Wednesday, January 2, 2019

White Christmas

Being a missionary means that I usually get to be in the U.S. for Christmas once every 4 or 5 years.  In 2012, me and my 5 kids enjoyed a 10-day magical Colorado Christmas in Estes Park.  This Christmas, with 4 additional family members (3 spouses and a grand-baby), we planned ahead for another amazing holiday in Colorado.  This time, we rented a much larger house in Silverthorne, Colorado, just minutes from Breckenridge and Vail.

The magic continued with a winter wonderland of deep snow, colorful lights, family fellowship, delicious foods, and lots of fun.  The house, at 9,600 feet elevation, was located at the end of a long uphill road that backed up to the White River National Forest facing the 12,777 foot Buffalo Mountain just outside our back door.  Two feet of snow had already fallen.  The view from our front balcony was awesome, the entire mountain valley covered with blankets of white. In the far distance were the ski slopes of Keystone Mountain.

On our first day we spent an hour snow tubing down the slopes of nearby Frisco.  In the evening we enjoyed the Christmas lights of Vail Village and downtown Breckenridge.  Snowfall the following days kept us inside the house where we spent lots of time preparing meals, playing games, and telling stories.  Each evening ended with a family worship time.

Early in the week, Philip (Martha’s husband) and Daniel (Hannah’s husband) got the idea of making a sledding trail on the giant mountainside behind our house.  With shovels and grit, they dug a 300 foot long, 3 foot wide, and one-foot deep snow-trail.  Each of us took turns on a toboggan sled that hurled us down the trail at swift speeds, often crashing in the soft powdered snow.  Enormous fun!  Even our neighbors discovered the joy of sledding down the hill surrounded by the panoramic beauty of the Colorado mountains.

I know that the coming year, as with any year, will bring both highs and lows.  There will be blessings and victories, along with disappointments and trials.  But oh, how privileged we are to have had the opportunity to carve out a 10-day slice of time and enjoy a family fun white Christmas on the slopes of Colorado.  The memories will follow us for a lifetime.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Passion

Tomorrow I will speak at First Baptist Church of Fletcher, Oklahoma, encouraging the church to continue their faithful giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions.  This part of Oklahoma is like a second home to me.  My mother, the last of nine children, was born about 5 miles south of Fletcher.  I have many aunts and uncles who grew up in this area and many cousins who still live here.

My first memory of Fletcher was as a 6 year-old child (early 1960’s).  Every summer I would visit my grandparent’s farm and stay for a week or two.  One hot Saturday afternoon my grandfather said that we were going to Fletcher to hear Floyd preach.  Floyd was his younger brother who owned a business in town.  Every Saturday afternoon Floyd, who had no seminary education, would take a battery pack, bullhorn, and Bible to a corner on Main Street and preach for 2 hours.

For a city boy on a farm in the summer, going to hear someone preach was not high on my list of things I wanted to do.  But my grandfather was insistent and I’m glad he was.  I remember sitting on the curb of small-town Fletcher watching the people go by.  Some would pause to listen as Uncle Floyd broadcasted a message from God’s Word.  He didn’t collect any money.  Rather, his passion for the truth was his motivation.

I am so grateful that I’ve had family members who had a passion for God’s Word.  I recall my grandmother sitting in her worn-out rocking chair near the window where she had her Bible and markers.  Her days were filled with gardening, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and even chopping wood for the iron stove.  But each day was finished in time spent with God and His Word while in her rocking chair by the window.

But no one influenced me more than my Uncle Elmo and Aunt Beulah (we called her ‘Toots’).  They showed me how Christians should live.  They worked hard.  They were active in church. They were very generous to needy neighbors.  They talked about Jesus and the characters of the Bible as if they were next door neighbors.  And they spent time daily in God’s Word, either in the morning with the first rays of the sun, or in the evening when it set.

For the past 2 months here in Texas, in addition to speaking in churches, I’ve been scanning and organizing our family pictures, over 10,000 of them, to be given as a gift to my kids.  Beginning on Dec. 22, we will gather in a cabin north of Breckenridge, Colorado, for 10 days.  All my family will be there.  As we enjoy home cooked meals, fellowship, hiking, games, sledding, and strolling along the lighted streets of Breckenridge and Vail, it is my plan to spend each evening in a Bible study time with my family, passing along to them the same godly heritage that I have been blessed with - a passion for God and His Word.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Push-Button World

My brother-in-law (Jan’s older brother) passed away last week from a malfunctioning pancreas.  He was 64.  The good news is that he joins his sister in a kingdom of eternal peace and joy. 

While at the graveside, I shared with the family about the world we live in.  I think of it as a ‘push-button’ world.  With the push of a button, click of a switch, or turn of a knob we can set our temperature preference, determine our food choice, and dial up personalized entertainment.  We can shop online, get our news online, even choose friends online.  The average American house has doubled in size since I was a child.  We have more comforts and conveniences today than ever before.

Yet we don’t have to go far or dig deep to discover that it’s all a shaky facade.  People are still stressed, lonely, confused, hurting, and fearful.  There are no buttons to push that can take away the pain of a broken relationship, a moral failure, a financial hardship, a bad choice, or an uncertain future.  The need for a Savior is just as real today as it was two thousand years ago.

Now that I’ve finished my first full month back in the U.S., I’m still learning which buttons to push.  When I checked in recently for a plane flight, I think I was the only one who had a paper boarding pass.  Everyone else was sliding their cell phone across some magic screen!  But as I travel to churches in my 18 year old Buick wearing winter clothes I bought 20 years ago (I just don’t get to wear winter clothes very often), I see that the biggest challenge we face is not stopping nuclear weapons, growing the economy, or controlling congress, but helping others break their dependence on comforts and conveniences in order for them to see their need for Jesus - the peace and joy giver.

My activities this past month have included speaking in a few places, communicating with friends and co-workers in the Philippines, helping Jonathan move into a new apartment, babysitting my granddaughter, working on some family projects, and figuring out how to use Google Maps for driving (more buttons to push).  But the need for Biblical solutions for life and a growing relationship with the King of Kings is just as urgent here in the U.S. as it is in the Philippines.  That mean all of us who call on the name of the Lord are missionaries commissioned with the same task of evangelizing the lost and discipling the saved.  There’s no greater task.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Stateside

Mercy me.  A friend from the Philippines mentioned that he hadn’t seen an update on my blog since Aug. 30.  Time has flown.  September was filled with lots of travel, visiting family, attending a conference, settling into a mission house, babysitting my granddaughter, even doing some yard work. 

People ask about my adjustment to the States.  In some ways it seems I never left.  In other ways it seems like a foreign culture to me.  When I took a domestic trip to Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I was amazed at the check-in process.  Almost no one (except me) had a paper ticket.  Everyone was quickly swiping their cell phones over a scanner and moving on.

Yesterday, as I worshipped in the church sanctuary, I was a bit distracted by the sweeping colored lights, the many musical instruments, and the songs I have never heard before.  My thoughts carried me back to some of our Philippine churches who sit on bamboo benches on a dirt floor under a tarp tied to nearby trees.  Ducks, dogs, birds, and pigs sometime join in the singing!

But I’m eager to share with churches and groups here about what God is doing in the Philippines and in other parts of the world.  During the missions conference I attended I spoke with fellow missionaries from Italy, Egypt, Brazil, Malaysia, and elsewhere.  Our missionaries in China shared how the current government is stepping up its persecution of Christian.  Northern European missionaries talked a lot about the immigration crisis.  Still, stories were told of how God continues to reach across borders and boundaries to make Himself known.

So far, I am scheduled to speak in churches here in Texas during October and November.  My 2019 schedule has not been made, so I may be traveling out of state after the first of the year.  I have a few family projects to work on that will keep me busy.  But most of all I treasure the times I am spending with my kids.  Sara is living in the mission house with me.  (My phone number is 817-658-9667.)  I take care of Christy every Wednesday morning.  I’ve visited several times already with David and Jonathan.  I was with Martha in Virginia on her birthday.  I will be seeing Hannah and her husband in a couple of weeks.

Still, I never forget my brothers and sisters in the Philippines who minister in hard places with few rewards.  They are the front-liners.  They are my heroes.  I am honored to call them my friends.  After my year is finished here I know I will be ready and eager to return to that nation of islands on the west side of the Pacific.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Watery Eyes

Filipino men seldom get emotionally teary-eyed.  But I did.  How could I not?  During last Monday’s national holiday, about 60 of my closest friends – ministry partners, church leaders, and just all-a-round good people, gathered to give me a farewell send off.  I sat through nearly 2 hours of affirmations, special songs, and heart-felt encouragements all aimed at me.  They were overly gracious.  As they surrounded me during a closing prayer, my eyes got watery.

I shared with them something that made me uncomfortable.  I will be returning to the U.S. for a year, visiting churches and other groups, sharing about God’s work in this part of the Philippines.  Most of these events will conclude with a banquet or worship service in which the attending missionaries will be honored.  They will seat us in privileged places while a gifted speaker extols the tremendous sacrifices we make to serve overseas.

But it is no sacrifice to do what God gives you a desire to do.  For 30+ years I have been blessed to know godly Filipino men and women who have sacrificed far more than I ever could.  I have had a front row seat to see God work in incredible ways through simple but obedient people.  I have been humbled to experience the power of God’s grace at work through me.  All of this is no sacrifice; it is a privilege.

What makes me uncomfortable is sitting in a place of honor in a U.S. church, knowing that it’s not me who should be esteemed, but those Filipino men and women who were now praying for me.  They are the real heroes who serve and sacrifice day after day to build God’s kingdom with very little reward.  They should be in the seat of honor, not me.  Well, I can only hope that their rewards in heaven will far outweigh mine.

I leave on Sept. 8.  I will live in the mission house of North Richland Hills Baptist Church in north Fort Worth, about 20 minutes away from David’s house and 30 minutes from Jonathan.  Sara will be moving into the house next week and will stay with me during my year-long Stateside Assignment.  Martha and Philip may move in, too, after Christmas.  Hannah and Daniel are about 4 hours south in the Texas hill country.

The day after I arrive I will fly to Virginia to attend a week-long missionary debriefing conference.  I will be with Martha during her birthday and spend an evening with her and Philip before flying back to DFW.  During the coming year I have churches lined up to speak in and other places and people I hope to visit before I return to the Philippines late next year.  But in all my travels, part of my heart will still be with these wonderful people here who have loved me, ministered with me, and shared their lives with me.  My eyes are watering!

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.