Sunday, November 12, 2017

60

An awful thing happened to be last week.  It’s dreadful to think about.  I can’t believe it finally came upon me.  I turned 60!  In the Philippines, I’m now a senior citizen!  Middle-aged has turned into the golden years.  Well, I’m reminded what the Scripture says in 1 Cor. 4, “We do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying [nice choice of words], yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”  I guess another way to say it is, “Although I don’t look great on the outside, I can still be young at heart!”

On the family side, Martha and Philip have moved to Virginia to be near his parents.  Martha will begin looking for a nursing job after Christmas.  Christy continues to grow.  David and Andrea took her on her first camping trip last week to the shores of Broken Bow Lake in SE Oklahoma.  Sara took a long weekend trip to Phoenix to visit a friend and Jonathan has made several out of state trips recently.  But the biggest news belongs to Hannah.

This week, Hannah got officially engaged to Daniel Kelogg.  Wedding date is March 25.  Daniel is from Tennessee and is finishing his Master’s degree in Public History this month.  He works at the George Ranch where Hannah also works, at least until the end of this week.  Hannah was selected to be the new manager of the Sauer-Beckmann Farm on the LBJ State Park and Historic Site, near Frederiksberg, Texas.  Visitors can tour the working farm and experience life as it was in the early 1900’s.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=78HWqzout3c  Hannah will be a level 3 Texas Park Ranger which is rare to see for someone still in her 20’s.

On the ministry side, a 3-day pastor’s retreat will keep me busy next week.  Then come Thanksgiving and the Christmas season which always fills my calendar with speaking opportunities and ministry events.  www.Blessings.ph will be giving away Christmas gifts to needy children beginning in early December.  Discipleship training, a BOOST graduation, and a reunion of former BOOST graduates will also be coming up in the next few weeks.

President Trump is in the Philippines today, ending his Asian tour.  North Korea remains a threat.  The news is full of sex scandals.  Government corruption continues to be exposed.  In a world full of uncertainties and turmoil, Jesus remains our solid rock, our refuge, our peace… even for men in their 60’s!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

LMCO

In the pages of history when wars were fought, soldiers would take to the battle field rallying behind a flag bearer who led the march toward the enemy.  The raised flag was a beacon for the soldiers, their assurance that they were advancing and that the causes for which they fought were worth dying for.

Last Friday I sat in our semi-annual Association meeting, listening to the reports from our churches about what God was doing: new believers being baptized, outreach Bible studies started, exciting ministry opportunities opening up, and best of all – lives being changed.  I didn’t do all of these.  In fact, most of these things happened apart from any direct involvement on my part.  God has raised up faithful men and women in our churches here who are on the front lines, leading the charge in advancing God’s kingdom.

But others have compared my role to that of a flag bearer.  For our leaders here, knowing that there are other Christians in the world like me who care about what they are doing, who are praying for them, who are cheering them on, motivates them to keep marching onward, to continue the often thankless task of storming the gates of hell and planting the flag of Jesus Christ in dark places.

If that is my role - to carry the flag of God’s kingdom so I can encourage others, then I’m glad to do it.  And the only reason I’m able to do it is because of your support.  The season for the Lottie-Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions is upon us.  While in the U.S. in 2012-13, I was shocked to learn that most Southern Baptist churches give $0 to this annual offering.  Yet, for those who give, they share in the effort and the glory of carrying the Christian flag in far away places.

Last week I gave 10 Bibles to a rural church whose members could not afford to purchase Bibles for themselves.  The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering – LMCO made that possible.  Because of LMCO, over 200 of our church leaders were blessed and encouraged as they gathered for a retreat last April.  Next week I will be speaking to more than 50 church youth leaders about mentoring students for Christ, and again to a school about finding Jesus in the midst of an evil world.  LMCO makes this and much more possible.  The flag is being carried, the soldiers are marching forward, the gospel is being spread, all because faithful churches give to the LMCO each year.

As the season for Thanksgiving and Christmas draws near, with thoughts of food, family, gifts, and Christmas lights, please remember the dedicated soldiers on the front lines who are sacrificially advancing God’s kingdom.  Carry the flag with me; give to the LMCO!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Family Update

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on my family.  So, if I may, let me fill you in.

Jonathan is now more than one year in his new position at Cisco, Inc., having worked for 2 years in their computer lab before being promoted to their security networking division.  He sits behind a big desk with 4 large monitors, advising clients and assisting them with their technical needs.  Interestingly, the other dozen or so advisors all have bachelors or masters degree.  Jonathan is the youngest on the team, able to sneak in with just an associates degree because of his knowledge and experience.  He continues to share an apartment with 3 other Christian men.

Martha and Philip are nearing the end of their first year of marriage, still very happy and content.  After working for 2 years as an ICU nurse in Dallas, Martha will be leaving her job this month and moving to Virginia to me near Philip’s family.  Martha wants to try pediatric nursing and hopes to work in a local hospital while Philip continues his computer graphics and design work.  

The flooding last month in the Houston area disrupted Hannah’s life for a couple of weeks.  Although the house she shares with a family barely stayed dry, many areas surrounding her did not.  The George Ranch where she works had to do major clean up after the waters receded.  Hannah may be changing jobs soon, but will wait to see what happens before announcing that.  She and Daniel continue to grow in their friendship.

Sara and Hannah spent a 5 day vacation together in and around Boston last week, visiting historical sites and enjoying the autumn colors.  They and Martha took a trip together a couple of weeks ago to Louisiana for a weekend.  Sara is nearing 10 years now at her Neiman Marcus job where she works as a graphic artist on their catalogues and website.  Earlier this year, Sara moved into a house with 2 other Christian ladies.  When I furlough next year in Ft. Worth for a year, Sara plans to stay with me.

David and Andrea’s life is centered around Christy Joy, and for good reason.  She is a beautiful baby (don’t all grandpa’s say that).  Andrea has recently resumed teaching trumpet to high schoolers and David continues his computer programing job at Texas Wesleyan University.  About once a month, Jonathan, Martha, Philip, Hannah, Daniel, and Sara come to David and Andrea’s house for a family fellowship.

Well, I suspect Jan occasionally peeks down from heaven’s window at her children and smiles with pleasure at what she sees.  I know I am pleased, too, at what I see.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pastor Ratings

Earlier this week I sat down with my dear friend Pastor Ronald and his wife Mavielle whom our family has known for the past 27 years.  We reminisced of stories from the past when we saw God at work.  Changed lives.  Miracle provisions.  Incredible testimonies.  Instant healings.  Today, Ronald is probably sharing the gospel with more people through the computer school he manages than any other pastor in our entire region.  And he never went to Bible school.

My supervisor recently asked if we should focus on providing more theological education to our churches.  I’m all for education, but I did a little research and came to some conclusions.  First, I made a list of all our pastors for the past 20 years.  Then I gave each one a subjective rating from 1 to 10.  Ten meant he was an outstanding pastor, mature in godly character, able to communicate well, and strong in his relationship with the Lord.

I had 32 names on my list, each with a rating.  Next I divided the pastors into 2 groups: those with a Bible school or seminary degree and those who only had some informal or self-training.  Interestingly, those with a degree had an average rating of 5.6, but those without a degree averaged 8.3.  I further noted 8 pastors with whom we had problems with (bad attitudes, immorality, irresponsible).  Of the 8, 7 had degrees.

In addition, I’ve noticed that the enrollment at some of the theological education schools in Iloilo is far below what it has been in the past, even when offering free tuition.  There just isn’t as many people interested in spiritual things as before.  My conclusion is that theological education is not the best determiner of a quality pastor.  Rather, pastors who are mighty in spirit and mature in character will do far better, regardless of his theological knowledge.

I think of Pastor Joey who leads one of our largest churches in a neighboring province, who also organizes retreats and fellowships for our other churches in the area.  Never went to Bible school or seminary.  Same for Pastor Joshua who leads our largest church on a neighboring island.  His God-given love for people and humble spirit endears him to his church.

As I sat across from Bro. Ronald, listening to his amazing stories of God at work, I remember the Scripture that says “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”  Please pray with me that God will give us more men who are humble in character, mighty in spirit, and passionate to see God’s kingdom grow.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hurricanes and Typhoons

I’m watching the news as Hurricane Irma plows its way through the Caribbean islands toward southern Florida.  Fifteen casualties are already reported; more are expected.  Last week it was Hurricane Harvey that dropped a U.S. record rainfall on Houston, causing over 30 deaths.

Fortunately, the U.S. has resources to prepare for such calamities.  We have dikes, dams, reservoirs, spillways, flood zones, warning systems, shelters, insurance programs, FEMA, and others.  But countries like the Philippines cannot afford such infrastructure and programs.  When a typhoon/hurricane hits, the human toll is much greater.

Each year, the Philippines is hit by about 6 typhoons.  (A hurricane originating in the Pacific Ocean is called a typhoon.)  Nearly each one results in deaths, ranging from a few into the thousands.  Houses are blown away, mudslides wash away villages, trees are toppled, and floods pour through rivers and lowlands.  

In 2008, Typhoon Frank killed 1,400 people, about half of them were here in Iloilo where rapid flood waters covered nearly half the city.  Two years earlier, Typhoon Reming killed an equal number of people.  Typhoon Winnie in 2004 killed 1,600.  In 2012, Typhoon Bopha killed 1,900.  But none of these typhoons come close to the loss of life and damage caused by the two worst typhoons to pound the Philippines.  I have a friend who lived through both.

Inday’s family lived in Ormoc when she was a girl.  Inday’s father was a business man that allowed him to live in a concrete house near the river.  When Typhoon Uring struck their island in 1991, torrents of water raced down the mountain flooding the city of Ormoc.  Inday’s family had to climb to the roof of their house.  As the waters rushed by, Inday remembers seeing her best friend struggling in the water, lifting her hand in the vain hope that someone might rescue her.  But she was washed out to sea and never found.  The death toll was more than 5,000.

A few years later, Inday’s family moved to Tacloban.  On November 8, 2013, the strongest typhoon/hurricane to ever strike land blew into Tacloban with wind gusts of up to 195 mph.  Thousands of houses were totally destroyed, infrastructure was wiped out for months, flood waters inundated the entire city.  Inday’s home was nearly a mile from the coast, but the waters rose several feet into their home, forcing Inday and her family to crawl onto the top shelves of their closet, expecting any moment for their roof to be blow off or the waters to continue rising.

But after two hours of terror, the water and wind began to recede.  The next day, desperate for food and water, Inday remembers climbing through the broken window of the grocery store, still flooded with water.  Stepping over dead bodies, she and others gathered what items they could find.  For several days, the streets were clogged with debris mingled with corpses.  Total casualties: 7,000 plus.

Aside from the physical destruction typhoons cause, there’s an enormous emotional cost for those who survive.  Inday still has nightmares of fierce winds and rising waters.  Several of her friends perished in the storms.  Uncontrollable fears often plague survivors whenever storms come.

In counseling Christians who experience such storms, we focus on resting in God as the source of our security, not this earth.  We comfort ourselves with the assurance of heaven.  We renew our trust in a loving God who can work all things for good, even tragedies, to conform us even more into the image and character of Jesus Christ.  He will always be our solid ground of faith no matter what this world throws at us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Community Development

The narrow road was curvy, snaking a path through rice fields and clumps of bamboo houses.  Mountains hung on either side of us, covered with coconut trees and cogon grass.  Monsoon rains had softened the underlying dirt, making the certainty of our arrival a bit more suspect.  My passengers were the 3 staff members from our BOOST-agricultural ministry, 3 recent BOOST graduates, and a fellow missionary.

Fortunately God’s angels were able to keep both me and my car from stumbling and we arrived at the one-room village community lodge at 9 a.m.  For 30 minutes we greeted the villagers as they entered.  This was the home of one of our BOOST graduates and he had texted the village leaders to gather the people to hear a presentation about how to improve their community.

For the previous 3 days, my fellow missionary/agriculturalist had trained us on Community Development – a process on how to help community members improve their livelihood while allowing us to cultivate relationships to share the gospel.  We learned that there are two categories of human needs: acute and chronic.  Acute needs arise from disasters (wars, floods, famine, etc.) and require immediate outside resources to relieve hunger and meet other human needs.  Chronic needs develop over longer periods and are the result of deeper problems within the community.  

Interestingly, most benevolent organizations meet chronic needs with outsiders coming into the community to distribute food, provide health care, build roads, improve sanitation, and other give-aways.  Aside from being very expensive, such an approach usually robs the native people of their self-dignity, creates dependency on the outsiders, and hinders the people from developing their own creative solutions.  Haiti, for example, receives more outside humanitarian aid than any other country, yet it remains one of the poorest.

As the villagers seated themselves, we began asking questions about the community.  We explained that we were not there to give away anything, but instead to help them identify their own community problems, prioritize them, and using readily available resources to come up with an action plan to begin solving the problems.  The process would take several weeks and involve several meetings.  But the goal was to strengthen the community by educating them how to creatively meet their own needs: physical, spiritual, psychological, social, and economic.

Interestingly, Jesus and His disciples met human needs while sharing the gospel twice as many times as when they shared the gospel alone.  They healed, fed the hungry, and delivered from evil spirits, while sharing the gospel message.  When we do community development, our goal is to demonstrate God’s love by building capacity and confidence in a community.  As we go through the process, we build relationships.  More times than not, they inquire why we are there to help them.  When we share the gospel, they are far more likely to listen and respond, knowing we are there to help them.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Christy Joy

Christy Joy made her appearance into the world on Saturday morning, July 29.  Eight pounds and 21 inches long.  Sara and Andrea’s mother were with David in the delivery room as Andrea labored for several long hours.  Fortunately, Christy made a natural exit and was welcomed into the loving arms of her parents.  

I didn’t get to see pictures of Christy until yesterday morning when I arrived home from a week-long ministry trip where me and several others focused on community development with a kingdom purpose.  We met with 4 groups of community leaders, assisting them in meeting local needs while sharing with them the love of Jesus.

Andrea’s labor was a bit of a drama that lasted over a day as her contractions progressed.  Martha assisted with her nursing skills, but reluctantly had to leave for work before the delivery.  Being on a Saturday, Sara was able to come and help.  But perhaps the biggest story of Christy’s birth was that David survived it!

You see, David is strong in many ways.  He has great character, decisive thinking, a compassionate heart, and a gentle spirit.  But show him a drop of blood and he melts (that’s an exaggeration, of course, but you know the type).  But his squeamish nature with bodily fluids wasn’t going to keep him away from experiencing Christy’s entrance into the world.

David was excited and amazed as Christy’s wet head appeared, followed by the rest of her slippery body.  He stood beside Andrea all the way through.  But when the doctor offered David the chance to cut the cord, David hesitated.  The doctor insisted.  He shouldn’t have.  David did the deed, but immediately felt his knees weaken and his head dizzy.  It took a few moments for him to recover.

But hats off to David for braving the whole event, and especially for Andrea as she bore the pain of childbirth yet expressed gratefulness and joy to all who were there to help.  David and Andrea are now back home with Andrea’s mother staying with them until Andrea has all her strength back.  We welcome you, Christy, into our family with great love and affection, eager to be front row witnesses to the beginning days of your blessed life.