usually don’t list a person as ‘saved’ until he or she is baptized.  But to see men and women bowing their heads and lifting their souls to Jesus is a sight that always brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.  It's why I'm here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Learning to Survive

The average missionary stays about 7 years before returning to the U.S.  While there are many reasons missionaries return, it’s beneficial to the mission organization and to the ministry for them to stay as long as possible.  So, last month during our annual mission meeting, I was asked to share with the group any insights I might have about how to endure on the mission field.  I shared two stories, both of which occurred in 1987 - our second year here in the Philippines.

Jan and I were nearing the end of language study.  We were attending our second annual mission meeting.  During a break in one of our sessions, I was outside talking with a veteran missionary, Stan, asking him about starting churches.  “Stan, what would be the best strategy to use?  How many churches should I expect to start during my first term?  What should be my goal?”

His answer to my last question was two words, “Just survive.”  New missionaries often set for themselves unrealistic expectations for their ministry, then become discouraged when the expectations are unmet.  Unexpected events will happen that cause further discouragement.  The weight of living in a new yet unfamiliar culture can be heavy.  Language learning is a stress.  Living conditions are always a challenge.  Any of these factors can send a new missionary home.  Added together, the words, “just survive” becomes a worthy goal.

The other event occurred just after we had finished language study.  I was ready to begin my ministry.  So, I decided I needed to hear from the Lord about how to begin.  What should be my focus?  Where should I start?  What strategy should I use?  How was I to win this part of the Philippines to the Lord?  Jan allowed me to check into a cheap hotel for 3 days and 3 nights bringing nothing with me except water and my Bible.  I have never heard God speak to me in an audible voice, but a few times He has come close, and this was one of those times.  Near the end of the third day, God spoke to me.

“Mark, you need to be a better husband and father.  Here’s what you need to do…”  Within a couple of minutes, I had a list of things I needed to do better, like help Jan with the dishes, play with David and Sara more, change Sara’s diapers, say encouraging words to Jan, and other things.  I knew this was from the Lord because at no time during those 3 days did I think I needed to be a better husband or father.  I thought I was doing OK in that department.  But God let me know that my ministry to others would never be successful if I neglected, even a little, my ministry to my own family.

Prioritizing my family rather than my work, and keeping realistic expectations for myself and ministry have helped me enjoy an exciting missionary career for the past 30 years.  I suspect that these are relevant for whatever area of work or ministry God calls us to.  May God continue to be glorified as we listen and follow His voice.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Encouraging One Another


I am in another Asian country this week meeting with several hundred of my fellow missionaries.  We gather once a year to worship, pray, give reports, and discuss strategy.  It’s an exciting time to hear how God is at work, especially here in Asia.  Perhaps the biggest thing we do at this meeting is to encourage one another.

Living on the other side of the world in a foreign culture carries unique stresses.  In addition, being on the front lines of expanding God’s kingdom against the evil forces of this world adds to the stress.  I have been blessed this week to see the many ways we encouage one another.

The first step for new missionaries is language learning.  During our yearly meeting, we set aside time to celebrate those who have achieved various levels of language proficiency.  After their name is called, thunderous clapping amidst shouts of praise are given as they come forward to receive their certificate of completion.

Several times during the week, we pause to recognize those who have endured unusual hardships during the past year or have demonstrated exemplary commitment to the mission task.  Once again, a standing ovation with an applause of appreciation express our respect as they receive a certificate for their faithfulness and perseverance.

During each worship service, we focus on the missionaries working among a particular people group.  As they stand, we gather around them with supportive prayer and arms of love, lifting up to the Lord both their ministry and their personal prayer requests.

During our final day, we also give certificates to those who have reached 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years of mission service.  We stand on either side of the aisle reaching out to ‘high 5’ the recipient as he runs the gauntlet of whistles, shouts, and deafening applause.  Last year I received my 30 year certificate.

During the week we also give special recognition to our graduating MK (missionary kid) high school seniors, to our organization leaders, to those who volunteer from the States to come help us during the week, and for all of those who work to make our meeting possible.  

God tells us to think about “how to encourage one another toward love and good deeds” Heb.10:24.  In a time when Christians are facing increasing pressures and persecutions, it’s a good idea to think of creative ways we can encourage one another to “not grow weary in doing good” and to “bear one another’s burdens” Galatians 6.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Making Arrows

During recent weeks, the topic of having children has come up several times in my conversations with Filipinos.  Now, I’m a proud parent who loves bragging on my kids.  (Have you noticed?)  I’m amazed they have turned out so well considering my own shortcomings as a father.  But the usual response I get from Filipinos is that I’m just ‘lucky’ to have such good kids.  

So the question I have been asking people is: What should be the reason for a married couple to have children?  The answers I have received go like this: to feel fulfilled; to experience being a parent; to pass on my heritage; to feel loved; to have someone take care of me when I’m old.  Notice that these answers are rather self-centered.  While children can certainly bring about these experiences, they are not the reason Scripture says we should have children.

Before David was born, Jan and I were challenged by Psalm 127, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  A stick becomes an arrow after it is whittled smooth to remove imperfections, equipped with feathers for stability and direction, and given a point to defeat the enemy.  Likewise, children must be disciplined to remove wrong behavior, taught character for stability and godly principles for direction, and made to know that their purpose in the world is to defeat evil and glorify God.

One day Jesus asked some fault-finders whose image was on a coin.  “Caesar”, was their answer.  Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Genesis 1 says that we are created in God’s image.  Therefore, as parents, our children do not belong to us, but to God.  We are merely stewards entrusted by God with children for the purpose of making them into arrows useful in the Master’s hand.

Any parent who desires children for personal fulfillment may be setting themselves up for disappointment.   It doesn’t take too many days of dirty diapers, crying, hitting, biting, shouting, name-calling, broken dishes, ruined clothes, rebellious attitudes, and a host of other grievances, to hope that there is a better way to find fulfillment.  Indeed there is.  From our experience, only when Jesus is our first love – our source for acceptance and significance, can we have the patience to love these warring little creatures in our home.

One has to be intentional to make arrows; they don’t just form by themselves.  God entrusted parents, not schools, for this task.  Jan and I were motivated daily by our God-given assignment to raise kids who were mighty in spirit, who recognized the enemy (lust, greed, rebellion, anger, selfishness, etc.), and whose purpose was to show up the world for the darkness that is in it so that the light of Christ could shine clearly through them.

A few hours ago I was talking with Hannah via Skype.  I asked her why she would want children some day.  Her quick answer, “To take on the challenge of raising kids who will be good.  Our world needs good people.”  Exactly!