Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Harvest Field

In a few hours I will leave on a trip to our annual youth camp on the west side of Panay Island.  It’s about a 4 hour drive across decent roads. The last hour and a half passes some beautiful coastal views, especially at sunset.  Seasonal waterfalls are often visible along the mountain range that rises from the ocean floor.

About 100 of our young people will be gathered at Camp Moriah - 2 acres of beach front forested land owned by one of our church members.  The 4-day camp will feature games, speakers, music, and special activities that will serve to encourage each attendee to grow their relationship with the Lord and share their faith to others.

Yesterday I traveled two and a half hours to our neighboring province where Pastor Ronald manages a computer school while also evangelizing and discipling students.  We left 6 big boxes of school supplies for the children of several dozen families where Ronald does his outreach.  The supplies will be divided up into individual packets with a gospel presentation inside.  Each child will know that these supplies were given in Jesus’ name.

On Sunday I will travel to the interior of our island, also in mountainous terrain, to distribute school supplies to the needy families in our churches.  I will have the opportunity to share with them God’s Word and a message of encouragement.  The school year here in the Philippines begins the first full week of June, so this is an opportunity to share God’s love and blessings among the churches we work with.

In the days ahead I will be traveling to other areas to distribute school supplies, to speak in some of our churches, to lead Bible studies, to conduct trainings, and even to officiate a wedding.  Last week I heard that one of our most distant churches baptized 8 new believers just 2 weeks ago.  Another church purchased a vehicle so that they could transport their members to the 4 outreaches they oversee and which they hope will someday become churches.

All around God is at work.  He works because people have prayed for a harvest of souls, others have planted the seeds of the gospel, and still others have harvested the spiritual fruit.  Person by person God’s kingdom grows. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hospital Culture

One of the hazards of living in the Philippines is food.  Asians seem to have an inborn immunity to many of the micro creatures that inhabit tropical plants and animals. These bio bugs often make their way into the mouths and stomachs of unsuspecting victims.  On Sunday, March 19, I was a victim.

We celebrated Sunday morning worship at a church member's house followed by a lavish lunch of meats, vegetables, fruits, and more meats.  I ate.  Early the next morning, something was telling me that all was not well in the inner chambers of my anatomy.  By mid-morning my stomach was bloating and pain was stabbing my left abdomen.  

Caution told me to go to the hospital.  But staying in a hospital here is not the same as in the U.S.  I resisted, telling myself that maybe the pain would subside.  It didn’t.  By early afternoon the pain was intense so I drove myself to the emergency room of a nearby hospital and checked in.  Their initial diagnosis was that I had some type of intestinal blockage.

One of the caveats of Filipino hospital culture is that a patient must never be alone.  A family member, neighbor, or friend must be present to help take care of the patient and facilitate the purchase of medicines and other needed supplies.  As an introvert who values privacy, I really didn’t want anyone to know I was in the hospital.  But after 2 hours of pain and going back and forth to the pharmacy for meds, I relented and called a nearby friend.

Unfortunately, the wife of my friend is our WMU director.  By the time I was wheeled to my room, waves of church visitors began converging around my hospital bed.  Another aspect of Filipino hospital culture is that a hospital is considered public space, therefore whatever takes place inside is OK for public viewing. 

So, when a male nurse entered the room to inject my backside with a suppository, I knew I was in trouble.  “Oh my,” I thought, “this is going to be interesting.”  As the nurse slipped on his rubber gloves no one made a move to leave.  Everyone was ready for the show!  Finally I said, “Excuse me, but I think this procedure requires a high degree of privacy.”

Some got up to leave, but others seemed confused as to why this required them to step outside.  I even had to tell the nurse to wait until everyone was out before he lifted my hospital gown.  But he did wait and I was successful in preventing everyone from seeing my better side.

After a couple of days the pain eventually lessened and my insides returned to normal.  Most likely something I ate the day before played havoc with my plumbing.  But the incident was added to my list of cultural adventures and gave me more stories to tell about life in the Philippines.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Oasis of Refreshment

“I never knew we were so many.”

“This has been one of the most wonderful weeks of my life.”

“I have learned so much this week.”

"This is what heaven must be like." 

“I have been made happy!”

These were some of the comments during our final worship capping our 3 day retreat.  216 church members coming from our 22 churches gathered at a comfortable sea-side resort about 45 minutes outside Iloilo City.  Inspirational worship services, informative workshops, encouraging fellowship, abundant food, and lots of fun characterized the well-planned retreat.  For many of the attendees, this was the nicest place they had ever stayed in.

Nearly half of our church delegates were young people, age 16 and up.  At a time in their life when they are bombarded with intense temptations and life-changing decisions, the retreat provided them with a much needed Biblical worldview from which to make wise choices.  Our topics included, Knowing the Difference between Love and Lust, Understanding Youth Conflicts and finding Biblical Solutions, How to Build Godly Relationships, Learning to Discern the Dangers in our Technology-centered Culture.  

For our older folks, we had topics of Financial Freedom, Balanced Leadership, Sharing God’s Word, Raising a Godly Family, and Health and Wellness.  During each of our 3 worship services, at least 2 of our pastors gave testimony of God’s work in their lives.  We saw them as real people with real struggles, all relying on a wise and powerful God.  On Good Friday, all of us participated in a dramatic presentation of the Jewish Passover meal as we learned how each of the elements in the meal pointed to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Messianic promise.

Of course, all were very grateful to the IMB and to those individuals who contributed so much so that the people here could attend the retreat at minimal cost.  Actually, the cost per person for the 3 day retreat was about $45, the price for a budget hotel room for 1 night in the U.S.  But here, a dollar can be stretched so much further and accomplish so much more.  Everyone voiced their desire to do this again, but budget limitations means that it is uncertain if we can ever do this again.

The retreat concluded with 3 new believers being baptized in the resort’s large swimming pool.  At a time when worldly influences and cultural pressures are oppressing God’s people, the retreat was an oasis of refreshment.  Thank you so much for each of you who prayed.  My goal was to see God’s people encouraged in their faith and, based on the comments I heard, that goal was aptly met.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sharing the Message of Jesus

In the Philippines, the school year ends in late March, with baccalaureate services and graduation ceremonies crowding the final week.  Student leaders and college professors are in the hunt for speakers, which often gives me the opportunity to do what I enjoy doing – talking about Jesus. Of the seven major universities in our city (the most in any city of the Philippines outside Manila) I have had the privilege to speak in four.

Yesterday, over a hundred graduating students from Western Visayas State University gathered for a one-day retreat, with me as their speaker.  For 3 hours I shared about God’s design for men and women as image bearers of our Creator.  Instilled with the purpose of reflecting God’s nature, mankind failed in his mission when he chose sin rather than obedience.  But with Christ’s payment of our death penalty and His offering of the Holy Spirit, the opportunity to reclaim our life purpose is available to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.  I concluded with an invitation to join God’s kingdom.

Afterwards I reflected about the secularization of America and realized how difficult it would be today to share the message of Jesus in a state-run university.  With the increasing moral and intellectual depravity that is inflicting America’s youth, the message they need to hear the most is now largely outlawed in our schools.  While the worldly influences of pop-western culture continue to spread around the world like a plague, the people of the Philippines maintain an openness to things that are eternal.  At some point in the near future I suspect the Philippines will surpass the United States in terms of openness to the gospel.  We will need missionaries from the Philippines to carry the gospel to American shores!

As a part of building God’s kingdom here, we will be having our 3-day retreat on April 12-15 during Holy Week with the largest gathering we’ve ever had of our churches from this part of the Philippines.  Please continue praying that the Lord would pour out His Spirit and grace in every participant and that all would be done for God’s glory.  Also, tomorrow is our 7th BOOST graduation of our agricultural and Bible training ministry.  Pray for the 13 young men who will be returning to their home places, prepared to share with their family and friends what they have learned from God’s Word.

On the home front, baby Moses continues to develop inside her mommy’s tummy.  David and Andrea are preparing their house for her arrival around the 1st of August.  Sara has moved into a new place, a house shared with 2 other Christian ladies.  She is now 8 minutes away from where Jonathan lives and 15 minutes away from the apartment of Martha and Philip.  In addition to her work at the George Ranch, Hannah and a friend have teamed together as conference speakers, traveling to different places in the U.S. to train organizations on how to effectively work with volunteers. She and her siblings try to get together at least once a month, usually at David’s house, for family fellowship.

I hope your Spring is off to a good start and that you are experiencing the presence of our Lord at work in your life.  Blessings to each of you who read these updates.  Your prayers make a difference!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Prayer Request

Are any of you old enough to remember week-long church revivals?  My home church in Fort Worth used to have one sometimes two “revivals” every year.  We would begin on a Sunday morning and continue every night until the following Sunday.  Each evening worship service would have special music and an invited speaker who would challenge us to renew our calling to serve the Lord.  An alter call was given at the end of each service for church members and guests to respond to God’s voice.  I remember seeing hundreds respond during the week with renewed commitments to follow the Lord.

As our modern culture got more modern and less godly, revival services became a tradition of the past.  In recent years, some churches have attempted to call God’s people together for a time of renewal.  But instead of one week, the ‘revival’ is reduced to a couple of nights or maybe a weekend.  Even then, members are too busy and usually few attend.  Such is the direction of our culture and the Church.

The Church in the Philippines is no different.  As modern media continues it’s secular indoctrination through TV, movies, internet, music, and other outlets, it seems fewer people care about things that are eternal.  The effect on God’s Church has been severe; no doubt a reflection of God’s response when His people fail to “call on the name of the Lord your God.”  But no matter how strong evil becomes, God will always act on behalf of those whose hearts belong to Him – 1 Chronicles     .

In an effort to do what we can to slow the secular tide, I have planned a 3 day retreat for our church members during the later part of Holy Week, April 12-15.  The IMB will be covering most of the cost (with my famiy chipping in a generous amount).  We have reserved a seaside resort that provides air-conditioned rooms, a large swimming pool, a small children-friendly zoo, and all-you-can-eat meals.  Most of our church members, who are rather poor, have never experienced a place such as this.

During the 3 days, we will have conferences and workshops on topics such as How to Raise a Godly Family, Financial Freedom, Evangelism and Discipleship, Servant-Leadership, and Dealing with Conflicts.  We will have nightly worship that will aim to challenge every participant to put God first in their lives.  More than 200 adults have already signed up.  This will be the largest gathering of our churches in the history of our work in this part of the Philippines.

Please pray for revival!  Pray that every participant will come with an expectation to encounter God, to hear His voice, and to respond in humble obedience.  Pray for the speakers, worship leaders, and other workers, that everything we do will be to God’s glory.  Ask God to bind the enemy from causing disruptions, disorder, or confusion.  Pray that each one will be challenged to return home, eager to be God’s ambassador to their family, school, business, and community.  Thank you for praying.  Lord, Your Kingdom come!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New Zealand

In the southwest corner of New Zealand’s southern island is an area that is geologically unique, the elements of which combine to create a trail that some have described as the most beautiful walk in the world.  The glacially carved Southern Alps, as the mountain range is so named, rise dramatically from the Pacific ocean.  Relatively young in geological terms, absent are the foothills that characterize much of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and other older mountain chains.  The result are walls of majestic mountains that rise vertically from the valley floors.
The Milford Sound

In addition, warm waters from ocean currents bring moist air that empty their clouds upon contact with the cold mountain air.  Receiving over 250 inches of rain per year, Fjordland is one of the rainiest places on the globe, producing a rare temperate climate rain forest primarily of southern evergreen Beech trees.  With this much rain emptying from the skies, waterfalls pour from the steep mountain sides like streams of silver strings.

An amazingly lush trail
So popular is the Milford Track that the New Zealand government must limit the number of trekkers.  Only 40 independent hikers per day are allowed, and even then they can hike only in one direction and must stay each night in designated shelters.  ‘Tickets’ for the hike went on sale last May 8 and were sold out within minutes for the entire hiking season.  But I was able to get two for Hannah and I.

Beautiful waterfalls
Being in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand’s summer is America’s winter.  On Feb. 2 Hannah and I boarded a small speed boat that carried us across New Zealand’s largest lake.  After 2 hours, we were dropped off at the beginning of the Milford Track.  For the next 3 days, Hannah and I walked through the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen.  The trails were lined with giant ferns and flowering plants.  Tree trunks were covered with soft green moss.  And every where we went, snow-capped mountains towered on either side of us, with dozens of waterfalls always in view.

Hannah at the mountain pass
Sara joined us at the end of the Track where we enjoyed a boat ride through Milford Sound, described as the eight natural wonder of the world.  This is the only place in the southern hemisphere where fjords can be seen – glacially carved valleys that dip into the ocean, like those seen along the coast of Norway.  Once again, hundreds of waterfalls poured from mountain heights emptying into clear ocean waters.  The beauty was breathtaking.

During the rest of our vacation in New Zealand, we toured many of the Lord of the Rings movie sights, including Mt. Edoras, Mt. Doom, and Hobbiton – the Shire.  We also saw geothermal features, a red-wood forest, and the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  Overall we were overwhelmed with the beauty of God’s creation and blessed to experience it.  But I suspect that what we saw represents only a tiny glimpse of the beauty and glories that await us in God’s eternal kingdom.  Now that is something to eagerly look forward to.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

10 Years

February 8 will be 10 years since Jan’s ‘promotion’ to heaven.  We all miss her but I know she is alive and well, enjoying her faith-earned rewards.  I still see the impact of her life here in the Philippines through the people she ministered to.  Many of them have gone on to become church leaders.  Others have started their own families and raise good children.

Of course, her greatest impact was in her own family.  Jan was never far from my mind last month at Martha’s wedding.  On the one hand, I know Jan would have enjoyed the event.  But as Jan said in her own words, “Don’t grieve for me.  I know where I’m going.”  I choose to believe that somehow Jan already knows the good things that has happened to her children and the good things yet to come.

One of the good things to come will begin tomorrow when I leave the country for 16 days.  Sara, Hannah, and I will meet in New Zealand for 2 weeks of adventure through Middle-earth (the setting for the fictional film, The Lord of the Rings).  We have been planning this vacation for about a year.  Hannah and I will do a backpacking trip along the Milford Track, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful hikes in the world winding its way through luscious forests, glaciered valleys, and majestic mountains.  We will pass one of the tallest waterfalls in the world.

At the end of the hike, Sara will join us at Milford Sound, said to be one of the most awesome natural wonders of the world where the ocean fingers its way inland between towering mountains and thundering waterfalls.  We will spend Hannah’s birthday kayaking on the blue waters of the sound as we enjoy God’s creation.  We will then travel to Christchurch, Wellington, Whakapapa National Park, and end at Rotorua where we will visit the Shire (another Lord of the Rings location).

Jan loved to travel and see new places.  So Sara, Hannah, and I will continue this family tradition of making precious memories that we can carry with us for a lifetime.  Jan also looked forward to the day when our family would grow.  We now have Andrea and Philip, plus one more.  David and Andrea are expecting their first child by the beginning of August!  A new generation who can benefit from Jan’s godly legacy.