Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Story will Follow

I have been putting off writing about humanitarian aid for a long time. In truth I think about it everyday. As the director of a humanitarian aid organization in a very poor country (9th from the bottom on a recent UN list) I live and breath aid. But what kind of aid is 'humanitarian'? Does it distract from our goal of spreading the Gospel? We have all heard the guilt sermons that end promptly at 12:00 that caused us to weep and mourn our selfish ways but somewhere between the front doors of the church and the 'all you can eat' buffet line our resolve was lost. Many of us give money generously. Many of us are concerned for the plight of our fellow 'man'. Most of us don't know what we are supposed to be doing about it or even if it has anything to do with the assignment that Jesus has given us.
Brent Myers in his very excellent book 'Walking with the Poor' says that the nature of poverty is relational and the cause of poverty is spiritual. This means that we are poor because we don't relate to each other well so as to work together, and our relationships are broken because our relationship with God is broken. For example, down in a village that a friend of mine was working in they complained that they walked five kilometers to get water. They wanted him to do a water project and get some wells dug. Seemed simple. But my friend is smarter than that. He did some investigating. It seems that they used to have a water system in place. A couple of years ago they had a fight with the village upstream and they cut off their water. The village did not have a water problem, it had a relationship problem. To take it home to the West you see in the midst of an affluent society men and women on the street. They are homeless with nowhere to go and live miserable lives. The governments and societies of the West are wealthy. Why not just give these unfortunate individuals lots of money? You already know the answer. It won't help. Money does not solve the real problem. They are poor because all their relationships are broken. Sure that guy lives under a bridge, but he has a brother with a condo in Florida that he hasn't spoken to in years.
So, how do you help him? Firstly, I do believe in humanitarian aid. If the guy is hungry we have got to feed him. But we need to realize that that is not real help. The guy is messed up. His relationships are really broken and he has no idea how to fix them. Usually he doesn't want to fix them. There is a village south of Minas Tirith near Belfalas that was heavily hit by the civil war here ten years ago. Another friend of mine went to a wedding there. As he sat at the table with the whole village in attendance one of his local friends explained the situation. "That guy over there killed my father in cold blood one night. The family over there stole all the furniture out of that other family's house when they fled the fighting. We are all sitting here at this wedding together but we will never trust each other. We will never work together."
What would you say to that?
Well, I hope you do know the answer to that question. Jesus. We hold in our hearts the only one who can give forgiveness. And friend, if you don't have forgiveness you can not give forgiveness. His love is the only thing that can break the lies that hold us down. The enemy has been about decieving for thousands of years. He is pretty good at it. That is why we believe that we can not trust. We can not forgive. We can not love. We will get taken advantage of. Who will look out for me if I don't look out for myself. We have to stand up to those who are against us. We can't let people take advantage of us. We believe all this. And then Jesus comes along. He doesn't insist on his own way. He doesn't condemn. He is not afraid of what others think. He loves unconditionally and when he is threatened he dies rather than raise a single fist.
Everything in me tells me it shouldn't work. But love alone is what will conquer death and hell; Even your own death and the hell we have created right here in our own communities. This is why humanitarian aid is beyond formula. If we give selfishly we accomplish nothing even though our project is flawless on paper. If we choose wrongly at every turn and mess up the whole project yet we love people deeply the project becomes a success. He has protected us from ourselves many times- when our hearts and motives are right.
I will try and tell some stories that illlustrate what I am not saying very well. The bottom line is we must love others. How we get to the bottom line is a long and terrible ordeal some call sanctification.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Being Grateful

It is the eve of Christmas Eve and I am very grateful. I am very thankful for each of my friends who pray for us. I am thankful to Southern Baptists and others who support our work with finances and prayer. I have talked to many of you who think that we are suffering for the Lord here in Middle Earth. I have talked to many of you who are terrified at the idea that the King might would ask you to come to a place like this. Well, Minas Tirith is not my favorite city. There are unique problems here that no one faces anywhere else. My boss says, "Exotic places always are until you get there." He is a pretty wise guy.
A few years ago there was a big famine. Many in the south of the country were facing critical food shortages. We partnered with the World Bank to distribute more than 1000 tons of wheat seed and fertilizer to farmers who had ground up next years seed and ate it in desperation. It was a challenging project for us but I was very proud of the work we did. We went to village after village for two weeks and distributed the grain. One day Gimli and I took sixteen metric tons of grain into a very remote valley. We gathered the whole village together, prayed for them, and distributed the grain. It had snowed that week and the whole world was white as we climbed out of the valley in our jeep at the end of the day. We crested the ridge and looked back over the white valley with the beautiful river snaking through the middle of it. In the distant East huge snowcapped mountains caught the setting sun and shone forth in a glorious display. Gimli looking back over the scene exclaimed, "Who GETS to have a job like this?"
Most days this is how I feel. Not everyday. But most days.
I love travel songs and poems. In keeping with the theme of the blog here is an offering from JRR Tolkien

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Thanks to all who give through the Lottie Moon Christmas offering and the Cooperative Program which enables me to live out this very full and joyful journey.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Two Stories from Prison

Hey both of you who still check on this blog! Sorry for not writing more but I have been a bit overwhelmed with work and life. I have my two girls back from Boarding School this last week and they will be with us until the end of January. Yeah!
So, for today I have two prison stories for you. I have not discussed our prison work yet which is a shame. We started a local NGO (NGO stands for Non-Governmental Organization) for prison ministry about six years ago now. We had the idea for sometime but needed a director. Eventually the King brought Balin to us. Balin is a madman. He was saved up in the northern reaches of the country and was so excited he went straight home to his village and told everyone. His parents and the other villagers threw him out of town. He came down to Minas Tirith and that is where I met him. He got real excited about prison ministry and called the NGO Love to Prisoners. He meets everyone Jesus first. He shares Jesus as a part of every conversation. He is a rabid evangelist and more than a little charismatic. But here is the weird thing. The prison director and the guards of all the prisons we work in LOVE him. They think he is great. I don't know why. Except that he is annointed by the King to do this work.

Three winters ago it was very cold. Most of our humanitarian work in the prisons happens in the sick ward of Prison number one. There are as many as 120 prisoners in the sick ward at any one time. They usually go there to die. Many die of TB others of pnumonia or various other illnesses. Balin prays for them all. He prays for their healing and their salvation. He sees results regularly. Anyway, back to three winters ago. He led many people to faith that winter. I think around thirty. Almost all of them died. He was very discouraged. One day as he was pouring his heart out to the King and weeping over the fact that nearly everyone who came to faith would die soon after of the illnesses they had the King spoke to him. He said, "Balin! What are complaining about?" Balin replied that all his disciples were dying. The King said, "I am using you to snatch these men from the jaws of Hell. Stop complaining!" When he told me this his face was shining. God was using him. It was enough.

Later Balin went back into the sick ward and prayed for two men. One listened to his testimony about Jesus and the other rebuked him and said that it was wrong for him to listen and it was wrong for Balin to be doing what he was doing. Balin prayed for them both. The next day he went back into the prison. The prisoner who had listened to him had died. The other prisoner was completely healed. When Balin heard this he was sure that he would get an earful about how this proved that Jesus was not the way. Balin was surprised. The healed prisoner apologized for not believing him. He gave testimony to how the other man died in peace and that he wanted the same peace he had had. Balin led that man to faith and he became a great witness in that prison.

Balin worked with a small team for a time but has always had trouble keeping anyone for long. He says that the spiritual atmosphere in the prison is harsh and most people can't handle it for long. One day one of his helpers went into the prison to disciple four men who had made professions of faith. He reported that they were in serious discussion when he came into the room. They were discussing the fact that all four of them were seriously ill and would likely die soon. What were they going to do to help their fellow prisoners find the truth before they died? How could they disciple some one who would get well and get out of prison some day and become a witness to their people in their country? They prayed a long time about this that day. I know that they are all dead now. I do not know what seeds they were able to sow in the hearts of any of their fellow inmates. I do know that they sowed seed in my heart that day.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to Love

I have written several posts on the humanitarian aspect of what we do. The most notable is 'A Gift of Hope'. Our team does disaster. We have responded to more than sixteen significant disasters since 1998. We have learned lessons in all of these, some from our sucesses but usually through our mistakes. The following story belongs to Gimli who lives in Ithilian in the high mountains of eastern Gondor.
Global warming is a reality. I know many want to dispute it. If it is not happening we don't have to do anything about it. But for us this reality has already impacted our lives. Our glaciers are melting. High in the mountains above Ithilien glaciers have sat for thousands of years- ok, if you are a 'young earth' adherent just a few of thousand years. Now they are melting and that is impacting the lives of those below. Almost four years ago now a glacier high up above the little village of Andros formed a lake on its lip. No one knew about it as it formed, grew, then began to edge toward the lip of the glacier. One night the edge gave way. Suddenly. The water spilled over the edge of the glacier down the valley. Because of the unusual warmth the permafrost in the valley had begun to melt. As the water rushed down the valley it picked up speed and tons of mud. It came toward a narrow gap in the mountains which is where Andros sits. The village is built on the steep slopes on either side of the gap. When the water and mud hit the gap at three o'clock in the morning the villagers heard a mighty roar and the ground shook. They hurried up the sides of the mountain as fast as they could. The water and mud squirted out of the gap like water out of a garden hose with your thumb partially covering the end. Twenty four people were buried instantly.
The Emergency Services notified Gimli and his wife that morning. The jumped into their truck and headed up the valley to the village just a couple of hours away. There was a young lady who needed a ride up the valley so they picked her up. As they wound around the bend of the valley and came within sight of the village the lady cried out. It was her village- but it was gone. The entire landscape had been changed. Where there had been a village next to a river there was a huge mud flat. A few houses up the sides of the mountain were all that were left. The Emergency Services moved into action. Rescue was tried but everyone was either safe or buried beneath fifty feet of mud. They are still there today. The displaced were sheltered in the few remaining homes. Gimli called me to see what resources we had. We had two avenues of aid that should be interesting to you. First, the IMB provides very well for disaster response. In an emergency we on the field can spend up to $5000 before we even asked for it (this number has recently been moved to $10,000). The money comes from the Hunger and Relief Fund that the SBC has had for years. Quick Plug- Give generously! We use this money in our ministry constantly. Secondly, we had just loaded up our truck with relief supplies for Mordor. We called our folks in Mordor and they confirmed that they did not need the supplies urgently, we could divert them to Ithilien. So, we sent the truck the next day to Andros. Gimli, who works well with the Emergency Services people, went back up to the village the next day with the truck. Many trucks of aid had been sent by Government agencies and some other NGO's. They were lined up on the opposite side of the river from the village. The Government was not allowing them to cross. It had been decided by the central government that the people would be relocated and thus all aid should go to the new location. The trouble was that the people did not want to be taken away. A forced relocation is one of the most difficult situations for an NGO to work. We are here at the invitation of the Government and if we interfere with the Government we could jepardize our presence. If we do nothing people suffer.
Gimli didn't need my advice to decide what to do. He did asked me first though. I told him to go and distribute. But he should make it a distribution not to the displaced but to those who were keeping them in their homes. Those folks have precious little in the mountains and extra mouths to feed in their homes was a real burden. As soon as our truck crossed the river many of the other trucks crossed as well.
The next week the Government made a plan to ship out about 500 people. They were to be moved to the southwest corner of the country to a terrible spot which I will call Harad. Harad has very little water, the ground is salty, and it is 120 degrees in the summertime. Not my favorite vacation spot.
So, After a couple of paragraphs and a few hundred words here is the scenerio: 500 people relocated to an area that can not possibly support them and forty or so families left in the washout of what was their village. Due to the fact that the relocation of the families was forced most international aid agencies would have nothing to do with helping the people (because aiding these people would be tantamount to aiding the Government to be unjust).
Enter Gimli and his wife Galadrial. They are deeply moved by the plight of these people and the King had given Gimli and I the mandate and authority to intervene in the lives of disaster victims years ago. They were ready and they went to work. First, Gimli did the distribution of food to the families who were still in Andros. He met with the village leaders. He met with Government officials. He knew the score. Then he went out to Harad. He visited the people and the local governmnent officials there. The local mayor did not want these people as they were an extra headache for him. Gimli distributed food to those who were starving at night. Then he went back up to Andros. What was next? The village made the call.

In talking to Gimli about writing this post I asked him about the projects he did. He said, 'The people were the project.' The individual humanitarian works that he did were not the important thing. He assisted and they themselves built a canal, a flour mill, a bridge but the real work of aid was the people themselves. They were grieving, hopeless, in despair about the disaster, their way of life changing, the injustice done to them. Several families moved back- without documents or permission. What was to be done? Some of these issues are yet to be resolved.

The bridge was the biggest and most ambitious project. The Government and one of the largest aid agencies in the country both looked at the bridge and said, 'no way.' There had been a bridge that was fit for cars and trucks that spanned the river between the main road and the village. The steel span was 30 meters long and four meters wide. It had been swept down the river and was more than three quarters buried in the mud in the middle of the river. But, this bridge was a key source of identity for the community. It was of huge psychological and emotional value to them. With it they were important and connected. Without it they were isolated, alone, and backwards. Gimli told them that if it was that important to them that he would help. The men of Andros worked tirelessly in what is a very long and dramatic story. The river ran shallow during the winter. The men dug in the frozen mud for weeks in a project that stretched into months and finally more than a year. There was no crane or heavy machinery available. They moved it out by hand. Gimli made frequent visits. He stood up in front of the whole village as they worked and told stories from the Word. He prayed frequently for the project. Today the bridge is complete and I had the privilige of walking across it this last summer.

The men of Andros credit the King and Gimli's intervention for them for the completion of the bridge. Gimli did not merely build a canal, a mill, a bridge. He was used by the King to build a community. And in all of this the King has been glorified. Has a church been started. Not yet. That ground is hard and this post would be interminably long to tell you all the issues we face living in a muslim country. There is reason to hope. Because all that I have told you about is not the result of University training or correspondance courses. It is not the result of some expert somewhere doing what he has been trained to do. Gimli and I firmly believe that we are doing precisely what the King has asked us to do. People were suffering. We shared compassion in the name of Jesus. It is obedience to the King and not training or clever strategy that will bring down the walls and take the city.

This is a long post to try and illustrate how we care for people in the name of Jesus. We continually assess how we can serve Him and the people better. My hope is that you will do the same. No small visions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


We learned early on that when choosing a house to rent having a landlord you can live with is more important than having a nice house to live in. Gimli came to Minas Tirith a couple of months after I did. We found a great house for him just down the street from us. It was a really nice home with an indoor toilet and bath. Most homes did not have this wonderful feature back then, though many do now. The landlady was an elderly woman with a bitter disposition. That house was in reserve for when her grandson got married. That house was what she had to give him. It was very important. It was all she thought about day and night. Now she was renting it out to strangers and who knew what they might do to it.
She came around to the house every day. Every single day. Daily. She would come into the yard and look in all the windows to see if everything was as it should be. One day she came to my house in a panic. The silver plate was gone! It was gone, gone, gone. I tried to calm her down. Perhaps Gimli or his wife just took it down and put it some where safe? No, no, no, it's gone. They have lost it. I talked to Gimli later. He said that that silver plate was the ugliest thing he had ever seen and they had put it up in the closet. It was fine. She insisted they put it back on the wall. She came by once or even twice a day with complaints like this.
I was annoyed at first but then I became quite concerned for her. Her whole life was this house. It was quite clearly her god. But here's the thing: She received no pleasure whatsoever from this house. It was purely a burden to her. A burden she could not, or would not put down. But the situation got worse. A lot worse. A water main that ran next to the house had leak. One day Gimli found his basement flooded. This is always a bad thing but when your house is made of mud bricks it is a serious bad thing.
This began a saga that Gimli has written up and it is several pages long. I will not tell it all. I am too lazy to type it all up. Gimli dug a small canal to drain the water away from the house and considered that good enough. You can imagine that the landlady was not satisfied. She got the water department of the city to come out. They are underfunded and notoriously incompetent. They dug to fix the problem and the long and the short of it is that there was fifteen foot deep swimiming pool that eventually swallowed the entire road next to the house for the best part of four months.
During this time her health began to deteriorate. She became more and more ill and her disposition became more and more bitter. The house. It was all she thought about and it gave her nothing. She would bad mouth all the neighbors on the street and eventually Gimli had to move. He decided that he could put up with her but that everyone he came to minister to could not, and should not have to. He found another home. A home whose owner lived in another country.
All during this time I would talk to the old woman. I think she liked me in as much as she was capable of liking anyone. I listened to her and I counseled her. She never listened to me but she knew I cared. One day I challenged her attitude about the house. I told her it was just a thing. A material object that would pass away. She should not let it bind her the way it did. She agreed. It was a thing, and a temporal thing at that. But she could not let go of it. It was everything to her. About a year after Gimli moved she died of stomach cancer. She never did go and see a doctor. It would have cost money that was needed for the house. Her son eventually sold it.
I have thought a lot about her. How much she is a caricature of all of us. We are bound.
Bound to sin and selfishness. Bound to the lies that hold us down and keep us in spiritual and relational poverty. She lived her whole life in a misery of worry and disatisfaction because of that house and now she is spending eternity in hell for it. It is such an unthinkable evil that surely someone should do something about it. Fortunately someone has. Jesus died to set us free from this bondage. He calls us now to be free. Are you free?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Seeking and Finding

Vacation is a good thing. I like to get away to a beach and read lots of books when I can. It usually happens every few years or so. Way out east is a far away country that I will call Dale. It is a peninsula on the sea and now my daughters go to school there. One year we went there and had a great vacation. We stayed in the Capitol City for a few days, then went up to the mountains, then out to an island for a week. I had been doing the good dad thing up to that point and one day out on the island I decided that it was time to really get by myself and seek God. I needed to hear from Him about many important things that were happening and for that I figured I needed some dedicated alone time.

The island had a large hill in the middle of it all covered in jungle. I grabbed my camera and my Bible and headed out the gate of the hotel, turned up the road toward the village and began to look for a path up the hill and into the jungle. I had not gone even two hundred yards when up came old Tom. He approached me from the boat docks and asked me where I was going. I said I was heading up the hill. He introduced himself to me and began walking with me. He ran a tourist boat there on the island and was just getting off work. I told him that I really just wanted to go up and see if I could get a picture of a monkey or two. I didn’t need any help. No, no really, I will be fine on my own. Please, just…. I …. you don’t have to…. But I was not willing to be out and out rude to the guy. I really did not want to be with him. I was really despairing of wasting the only time I was going to get away by myself.

As we went through the villlage he said, ‘Wait right here, I need to get my walking shoes.’ He turned into a Budhist Temple while I stood wondering two things, how am I going to ditch this guy, and does he really live in this Temple?

He came out with his shoes on and we started up the road. I don’t know why he wanted to come with me. I told him I didn’t have any money but he said he didn ‘t need any. He was off work and was happy to wander around with a tourist. He said he knew a great place to see monkeys. I said, ‘So, you live in that …. temple?’ ‘Yes’, he said, ‘Isn’t it sad? All those poor hopeless people.’ I wondered about that. ‘So, you don’t believe um, your not a Budhist?’ He said that no, he was not a Budhist but that he rented a room in the back from an old woman who owned the temple. ‘So, what do you believe?’ ‘I am a Christian’, he said. I was floored. I am on an unreached island in a Muslim country. How is he a Christian? I asked him his story. He told me that he was working on one of the big ships that run the shipping lanes in that part of the world and a guy shared the truth with him. He had a Bible but after leaving that ship had had almost no contact with other believers. As far as he knew he was the only believer on the island and he was lonely.

He shared Psalm 23 with me. From memory. I talked with him all afternoon. We found a little cove with lots and lots of monkeys and I fed them bananas as we continued to talk about the King. We prayed together and then as the sun set we came back over the hill to the village. I said good bye and he gave me a ball cap. It was red and he told me, ‘Every time you see this cap or put it on your head you pray for old Tom.’ I still do.

As I walked up that final two hundred yards back to the hotel by myself the King spoke to me. I said, ‘Hey, I thought I was going to get some time with you to hear from you today?’ He said, ‘So you did. Whenever you seek me you will find me. When you find me you will find that I am always with needy people who need my touch. ‘

This answered pretty much all my questions. You want to ‘find God’? Go out and serve someone who needs you. He’s there. This then is my strategy, my methodology, my philosophy of ministry all rolled up into one story.

Taste and see.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

All I need is Jesus

I travel a lot in my work. Journeys always remind me of the journey we are all on. I often learn important lessons along the way. One day I was traveling by taxi up over the high pass at Caradhas and on down the long valley that leads into Rohan and the great city of Edoras. In the taxi were fourteen people whom I did not know. We were crammed into the jeep and it was easily one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had. Caradhas can hardly be considered a pass as the broken rock shelf that locals call a road meanders up nearly 4000 meters. As we wound our way up the ten year old girl who was packed in near my feet in the middle of the taxi got motion sickness. We knew she was ill because she kept throwing up in the jeep. The parents asked me if I had any medicine and I replied that I had some peptobismal but that would only help if her stomach was upset, not her head. She took the tablets which were not particularly helpful. After that all her vomit was bright pink. As we trundled along in this pleasant way I began to tally up the things I needed to do on this trip. I needed to get to Edoras and meet with some friends, have a meeting about the work, eat dinner with some former neighbors, and two or three other completely ridiculous and unrealistic expectations. The journey can take as little as six hours even though a sane driver would do it in eight. Our jeep was not doing the job. It was slow. Finally, we reached the other side of the pass and were heading down the river valley. We made several detours to drop people off. I was glad to get rid of some of the passengers and get some leg room. I was particularly glad when the young sick girl and her family got off- out of compassion for her, of course! But then we came to a bridge that was out. It was normal practice back then- though they are in good shape now- to have cars and trucks drive over the bridges in that valley until gapping holes the size eighteen wheel trucks appeared. Then the best part of the population of a local village would pour onto the bridge with wood and cover up the holes. This usually took a couple of hours and then traffic would resume again. I began to check things off my list. Well, eight hours are up, I guess that means no meeting in the afternoon. Then ten hours were up and that meant no meeting with the former neighbors. Then twelve hours.... then fourteen.... I was hoping against hope that I could get there in time for any kind of meal at all before I went to bed. I was hungry, very tired, and wearing all the dust of Middle Earth. My head was spinning from all the zig-zagging back and forth on the road and I was thoroughly irritated. I laid my weary head against the window and looked up. The stars were out in force and they were gorgeous. Unbidden a song came into my head. 'All I need is Jesus. All I need is Jesus All I really need is Him.' It was an old Farrel and Farrel tune from the early Eighties. I had not thought of it in years. 'All I need is Jesus. All I need is Jesus. All I really need is Him.' It repeated over and over, soft and reassuring. And then it hit me. Is that true? Is He all that I need? Because He is here. I know that theologically more than experiencially but still I believe that He is. And IF He is then, according to this song, I have what I need. All of it. The striving, the juggling of plans, the worry and the irritation are all lies. They are not true because they are not what I need even if I tell myself that I need them. I relaxed there in that moment and knew peace for the first time in fourteen hours. Today, why don't you do the same?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Gift of Hope

This blog is primarily about stories. I like to tell stories alot. But today I am 44 years old. Even though this is of no interest to most of you this is my blog and I thought I would document the fact. I would also like to say that my e-mail server has died a sudden and violent death and so I can not access any e-mails at my address. This is very inconvenient. So for all my friends who have written to wish me happy birthday (and you both know who you are) I am sorry I did not get it. I will get a new e-mail address maybe tomorrow and let you all know what it is. So, that's all I had for today.
Well, maybe one story. I have skirted the edges of talking about humanitarian aid for awhile now and would like to begin the discussion with an old tale. Ten years ago, just after the end of the great civil war here in Gondor there was a pitched battle with a small band of rebel soldiers right outside the walls of Minas Tirith. The battle lasted three days and at the end everyone was overjoyed that the rebels not only lost but that the country did not dive back into civil war. So everyone, including the Government, UN, and various aid agencies breathed a sigh of relief and moved on as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately that did not help the small community that saw sixty homes destroyed and over one hundred civilians killed. We had friends out there so we went out to see how they were doing. Gimli and Bilbo got busy right away fixing up houses, so that people would have a place to be in the winter, and distributing food and kitchen supplies to some forty families who were most needy. We were new in the country and didn't speak the language well but we loved people well and we prayed in English or broken Gondorese every time we went onto someone's property. We learned alot in that event but I want to talk about Nob.
Nob had seen his brother shot to death on his own doorstep and was devestated. When we found him his house was burned down and he was sitting in his detached kitchen with no will left even to get up. Fall was turning to winter as we helped many people get ready for the cold. Nob's house was next on the list of those we could help but the snows came and we ran out of time to construct anything. We held a big meal for all those in the community and shared with them as best we could why we were helping them. Nob stood up. He went on and on about how we had saved his life. We had given him hope. We had given life back to the community. I could not understand it because in the end we had not helped him- physically. Even though Nob never became a follower of Jesus our lives changed his life. His house was not only broken but he was bound by lies and oppression. We didn't fix his house but by freeing him from the depression he was in he was able to buy a bigger house the next spring. He did it without our money. He did it with the hope that we gave him. He studied the Word with me for a year and then moved on. I have not seen him in a long time. But that is not the point. Ultimately salvation is about Jesus and Nob. Strider is not in the picture. I am not his savior. But I did have a role to play. I was to present the Savior in an understandable way. We did and Nob was changed. That is what we are to be about in this world. As we live out our faith we shine a light that drives out the darkness and changes others forever. The UN, Red Cross, and other relief agencies can do wonderful things with big budgets but they can't bring the true answer for overcoming poverty and despair. Hope. The reality that there is an almighty King who loves you and is calling you. This is true aid. Humanitarian? Nope, divine.

Monday, November 20, 2006


When we came out to Middle Earth there were many things to adjust to. One thing that was new to me was the unreal level of injustice. Injustice makes me angry. Everyone I know out here has a traffic police story to tell about how they were abused . Many of my friends say with pride that they will NEVER pay a bribe. I used to be like that. Full of righteous indignation I would argue with those who sought to abuse me. One day I saw myself too clearly.
I was traveling in a taxi with a bunch of nationals I did not know up over a high mountain pass. As we approached the top there was a baracade across the road. Next to the baracade there was a sign that said that the road was closed from 8am to 11am. Well, it was nearly noon and the gate was still down. More importantly, I had been over this road many times and there had never been a post here before. A couple of old men sat by the road on a bench near the gate. The driver called out, 'Hey, what's going on?' One guy slowly got up and came over. The driver said, 'So, what's the deal here? Do you need money? Here, take 25 cents.' Now, you don't know what was going on in my heart at the time. I was fuming. Who were these guys to set up an illegal checkpoint and take our money? They had no right to do this. And why was our driver giving in to this extortion so easlily? Could he not see that these guys were stealing from us? They were evil. They should all be brutally slaughtered. So runs the unchecked thoughts deep in my heart.
The gate went up and we drove on. The driver looked over his shoulder and spoke to us (gosh, I wish he wouldn't do that on these mountain roads). "These people are so poor up here. They really have nothing. They are so hungry they will do anything just to get some bread." Tears shot to my eyes. I was accusing HIM of not seeing the situation! I was the one who was blind. I was the one who was unjust. I have traveled over 12,000 miles to show love to these people and I was ready to kill them all for 25 cents? I was sick. All my talk about my hatred for injustice was nothing more than my own selfish pride. I won't bother to list the multitude of verses from Jesus and Paul that talk about laying down our rights for our fellow man. In the end Galatians 2:20 is not too strong a verse. I need to be crucified with Christ so that I no longer live but Christ would live in me. Part of me was crucified that day. So much more needs to be.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Power of Weakness

Henri Nouen says that it takes a lot of humiliation to build in a little humility. We can always be grateful to a kind and merciful King who is brutily committed to our sanctification. I have been questioned many times about my identity here in Middle Earth. If I am a director of a humanitarian aid agency then can I come in the humility necessary to share the gospel? Will my image as a rich foreigner polute the message that we are coming to bring? I have wrestlled with these questions. I believe in the biblical model that tells us that the suffering Saviour is best represented by suffering servants. If I am the big boss with the big bucks how do I represent the one who sacrificed so much? Fortunately the King is infinitely creative and provides answers to all our problems.
Early last summer there were some serious rains that caused a flash flood in northern Mordor. The local Duke over in Ithilian asked us to get involved. I was in the West at the time so the team decided to go in and do it without me. Frodo and the team went in with help from Gimli and developed a plan to rehabilitate a badly affected village. The team had not worked in Mordor before and they made some mistakes. Specifically they gave out a New Testament to someone who asked for one. This is a mistake for two reasons. One, the vast majority of people in Mordor can not read. Two, people in Mordor are very suspicious about outsiders. The guy who asked for a book was not seeking truth about the King. He was seeking to know the team's motives. He began to bad mouth the team and tell everyone in the village that the team was just out to 'proselytize' the people. Fortunately for the team this man had a bad reputation in the village and few listened to him.
I came back at the end of summer and we decided to take the last of the supplies across the great river Anduin to the village to finish the project. We were helping the villagers to rebuild thirteen flourmills and three water canals. Getting all the permissions to get aid directly across the river was difficult. That is the biggest understatement I have ever made. It was nearly impossible. Gondor and Mordor do not have really friendly relations and that border is a real tension point for many reasons. So, we spent about three weeks getting all the permissions necessary and we rented a boat from the Urukhai. The Urukhai is an agency that specifically helps Ismaili Muslims. We do not usually work with them but are on decent terms with them.
Finally, last October we headed off to Minas Ithil with all our permissions stamped and signed. We arrived there after an eighteen hour drive and we spent several days meeting- or rather missing government officials and finally getting their permissions. After six days we headed toward the village. Osgilioth is a village on the river with a bridge over to Mordor. Our village is about 25 kilometers upstream from the bridge. Sam, Pipen, and I crossed the bridge and walked the distance over the mountain to the village while Frodo and Merry arranged the boat and showed all our permissions to the local officials.
I was prepared to walk 25 kilometers but I was not prepared to walk it straight up and then straight down. The mountain was a nightmare and it really kicked my butt. We crossed the bridge at 4:30 in the afternoon and walked for five hours up over the mountain. There were donkey convoys on the trail so we had some company on the way. By the time I reached the village my legs were cramping furiously and I was soaked with sweat. As soon as we reached the home of the man we were staying with most of the men in the village came around and we stayed up talking late into the night. Now, you might be thinking that after I, an important foreigner had taken the time to walk all the way to their village that they would be really grateful. You don't know people from Mordor. They laughed at me and said, 'It took you five hours to get here? It only takes us three!' 'You must be really soft and weak!' Yeah, thanks a lot.
So, we made a plan. The villagers would go down to the river the next day to receive the material and get it distributed to the workers who needed it. The next morning we got up early and I hobbled down to the river and waited while Sam and Pippen went up and inspected the work that had already been done. At 11:00am the boat showed up on the other side of the river and they set it up and we waited. The materials came by truck and they began to unload and get ready and we waited. Finally, Frodo and Merry came and shouted across the river. There was a problem with the paperwork. They would fix it but it might take awhile. They left and we waited. And waited. At 5:00pm they came and shouted across the river to us. No one could cross. Up until this point it had been obvious how badly the hike had hurt me but I was not sure if it had hurt the guys. Merry shouted, 'We can't come and get you.' Sam shouted back, 'Get over here NOW!' Merry shouted, 'They told us anyone who crossed the river would be arrested.' Sam shouted back, 'We agree!' But they packed up the boat and the materials and they left. Sam, Pipen, and I walked very slowly back up the hill to the village. We would not be back in Gondor tonight. Tomorrow we would walk 25 kilometers back over the mountain. We were really down but on the way up that hill I looked up. I knew the King had us here for a reason. I spoke out loud to Him in english and I said, 'All right, I know you want us here tonight so we can share truth with these people but you are going to have to get my broken body back over that mountain in the morning!'
We sat down in our host's room and again all the leading men of the village came around to see us. There were perhaps twelve or so men there as they began to hassle us about how incompetent we were. 'We waited all day for you guys but you couldn't get the stuff across. Are you incompetent? Don't you know what you are doing? The Urukhai can get stuff here why can't you?' It was not fun. They then got tired of insulting us and started talking about drugs. There is a lot of poppy cultivation going on in Mordor and drugs was something all these guys knew all about. I looked at Pipen and said, 'Have you told them your story?' He said he had not and so he proceeded to tell them about himself.
Pipen is not ethnically from Gondor. He is actually from Angmar who fought a war not so many years ago with Mordor. But he had learned the language in order to minister to them and I agreed to have him on the team. Besides, he was a good guitar player. I knew that the King had saved him out of drugs and that his story would be amazing to those from Mordor. As he told his story they were all laughing and having a great time while he described all the drugs he was taking as he spiraled down in a cycle of self-destruction. Then the room became silent and still as he described how he had lain on the couch feeling his limbs grow cold and his heart slow down. He was going to die. Then he realized he did not know where he would go. What would become of his soul? He turned to the King whom he had heard about from a friend a few weeks before. He rolled off the couch and cried out to the King. Jesus saved him right then. He was free from the drugs and free from sin. His life was purchased by the King and he was now the King's man. They had never heard a story like this. They sat there in silence for a moment as Pipen finished and then one of the men shouted out from the back, 'So, this drug addict has come to help us?' The Sherrif stopped him cold and said, 'Quiet! This man has repented.' Slowly they all filed out. Then we sat alone with our host and his nephew- the student. The Student was about eighteen and one of the only guys in the village who could read. Our host leaned forward and said, 'Who is Jesus anyway?' Sam said, 'Who do you think he is?' He said, 'I have no idea. I have never heard of him, heard stories about him, or known anything about him.' Sam took the next two hours to tell the full story of Jesus starting deep in the Old Testement and concluding with his death and resurrection. They listened very attentively. The last twenty minutes or so the Student sat there with his mouth open and his eyes wide in amazement. He had never heard such a story before and it truly impacted him.
The next morning we left at 3:30am and walked back over the mountain. The King himself strengthened me for the journey so that I was not even tired when we arrived back in Osgilioth. Frodo and Merry told us to rest in a guest house while they tried a few more ideas on how to get the permission they needed to get the materials across the river. We went and laid down and Sam and Pipen went to sleep immediately. I just laid there. Then the King spoke to me. His voice was not audible but it was very clear. He told me that he loves us very much. He went on to say that His Word would have power when we walked in humility. It was in defeat and embarrassment that His Words would come with transforming power. We got up and had lunch. I told the guys what the King had said. I also told them he said we would not get the stuff across on the Urukhai boat. He told me very clearly he would not share His glory with them. Lesson learned. We headed back to Minas Tirith. I expected that after nine days on the road and nothing accomplished that the team would be depressed. It was one big praise and worship party all the way home. The King had used us to spread his gospel in a dark land and He had spoken to us about His love for us. We were pumped.
Two weeks later we did get the stuff across on rafts that the villagers made themselves. We visited there in early summer and our host, the Student, and several others still listen to Christian radio broadcast in their language every day. What will happen there? I have no idea. But I do know that whatever happens I will not get any credit for it. We serve a mighty King who deserves all the glory, honor, and praise.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Just a Thought....

One day as I was meandering along in my life trying to procrastinate writing some reports a thought occured to me. Frodo doesn't like me. He doesn't listen to me. He doesn't respect me. He doesn't get what we are trying to do. I need to fire him. I think our relationship can not continue. So, I decided to let him go after two years of our working together. Then I thought to myself, 'Hang on! None of that is true.' Frodo is my friend and national team leader. We have learned tons together. Why would I think for a moment that any of those thoughts I thought were true. And then I thought another thought. What if those were not my thoughts at all? What if what just happened was an attack of the evil one? It was a thought.
I thought that perhaps the enemy did not like our team very much and maybe he thought it should be disbanded. I thought that perhaps if he was attacking me this way perhaps he was attacking other's thoughts as well.
So, I thought I would ask. I was quite unprepared for the answer. We sat together, Frodo, Merry, Sam, and Pippen and myself and I described what I thought. Merry did not hesitate to answer. Just the other day, he said, he had a big fight with his wife. He said that he told her he would have to quit his job with us and stop ministering with the team. After a heated debate that no doubt centered on both the financial inviabilily of such a move and the consequences to the spiritual work he stormed out of his apartment and sat on a bench in the courtyard. The King clearly said to him, 'Did I ask you to quit?' Merry replied, 'No.' 'Then what are you doing?' the King concluded. Merry went upstairs and apologized to his wife. He told her that he was not quitting the team. She said that of course he wasn't.
Then Sam joined in. He said that just the other day he had a fight with his wife. They had moved up from the south to join the team and his wife was not fond of Minas Tirith. He said he would quit the team and take them all back down south. After a big fight he fled out of the apartment and sat on a bench in the courtyard. The King said to him very clearly, 'Did I ask you to move back down south?' He said, 'No.' 'Then what are you doing?' the King concluded. Sam went back upstairs and told his wife he was not quitting and they were not going back down south. She said that of course they weren't.
In the history of the Church this happens all the time. How many people do you know that have broken relationships and when you try to find out why, you can't find anything at all. I am grateful to the King that he has made us mature enough to see the hand of the enemy in our lives and to overcome it. I think also that I need to pray for wisdom to face the next attack. For now, I just thought that you ought to know that not all the nasty thoughts in your head are your thoughts. Not all the violent thoughts you think proceed from your heart. These thoughts come and when they do you need to disagree with them and cast them out of your mind. Take your thoughts captive for Christ and the King will be honored in all your relationships.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Walls of Jericho

'There's no sense in reinventing the wheel'. I hate that phrase. I think you should always reinvent the wheel. They have never made a wheel that would roll in Middle Earth anyway so of course, we have to invent one. I believe that our King is creative and that if we would follow Him we must be creative as well. That's why formulas and systems do not work in the Kingdom.
I have two daughters. I used to say that one would not color in the lines and the other would not color if there were lines. I was very proud of that. My girls are Luthien (15 almost 16) and Goldilocks (14 going on 24). They are in boarding school out in the east. A couple of years ago when they were still here they decided to do a play. We didn't have time to help them so they did it themselves. They wanted to do a humorus version of Snow White. They couldn't find a script that they liked so Goldilocks wrote one. Luthien helped, mostly to ensure that her leading role as the wicked witch had plenty of juicy lines. They got their friends together and pulled it off. We thought it was great. If they had done someone else's material we would have weighed and measured it. I believe that because the whole project was uniquely theirs that we enjoyed it much more. We could relax and enjoy something uniquely them without having to compare their performance to anyone else.
I think that Kingdom work is like that. The King has something unique for us to do and has enabled our team to do it in a unique way. We must listen to Him alone. No one else can be our guide because no one else has been where we are going. It's like the walls of Jericho. Joshua received excellent instruction as to how to take them down and then they carried out the instructions flawlessly. The next chapter is the most amazing chapter in the Bible for most modern Western Christians. They didn't do it again- ever. Most guys I know would have been circling and hollering around every city in Palestine but not these guys. They did it once and moved on. Wow.
I believe we must seek a relationship with the King that enables us to hear Him and obey Him for each day, each challenge, each situation and then move on. We have got to be creative and do new things, crazy things, things that take faith. Then we will be pleasing to Him. Then we too, will take the land. Anything else is just walking in circles.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Fear Factor

Sam is from a village in the southwest corner of Gondor, not far from Anfalas. He was doing his two year military service when the civil war broke out back in 1992. He and many in his unit tried to get home. As he went through one roadblock and on to the next most of his friends were executed. He was spared. They kept asking him, 'Are you an Islamist or a Communist?' He kept replying, 'I am Sam!' They said, 'We will shoot you.' He said, 'Go ahead, but I am Sam.' A local officer recognized him and let him return to his family. He got married. An old friend of his from Minas Tirith came down to visit him and shared with him his new faith in Christ. Sam embraced Jesus readily and served him eagerly. He became part of a famous international ministry and showed the Jesus film in countless villages across Gondor. He started a church in his hometown and had many disciples. He passed out Bibles by the cases and cases. Every time his organization had someone come into Gondor the leader took them to see Sam. His leader was a driven visionary who pushed people hard to go into every corner of Gondor with the Gospel. After seven years Sam began to get tired. He was working seven days a week from sun-up until 7pm. His leader said, 'You need to work harder. We need more results.' Sam said that he had a wife and three children and couldn't work anymore. The leader told him he should be working until ten or twelve at night. People are dying without Christ they had to work harder.
Things began to get difficult. His leader promised him more literature and Sam would plan to go to a village but then the literature would be days late. He would promise to come and lead a meeting and would not show up. He began to spread rumors in Sam's own church that Sam was doing wrong. Sam told me that each time one of these things would happen he would say, 'Ok, he isn't perfect but I don't serve him. I serve God and I am not quitting.' Many things continued to go wrong. The church broke down from all the outside interference. But Sam would not quit. One day Sam came to Minas Tirith for a meeting. As he entered the room he realized that every one there was afraid of their leader. No one was serving out of love for Christ. Everyone was serving out of fear of the leader. This is not God's Kingdom. Sam left the organization.
I praise God for Sam. He is a great man of faith. I am privilidged to work with him. I am priviledged to learn from him. As I stated before on this blog most of Sam's work in the villages was ineffective and we have learned together to do better. But the lesson I learn from Sam is about fear. All fear is of the evil one. Sam would not budge from serving the King- not an inch. But he recognized that if your organizational ethos is fear then it is not of God.
As I contemplate this I am amazed at how many of my actions, beliefs, and practices have been based on fear. Are you a charismatic who speaks in tongues? No? Why not? Because you don't believe that this is what the scripture teaches or because you are afraid of what others will say? You don't drink? Same questions. What about sharing your faith in Christ with a friend? Do you hesitate because you are unsure of the best way to approach it or are you afraid of.... what? Fear is of the evil one. When you are discussing these and any other issues then you have to ask what is my motive in any of these decisions? If your motivation is fear you have made the wrong decision. Period.
Erwin McManus says we serve what we fear. This is why we are to fear God. We must fear God alone because to fear anything else is to give in to that thing and serve it instead of God. That friends, is called idolatry. Sam decided to serve the King alone. I stand with Sam. Can you?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's not about you

When our team reached Gondor we made a plan to get to the whole country with the message. Ithilian was mountainous and remote. The regional capital of Minas Ithil seemed very far away. Out in those mountains were six people groups who spoke different languages. In faith we began praying for a way to get there and people to answer the call to go. In 2001 Gimli and his wife Galadrial said they would go. It was like cutting off my right arm to help them get out there. Gimli and I had a singular vision of using disaster management to reach into the remote villages of Gondor.
But this post is not about what is comfortable, or strategic, and certainly not about what is practical. It is about what God is doing and a little bit of how he is doing it. If Ithilian is remote then Mordor was a wall. Minas Ithil sits on a river looking over to Mordor. It was locked in a permanent civil war. It was a strict muslim country where the work of the Kingdom was almost completely halted. One day Gimli left Minas Ithil to come and see us in Minas Tirith. It was a grueling twenty hour drive that he decided to do in two days. Gimli slept in a little village on the river that night and the next morning rising up very early which was his custom he prayed looking out over the river to Mordor. As he was lifting up the impossible situation in Mordor to the King he was surprised to hear the King answer him. It was not audible but just as clear as if it had been. "Do you see Mordor? I am going to change everything." Now, Gimli is not accustomed to dramatic supernatural events. He was very excited and drove all the way to Minas Tirith eagerly wanting to tell me all about what the King had said. When he arrived at my home he came in and immediately told me what had happened. He said that God was going to change everything in Mordor and that we would be able to get in at last. I told him that I had something to show him. I took him into our living room where the news was reporting the second tower coming down in the West. They were already making some Mordor connections on the news coverage. Yes, it was September 11, 2001. Gimli immediately looked at me and said, 'Well, that's it! The West will never stand for this. They will free Mordor and 20 million people will have access to the truth for the first time ever.'
Of course, that is exactly what happened. I know that the King had many lessons rolled up in that one event but I still think that the most important thing that happened was that His Kingdom was expanded. It will continue to expand. His truth will be taught in all nations among all peoples. He will be worshipped among every people, tribe, and tongue. Terrible things have happened and will happen but in the end it is not about us. It is about Him and His glory.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Body Life in the Village

One of the principles that we have had from the beginning is that discipleship begins when you meet someone. This is supposed to mean that from the time that you meet someone you are modeling for them the life that is to be lived in Christ. The question for a long time was does this work? Does this make any sense?
One week after Fili and his wife were baptised the team went down to see how they were getting on. They all got up a five am and met together; Kili, Fili, their wives, the team and assorted interested neighbors. Around fifteen or so people. Fili's wife is the best reader among them so after they prayed together she read the word. Then Fili spoke the devotional for the morning. It was from the book of Revelation. He said that we were not living for the things this life had to offer. These houses, lands, things would all perish but Jesus was coming again and He was bringing their true rewards with Him. These rewards would last forever so we must work for these things now and not be discouraged or concerned about our temporary situation. This was the devotion of a one week old believer. Yes, I think that discipleship does start when we meet someone if we are proactive to model the life of Christ in all that we do. People are watching and listening even when we do not think they are. Fili was learning truckloads long before his decision to follow Christ. He continues to be a rock there in Anfalas.
So, what does the Church look like in Anfalas. Well, another principal we have is that we spread the Good News and let Jesus build His Church. This means that we have not sought at all to establish any kind of 'organization' in Anfalas. We have just taught the Word. So, every morning at five am the two families get up and meet together- outside in good weather and in one of their homes in bad. They pray together for strength to face the day. They read the Word and either Kili or Fili give some sort of devotional based on the Word. They would like to sing but they are not musical and so far that has not gone too well but they are trying. Between ten and fifteen villagers meet with them on any given morning just to watch. I think that most of them are convinced that Kili and Fili have done the right thing and are trying to find the courage to do the same. They have faced limited persecution especially at first but now they are accepted members of the community and no one has been hostile to them up to this point in time. The guys work as day laborers in neighboring villages and actively share their faith everyday. They also pray for the sick among them and have seen some healed. Some said that they may be ostricised and have trouble finding work but so far they have had more work and more money than ever before.
The other day Frodo suggested that Kili and Fili come up to Minas Tirith and have some sort of conference with other local groups. I said no, this will become necessary but not yet. For now, being a follower of Jesus in Anfalas is not a foreign idea. Accepted outsiders have planted an inside group that is leading itself. If they come up to the big city they will hear much that is new and some that may even be good but they will return to Anfalas with strange foreign ideas that do not belong in the village. Down the road they will need to relate to the greater body but not until they have a much stronger footing. I believe when they mature and come into Minas Tirith it will be the city boys who will learn from them more than visa-versa.
I am learning a lot about the Church as I watch it unfold in the village. I know that a village Church does not belong in the city and would not work here. But would you not want to be a part of a family that meets and worships everyday in the midst of the rhythm of life and sees God's hand at work?

Monday, October 23, 2006

There and Back Again

Second guessing and regret is a way of life for too many. If only we had just.... If only I had said this.... We can heap a lot of condemnation on ourslves if we give the enemy our ear and let him direct the conversation. We spent much of the Fall of 2004 doing this. If we did all that the Boss asked of us and saw Him work so powerfully then why did the village refuse Christ? Where did we go wrong. It is here that all those sowing and reaping promises can really backfire on you. That which you sow that will you also reap. When nothing seems to be happening you can only conclude that you sowed nothing after all.
We went on to the next project. A village near Osgiliath had fallen in a sinkhole and was relocated. We helped build thirty houses there. The guys sat around in the tent and sulked for the most part. I would go down and say, 'hey, let's sing and play the guitar!' But they didn't bring the guitar. They didn't feel much like singing either. But time marched on. I visited Anfalas sporadically. They all seemed to be asleep.
In May of 2005 I visited and met with a school teacher there. He assured me that he still read the Word everyday to his family. I thought that was odd. Didn't they reject Christ already? But many seemed to be reading still. Denethor, the spiritual leader of the village insisted on telling me every time I saw him that he still prayed for his people in Jesus' name just like I had told him to.
There were two main guys who always met with our team whenever they went down. Kili and Fili were from Anfalas and had worked hard on digging the wells there. Throughout the time they spent with the team they never mentioned God or showed any interest in spiritual things. In December of 2005 the team went down to see how everyone was. They saw Kili and spoke with him briefly and during that short conversation he mentioned Jesus. The team was surprised. They asked me if they could do another project down there so we could spend time in the village again. I said that that would be easy as they need nearly everything. So, we did a mill project. A flour mill is fairly cheap but becuase you have to house it, and set up a committee to run it and work out a fair system for the village it takes a lot of time to pull off- so it was perfect for our purposes.
The team went and started working and it was as if they had never left. Everyone was glad to see them and they began doing book studies from house to house again. Most of the time was spent with Kili and Fili and their wives. They did meet with another school teacher though who told them he needed more Bibles as he was doing a Bible study in two different houses in the neighboring village. They said, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'Well, everyday after school I go to one or the other house and I meet with about ten guys and we read the Bible and talk about it.' They said, 'Show us.' So, he took them to the Bible studies and it was exactly as he had described. God was doing something down there but now how were we to be involved?
It didn't take very long before Kili was insisting on being baptised. I wondered how he understood baptism at all. I did a thorough Bible study on baptism with the team and then we all went down to the village. Frodo taught Kili and Fili and their wives the study on baptism and then asked if that is what they wanted to do. Kili and his wife insisted on being baptised right then. It was late so we told them we would do it in the morning. Fili and his wife said they would wait a week. I was disappointed but not surprised.
We got up the next morning at 5am and went to the canal near the village. They had already decided that Sam would do the baptizing. I layed hands on them and prayed and then Sam and Kili went down into the water. Sam asked Kili if he had accepted Jesus as his Lord and saviour and he acknowledged boldly that he had. Then Sam came up out of the water and Kili baptised his wife in the same way. It would have been a scandal for Sam to be in the water with another man's wife. And besides that, it was darn cute to see him ask his wife if she had accepted the Lord and to hear her reply to him.
After the baptism we went to their house and I gave them the Lord's Supper and instructed them to do it often together. It was a very special time. Their faces were changed. They had such care worn faces, such oppressed faces before and now they radiated with smiles that drove tired lines away. I think that Kili looks ten years younger.
Two weeks later Fili and his wife were baptized the same way. Now both couples meet every morning at 5am to pray, read the Word, and encourage each other before they go off to work. They do not represent an organization that you and I would call church but I believe they are an example to us as to what God's Kingdom and the true Church should look like. Everyday I wonder if I am going to hear that it has all gone wrong but now after six months they are meeting every morning with fifteen or so neighbors who come to watch them and they are bringing great glory to our Lord there.
I will write the next chapter of this story as soon as God reveals it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Two Steps Forward, One Back

The first time I met Fanghorn he was sitting in the shade of a tractor playing a two stringed instrument and singing longingly about the mountains they had left behind. He was a very friendly musician but he was also a bit of a sad sack. He always had something to complain about. One day as I was trying to get him to look on the bright side he said, 'Look at my neighbor. His wife has lost three babies in the last four years. He only has one child and I have six. Six mouths to feed. I wish I was lucky like my neighbor.' I pointed out that the neighbor's wife did not see things that way but I don't think he got it. How bent and broken do you have to be to get like that? The team liked him and tried to teach him about the truth but he could not hear us at all. Frodo said he was one of those that had an iron veil across his face. He never spoke about God or thankfulness or hope. Frodo and Sam decided we should all pray and fast especially for Fanghorn. After ten days of special directed prayer and sporadic fasting (I don't want to give you the idea that we fasted for ten whole days- we didn't) I drove down to Anfalas to check out the project. Two kilometers out from the village I saw Fanghorn walking along the road. I stopped and invited him to join me in the truck. He smiled huge, climbed in and exclaimed, 'Praise God! You saved me two kilometers of walking in this heat.' I turned to see who I just let in. Yes, it was Fanghorn but I had never heard the word 'God' out of his mouth much less a thankful attitude. The team were invited to study the Word at his house with his wife and children. A month later- and in the middle of all the fear sickness- he made a decision to follow Jesus and he and his wife and all six children prayed to receive Jesus as Lord.
Miracles continued to happen in the village. A boy fell down one of the wells and was completely unharmed. Fifty six feet to the bottom in a three foot in diameter hole with less than three feet of water in the bottom. The team said, 'Wow, God saved that boy.' I said, 'No, God saved us. It would have been our hides had he died in 'our' well.' Several people were healed of various illnesses as our team prayed and ministered to these people.

Something to consider: What is God up to in this world? Have you thought about where he is trying to go with this grand plan of His? I think we got a small snapshot of what He is about in Anfalas. The angels circle His throne singing praises to His name non-stop. They can see His glory and are over awed by it. 'Holy, holy, holy the whole earth is filled with His glory.' Isn't that what they sing? But what do you see? Glory? Or do you see violence, injustice, greed, suffering, hunger, people using each other and being used with no knowledge that what they consume like candy is the workmanship of God's own hands- the apple of His eye. We live in a dark, horrible world. We seldem see His glory at all much less are over-awed by it. This is what He is after. If we choose to love Him now, if we can hear Him calling us now, if we can be turned to put our faith in Him now when there is little or no sign of His majesty then this brings him glory indeed. Who will reign with Him forever in glory but those who have laid down everything in the midst of darkness and despair? Yes, it is for the overcomers to rejoice before the throne and the angels will marvel that men with so little light would give up all for a glimpse of a chance to know it better. Do not mistake what I say. This does not demonstrate innate wisdom on the part of those who follow but it speaks to the mighty hand of God in the lives of those who live in such darkness. It is about His glory. The glory He deserves for being powerful enough to rescue us from the depths of darkness and despair.

Anfalas is such a place where His glory will appear brightest of all. Anyone who is able to stand there in all that blackness and injustice, in all that hunger and sickness, these will gain thrones nearest to our Saviour when the judgment comes. These, not those who build great buildings or organizations, these will be closest to the Father's heart because they reached out in faith and sacrificed all for the mere glimmer of a dream of a hope.

The day after Fanghorn committed his life to Christ he told Denethor that he would no longer play his music in their religious ceremonies. The community held its breath. What would they do? Now that this family has betrayed their religion and turned their backs on Islam what would happen. One month later Fanghorn got a job teaching in another village. Two months later the village was gathered together to hear from our team and a local Minas Tirith Church that went down to speak with them. The team spoke passionately of all that had happened and about Jesus who was responsible for every good thing that had happend to them.
The village thanked everyone for all their hard work and help and then said, 'No.' They would not change their religion. Many believed what the team said about Jesus but it did not matter. They would not change their faith.
The team was devestated. Six months of hard work. All the miracles, the lessons God had taught. The prayers and battles fought and won. No. How could that be their answer?
We had another lesson to learn however. Harvesting does not follow sowing. Waiting follows sowing. Patience and the tireless work of the Holy Spirit would reveal that the story in Anfalas was not over yet. It had not really started yet.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Our Battle with Fear

Fear Sickness. That is what the villagers of Anfalas called what was happening to them. Anfalas is one of the poorest villages in Gondor. It consists of relocated peoples who moved out of the mountains and down onto a sandy plain near the border of Mordor. The people walked three kilometers for water and eight kilometers for firewood. They work the cotton farms for the local authorities and receive little or no pay for their efforts. Last year after the cotton harvest the bosses came and gave them their pay. Their pay was that they were free to collect the cotton stalks and burn them as fuel in the winter. They were excited to recieve them. Injustice rolls down like waters in Gondor. So, this leaves the children with very little to eat and most of them show signs of significant malnourishment. They are often ill with no resources to cope.
Then came fear sickness. Women would be walking down the road and suddenly they would be inexplicably terrified and darkness would decend on them. They would often just pass out right there in the road. Sometimes they would fall down in a seizure banging their heads repeatedly on the ground. Others would sit in irrational fear and be unable to sleep for days. They would fall into a kind of catatonic state where they would stare off into space unresponsive to anybody.
Up until this time the team had complained to me that they didn't know what to do. I would not let them dig the wells as the villagers must take responsibility for that. They were to worship and serve in the village and they had a hard time figuring out if what they were doing was what I was asking of them or not. Now all that changed. There was no doubt as to what they had to be doing. The whole time they were in the village people would come to them and ask them to come and pray for those who were suffering from this fear sickness. A father would run down the street and say, 'Come quick! My daughter has fallen down in a seizure'. They would go and pray for the woman in Jesus name and instantly she would be well. This happened dozens of times over the period of about six weeks. One day a woman fell down in a seizure and Sam and Merry went in a prayed for her. She was instantly well. Then they left. As they were walking down the street the father ran after them and informed them that the daughter had fallen ill again. They prayed for her again and she was healed again. Merry told me later what Sam did then. Apparently Denethor and another religious leader were there when Sam yelled at the father and told him that he was inviting Satan back into his house by allowing these men to write charms. A charm is a scrap of paper with a verse of the Koran written on it. It can be worn on the arm or put somewhere in the house. Sam told them they could not have it both ways. They must either trust in the power of Jesus to protect them or the power of Satan. Denethor was not wholly happy with this assessment.
So, with the entire village determined to find some sort of cure for the fear sickness that did not include God we brought down a doctor to do a one day clinic and prove that the fear sickness had no systemic cause but was wholly spiritual in nature. Let's face it, either the whole village had suddenly come down with epilepsy or this was some serious spiritual warfare. As the villagers lined up to be seen by the doctor one by one they began to speak to me. They kept saying, 'Isn't there some sort of medicine or shot to cure this?' Is there something we should eat?' Then a guy came up to me and said, 'Do you think I should write a letter to the Duke and see if he will help.' I lost it. The Duke? How ridiculous were these people willing to be to keep from turning to God? Then Denethor came up to me, 'Strider, what is going on with this fear sickness?' I let him have it. I told him that Satan did not want us there and he was attacking his people. The ONLY protection he had was the name of Jesus. He must pray for his people in the name of Jesus. Denethor began then and continues today to pray for Anfalas in the name of Jesus. He still is not a follower of Jesus however.
By the end of March 2004 the fear sickness slowed down- but did not stop until late May. We showed the Jesus film at the end of March and the whole village watched it in the street with us. That was great fun and everyone was really amazed at Jesus life and work. But no decision. We kept thinking, 'Now, now they will decide.' But they didn't decide. We prayed we fasted we did Book studies from house to house. The team gave out New Testaments to any who would agree to read it to their whole families every night.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

That thing that doesn't happen anymore

I am not a cessasionist. This means that I do not believe that miraculous gifts were reserved for the first century alone. I am not Benny Hinn. My hair will never be as cool as his and I just don't go around healing people all the time. Actually, some of my friends have learned tons from the illnesses and injuries that they have had and they would have missed it all if I had gone and healed them. So I don't do that. I do what the Boss wants me to do.
One day in February of 2004 I was sitting in the office with a full load of reports I was trying to procrastinate doing when I got a phone call from the team down in Anfalas. They needed a part for the well in order to keep digging. I told them I didn't have time but they insisted. So, the next morning I drove the three and a half hours down to Anfalas to bring them the part. When I got there they looked very surprised and said, 'Didn't you get the message? We don't need that anymore.' I kicked the tire of the car. Hard. Then I looked up and said out loud in English, 'Why do you want me here?' This is always the right question to ask. At that moment a man came up and asked Frodo if he could speak to him for a moment. I told him to go ahead but as soon as he was done to come to the office with us and we would pray and I would go. Five minutes later Frodo came in and said, 'We have to go now and pray for a young boy who is very ill.' He was just two years old and severely malnourished. He had some water-borne disease and was coughing up blood. He had no strength left and they did not believe he would live through the day.
This was it. This was why I was here. There was no doubt in my mind what the Boss wanted me to do. I took Frodo and Sam and headed to the house across the village. When we went inside the home it was full of people. The small boy lay in the middle of the room with a cloth over his forehead and about 15 people sat around the walls in silence. I took the boy's right hand and Frodo took his left while Sam knelt down at the boy's feet. Frodo said, 'Sam, put your hands on the boy's legs and pray'. Sam is a powerful man in prayer. He leaned forward, put his hands on the boy's legs and said nothing. I couldn't understand why he was not saying anything until I saw that he was crying. Great tears were pouring down his cheeks and landing on the boy's legs. I began to cry watching Sam cry and Frodo began to cry watching me and Sam cry and no one was praying and I am sure everyone was wondering why three strangers were coming in and crying their eyes out. By the way, men from Gonder never cry. Ever. So, after a long time Frodo began to pray. He prayed forever. Well, it seemed like forever. It was probably five minutes- which if you have ever been at someones house and had them pray for a meal and they prayed for five minutes you would pretty much conclude that that is forever. He proclaimed how great God was and how needy we were. He went on and on but I noticed he never asked God to heal the boy! There was a bit of a faith thing going on here. So, when he finished I prayed. I prayed simply for the boy to be healed in Jesus' name in about four sentences. We got up and we left. As we walked out on the street there was Denethor. He is the local village religous leader and a friend. He invited us to their religious meeting that they were having that night and we accepted. I had not been to it before (they had always told me they didn't have one but I knew they did) and I was looking forward to going.
We got there and there were lots of people. Denethor gave a devotion on God being the creator and that he was very kind. The team later joked that he was keeping it simple and noncontroversial because I was there. In the middle of his speech the boy's father burst in and declared to everyone, 'Hey everybody, the boy these guys prayed for this afternoon is completely healed and up and walking around.
Now, I know what you are thinking- because I was thinking it as well. Now everyone will listen to us. Now everyone will accept Jesus. Now the whole village will turn to Christ and start a big whole village church. No. Now everyone in the village got sick. What followed was the weirdest spiritual warfare I have every heard of. But it is late so I will tell that story tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Army Marches South

Evangelism is not as straight forward as you think it is. What does it mean to tell someone the Good News? I used to know but then I got very confused. This is the story of that confusion and how God led us down a new path.
When the team did a disaster preparedness program in Anfalas I told them something that they did not fully understand. I told them that when it came to doing community development work I was the boss. When it came to doing spiritual work however, we were all in uncharted waters. I told them that I had led individuals to the Lord and so had they. I had worked with whole families and a couple of them had as well. But none of us had led a whole village to faith. How do you do wholistic village evangelism? We were going to find that out.
Of course, old habits die hard. The team had all done what I call in-your-face evangelism before. Roman Road, Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion we had done it all before here in Gondor and had seen its utter fruitlessness. It does not communicate good news to the peoples of Middle Earth. So, the first week they tried it all. They spoke to many people and shared boldly- behind my back. I found out later how they did not want me to know what they were doing for fear that I would not approve. I did not disapprove of trying anything but I knew it would not be effective. One day Frodo came to me and said, 'I went up to a guy and told him that Jesus lived 2000 years ago, died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead. Do you know what he said to me? He ask me how much beef cost up in Minas Tirith!' Friends, he was not changing the subject. He could not hear us. Frodo said that everyone in the village was blinded by a veil and some had an iron veil! What do you do when someone can not hear your words? If you can not have logical argument with them can you lead them to faith? We were going to find out.
At the end of the disaster preparedness training the villagers thanked us and said they appreciated the training but they did not have any immediate disaster needs. Could we help them with water? Their water system was broken and they were walking three kilometers through the desert to get water. It should be noted here that Gondor is a mountainous country but in the south there is flat desert that can see temperatures over 120 degrees in the summertime. We helped them dig two wells. Because of many mishaps and circumstances that were not our fault and not terribly interesting to talk about the project took about seven months.
In early January of 2004 I went down to see the team. They were staying in a small abandoned house in the village and it was cold. Everyone sat around the wood stove trying to keep warm. The room was filled with visitors and I sat and waited for them to go away so I could meet with the team. After some time Merry leaned over and said, 'All these people, they never leave. Last night they stayed until we went to bed and then they went out and shut the door behind them.' I determined that if I was going to minister to my guys I was going to do it in front of everyone. I pulled out my Bible and said, 'hey everybody, I've got a lesson for the team.' They all stayed. I gave a devotional and we prayed. We prayed for each other and we prayed for the village. Later we got out a guitar and sang some worship songs. The next morning we got up and were eating breakfast and Frodo said, 'The lady across the street could use this bread and butter because she just had a baby and isn't doing very well.' So, he got up ran the food over to her and came back and finished breakfast. Later that day as we sat with the villagers Frodo said, 'Hey everyone, keep it down as it is our prayer time.' We prayed for twenty minutes an no one left. We ceased to tell them about the Gospel and lived out the Gospel instead. We were very intentional. Everything we did was worship. From the time we got up to the time we went to bed we prayed, sang, read the word, and served others all in the name of Jesus. We did not TELL anyone about Jesus. We just lived honestly in front of everyone. This transformed our thinking about how we are to live. We began thinking that if this is how we live on the project site why am I not living this deliberately at home? We are still struggling to live in Minas Tirith the way we live in the villages.
Then one day Frodo said, 'Guys, every week we go back to Minas Tirith and I travel across town on a Sunday morning and I meet with a bunch of people I don't really know and worship for an hour and a half and I call that church. That is not church. What we do here in Anfalas this is Church!' I could not agree more. And more importantly the people of Anfalas were accepting us as spiritual people who could be trusted. God had a plan and he was about to reveal it to us.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Its all about the people

Its all about the people and they are broken. When your live in a country of millions of people who are living in darkness and deception what is the best way to help them? In year 2000 we went looking for help. We went looking for nationals whom we could employ as aid workers to help us do our jobs better. We didn't find any. Most residents of Gondor are muslims and there just were not any available believers to be found. In 2001 my best friend Gimli went with his wife to Ithilien to live and work there on the borders of Mordor. Bilbo and his wife went to Mordor. This was a painful part of our plan. We were to push to the edge, attack the darkness. We were going forward. But that left me alone to do disaster response and reach the villages of Gondor.
In 2003 the Boss told me to try again to get a national team. At first there was no response and I wondered if there was anyone ready to get out to rural Gondor and help the villagers who had no access to the truth at all. I put off starting a training program for as long as I could and finally the Boss said, 'Begin on August 4th'. So, I put out word that the program which would be composed of disaster preparedness and response as well as community development, servant leadership, and church planting would begin on that day. On the first day of the training ten guys showed up and we got started. It was a great and challenging time. Two months of intensive interaction with ten guys. I would teach one or two of them a lesson in the afternoon and the next day they would teach the lessons I taught them to the group. I was only in front of the whole group on Monday morning for a devotional or two. It was all done in the local language which was a huge challenge for me!
The last week of the program we went to a village in the south and did a disaster preparedness seminar. Anfalas was a dry and dusty place and we knew that they would not have many disaster needs there but we had done work there in the past and I knew they would welcome us.
After the training I chose four who would be our disaster management team (DMT). So, I assume you can see this coming: Frodo is the team leader. With him are Sam, Merry and Pippen. But these guys are not charactors in a story, they are flesh and blood and worse than that they have a HISTORY. Let me explain. After the training was over two of the guys ended up leaving their local church. Now, this was problematic as one of my goals was to have local churches support the church planting work we were doing in the villages. It turned out that Frodo and Merry were elders in a local church and the lead elder (pastor) had a power struggle with them. That is why he recommended them to my team. He was not trying to support our work, he was trying to get rid of a problem. Sam was a key leader of a large organization in Gondor. He worked for them for almost seven years and had done bold evangelism in countless villages. He became burned out with the manipulative leadership of the organization and quit about four months before he came to us. Pippen was a young man who had been discipled in a large group with heavy handed leadership style and I would learn that he too had been used up and burned out. So, after a wonderful two months of training I discovered that far from having the best that the local churches could offer me they had given me their broken, burned out rejects. After working and praying with these guys for a year Pippen had to be let go. He was replaced by Bolger who left last year to the West. Now another man is in his place, Ted. We will see if Ted keeps up with us or not. So, why am I saying all this? Because I would not trade these guys for anybody. No one else would have gone down the road we have gone down. No one else would have striven so hard to reach the villages of Gondor with the truth. We have learned alot together but one thing I have learned more than any other thing. It is all about the people and they are broken. We must invest in broken people. Not just any broken people, but the ones that our Boss is calling us to.
Next post will be what God has done in Anfalas- it's the best story yet.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hey Guys, Where are We?

I am not in Kansas anymore- ok, I have never lived in Kansas but that is beside the point. When we moved to Gondor we knew it would be different. A different standard of living. Different people would have different ideas. We had been through orientation. I had read most of the articles in the mission book Perspectives. We were ready. We arrived, we struggled to learn the language, and we made friends. These friends gave us windows into another world. I traveled extensively throughout Gondor doing disaster response and preparedness. I knew village life. I understood customs and traditions. I can make jokes and often amaze my friends with how much I know about how they think and what they care about.
Two years ago I was talking to a friend and realized I knew exactly nothing about what it meant to be a citizen of Gondor, a devout muslim, or a helpless person in a hostile spiritual world. I had asked my friend to share his testimony. To the best of my recollection this is the story that he told me in my office. Glorfindal is a highly intellectual young man who is very inteligent and thoughtful. He is not easily deceived and is not highly emotional.

Strider: So, tell me Glorfindal, how did you come to faith?
Glorfindal: When I was a teenager I was a very religious person. Our house as you know is right above the home of a famous Sufi mystic. Every Saturday people come from all over to pray around the tree in the yard there. People tie ribbons to the tree and circle the tree on their knees to get a blessing. Some are so desperate they even eat the dirt under the tree.
Strider: A Sufi mystic?
Glorfindal: Yeah, you know almost every area in our country has one. Respected men lived fifty or one hundred or even three or four hundred years ago in an area. They are studied and prayed to in the villages. If someone has a problem they are the ones to go to for help.
Strider: Not Mohammed?
Glorfindal: Of course not! No one ever mentions Mohammed. These holy men are the powers in their given areas. Anyway, like I was saying, I grew up very religious because my grandmother was always telling us when we sat or laid down not to point our feet to Hoji's house because that would be disrespectful. And since our house was on the road that the Jin (mischievious spirits similar to but not the same as our angels) traveled on we had to sleep in a certain way because- as you know- it isn't nice for you or for them for them to have to step over you when you are sleeping.
Strider: What!? The road that the jin travel.....
Glorfindal: Yeah you know, the jin are always traveling around and I wanted to study to be able to speak to the dead. My father tried to apprentice me to a mullah but he wanted too much money so I studied on my own until we could save up some. It was at this time- I was about 16- when I began to have terrible headaches. Also at this time I began seeing a strange woman with wild blonde hair who would tell me things. No one else could see her. One day my brothers and I were with my dad out in the fields and I saw the jin coming and I warned them to run away.
Strider: Speak to the dead? Uh....
Glorfindal: Yeah, so my dad took me to see the Mullah to do something about my headaches. He sacrificed a few chickens but the headaches became worse. Then they put me in the circle of sticks- you know how they do- and the sticks have multicolored bands on them and then they sacrificed a goat and dumped the blood over my head.
Strider: (starting to recover) So, uh, with all that blood dumped over your head did that make you sensitive to hearing about Jesus' shed blood for you?
Glorfindal: No, not at all. A friend of ours shared many truths about Jesus at that time but there was a voice in my ear refuting all the things he had to say.
Strider: Then how did you become a follower of Jesus?
Glorfindal: Well, the headaches got worse and worse and were really unbearable so I was taking a nap one day when there was a banging on my door. I do not know if I was still asleep or awake but three men were fighting to get in my door but because they each wanted to get in first none of them could fit. The one in the middle was very calm as the the men on either side struggled to get in. He said to me, 'Do you want me to make these other guys go away?' Then I came to myself and I was alone. I knew that the man in the middle was Jesus.
Strider: Then what happened?
Glorfindal: I was out with my brother by the shed and I had a second vision. (I can't remember the vision exactly so I will just tell you that it was similar to the first one but it was much scarier).
Strider: So, after the second vision you gave your life to Jesus?
Glorfindal: That's right. I called out in Jesus name and since that moment I have never seen another jin or that woman. I can sleep in my house any way that I want!

I was dumbstruck. How could I have lived here for seven years and not known where I was. I am still learning where these people live. It is critical to understand this because we can not share the Good News with them if we do not know what for them constitutes good news. In the West we talk a lot about guilt and forgiveness. This has meaning for Glorfindal but of much more importance is the fact that Jesus can protect him from the very dangerous world around him. Do you really know where you live?