Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Few Pictures

I seldom take pictures.  Don’t know why.  I like pictures.  But I also like simplicity and most cameras for me don’t fall in that category.  So I usually rely on pictures other people take.

The first 3 pictures are of some of our BOOST training graduates involved in Bible study.  Our current batch of trainees spend several hours each day in agricultural and Bible training, with the goal of returning to their homes to help their communities with both physical and spiritual needs.  Please pray with us for these trainees and our previous graduates that they will remain faithful to God’s calling and diligent to grow in their relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ.
    
 The next 4 pictures were taken 2 weeks ago when 100 dolls made by ladies from Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City were given out to needy children from Agaho, a village nearly destroyed by  typhoon Haiyan a couple of years ago.  Please pray for Pastor Ronald and our other volunteers who minister there every Saturday. Pray for the children, their parents, and for leaders to rise from the newly formed church.


The last 2 pictures are of me at a Bible study, and a morning sunrise lighting the way for fishermen as the make their way to work.  Well, at least I can take a picture when I think about it!
 
  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

To My Fallen Feline

In today's world of turmoil and hardships, forgive me in advance for sharing a trivial little story.  But a tragic event happened to me today.  

My cat died!

She wasn’t really MY cat, but she seemed to favor my house over the others, maybe because of my pleasant disposition toward animals, or maybe because I fed her well (far more likely!).

The little subdivision I live in of 20 houses doesn’t allow dogs, for which I’m grateful.  I love dogs, but dogs in the Philippines are allowed to roam freely and they multiply faster than rabbits.  In my neighborhood, stray cats have filled the void.  Of course, cats aren’t much better at limiting their reproduction, but at least they don’t make as much noise and leave as much of a mess as dogs.

The house I rent had been vacant for several months before I moved in.  A stray mother cat had already chosen a spot at the back of the house to raise her litter.  The little rats (kittens) looked so cute.  Before they knew enough to be afraid, I took one of them inside the house one day to wipe off some dirt that it had gotten into.  Turns out, this is the one that became “my” cat.

As she grew, she never let me touch her.  She’d hiss at me if I got too close.  But I’ve been hissed at plenty of times before, so I didn’t take it personally.  Still, she seemed to ‘enjoy’ hanging around my house, so I began to feed her little scraps of food, sometimes coaxing her to come inside the kitchen while she ate.  Us empty-nesters can get desperate for company.

Before her first birthday, she became pregnant, without my permission of course.  Her place of choice to give birth was on a shelf just outside the kitchen door.  Smart cat.  She deposited her litter on top of a box of books that I should have wrapped in plastic.  Those kittens grew and eventually scattered.  From then on, it seemed my promiscuous pet stayed perpetually pregnant.  By November she had her third litter of kittens and, just after Christmas day, they scattered.

A couple of days ago I saw her sleeping on top of the shelf.  She didn’t jump down like she normally would, and park herself outside the kitchen door waiting patiently for her reward.  Now her breathing was labored.  I would sometimes see her and the other cats eating thrown out food from nearby houses, so I suspect someone threw out spoiled food that wasn’t intended for cats to eat.  When I went out this morning, she had expired.

I didn’t weep over her like I wept over my first dog Diamond who died when I was 7 years old.  I didn’t give her a decent burial or even write a poem about her.  I certainly didn’t pray for her.  Gosh, I never even gave her a name.  But in our world of depravity and chaos, these little side events make interesting stories.  Next entry, back to more serious matters.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmastime

Christmastime has changed for me.  When the kids were young, I would spend a whole day helping Jan put up the Christmas tree and other decorations (another half day taking them down).  During the 12 evenings before Christmas, we would do an Advent Calendar - telling parts of the Christmas story each night.  Christmas songs filled our house.  Cookies, chocolates, and other sweets were shared with our neighbors.  Following a breakfast of freshly baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, we would dig into our presents, then feast on a traditional Christmas dinner.

Now, my empty nest looks the same as any other day, except for a lone Christmas reef I hang on my front porch, just so my neighbors will know that I’m not a grinch.  There are no gifts under the Christmas tree because there’s no Christmas tree.  I feel guilty fixing sweets just for myself, although that hasn’t completely stopped me from indulging my taste buds in some homemade delights.  However, thanks to Skype, I was able to talk with my kids for at least a couple of hours on Christmas day.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of Christmas fellowships where our churches gather to celebrate Christ’s birth.  I spoke at 5 of them this month.  Early in the month we gathered 17 of our former BOOST students and listened to them share about what God has been doing in their communities.  Last week, several of our churches gathered on the west end of our island to testify of God’s work in their towns and villages.  Yesterday morning, 35 of our house church leaders crowded into my little house to sing, share, laugh, and pray.  What a huge blessing it is for me to hear about how God has changed attitudes, met phyical needs, encouraged the discouraged, poured out wisdom, and gave joy during difficult times.

On the home front, Martha had to work at the hospital on Christmas day, so all my kids gathered at David and Andrea’s home on the 26th to celebrate Christmas.  The weekend before, Sara and Jonathan traveled to Houston to help Hannah with the Christmas program at the George Ranch.  Sara cooked goodies on a genuine 1860 wood-fed, iron stove.  She and Hannah, dressed in 1860’s outfits, acted out drama skits in front of curious guests.  Also, the girls are talking about our next big Moses family vacation in about a year from now that will include me!  It’s to a country and continent we have never been to before. TBA.  

Although the way I celebrate Christmas has changed in recent years, the meaning of it stays the same.  God continues to pour out His gifts of blessings upon me and my kids.  We have much to be grateful for.  2016 will no doubt have its share of turbulent days; every year does.  But every day can be filled with joy knowing that the Savior born in Bethlehem is today King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Saying Goodbye

When Jan and I came to the Philippines in 1986, there were over 100 missionary ‘units’ (couples and singles) appointed to this country by our ‘company’.  As of today, there are only 6 couples and me.  Last week we had to say goodbye to some of our colleagues whose mission careers were cut short for lack of funds.

The Millers came to the Philippines a year before Jan and I.  They learned 2 languages and raised six kids here.  In early November of 2013, Carl and Suzie were in Cebu when word came that a super powerful typhoon was heading toward their town on the island of Leyte.  Rather than play it safe and stay in Cebu, they boarded a boat and traveled to their home in Tacloban to be with their fellow Christians.  Typhoon Haiyan battered and flooded their house, trapping the Millers in their upstairs bedroom.  The receding waters left 5,000 dead and a destroyed city.  The Millers led rebuilding efforts for hundreds of displaced families.

Stan Smith was born and raised in the Philippines by missionary parents.  After graduating from college and pastoring for a couple of years, he returned to the Philippines with his wife, Dottie, in 1980.  Stan was instrumental in developing many of the church planting strategies we still use.  In 1987, as Jan and I were finishing language study, I recall some very encouraging advice he gave me.  As a new missionary, I wanted to know what strategies should I use, how many churches should I plant, what goals should I have.  In 2 words, his sage advice was simply, “just survive!”  For anyone who has assimilated into a new language and culture, such advice is quickly appreciated.

The Clarks were appointed in the same year as Jan and I, arriving in the Philippines just a few months before us.  Robert was an MK (missionary kid) from Japan and Diana was also raised overseas by her missionary parents who, after retirement, continued church planting in Texas.  Robert and Diana founded Cross Train, a ministry that trains Filipinos to be effective and self supporting missionaries in countries around the world.  Because of their efforts, the gospel has spread to countries where Filipinos can go but Americans often cannot.

Heaven only knows of the thousands of lives born into God’s kingdom through the ministries of the Millers, Smiths, Clarks, and others whom we had to say goodbye to last week.  What is sad to think of is the thousands who may not be in God’s kingdom because of their absence.  This December, as the Lottie  Moon Christmas offering for Foreign Missions comes around, please consider that no task is more worthy of your support than “making disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19).  It’s an offering that will pay eternal dividends both in the blessings you receive and in the lives you change.

P.S. If you want to see a handsome groom and a beautiful bride, check out David and Andrea's wedding pictures at http://gallery.theramseysphotography.com/moses

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Wedding

The wedding was simple.  No bridesmaids, groomsmen, ring bearer, candle lighter, or ushers.  Instead, family members read scripture; Andrea’s father and I prayed over the bride and groom.  My dear friend, Rev. Doug Helms presided and Selah Helms read a 10 year old letter from Jan written for this day.  While gazing at each other, David and Andrea shared from memory their self-written vows.  The ceremony glorified God in every way, as David and Andrea had purposed.  During the reception that followed, Sara, Hannah, Martha, and Jonathan sang “Welcome to the Family” to Andrea, then Andrea played “Happy Birthday” to me on her trumpet.

After their honeymoon in Costa Rica, the newlyweds will live in David’s house.  David will return to his job as a computer programmer at Texas Wesleyan University.  Andrea will tutor students in trumpet playing.  Sara continues her job as a graphic artist at the headquarters of Neiman Marcus, where she has worked for 7 years.  She has moved into the house of the secretary of Inglewood Baptist Church.  The house is less than 30 minutes driving distance to either David, Martha, or Jonathan. 

I spent one evening with Jonathan, who gave me a tour of his work place at the Dallas headquarters of Cisco – the world’s largest maker of networking equipment.  The lab Jonathan works in has nearly four-hundred 6 ft. tall racks of networking equipment arranged in long isles with bundled wiring running behind and overhead the units.  Jonathan works with engineers who are troubleshooting equipment problems at remote sites.  He is sharing a house with 2 other Christian men.

Martha is into her third month as a registered nurse at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.  She gave me a tour of the medical ICU unit where she works.  The technology amazed me.  Each nurse is assigned 2 patients who are usually in critical condition.  During each 12 hour shift, Martha monitors their equipment, dispenses medications, maintains records, and oversees patient care.  Last month, she moved into a nice little apartment not far from the hospital.  Martha plans to work at Baylor for the next 2 to 3 years, gaining needed experience, then setting her sight to overseas mission work.

After the wedding in Houston at Andrea’s home church, I spent 3 days with Hannah, who works just outside of Houston at the George Ranch, a living museum showcasing the lifestyle of Texans in the 1800’s.  The tour of the ranch takes about 4 hours, where one can explore restored homes, watch cowboys handle livestock, observe a working blacksmith shop, and learn about life in early Texas.  On Monday, Hannah’s day off, we toured NASA and enjoyed a seaside walk along Galveston’s shore.

It was a huge treat for me to spend time with each of my kids and to see where they live and work. I arrived back in the Philippines a couple of days ago.  For now I have no plans for another visit to the States.  The end of my term (if Southern Baptists provide enough support) is nearly 3 years away.  Until then, my focus is evangelizing the lost and discipling the saved, while depending on Skype to keep me connected with my kids.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Journey

My 4th grade teacher gave the class a writing assignment – Who do you want to be when you grow up?  I began my paper with, “I want too be a missunairy when I gro up.”  A few weeks earlier, a missionary had spoken at our church.  As a 10 year old child, something stirred in my heart as I listened to him describe the challenges and opportunities of ministering in a foreign land.  

During my last year of high school, I remember listening to a missionary from the Philippines share about her experiences during her first few weeks of living in a remote town in the southern island of Mindanao.  Once again, my heart stirred.  God was calling.  Interestingly, I arrived in that very town five years later as a single adult and began my own ministry there for one year.  I remember the hot and humid day when I shared the gospel to a group of farmers who had gathered in a dirt floored bamboo hut.  I told God that if this is what He wanted me to do for the rest of my life, I was willing.

Five years later, Jan and I had been married for two years and she was pregnant with David.  We had just been accepted by the Foreign Mission Board.  Now we gathered with about 40 other appointees at the Virginia headquarters to discuss where in the world we would go.  To illustrate what a sample request from the field looked like, the moderator handed out a personnel request for, of all places, a career missionary for Panay Island, Philippines.  The description and the needs of the place grabbed our hearts.  Once again, God spoke.  Six months later, Jan and I arrived on Panay Island to begin our missionary journey.

And what a journey it has been!  I have been super blessed to share the gospel with thousands of Filipinos and see many of them born into God’s kingdom.  Churches have been started.  Filipino men and women have matured in their faith.  A few have even gone on to other nations as missionaries.  Just this morning I spoke via skype to a lady who Jan and I helped train.  She is now working as a teacher in Vietnam where she has been instrumental in starting two churches and has seen dozens of people come to know Christ.

Last September, we learned that our organization could no longer support the number of missionaries we had on the field.  Our numbers had to be reduced by 15%.  A generous volunteer retirement incentive was offered.  For the past 2 months I have prayed, as many others have.  Nothing in my time with the Lord told me that it was time for me to leave.  So, yesterday, I sent in my Letter of Intent to stay.  If the Board doesn’t arrive at the 15% reduction, I still may be asked to leave or relocate.  But I will face that decision if and when it comes.  My journey continues, at least for now.

Please pray for the many who heard God say that it was time for them to return to the States for a new phase of ministry.  Of the dozen or so families we have here in the Philippines, half will be leaving.  They are precious people who have been greatly used by God during their many collective years in this country.  God’s kingdom here will be hurt by their absence.  I wish Southern Baptists would give more to keep them here.  I hope Southern Baptists will give more this year to allow us who remain to continue the journey of proclaiming Christ to all nations.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Our Lady of Casanayan

In 1829, Maria Basanes died from a heart attack at the age of 47.  She was buried in the town of Casanayan in the far northeast corner of Capiz Province.  Ten years later, the cemetery had to be relocated.  During the transfer, Maria’s coffin fell open.  To the surprise of the workers, Maria’s body was perfectly preserved, so the story goes.  The locals declared it a miracle, propped up her clothed body inside a tall glass cabinet, and set in the corner of a small house.  To this day, the faithful come to sit in front of Maria with their rosary beads and pray for miracles in their own lives.

In 1999, I traveled to Casanayan to attend a funeral.  With time to spare, I made a side trip to see the Lady of Casanayan.  I stepped inside the house where two ladies were seated counting their prayers with rosaries.  In front of them, in the corner cabinet, was Maria.  Poor Maria.  The past 170 years hadn’t been good to her.  Her “perfectly preserved” body was nothing but coal-black leather skin covering frail decayed bones, what you would expect for someone her age.  I guess the imagination can run wild when folks are desperate for a miracle.

This morning, I returned to Casanayan, a 3 hour drive weaving through corn fields and mountain passes.  My friends and I conducted a training for about 30 people, crowded in a hollow-block chapel with a tin roof and dirt floor.  Palm and banana trees shaded nearby bamboo houses.  About 40 feet away, the ocean tossed waves onto the sandy beach, where we baptized several people earlier this year.  Now, God’s kingdom has an outpost in this remote town.  After the training, I offered to take my friends to meet Maria Basanes, the Lady of Casanayan.  They declined, but said that the story sounded familiar to other such stories throughout the country where superstitions and folk-lore abound. 

I reflected on the fact that the Philippines has a tremendous degree of religious freedom, much more so than present-day America.  In the past, I have shared the gospel in public schools.  Teachers will dismiss their class in order to allow their students to hear the American who can speak their language.  I have conducted Bible studies inside City Hall.  We’ve showed The Jesus Film in the town square.  I can pass out gospel tracs at the airport.  Even street preaching is allowed.  A couple of weeks ago I preached in a public gym, with loud speakers broadcasting the love of Jesus. 

While such openness allows us to share God’s truths, it also brings opportunities for deception, with the Lady of Casanayan being one example.  In the air above the Philippine islands, spiritual battles are taking place between good and evil, between the servants of God and the angels of darkness.  Although the modern world does not give much attention to this country, God takes these battles seriously, for all people are of equal worth.  We take these battles seriously, too.  Thank you for your support in allowing us to be in the battle, and to “sound forth the Word of the Lord.”