Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wedding Bells

I am glad to announce that on Saturday morning, December 3, in Aubrey, Texas, Martha will be wedded to Philip Dorr.  Like Martha, Philip is a MK (missionary kid) who has a deep love for the Lord and a compassionate heart for people.  Philip graduated from Liberty University last year with a major in graphic arts.  He’s a soft-spoken man who enjoys working with his hands, whether it’s creating a design on a computer or installing plumbing/electrical in a house.  In this family photo, Philip is at the front seated next to Martha.
Philip and Martha’s friendship began during their second year at Liberty University.  Both being MK’s, they developed a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s commitment to the Lord and obedience to His Word.  Philip and I exchanged a few emails as his friendship with Martha grew.  But Philip soon realized that he wasn’t yet ready for marriage and, out of respect for Martha, chose to step back and focus all his attention on finishing school and discerning God’s will for his life.

So, for the past couple of years, both he and Martha had very little communication as they both gave their time and energy to doing well in school, involving themselves in ministry, working their jobs, and growing in their relationship with the Lord.  Then, in June, Philip and Martha attended the wedding of a mutual friend.  There, Philip shared with Martha that he felt God was directing him toward marriage and toward Martha.  Martha was elated because she had always liked Philip and couldn’t imagine marriage to anyone else.

Within weeks it seemed clear that Philip and Martha were a perfect match.  Even before Philip officially proposed to Martha a couple of weeks ago (after receiving my blessing), Martha had already reserved a chapel and made initial wedding plans.  In November, Philip will move to Fort Worth and stay with David and Andrea until the wedding.  Philip will continue working on a Christian film promotion project while he looks for an apartment for him and Martha to live in after the wedding.  After their honeymoon, Martha will continue her nursing job at Baylor Hospital.

So, I will leave at the end of November for a 10 day stay in Texas.  We are trying to figure out how I will officiate the wedding while also being the one to give away the bride.  Just pray for me that I can keep my eyes dry as a give my little girl away and rejoice with her in celebrating her union with Philip.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ministry Updates

The Gospel is Shared:  In the far northwest corner of our island, about 5 hours away from where I live, a cluster of 4 Southern Baptist churches meet every other month for fellowship and encouragement.  On the last Saturday of July, we trained about 30 church members on Simply the Word, a very simple way to do Bible study that even the illiterate can participate in. 

Two months later, on the last Saturday of September, we returned to hear of their progress.  Several gave reports of new Bible studies started.  A few had made professions of faith and were ready to be baptized.  Most exciting for us was that some of the Bible studies and gospel sharing were done by church members.  After our follow-up training, the participants left with renewed confidence and enthusiasm to tell others about Jesus.

The Needy are Helped:  “These kids are the poorest of the poor,” explained the elementary school principal.  “We are the only school whose students don’t wear uniforms because the kids just can’t afford one.”  The principal had invited Pastor Ronald and his staff at the computer school to share Bible stories to the 100+ students every Friday morning.  In addition, Ronald and staff provide a simple breakfast for them. 

Bibles given to the students
Grateful for a simple breakfast
Ronald shared, “We met one 6th grade girl who was taking care of her two younger sisters because their parents had abandoned them nearly a year ago.  She begs for food and does whatever work she can find just to keep herself and sisters in the elementary school.”  In the midst of hardships, hunger, and hopelessness, the kids are learning about God’s love.  Please pray for the desperate needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual) of these children. 

Seventeen are Baptized:  They lined up on the beach at the water’s edge.  For the past 2 weeks, our 17 BOOST students had been learning the Gospel message and all of them decided to give their lives to Christ.  One by one they entered the ocean water to publicly confess that they were dying to their old way of life and being raised to a new life in Christ.  Please pray that by the end of their training in December, they will be ready to return to their home places and share the same life-saving message.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


His name is Yoshi.  He’s a young Japanese man enrolled in our BOOST Bible/agricultural training.  Last week we had a record 17 students begin a 3 month training with the goal of each one eventually returning to their home place to start house churches and assist their communities in agricultural development.

Yoshi’s father is Japanese and his mother is Filipina.  The family lives in Japan.  But recently Yoshi’s mother returned home for a few months, bringing Yoshi with her.  The mother saw our sign advertising the BOOST training and inquired about Yoshi signing up.  She and her husband own a farm in Austraila which they hope Yoshi can help develop.

The problem with Yoshi is that he can’t speak Ilonggo – the local dialect and the mode of instruction at our BOOST training.  His second problem is his limited knowledge of English.  Still, he was eager to learn.  The idea of leading Yoshi to Christ and seeing him carry his faith to Japan and Austraila was enough reason for us to sign him up.

During the first day of orientation, I took Yoshi aside and talked to him in simple English.  I learned his father was Buddhist and his mother Catholic.  Early next year he plans to return to Japan and then eventually transfer to their farm in Australia.  For about 2 hours, I went through the Scriptures, explaining the way of salvation.  Then Yoshi closed his eyes, said a prayer, and put his faith in Christ.

Yesterday, our project manager gave a good report about Yoshi.  Several hours each morning, every trainee works on developing his own vegetable garden, utilizing the techniques they learn in class.  Yoshi was one of the hardest workers, sometimes staying longer in the field than the other students.  In the afternoon and evenings he learns the Bible lessons in English, then sits attentively in class as he tries to understand as much as he can.

Please pray for Yoshi and the other students that they will encounter God during their 3 month training.  Interceded in their behalf that they will be protected from the evil one, and that God’s Spirit will have total freedom to convict, encourage, and lead them toward spiritual maturity.  Imagine the influence each of these trainees can have in their home communities.  Imagine the influence Yoshi could have in Japan and Australia.  But most of all, imagine the glory God will have when each one seeks to please Him in all that they do.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Runaway Wagon

Danny is the owner of Rusco’s Car Dealership, one of the largest in our city.  A Christian, Danny decided years ago to set aside one hour every Friday, 8 to 9 a.m., for a company Bible study.  About 20 gather in the main office room, shuffling chairs and benches to hear a message.

Last Friday I drove my car, the oldest in the mission, a 12 year old manual transmission ‘wagon’.  Arriving a few minutes before 8 a.m. I parked in my usual spot on the side of the road, just after a bridge.  Bridges here are always built higher than the road, with the exits sloping downward. 

As I parked, my cell phone beeped, giving me a message that occupied my thoughts for a few moments.  Then I locked each door (no automatic locks on this antique) and proceeded to walk along the road toward the car dealership.  Just before turning in, a car identical to mine passed me on the road.  It was dirty and unkept, causing me to think badly of its owner.  I looked to see who was the driver.  

What, no driver!  A quick turn of the neck revealed, to my horror, that my car was no longer in its parking spot.  I had forgotten to lift the parking break!  Now my car was on its own well ahead of me, beginning to veer into the far lane.  Frantically, I began chasing after the self-driving vehicle, waving my hands and warning the oncoming traffic to watch out for the runaway wagon.

Amazingly, no accident occurred as the car finally left the road and the front wheels feel into a ditch.  Once inside, I quickly realized that the front-wheel drive vehicle wasn’t going anywhere as the tires spun in the muddy ditch.  Fortunately, several men at the car dealership saw the predicament of this old clumsy missionary and came to my rescue, pushing and lifting until the antique was back on the road and headed in the right direction.

Had this occurred in the U.S., security cameras surely would have caught sight of a panicking man running down the middle of the street with his arms waving wildly, chasing a dirty car with no driver.  A YouTube sensation, thousands of viewers would have been delightfully entertained.  As it was, my embarrassment was limited to the staff of the car dealership who now have a designated parking space for me near the office. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Knowing Who is 'Saved'

From my last entry, I commented, “I usually don’t list a person as ‘saved’ until he or she is baptized.”  I was asked about that and, of course, the truth is we don’t know if a person is really ‘saved’ until we see consistent evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) in his/her life.  But supervisors, supporting churches, and statistical reports all want a number in the ‘saved’ category.

Years ago, I learned that it is easy here to have people, especially children, raise their hand if they want to ‘receive’ Christ.  I have seen pastors from the States speak in front of large crowds, then ask the people to raise their hands to accept Christ.  Afterwards, the pastors report thousands coming to Christ.  Large numbers can look good for organizations that depend on donations for their support.

Of course, I’m glad that the gospel is being preached, no matter how the numbers are reported.  But the eagerness of Asians to please their guest speaker, or their hope that God will bless them if they raise their hands, can easily leave a foreign preacher with the wrong impression.  For me, the real test of a person’s sincerity in following Christ is their willingness to be baptized.  That’s what baptism is for. 

In 2004, we had 2 U.S. organizations send two dozen American preachers to Iloilo City.  After a week of evangelistic meetings, together they reported a total of more than 24,000 “decisions for Christ.”  Several months later, I know only of 7 from that number who were baptized.  In 2009, I participated in “Christ Emphasis Week” at a local Christian University where more than 1,000 students came forward during the invitation time.  But the following week, only 12 came to the follow-up class, and 6 of them were eventually baptized.  Of course, the seed of the gospel may take time to bloom.  So we are always hopeful that others will eventually respond in obedience.
Again, I am excited whenever the gospel is preached.  But one of the advantages of being a long-term resident here is knowing better ways to present the gospel, then helping those who make decisions to grow in their relationship with God, which starts with baptism.  My greatest joy is watching those who are baptized experience a changed life through the power of God’s Spirit working in them.  So, like Paul, I can say, “Regardless of their motive, I am glad that Christ is being preached.  In this I rejoice.  Yes, I will rejoice!”  Philippians 1:18.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Professions of Faith

San Dionisio, a coastal town just a few miles northeast of our BOOST agricultural project, was ground zero for super typhoon Haiyan nearly three  years ago.  Buildings were destroyed.  Livelihoods swept away.  Many died.  But the town slowly recovered.  Today, little evidence remains of the catastrophic destruction that hit on November 8, 2013.  Houses have been rebuilt, public buildings restored, and the trees are blooming again.

Yesterday, I arrived in San Dionisio at 3 p.m., parked my car on a dusty road, and walked along a dirt path to a bamboo and nepa structure, under which had gathered about 20 Filipino men, women, and young people.  This was the home of Lydia, one of our BOOST graduates.  She had gathered some of her friends and neighbors to hear God’s Word.

Refreshing ocean breezes brought waves of relief from the tropical afternoon sun.  Some noisy children were playing in a nearby field while dogs barked their complaints.  Close by, a lady worked a hand pump, bringing up water for her laundry.  Lydia’s sister was preparing a snack of cheap bread and pineapple juice.  But under the shade of our little bamboo sanctuary, the people sat to hear what this white foreigner and his team had to say.

After introducing myself and my Filipino friend, Bro. Eliu, I shared a brief testimony of how I met Jesus and began my relationship with Him.  Next, Bro. Eliu shared the Bible story of the Pharisee and tax collector who both went up to the temple to pray, but only one was accepted by God.  We asked questions that generated good discussions.  Afterwards, a brief gospel presentation was shared.  About 15 of them then bowed their heads and prayed to Jesus, asking Him to forgive their sins, confessing Him as their Savior,  and asking Him to take control of their lives.

In the days ahead, Lydia will continue meeting with them, sharing more about God and their response to Him.  In a few weeks, she will invite them to be baptized.  Time will tell how many of them were sincere in their decision.  I usually don’t list a person as ‘saved’ until he or she is baptized.  But to see men and women bowing their heads and lifting their souls to Jesus is a sight that always brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.  It's why I'm here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Learning to Survive

The average missionary stays about 7 years before returning to the U.S.  While there are many reasons missionaries return, it’s beneficial to the mission organization and to the ministry for them to stay as long as possible.  So, last month during our annual mission meeting, I was asked to share with the group any insights I might have about how to endure on the mission field.  I shared two stories, both of which occurred in 1987 - our second year here in the Philippines.

Jan and I were nearing the end of language study.  We were attending our second annual mission meeting.  During a break in one of our sessions, I was outside talking with a veteran missionary, Stan, asking him about starting churches.  “Stan, what would be the best strategy to use?  How many churches should I expect to start during my first term?  What should be my goal?”

His answer to my last question was two words, “Just survive.”  New missionaries often set for themselves unrealistic expectations for their ministry, then become discouraged when the expectations are unmet.  Unexpected events will happen that cause further discouragement.  The weight of living in a new yet unfamiliar culture can be heavy.  Language learning is a stress.  Living conditions are always a challenge.  Any of these factors can send a new missionary home.  Added together, the words, “just survive” becomes a worthy goal.

The other event occurred just after we had finished language study.  I was ready to begin my ministry.  So, I decided I needed to hear from the Lord about how to begin.  What should be my focus?  Where should I start?  What strategy should I use?  How was I to win this part of the Philippines to the Lord?  Jan allowed me to check into a cheap hotel for 3 days and 3 nights bringing nothing with me except water and my Bible.  I have never heard God speak to me in an audible voice, but a few times He has come close, and this was one of those times.  Near the end of the third day, God spoke to me.

“Mark, you need to be a better husband and father.  Here’s what you need to do…”  Within a couple of minutes, I had a list of things I needed to do better, like help Jan with the dishes, play with David and Sara more, change Sara’s diapers, say encouraging words to Jan, and other things.  I knew this was from the Lord because at no time during those 3 days did I think I needed to be a better husband or father.  I thought I was doing OK in that department.  But God let me know that my ministry to others would never be successful if I neglected, even a little, my ministry to my own family.

Prioritizing my family rather than my work, and keeping realistic expectations for myself and ministry have helped me enjoy an exciting missionary career for the past 30 years.  I suspect that these are relevant for whatever area of work or ministry God calls us to.  May God continue to be glorified as we listen and follow His voice.