Sunday, January 15, 2017

Humble Endurance

The land was flooded. With water on both sides, the dirt road ran straight north like a bridge from the bottom of the hill to an elevated place along the horizon.  My passengers were a poor Filipino couple who had attended one of our Simply The Word trainings.  Their home lay beyond a clump of trees just above the water about a quarter of a mile east of the road. 

“Sa lugar lang, palihog” (Stop here, please), the husband said.

“Here?” I questioned.  “But there is nothing here.  All I see is a waiting shed.”  The flood waters stretched like an ocean on both sides of the road.

“Yes,” he said.  “There is a trail from here.  We know where it is.”

Reluctantly, I pulled over and watched them descend from the road without complaint and wade into the water, waist deep, slowly making their way toward the clump of distant trees.  I knew that under the water, at their feet, was a narrow foot path raised about a foot above the submerged rice fields.  A wrong step would likely send them completely under water with their belongings on their back.  But they had done this many times before.  I admired their strength and endurance.

Two weeks ago, after the flood waters had receded, I walked the same path.  Even without the water, I had to be careful.  These paths were not made for us big footed foreigners.  I calculated each step.  Once into the clump of trees, several bamboo/nepa houses appeared.  My pastor/friend and I continued along the path, past barking dogs, busy chickens, waddling ducks, and some chirping birds.

We arrived at the Filipino couple’s home, slightly better built than the others. Tall trees surrounded the house.  A nearby garden showed where some of their food came from.  On one side of the house, bamboo poles held up a cheap plastic tarp, a lean-to tent shelter to give shade for those who came to worship.  About 20 were seated on rough planks held up by A-frame legs of wooden boards. 

The message was about another couple whose wife had been 8+ months pregnant with her first child, the husband too poor to afford a place to deliver the baby.  Mary and Joseph had to settle for a dirty barn.  Months earlier, an angel told Mary that her child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was the Son of God.  But with no midwife, hot water, or even diapers, their circumstance didn’t fit their idea of where the Son of God should be born.

God’s ways are so different than man’s.  I assured those under the tent that their humble lifestyle was not an indication of God’s absence.  On the contrary, it may be an indication of God’s favor.  I glanced at the couple in whose humble home I was a guest.  I felt sure that someday in eternity, I would be seated in their heavenly mansion which would be far bigger than mine.  And that made me feel honored and blessed to be in their presence now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finding Joy

The children lined up in single file, each eager with anticipation of receiving a colorful plastic toy.  Such a toy would be quickly discarded by most American kids as being cheap and ordinary.  But for these impoverished children, such a toy was a treasure.  Moments later, the parents received food baskets of rice, powdered milk, coffee, and other common goods.  Given in Jesus’ Name, these were likely the only gifts these poor but faithful folks received this Christmas.

The scene was repeated in 3 other places where we had churches.  Eager children lined up for a simple but precious toy while their parents were blessed with food items they likely could not afford.  After the gift giving, we shared a gospel message of love and hope.  All together, about 130 families received food baskets and 200 children received toys and fruits.

However, perhaps more amazing was the source of food and gifts.  Not from me or my ministry.  But they were all given my one lady who wanted to bless many needy Christian families.  A lady whose husband, a pastor, had died earlier this year from cancer.  A lady who was struggling to take over the family business.  A lady who had to figure out how to continue raising her own 4 children alone.  A lady who, a few months ago, had also been diagnosed with cancer and was now undergoing treatments.

But also a lady who has learned that greater joy comes from giving rather than receiving, that blessings are better shared than kept, and that the best way to avoid dwelling on our own hardships is by helping those whose hardships are deeper than mine.  She also instructed me to give the gifts anonymously.  “Don’t mention my name to anyone.  Tell them that these are blessings from the Lord.”  And so I did.

Christmas 2016 is over.  Today, as I write, is the first day of a new year.  We hope it will be a happy one.  But if experience is consistent, it will also be a year of unexpected disappointments, seasons of sadness, and momentary times of turmoil.  There will be days when happiness seems elusive, but genuine joy will greet those who step away from their own trials and choose to ease the trials of others more needy than themselves.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas Joys

It was a beautiful wedding ceremony.  I made it through without crying, although I came close a couple of times.  Over 100 friends and family gathered for the special event.  It was great seeing so many familiar faces.  Martha and Philip went on a Caribbean cruise.  After visiting my brother for a few days, I stayed at David and Andrea’s house for a week, eating chicken fried steak twice with Hannah, seeing where Jonathan worked (quite impressive), and enjoying Christmas lights with Sara.  I wish I could have stayed longer.

But I’m back in Iloilo where the weather is much warmer.  Tomorrow I leave all day to the western part of our Island to distribute Christmas gifts to our churches through the ministry of  Saturday I will be gone all day to the northern part of our island to do the same.  Then next week I will cover the eastern part of our island.  To the south is ocean where travel would be difficult for my aged car!

Christmas is a time when stores remind us of the abundance we enjoy in the U.S.A.  But the news headlines tell us that people in other countries, including the Philippines, live in a different world where needs are desperate and lives are fragile.  The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for missions is an important link to channel resources to places that need more than food.  They need to know about a Savior who came from glory, born in a manger, showed us God, carried our sins and died for them that we might live with Him forever.

I hope your Christmas is a blessed time with family and friends.  Enjoy the food, the delicacies, the decorations, the gifts, the joy, and the love.  And don’t forget the millions who can only dream of such things.  Share the meaning of Christmas with them, too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gone to Texas

I’m leaving in a few hours to Texas where Martha will be married this coming Saturday, Dec. 3.  My work load has been a bit heavier during the past couple of weeks as I have prepared to leave.  I will be back in the Philippines on Dec. 12.

Last Friday was a highlight for me.  We had 15 students graduate from our BOOST program, our highest number so far.  The highlight was listening to their testimonies during the graduation ceremony.  Most of their testimonies were similar…

“Before I came to the BOOST program I was involved in several vices (usually drugs, gambling, and drinking).  But during the past 3 months I have learned about God, the Bible, and how to grow in my relationship with Him.  Now I want to return home and share with others what I have learned.”

Please pray for these young people as they return home, that the Lord will protect them from the evil one, that they will read and apply Scripture daily, and that they will be faithful to share what they have learned with others.  Our next batch of students will begin their training on January 9.

After I return from the States, Christmas will be busy with church fellowships and gift giving.  We have targeted several areas to give food and other items to needy families.   Although the end of the year is usually harvest time, the crops this year have been relatively lean.

Speaking of Christmas, this is the time when the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions is collected.  Would you please prayerfully consider giving a generous amount.  Half of all our funds comes from this one offering.  It’s what keeps us here, evangelizing the lost, discipling the saved, and working until our Savior returns.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Earth and Heaven Happenings

Wow, what an election return!  While I’m excited about the potential of a unified Republican government (especially constitutionalist Supreme Court nominees), I remind myself that my ultimate hope belongs in heaven, that this world is under a death sentence, and that our primary task is not to make America great, but to glorify our great God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

The election results were a nice birthday present as another year caught up with me and passed me by.  I still don’t know how many more times the calendar will flip before I retire, but as long as my health holds up and my company lets me stay, I hope to continue the work.  I’ve learned not to be overwhelmed by the size of the task, but just focus on the people and the work that the Lord gives me each day.

Last week we had our annual associational meeting.  How exciting to hear our churches report about God’s work among them.  I think I heard that about 50 had been baptized since our last meeting 6 months ago.  Some churches have begun new outreach points, others reported spiritual renewals among their members, still others have been challenged to plant new churches.  I am so blessed to see God work so strongly among such humble people.

On the family front, Martha’s wedding will be on Dec. 3.  Preparations are proceeding.  Two weeks ago, Hannah competed in a triathlon – a 3-part race that including 450 people swimming half a mile across a lake, bicycling 12 miles, then running 3 miles.  When Hannah started training a year ago, she said her goal was to beat the truck that picked up the cones at the end of the race!  After a year of disciplined practice she completed the race with a respectable time.

When I was at David and Andrea’s wedding a year ago, Hannah asked me when and where was our next family vacation.  Knowing they liked the movie Lord of the Rings, I quickly smiled and said, “Hey, let’s go to New Zealand!  Hahaha.”   They didn’t hear the ‘hahaha’ part, so Hannah, Sara, and I will be touring New Zealand the first 2 weeks of February (southern hemisphere's mid-summer).  Martha had originally planned to go, but then marriage happened.

Well, that’s about all the major news for the past couple of weeks.  The world still turns no matter who is president, I still get older no matter what I do, and the Lord still works in people’s hearts no matter what the devil does.  Thanksgiving is around the corner, so as the old hymn says, “Count your blessings name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wedding Bells

I am glad to announce that on Saturday morning, December 3, in Aubrey, Texas, Martha will be wedded to Philip Dorr.  Like Martha, Philip is a MK (missionary kid) who has a deep love for the Lord and a compassionate heart for people.  Philip graduated from Liberty University last year with a major in graphic arts.  He’s a soft-spoken man who enjoys working with his hands, whether it’s creating a design on a computer or installing plumbing/electrical in a house.  In this family photo, Philip is at the front seated next to Martha.
Philip and Martha’s friendship began during their second year at Liberty University.  Both being MK’s, they developed a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s commitment to the Lord and obedience to His Word.  Philip and I exchanged a few emails as his friendship with Martha grew.  But Philip soon realized that he wasn’t yet ready for marriage and, out of respect for Martha, chose to step back and focus all his attention on finishing school and discerning God’s will for his life.

So, for the past couple of years, both he and Martha had very little communication as they both gave their time and energy to doing well in school, involving themselves in ministry, working their jobs, and growing in their relationship with the Lord.  Then, in June, Philip and Martha attended the wedding of a mutual friend.  There, Philip shared with Martha that he felt God was directing him toward marriage and toward Martha.  Martha was elated because she had always liked Philip and couldn’t imagine marriage to anyone else.

Within weeks it seemed clear that Philip and Martha were a perfect match.  Even before Philip officially proposed to Martha a couple of weeks ago (after receiving my blessing), Martha had already reserved a chapel and made initial wedding plans.  In November, Philip will move to Fort Worth and stay with David and Andrea until the wedding.  Philip will continue working on a Christian film promotion project while he looks for an apartment for him and Martha to live in after the wedding.  After their honeymoon, Martha will continue her nursing job at Baylor Hospital.

So, I will leave at the end of November for a 10 day stay in Texas.  We are trying to figure out how I will officiate the wedding while also being the one to give away the bride.  Just pray for me that I can keep my eyes dry as a give my little girl away and rejoice with her in celebrating her union with Philip.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ministry Updates

The Gospel is Shared:  In the far northwest corner of our island, about 5 hours away from where I live, a cluster of 4 Southern Baptist churches meet every other month for fellowship and encouragement.  On the last Saturday of July, we trained about 30 church members on Simply the Word, a very simple way to do Bible study that even the illiterate can participate in. 

Two months later, on the last Saturday of September, we returned to hear of their progress.  Several gave reports of new Bible studies started.  A few had made professions of faith and were ready to be baptized.  Most exciting for us was that some of the Bible studies and gospel sharing were done by church members.  After our follow-up training, the participants left with renewed confidence and enthusiasm to tell others about Jesus.

The Needy are Helped:  “These kids are the poorest of the poor,” explained the elementary school principal.  “We are the only school whose students don’t wear uniforms because the kids just can’t afford one.”  The principal had invited Pastor Ronald and his staff at the computer school to share Bible stories to the 100+ students every Friday morning.  In addition, Ronald and staff provide a simple breakfast for them. 

Bibles given to the students
Grateful for a simple breakfast
Ronald shared, “We met one 6th grade girl who was taking care of her two younger sisters because their parents had abandoned them nearly a year ago.  She begs for food and does whatever work she can find just to keep herself and sisters in the elementary school.”  In the midst of hardships, hunger, and hopelessness, the kids are learning about God’s love.  Please pray for the desperate needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual) of these children. 

Seventeen are Baptized:  They lined up on the beach at the water’s edge.  For the past 2 weeks, our 17 BOOST students had been learning the Gospel message and all of them decided to give their lives to Christ.  One by one they entered the ocean water to publicly confess that they were dying to their old way of life and being raised to a new life in Christ.  Please pray that by the end of their training in December, they will be ready to return to their home places and share the same life-saving message.