Saturday, June 20, 2015

Encouraged

I returned this morning from our annual meeting of over 200 missionaries from Southeast Asia.  We were encouraged with inspiring messages, compelling testimonies, and refreshing fellowship.  I was blessed to receive a recognition of having served 30 years with “our company”.  

One area in the mega-city of Jakarta has seen 2,000 baptisms in the past 6 months.  Significant growth continues in areas of India and China.  Our 2 largest church planting movements in Southeast Asia have been in remote areas of Indonesia, far away from the influence of pop western culture.  But in areas where the influence of Hollywood is prevalent, church growth is declining.

We still hear of government persecution against church leaders, lives sacrificed for the gospel’s sake, and miracles from heaven that God uses to advance His kingdom.  Despite a world that increasingly loves the darkness, the love of Jesus is still shining, and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

For the past 3 weeks, my youngins (except for Jonathan who started his new job) have been traversing Europe (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy).  David and Sara return later today so they can start back to work on Monday.  Hannah, Martha, and family-friend Allie, will stay another few days and return on Wednesday.  I’m so glad they have had the opportunity for this once in a lifetime adventure.  (If you are friends with any of them on Facebook, you can see some of their pictures.)

My focus returns to our work here in the west-central Philippines.  We have trainings scheduled, discipleship materials to update, our BOOST project to oversee, and people to visit who need to hear about Jesus.  I appreciate your prayers for our church leaders, for those involved in discipleship training, and for me, that I would stay near to God’s heart and focused on the task that He has given me the privilege to undertake.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Merry Month of May


My plane to the Philippines leaves in a few hours.  Jonathan starts his new job tomorrow.  The other kids have begun their trip across Europe.  Looking back, it’s been a good month.
 
Hannah made it through graduate school with all A’s.  She could easily pursue her doctorate, but she’s tired of academia and is ready to enter full time into the work force.  Like her sister, Martha graduated summa cum laude and has sent out a number of job applications, not yet knowing where she will practice her nursing skills.  She will take the nursing board exam in July.
 
On our drive back to Texas, Hannah, Martha, and I traveled through West Virginia to New River Gorge National Park, where I proposed to Jan nearly 32 years ago.  Back in Texas we enjoyed an all-day graduation celebration on the 15th, with about 40 of our family and friends attending.

On the 21st, we headed to Santa Fe, along with David’s girlfriend (yes, you heard that right!).  We enjoyed touring Santa Fe, hiking in a nearby canyon, and hiking 6 miles up into the Pecos Wilderness where we got caught in a little snow storm.  On the 27th, my brother, Steve, and I drove to Oklahoma and visited with several of our relatives.

Between trips and events we were able to have some good quality family time as we discussed various topics and just enjoy being together.  We have been so blessed as a family, and we know that it’s because many of you have faithfully prayed for us over the years.

I know it’s going to be busy when I arrive back in Iloilo in a couple of days.  I already have 2 training events lined up for the weekend.  But I’m so very grateful to have had this month to be with my kids.  Nothing has brought me greater joy than to see them grow into mature, responsible, fun-loving adults, who love the Lord and are impacting His kingdom for good.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Graduations

I’m excited! By this time next week I will be in the U.S. with my kids. Hannah graduates with her M.A. in history on Thursday, May 7. Martha receives her B.A. in nursing on Saturday, May 9. Jonathan turns 19 on Monday, May 11. David, Sara, Martha, and Hannah, along with Hannah’s best friend, Allie, will leave for a 3 week vacation to Europe on May 29. But until then, we will all be at David’s house for some enjoyable family time. I return to the Philippines on June 1.

It’s been nearly 2 years since I wiped the tears from my eyes as I drove away from Hannah’s apartment in Virginia, leaving her to the rigors of graduate school. Hannah chose James Madison University because of their quality graduate school and because they gave her a graduate assistant’s job, which paid full tuition plus some. Now, hundreds of books and dozens of papers later, she is done.

One of her crowning achievements, which has been placed in JMU’s Living Archives, is her digital exhibit thesis – a website that examines the recent history of a particular people group. Not surprisingly, Hannah chose to look into the lives of Filipinos living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virgina. You can see Hannah’s work here: sites.jmu.edu/lifeinthevalley

Likewise, Martha has done incredibly well, having excelled in Liberty University’s challenging nursing program. After 4 years of study, research, papers, clinicals, as well as ministry, counseling, and community service, Martha is ready to enter the job world. Martha’s long range goal is overseas mission work. But to use her nursing skills effectively, she needs to practice those skills in a hospital setting for at least a couple of years. She has begun to apply to hospitals and will also have to take a state nursing board exam sometime in mid-summer.

Jonathan could have graduated with his Associate’s degree in Computer Networking this summer, but decided to extend his academic career for another semester in order to take a couple of extra classes that will help him reach higher level certifications. But the best news for Jonathan is that he applied for and was accepted to a full-time job at the Dallas campus of Cisco, Inc., the world’s largest supplier of computer networking and internet equipment. He begins his new job the first of June and will continue to live with Sara and David.

For those of you in the Fort Worth area, you are invited to David’s house on Saturday, May 16, to celebrate Hannah’s and Martha’s graduations. Part of our family time during the month will likely include a 4 day hiking trip into the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend. But mainly we just want to enjoy our evenings together, relaxing in David’s living room, reflecting on the past, cherishing the present, and praying for the future.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Simply The Story

This week, I want to show you a dilemma that missionaries face… God has communicated to us primarily through the Scriptures. Most missionaries attend Bible school or seminary where they spend 3 years studying to understand the Bible. After learning the Biblical languages, reading bucket-loads of books, writing tons of papers, they are released into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They learn the local language, translate the Bible, write lessons and even books to help communicate the gospel to people who haven’t heard.

The dilemma is that over 80% of the world’s population do not learn by reading. According to statistics, 25% of the world’s population are totally illiterate (can read nothing), 35% are functionally illiterate (can read a little, but learn by hearing/watching), 19% are oral-preference learners (can read some, but still prefer to learn by hearing/watching), and 3% are blind/visually impaired. In third world countries, like the Philippines, these percentages are significantly higher.

Another dilemma… Studies show that we only retain about 20% of what we hear. Think about your pastor’s sermon last week, or the week before. See what I mean! Retention doubles to 40% when we add visual images to what we hear. But here is something interesting – retention doubles again to 80% if we discover the fact or information ourselves, whether through hearing, watching, or reading. This is why teachers remember so much more of the lessons than students.

One way we have overcome these dilemmas is through a learning process we call Simply The Story (STS). A group gathers to hear a Bible story. The leader, having already learned the story, tells the story either from memory or, if he can, by reading it from the Bible. He then closes his Bible and retells the story in his own words, leaving nothing out nor adding anything. The group then pair off and practice telling the story until everyone has learned it.

The leader will then guide the group using a set of questions: Who is in the story and what are they doing? What did they decide to do, what other things could they have done instead, and what were the consequences? What possible feelings might they have experienced (or you might have experienced if you were in the story)? What surprises you about the story? What is God teaching us through the story? What is God saying to you through the story?

Because the story is now hidden in their mind, the learner is free to focus on the message of the story rather than the text. By asking questions instead of preaching, the learner discovers for himself the truths of God’s Word. And the story can continue to play in the learner’s heart long after the Bible study is over. The leader is free from the burden of having to teach a lesson. Instead, participants listen to each other to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, knowing that God has more to say than any one person can hear.

Of course, this process is nothing new. Jesus frequently used stories and questions. Amazingly, STS works equally well with professionals. Here’s a link if you are curious to learn more: www.simiplythestory.org. In the past, we have relied upon literate means to reach the illiterate. Sometimes it’s us seminary-educated ones who have a hard time putting away the books, papers, pens, and lessons. Sometimes it’s us who are slow to learn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Genocide

The Bible says in 1 Cor. 12, “…there should be no division in the body [of Christ]; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it.” As I spin my globe toward the Middle East, I find that a great suffering is happening in the body of Christ…

Alyssa, a 28-year old Iraqi woman: "After my family was killed I was kidnapped by ISIS and brought to a terrorist camp with more than 100 new widows my age. Every night, a man would beat and rape me, and during the day, we were forced to cook for the ISIS fighters. Many nights, the men would take turns with us and do very bad things."

Kalil: “ISIS fighters were coming for all of our villages. We were forced to walk and hide in the mountains of Sinjar. They found us. I gave them the few things we had and begged them to release us. They beat us and tied our hands together so we could do nothing as they took our children away. Days later, I found our four children's bodies on the rocks of a nearby mountain. My nine-year-old daughter was raped and then badly killed."

Aly: I was forced to watch ISIS jihadists kill my family. They took me away with other women. Over and over, they tortured and raped us. I begged them to stop, but they laughed, saying that we were their slaves. Then, one day, the leader came and told me that he was going to sell me. I screamed and begged him to kill me instead. When I was sold, I cried for 30 minutes. Then my new owner said, with a gentle voice, “Dear Sister, we are good people. God sent us to buy you away from these bad people.” He brought me water, food and took me to a safe refugee camp. I learned later that he sold his wife's jewelry to purchase my freedom.”

Alyssa, Kalil, and Aly share at least two things in common. They are Christians, and they survived the genocide (the mass killing of a people group) that is currently taking place in northern Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, tens of thousands (some estimate nearly 200,000) of Christians, along with other minority groups, have been killed by ISIS. Over 1 million remain homeless, many freezing to death while hiding in the mountains. No country will take them; no country wants them.

It is now reported that 2014 was the worst year in modern history for global persecution of Christians, mostly from the Middle East. ISIS terrorists have burned hundreds of villages, looted cities, and destroyed priceless historical, biblical, and archeological sites. Men and boys are tortured, then burned alive in cages, wives and daughters are brutally raped, then killed, children are forced to watch, then beheaded.

Although ISIS is guilty of killing fellow Muslims, along with other minorities, they have stated that their #1 enemy are Christians. This is a religious war against Christians and Jews and any other minority that refuses to bow to radical Islam. They find justification for their brutality in the Koran – the Muslim bible. In recent weeks, ISIS has carried their extinction strategy to Yemen, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Chad. Their numbers are increasing, as is their brutality.

Hebrews 13:3 instructs us, “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Pray for our fellow Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, many who have lost their family and, as I write, are sleeping on the ground without any shelter because all their belongings have been taken from them. They cry out to God for help.

Pray for the Christian relief agencies that are making an effort to save as many as they can by setting up refugee camps and temporary shelter. Liberty Relief International... www.libertyrelief.cc/201269/offer.asp ...and Baptist Global Response... www.gobgr.org/projects/project_detail/middle-east-crisis ...are 2 agencies that I know about and trust.

Pray for our government leaders, that they will understand that evil DOES exist and must be dealt with.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A 3rd Generation House Church

The road climbed steadily higher, aiming for a gap between two mountains. Me and my companions were on our way to visit a house church in the interior of our island. Years ago, I shared the gospel to Danny, who started his own house church. He shared the gospel with a neighbor, Lena, who started her own house church. Lena had traveled to her home here in the mountains and shared the gospel with her relatives, and they started a house church. Eight baptized believers made up the core of this 3rd generation house church, and this was my first visit.

The scenery was beautiful. Passing through corn fields, the winding road climbed a ridge that eventually took us to a point where we could see down into valleys on both sides. Tree covered mountains loomed beyond that. Small native nepa houses dotted the hillsides. Occasionally, I had to dodge large rattan mats laid out on the road to dry freshly harvested rice.

I recalled the first time I traveled this road, 29 years ago, when Jan and I were still language students. Although our assignment was Roxas City, we were doing language study in Iloilo City, about 75 miles south of Roxas. Eager to visit our place of assignment, Jan and I had set out to traverse the interior of our island, from south to north. Not knowing the way, we did the American thing and bought a map, which showed the road we were currently on.

But 29 years ago, this road was a rocky path suitable for horses and 4 wheel drive vehicles. Pregnant with Sara, Jan didn’t know if she could handle the jarring bumps. When we finally arrived in Roxas, 6 hours later, our friends were shocked that we had come that way. “Why didn’t you take the new highway?”, they asked. Turns out our map was quite outdated. “Don’t you know that there are NPA up in those mountains?” (New People’s Army were communist-backed rebel fighters prominent back then.)

But now the road was paved, at least to where we had to turn off and continue our climb along a narrow dirt road that, at some points, hugged the edge of cliffs. No longer were the mountains distant; we were in them, climbing higher. By the time we arrived at the native hillside house, the temperature was cooler, the wind stronger, and clouds were sitting on nearby peaks.

About a dozen of their neighbors gathered on the bamboo floor as we sang Ilonggo hymns of praise, followed by words of encouragement and hope from God’s Word. Sun wrinkled faces and stiff calloused hands told of a rugged lifestyle. Yet their generosity knew no limits as they prepared a feast of their finest foods, from fruits of banana and papaya, to vegetables of corn and rice, and meats of… well, I’ve learned not to ask!

Someday when I retire from the mission field, I will recline in the comfort of my American living room surrounded by modern conveniences. I will eat recognizable food and maybe look out upon my manicured lawn. But I know deep inside there will be a longing to climb the road once again to enjoy the smiles and fellowship of these mountain people. My main consolation will be knowing that I will see them in heaven someday, and grateful that I shared the gospel to Danny.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bro. Jun

Jun, a well-known business owner, had said things he shouldn’t have about the pastor, then led his family and a couple of other families out of the church. A few months later, he was diagnosed with stage-3 kidney cancer, and had his left kidney removed (something I could relate to). While the surgeon was removing the cancerous kidney, God was removing Jun’s bitter spirit.

Weeks later, Jun stood in front of the church, nervous, a bit shaken, but resolved to do what God had told him to do. “God has convicted me that I was wrong in saying the things I said and implying the things I implied. Will you forgive me?” Everybody knew what he was referring to, and everybody forgave him. All the morning worshipers, including Pastor Jimmy, gathered around him in a sign of support and love. For the next several months Jun, his wife, and children reestablished themselves as active and faithful members of the church.

Then it was discovered that Pastor Jimmy was experiencing kidney failure. A kidney infection had led to a round of antibiotics, but Pastor Jimmy never completed the prescribed dosage. Funds were limited. Jimmy and his wife were trying hard to get their youngest son through college, so that’s where the medicine money went to. The infection returned, spread, and permanently damaged both kidneys.

Pastor Jimmy is now on limited, government funded kidney dialysis, deteriorating, loosing weight, and knowing that his time on earth is short. Too weak to continue his pastorate responsibilities, Jimmy announced last December that he was stepping down as pastor. When asked who would replace him, Jimmy gave a hearty endorsement for Bro. Jun.

Jun was humbled. He had no seminary or Bible school training. He only had a faithful and willing heart. That was enough. Just before Christmas, the church unanimously elected him as their new pastor. For the past three months, Jun has rallied the church with his honest preaching, servant’s spirit, and humble leadership. He initiated a discipleship training and had nearly 50 people sign on. Worship attendance is up; prayer meeting participation is increasing, the church is excited and growing.

This morning, Bro. Jun, his wife, and seven others were in my home for some Bible training. During our sharing time, he said things like, “God knows I am not qualified to do what I am doing. But God is my strength.” “God is giving me the wisdom I need, because He knows I don’t have it.” “I am completely dependent on Him; without Him I know I could do nothing.”

And God said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”