Monday, July 30, 2018

Bro. Danny

I first mentioned the song in my Nov. 15, 2009 blog.  In English the song is a prayer to God: "In Your presence (Sa presensiya mo) I have joy (kalipay); in Your presence I have peace (kalinong), in Your presence I have victory (kadalag-an); I offer (ihalad) my life to You.  In 2005, Bro. Danny wrote this song a few months after Jan and I left the Philippines for cancer treatment.  At the time, Bro. Danny and I had begun a church planting project in his municipality (county). 

But when cancer hit I had to leave immediately and all funding for the project, including Danny's support, stopped.  Danny was at a loss.  Without my presence, Danny wasn't sure how to proceed.  With a family to support and a ministry to continue, Danny became desperate.  One evening, during His quiet time, God spoke to Danny and the song was Danny's response.

Danny realized that God's presence (not mine) was all he needed.  In the weeks that followed, Danny and other church leaders boldly shared the gospel in a nearby mountain village where over 70 people professed Christ and were baptized.  Danny shared the song with his church who carried it to other churches.  The message and melody of the song had a big impact on a lot of people.

The song has crossed denominations and can now be heard in churches, camps, and home fellowships throughout the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines.  After I returned in 2008, I had one of my ministry partners, Lily Lacena (who is also Danny's sister-in-law) record the song.  You can listen to it here: Sa Presensiya Mo   It's also a beautiful way to hear what the Ilonggo language sounds like.

Earlier this year I was able to begin a new project with Bro. Danny.  Currently, he is ministering in five different areas as a community developer, supported by Baptist Global Relief.  Danny spends time with community members and leaders training them to discover self-help means to solve local problems.  In the process he has begun sharing the gospel with the aim of starting new churches.

Pray for Bro. Danny as he meets new people, begins new projects, and introduces new people to the Savior.  Emy, Danny's wife, is a source of tremendous encouragement and help to Danny and their ministry.  Their daughter recently graduated from college and has begun teaching high school music using Christian songs as a teaching tool.  She has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard and has obviously inherited some of her father's musical talent.

My departure date for the States is Sept. 8.  August will be a very busy month for me as I continue my speaking and training schedules while also packing and putting away my stuff for storage.  I'm going to miss the people here.  But I know God's presence is all they need.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mimi Update

In February, 2016, I shared with you the story of Mimi.  She worked for us as a ‘helper’ in 1997 and 1998 while finishing college.  As she grew in her relationship with the Lord, Mimi quickly became best friends with my daughters.  For the past 12 years she has worked as an English teacher in Vietnam where she led Bible studies and helped grow 3 churches.
Mimi with Hannah and Martha in 2008

Mimi, now age 37, never had a boyfriend, content to remain single as she served the Lord with gladness.  Last November she met a Frenchman, Antwan, at her church in Vietnam who was visiting relatives.  Their friendship grew and by March he proposed to Mimi and she joyfully accepted.  They will be married here in the Philippines later this year.

In April, Mimi returned to the Philippines to make preparations, yet she wanted to stay involved in ministry.  One of our pastors had been praying for a young lady who could work with the young people in his church, discipling them and training them to lead worship.  Mimi was the perfect fit.  So, for the past several weeks, Mimi rented a room near the church and spent several hours each day with selected young people.  They studied the Scriptures, sang, prayed, and shared their lives.

During the last week of May, they retreated to a small island where they spent several days focusing on growing their relationship with the Lord and committing their lives to Him.  By the first of June the pastor reported big changes in the lives of these young people.  They were more obedient to their parents, participating more in worship, talking about their growing relationship with the Lord, and even leading their own Bible studies.

Mimi’s faithfulness to the Lord reminds me of 2 Timothy 2:2 "And the things you have heard me say in presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.  Mimi has been an encouraging example to many of living out our purpose in life to be mighty in spirit and to lead others to do the same.

Early in their courtship, Antwon asked Mimi what he could give her that would make her happy.  Mim's response, "I don't need anything to make me happy; I'm already happy serving the Lord."  Mimi has learned that the one most ready for marriage is the one who doesn't NEED to be married in order to be fulfilled.  The Lord, Jesus Christ, fulfills and is the only one we cannot live without.  Marriage is simply a new avenue of growing our character, having a partner in ministry, and if the Lord wills, birthing a new generation of servants to the Lord.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Too Much to Miss

They’re too poor to afford a foam mattress.  So tonight all 25 young people are sleeping on the floor of a church building.  The church doesn’t have pews, only cheap plastic chairs.  There’s only one restroom and no kitchen.  Just an open sanctuary where flies and mosquitoes are free to enter.

But the young people, mostly grade 11 and 12, didn’t come for the comfort, but to hear something about God.  Most are not yet Christians.  A friend invited them.  For 5 hours today and another 2 tomorrow, they will hear about God’s love, about Biblical principles of relationships, and about learning to love Christ instead of the world.

Earlier this morning I participated in a prayer breakfast with about 2 dozen church leaders.  In the churches where I often speak I heard testimonies of the Lord’s work, including several baptisms.  A Baptist Men’s group has started; I speak there next week.  I shared about the 11 students we have in our BOOST program and the work of our Community Developer in reaching 5 villages for Christ.

Last week I was blessed to speak to about 65 young people during our annual youth camp.  The leaders were college students from previous camps who have grown mightily in the Lord.  These young people stayed for 5 days at a beach ‘resort’, sleeping on bamboo floors and eating very simple and inexpensive food.  They, too, heard messages of God’s love.

Two weeks ago, me and my ministry partner conducted 3 discipleship training groups, each with about a dozen people.  Most are adult leaders from our churches.  For nearly a year these groups have met monthly to learn more about Biblical principles and to deepen their relationship with God.  They are making plans on how they can start similar training groups in their churches.

Recently I made the decision to return to the Philippines next year after my Stateside Assignment.  I will be 62 and eligible for early retirement.  But I know there is no way I can have the degree of influence in the States that I can have here.  I have spent the last 30 plus years of my life learning the language and culture of this people group that I’ve grown to love.  I don’t hear the Lord telling me to stop.

So, in early September I will return to the States for a year-long furlough.  Then, if my health is good and the Lord is willing, I will return to this place where God is working in big ways.  I don’t want to miss it!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Pastor Jimmy

Wow, I just realized today that it’s been a month since my last update.  My year-long Stateside Assignment is coming up the first of September and there isn’t usually much for me to report on while I’m in the States.  So, I was thinking of updating this blog the first of each month just to be consistent.  But I’ll see.

Last night a dear pastor of ours past away.  He was a month younger than me, but had pastored his church for nearly as long as I’ve been here in the Philippines.  About 5 years ago Jimmy’s doctor prescribed antibiotics for a kidney infection.  Since all their money was going to get their 2 sons through college, Jimmy didn’t buy the full dosage.  The infection returned and his kidneys were unable to recover.  He began kidney dialysis about 3 years ago. 

I visited him the night before and his breathing was rapid and shallow.  He sensed his time was short but he was ready.  His faithful wife and their 2 sons were by his side.  It’s sad when a godly man dies, but it’s also a time of rejoicing, knowing he is now enjoying all his faith-earned rewards in his new heaven-made body.

April was a busy time for me with people to visit, sermons to prepare, projects to manage, reports to file, meetings to attend, house to clean, grass to cut, clothes to wash, food to cook, car to clean, and teeth to brush.  (I guess I didn’t need to list that last one, but I was on a roll!)   May looks to be even busier with more of the same plus a youth retreat thrown in. 

This May marks the 14th year since I had my initial cancer surgery and the 10th year since my surgery for cancer recurrence.  Not that I think about it much; I hardly ever do.  I’m excited for my new eternal home in heaven and I’m ready for it whenever the Lord is.  But hospitals remind me that before I can move in to my majestic mansion, I’ll probably have to suffer some uncomfortable physical deterioration.  I tell people that I’m not at all afraid of death, but I’m deathly afraid of hospitals.  Well, if that’s the price I must pay to get on the train to glory then I’ll gladly pay it, whenever it’s time for the train to leave.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Hannah's Wedding and Seeing Christy

I said ‘goodbye’ to my granddaughter, Christy, a short time ago.  She’s 8 months old now and precious.  Grandpa had a long repertoire of silly sounds that kept her smiling.  Daddy David and Mommy Andrea are doing a super job of parenting.  I will see Christy again in September when she will be taking her first walks and saying her first words.  

For my other main event of the month, I had the best seat, or spot, in the place, standing slightly in front of and between Hannah on my right, in her wedding dress, and Daniel on my left.  The venue was a large Victorian style indoor gazebo-like circular building located in a Galveston shore park.  My message was about the purpose and nature of marriage.  Daniel and Hannah said their vows, exchanged their rings, and enjoyed the traditional kiss. 
Hannah looked lovely and Daniel looked handsome as the ceremony progressed followed by picture taking, food, games, along with great fellowship among family and friends.  I was especially blessed by the George Ranch volunteers who attended and, among others, said sweet things about Hannah. Hannah and Daniel chose to stay practical and affordable as they honeymooned in Galveston.  (If Jan were here to write this blog, it would be several pages long filled with vivid wedding details that us guys just either miss or can’t see!)

Prior to the wedding, I visited Hannah’s new work place at the Sauer-Beckmann Historical Farm.  While there I met her staff, watched new-born sheep, talked with visitors, and helped pull weeds while Hannah milked the cow.  The next day Daniel, Hannah, and I visited the famous Blue Bell Ice Cream factory while on our way to Galveston.  During the week I also spent quality time with Sara, Jonathan, Martha and Philip.  Three nights ago I had the pleasure of leading the church home-group that David and Andrea lead each week.

Now I’m riding 38,000 feet in the sky over the Pacific ready to resume my ministry on the other side of the globe.  Prayer breakfast, discipleship groups, leadership training, and sermon messages are all on the agenda for the next couple of weeks.  I’ll have to brush away spiderwebs from the back of my desk and sweep the dust off the floor.  There will be emails to respond to and a statistical report to fill out.  I will have friends to call and errands to make.

But it was nice to take a break to see the bluebonnets and smell the sagebrush, to connect with family and talk to friends, and most of all to see Hannah wedded and to hold my beautiful grandbaby.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Love Continues

Maybe it’s because Hannah is getting married in a couple of weeks.  Or maybe it’s because love is such a big issue nowadays among young people here.  But it seems the topic has followed me into March.

Last week I was invited to speak at a ‘Love Banquet’, sponsored by the 10th grade of Doane Christian Academy.  I accept almost every invitation to speak, seeing this as an opportunity to make Christ known.  But after speaking at this Love Banquet last week, I doubt they will ever invite me back!  Here’s why…

When I entered the venue, decorations galore greeted my eyes.  Paper hearts and cupid cut-outs hung from the ceiling.  Glittering streamers of red and pink covered the walls.  Love wasn’t just in the air; it was plastered on everything from the table napkins to the speaker’s podium.

The boys were decked out in formal suits and ties, while the ladies wore fancy dresses that never reached below the knees.  The evening began with a procession down the red carpet as every boy was locked arm in arm with a girl.  The MC announced the name of each couple as they entered the spotlighted arena. 

Contests were held on who was the ‘best dressed’, the ‘best face’, the ‘best personality’, and the ‘most popular’.  During another part of the evening, each boy presented his corresponding date with a red rose which he tied around her wrist.  Some of the boys chose to kiss her hand as well.

During the meal, different students took turns singing love songs, filling the arena with sounds of romance.  One 10th grader came to the microphone and, while looking intently to his date, sang “You’re just too good to be true.  Can’t take my eyes off of you.  You’d be like heaven to touch.  I want to hold you so much...”

Finally, it was my turn to speak.  I make a joke about all the girls being taller than the boys because of their high-heeled shoes.  I also expressed my gratefulness to them for allowing me to be their speaker.

Then I shared a story to them about a newlywed couple, Chad and Heidi Eves, who followed a biblical pattern of courtship.  Both had pledged never to date, waiting for God to bring the right person into their lives if He wanted them to marry.  When God ‘woke up’ Chad to Heidi, Chad worked through his father and Heidi’s father to further determine God’s will, all without Heidi knowing about it.

After lots of prayer and Bible studies with Chad, Heidi’s father finally gave permission and told Heidi about Chad’s desire to court her.  Heidi had long admired Chad’s godly character.  She was excited and quickly agreed.  A few weeks later Chad presented Heidi with an engagement ring.  He didn’t put it on her finger because he had pledged not to touch Heidi until their wedding day, knowing that 1 Cor. 7:1 literally says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”   A short time later they were married, exchanging their first kiss on their wedding day.

After sharing Chad and Heidi’s story, I drew the students’ attention to their school logo, which pictured an open Bible with the Scripture reference Joshua 1:8.  I had memorized that verse long ago, so I reminded them of what it said, “Do not let this book of the law depart from you, but 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.”

I asked the students and teachers, “If a stranger were to enter now, what evidence would he see that you are Christians?  In reference to God’s Word, what evidence does God see that you are ‘careful to do everything written in it”?  I challenged them to not be conformed to the ways of the world, but to seek to obey and glorify God in their personal lives and in all their future school activities.

Well, like I said, they may never invite me again to be their speaker. But that’s ok.  On Saturday I leave for Texas to see my granddaughter for the first time.  Then I will be privileged to officiate the wedding of Hannah and Daniel on the afternoon of the 25th in Galveston. 

Recently, when one of Hannah’s co-workers asked why Daniel had not yet moved into Hannah’s apartment, Hannah explained, “Because we are not married yet; we are both virgins.”  The co-worker was surprised and amazed.  Whether in the U.S. or the Philippines, it seems personal gratification matters more than mutual responsibility.  Despite the increasing darkness of our time, let’s keep our little lights shining so the world around us can know that there is a better way.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Love Month

It’s been a week since Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  But here in the Philippines, love is the topic for the entire month.  Hearts and cupids hang in the department stores until the red and pink commercial stock has been sold.  Love songs fill the radio waves and love stories shine on the silver screen.  In our churches, love is the theme for all four Sundays.

Valentine’s Day was a holiday that didn’t receive too much emphasis in our home-schooled family.  Why dabble with romantic emotions when you are not yet over puberty!  For me, growing up as a cross-eyed fat boy, Valentine’s Day was always a painful reminder of what I didn’t have.  During my first year of marriage, I completely forgot about the holiday.  Jan didn’t speak to me for a whole day!

But my biggest objection to the event is the wrong meaning that modern man has pasted onto an otherwise incredible beautiful word.  When I tell people that I serve here in a 3rd world country because God has given me a love for Filipinos, it would be incorrect to think that my commitment to serve is based on a continual emotional fondness for the people.  While I do have many wonderful Filipino friends here, my ministry to them is based on something far more solid than heat-felt feelings.

When Jesus taught His followers about love, He could have used the common thought expressed in the Greek word “storgee”, which is affection for someone because of your connectedness to them, such as a family member or marriage partner.  But Jesus never used its Aramaic equivalent.  He could have used ‘phile-o’, which is affection for someone (or something) because of qualities he/she possess.  Indeed, Jesus did use it a few times, but mostly in a negative way about those who ‘love’ to sit in the place of honor, or about the way the world loves its own (John 15:19).

To express genuine love, Jesus selected the thought expressed in a Greek word that was rarely used and existed only in verb form to describe those times when a person would sacrifice himself for the benefit of another, such as a soldier for his country or a mother for her child.  Jesus took that word, ‘agape-o’ and turned it into a noun, then told people where it came from (1 John 4:7).  The Bible says that only those who possess God’s Holy Spirit can faithfully show this kind of unconditional, sacrificial love that is based on an inward desire to help someone else regardless of any benefit they might bring to you (Gal. 5:22).

One word that the Bible never uses is ‘eros’, which is a passionate selfish desire for someone, usually sexual.  A close synonym would be ‘lust’.  No Biblical writer would have ever used ‘eros’ in the context of love because it means almost the exact opposite.  Unfortunately, when ancient scribes translated Greek writings into the English language, some unspiritual men used the same word ‘love’ for both ‘agape’ and ‘eros’, an enormous error that, to this day, causes much confusion about love’s true meaning.

So, I let Valentine’s Day pass, except to use it as an opportunity to talk about God’s love.  Indeed, God has given me His love to pass on to Filipino people, a task for which I feel overwhelmingly inadequate.  But with your prayer support and God’s grace, maybe enough of His love can find its way through me to make a meaningful impact on those God has called me to serve.