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.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Too Much to Miss

They’re too poor to afford a foam mattress.  So tonight all 25 young people are sleeping on the floor of a church building.  The church doesn’t have pews, only cheap plastic chairs.  There’s only one restroom and no kitchen.  Just an open sanctuary where flies and mosquitoes are free to enter.

But the young people, mostly grade 11 and 12, didn’t come for the comfort, but to hear something about God.  Most are not yet Christians.  A friend invited them.  For 5 hours today and another 2 tomorrow, they will hear about God’s love, about Biblical principles of relationships, and about learning to love Christ instead of the world.

Earlier this morning I participated in a prayer breakfast with about 2 dozen church leaders.  In the churches where I often speak I heard testimonies of the Lord’s work, including several baptisms.  A Baptist Men’s group has started; I speak there next week.  I shared about the 11 students we have in our BOOST program and the work of our Community Developer in reaching 5 villages for Christ.

Last week I was blessed to speak to about 65 young people during our annual youth camp.  The leaders were college students from previous camps who have grown mightily in the Lord.  These young people stayed for 5 days at a beach ‘resort’, sleeping on bamboo floors and eating very simple and inexpensive food.  They, too, heard messages of God’s love.

Two weeks ago, me and my ministry partner conducted 3 discipleship training groups, each with about a dozen people.  Most are adult leaders from our churches.  For nearly a year these groups have met monthly to learn more about Biblical principles and to deepen their relationship with God.  They are making plans on how they can start similar training groups in their churches.

Recently I made the decision to return to the Philippines next year after my Stateside Assignment.  I will be 62 and eligible for early retirement.  But I know there is no way I can have the degree of influence in the States that I can have here.  I have spent the last 30 plus years of my life learning the language and culture of this people group that I’ve grown to love.  I don’t hear the Lord telling me to stop.

So, in early September I will return to the States for a year-long furlough.  Then, if my health is good and the Lord is willing, I will return to this place where God is working in big ways.  I don’t want to miss it!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Pastor Jimmy

Wow, I just realized today that it’s been a month since my last update.  My year-long Stateside Assignment is coming up the first of September and there isn’t usually much for me to report on while I’m in the States.  So, I was thinking of updating this blog the first of each month just to be consistent.  But I’ll see.

Last night a dear pastor of ours past away.  He was a month younger than me, but had pastored his church for nearly as long as I’ve been here in the Philippines.  About 5 years ago Jimmy’s doctor prescribed antibiotics for a kidney infection.  Since all their money was going to get their 2 sons through college, Jimmy didn’t buy the full dosage.  The infection returned and his kidneys were unable to recover.  He began kidney dialysis about 3 years ago. 

I visited him the night before and his breathing was rapid and shallow.  He sensed his time was short but he was ready.  His faithful wife and their 2 sons were by his side.  It’s sad when a godly man dies, but it’s also a time of rejoicing, knowing he is now enjoying all his faith-earned rewards in his new heaven-made body.

April was a busy time for me with people to visit, sermons to prepare, projects to manage, reports to file, meetings to attend, house to clean, grass to cut, clothes to wash, food to cook, car to clean, and teeth to brush.  (I guess I didn’t need to list that last one, but I was on a roll!)   May looks to be even busier with more of the same plus a youth retreat thrown in. 

This May marks the 14th year since I had my initial cancer surgery and the 10th year since my surgery for cancer recurrence.  Not that I think about it much; I hardly ever do.  I’m excited for my new eternal home in heaven and I’m ready for it whenever the Lord is.  But hospitals remind me that before I can move in to my majestic mansion, I’ll probably have to suffer some uncomfortable physical deterioration.  I tell people that I’m not at all afraid of death, but I’m deathly afraid of hospitals.  Well, if that’s the price I must pay to get on the train to glory then I’ll gladly pay it, whenever it’s time for the train to leave.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Hannah's Wedding and Seeing Christy

I said ‘goodbye’ to my granddaughter, Christy, a short time ago.  She’s 8 months old now and precious.  Grandpa had a long repertoire of silly sounds that kept her smiling.  Daddy David and Mommy Andrea are doing a super job of parenting.  I will see Christy again in September when she will be taking her first walks and saying her first words.  

For my other main event of the month, I had the best seat, or spot, in the place, standing slightly in front of and between Hannah on my right, in her wedding dress, and Daniel on my left.  The venue was a large Victorian style indoor gazebo-like circular building located in a Galveston shore park.  My message was about the purpose and nature of marriage.  Daniel and Hannah said their vows, exchanged their rings, and enjoyed the traditional kiss. 
 
Hannah looked lovely and Daniel looked handsome as the ceremony progressed followed by picture taking, food, games, along with great fellowship among family and friends.  I was especially blessed by the George Ranch volunteers who attended and, among others, said sweet things about Hannah. Hannah and Daniel chose to stay practical and affordable as they honeymooned in Galveston.  (If Jan were here to write this blog, it would be several pages long filled with vivid wedding details that us guys just either miss or can’t see!)

Prior to the wedding, I visited Hannah’s new work place at the Sauer-Beckmann Historical Farm.  While there I met her staff, watched new-born sheep, talked with visitors, and helped pull weeds while Hannah milked the cow.  The next day Daniel, Hannah, and I visited the famous Blue Bell Ice Cream factory while on our way to Galveston.  During the week I also spent quality time with Sara, Jonathan, Martha and Philip.  Three nights ago I had the pleasure of leading the church home-group that David and Andrea lead each week.

Now I’m riding 38,000 feet in the sky over the Pacific ready to resume my ministry on the other side of the globe.  Prayer breakfast, discipleship groups, leadership training, and sermon messages are all on the agenda for the next couple of weeks.  I’ll have to brush away spiderwebs from the back of my desk and sweep the dust off the floor.  There will be emails to respond to and a statistical report to fill out.  I will have friends to call and errands to make.

But it was nice to take a break to see the bluebonnets and smell the sagebrush, to connect with family and talk to friends, and most of all to see Hannah wedded and to hold my beautiful grandbaby.