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?

Basic Principles

Many times we read in the history of modern missions tales about men and women who struggled for years before they saw any real fruit. I used to think of their hard work and dedication as they struggled on what must have been really hard ground. After ten years on the field I decided something else as well; that's how long it takes our Lord to work in us until we are useful for His purposes.
We began learning many useful things from friends, coworkers, the Word, and even a few heretics and nut cases. We began putting together some basic principles that we felt were essential in our situation.
1. The Word of God. It is the beginning and end of the resources we need to do the work. I have decided that tracks, study materials, Bible studies etc etc are all crutches for us, usually needed because we do not handle the Word well. That's harsh but I believe in the end it is true.
2. All discipleship questions are to be answered by the question, 'What does the Bible say?' I endeaver never to say power hoarding things like, 'We have always believed that....', 'We have traditionally practiced....', 'Just do it like I told you.' Try this and you will be amazed at how freeing it is and more importantly, how powerful it is.
3. Vote no on extraction evangelism. Generally many people only win 20 year olds to faith because they only have faith to believe they can talk the younger kids into what they believe. We refuse to share to individuals. We share with families and whenever possible whole communities. By respecting the community and the family we have achieved some success at getting away from extraction EV.
4. Prayer is the way to fight the spiritual fight that must be fought. Seeing men and women set free from the evil one is miraculous and we expect to see the miraculous happen in our work. When we see the Boss moving we will join him.
5. Fear is from the evil one. 100% of all decisions based on fear are the wrong decisions. We serve what we fear therefore we will fear God alone.
6. It is about the people. It is about the people. It is about the people. Christ died for people therefore if we would serve Him we must live for them.

So, in year 2000 Beren came to me and told me that the Lord had asked him to start a church for people from Mordor right here in Minas Tirith. He was from Mordor himself and had been a believer for about 2 years when I met him. He had escaped the war in that country and was working with another aid agency here in Minas Tirith. He said he just needed a place and someone to lead it. I said, 'Beren, I think the Lord has already picked someone to lead it.' His eyes grew wide and he said no, wouldn't I do it? I told him no way but if he would be obedient I would help him. Two weeks later he came and we began meeting. People from Mordor are not really welcome here and it was difficult for them. I met with Beren two or three times a week and he met with his small group on Saturday mornings. On Saturday afternoons he would meet with a small group of seekers and on Sundays he would meet and disciple individuals. I never met any of those in his group. This is called shadow pastoring and it was a thrill for me to be used of God in this way. Every meeting with him I would say, 'Tell me about your people, what are you facing?' He would say a few things and then the Holy Spirit would tell me where to go. I would say, 'That sounds like Philippians 2. Let's look at it.' I answered all questions with Bible verses and never ever said anything like, 'When I was a pastor in West Virginia we...' It was very hard but very rewarding. I wondered how quickly this methodology would be reproducible and I soon got my answer. After ten weeks I saw him on a Monday and asked him how the study on Second Corinthians had gone. He replied that they didn't study Corinthians, they had done Psalm 27. I said, 'But we have never studied Ps 27!' He said, 'I know but they were talking together and I thought it sounded like they needed Ps. 27 which I had read last week in my devotions so that is what we did.' In another 6 weeks he was teaching the various men in the group to lead. He had moved from disciple, to Pastor, to Church Planter in the space of three months.
The group received no instruction whatsoever that was not from the Word so all issues not dealt with in the Word were decided by themselves. This may be wrong but some friends of mine think that this is the first ever group of Mordor believers lead by people from Mordor- a real Mordor church right in Minas Tirith. In September of 2001 significant things happened and Morder's black gates came crashing down. The church disbanded and most went back to Mordor. Two families immediately started house churches in the Capitol. Another family still serves faithfully in the north of the Country.
We tried the basic principles for the first time and they seemed to work. In the next couple of years the Boss would open our eyes as to what His Church and His Kingdom were really about.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Road to Disaster

We moved to Gondor July 16, 1997. Two older couples joined us in September. Now what? We began life in Gondor as humanitarian aid workers. Now there were just a few minor questions. What kind of work should we do? How do we do a good job and do ministry? How do we do ministry that leads to an indigenous church? What is an indigenous church? What is a Church? What is our role in seeing it created? As you can see we had a few loose ends to tie up. In the midst of this 1997 was a tough year. Arwen had a miscarriage in February and another in Minas Tirith in November. I remember November in Minas Tirith very well. Arwen was having a miscarriage the same week that the key administrator for our NGO (non-governmental organization) was wrongfully fired by his best friend and mentor. Rebel elements that were still looking for power in the wake of the peace agreement which ended the civil war in July were fighting each other in the streets of the city every night and one faction had decided to kidnap a French couple. The woman was tragically killed in the rescue attempt. That weekend Elrond, my boss came to see us for the first time. Our only thought was, 'please don't make us evacuate.' The two men on my team were Bilbo and Gimli. These men were older than I and though they drove me crazy I greatly appreciated their wisdom then and now. It was Gimli who gave the devotional that weekend in November. He said, 'Jesus says that he will build his Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. We must not think of these gates somehow marching awkwardly toward us and the Church standing bravely. No, we must be on the attack if this promise is to be ours.'
So, what could we do? We prayed and looked for ways to attack. In February of 1998 an earthquake shook northern Mordor and leveled twenty villages. We thought it was far away and none of our business but circumstances led us to get involved and send some relief. We got to thinking that natural disasters happen here all the time and we should get ready for the next one. We interviewed many from other agencies and discovered what resources our own agency had. One day we prayed and made a plan. We said the next time there was a disaster that we would follow a specific protocol. My wife, Arwen said, 'Great, now all we have to do is pray for Mordor to have another earthquake.' Brethren, do not mess with my wife. The next morning at 11:00am the second Mordor earthquake struck and 60 villages were leveled. Thousands died and tens of thousands were made homeless. We jumped into action. It took awhile to get there but I went down with a big western engineer from another agency and we made a plan that was adopted by a multi-agency task force to rebuild homes from reusable materials from the broken homes. The UN said that 6000 homes were needed by winter. By November four agencies had mobilized the local communities to construct 13,000 homes. It gave us the opportunity to open an office and get personnel into Mordor where we had none.
Meanwhile back in Minas Tirith there was a huge battle outside the city gates. Many thought the country would go back into civil war but it did not. When it didn't the Government downplayed the event and claimed that nothing much happened in the village where the battle raged for three days. We went in our spare time and in our spare time we helped build nine homes and gave aid to about forty families. We prayed every time we went to someone's home and they respected us for it. The local people said, 'We are muslims and we give money to the mosque every year and they didn't help us. We are communist and the Government should do everything for us but they have done nothing. Why have you Christians come?' We answered them with a few Book studies for men and women. The men came a few times and bowed out but the women continued. Thirteen were baptized in the Spring of 1999 and a church of all women was formed. We registered our own organization to do disaster response and fully expected the Boss to lead us all over Gondor starting churches by doing disaster response. Nothing ever goes as planned. You can find out where we are today and what is going on now in the next post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

First Trip to Gondor

I have traveled many places around the world in my lifetime but experience without observation still leaves one in ignorance. I had lived in Rohan for six months when I decided to venture over into Gondor. They were having a pretty brutal civil war in Gondor and the whole society was in an upheaval. I had learned enough language to be really dangerous and felt that I was ready to check it all out. I found a contact in Minas Tirith who would put me up for a week so all I had to work out was transport. There were no flights from Rohan to Gondor then- and there still are none today for various political reasons- so I needed to make the ten hour trip by car over the mountains. I had a neighbor who offered to take me in his car. He had a brother who was a 'good driver for mountain roads' so I hired him and we left the next morning.
We got up early and my neighbor and his brother drove me straight to the bazaar to buy 25 loaves of non (the local flat bread). I thought, 'Wow, these guys can't go one week without non from their home town!' We then drove about an hour to the border and my neighbor got out of the car calling out to the border guards, 'Fresh non!' They let us on through. There were seven military post between the border and Minas Tirith. At each one we gave out non. No one ever looked at my passport and everyone was friendly. I spent an uneventful week in Minas Tirith and learned a lot about life and work there. Then we headed back- without non. We had no problem in Gondor. We went over the mountains and to the border and everyone continued to be welcoming and friendly in the midst of a brutal civil war. Then we reached the border of Rohan. As we approached the border guard my neighbor commented that he knew the guy from somewhere but couldn't think of where. The guard took my passport and opened it up. He was immediately unhappy. Where was my Gondor visa? I told him I didn't think I needed one. It was then that I realized that I was an ignorant fool- why wouldn't I think I needed a visa? My neighbor's brother said, 'What's the problem?' and the guard said, 'He doesn't have a Gondor visa!' My neighbor's brother said, 'Why does he need one, this is Rohan!' The guard was not amused. Just then my neighbor approached and said with a knowing smile, 'You went to school with my son.' The guard who had just really set his face to be difficult dropped his eyes, nodded yes this was true, and handed my passport to me. In this life and in the next it is not what you know, it is who you know.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Lost along the way

I have been with our organization for eleven years now. We have changed significantly in our structure and our vision in that time. I believe that our region was and is something special and had a unique ethos that the rest of the world could really benifit from. Below are ten principles that we used to believe. I still believe them but I wonder how many others even know about them.

10 Life-Principles for People Who Aspire To Impact World A
Work among Unreached peoples supercedes any organization. It is a way of life for people who have committed their heart and soul to a passion and a vision. " All peoples...Nothing less" is the rallying cry that expresses our heartthrob. The pervasive vision represented by this phrase is illustrated by the scriptural imagery of all peoples gathered together bowing in worship before Christ's throne. The IMB exists solely to bring the light of Christ to the least evangelized, to the disenfranchised, to those utterly void of any gospel witness. God's Word guarantees the ultimate victory.
The following principles were born out of this passion for All peoples...nothing less. The principles guide us and shape our activities among the unreached. These life-principles are useful for anyone who ventures to the edge -to the unreached world.

I. DESTINATION IS THE POINT AND YOU ARE THE KEY! An indigenous church planting movement among every people must be the point of all we do. Plans, programs and technology are not our foremost consideration but only means to the end. You as a worker among unreached peoples (your competency and character) are the key in reaching the destination. Thus, we must do all we can to provide adequately support, training and guidance.

2. WE MUST CONTINUALLY CHANGE. The unreached world is an ever-changing world of governments and forces who are belligerently resisting Gospel witness. Our willingness to challenge and change the way we do things has been one of our chief strengths. Unwillingness to challenge what has become status quo or conventional wisdom in the IMB will mean stagnation. Thus, we must continually check our course, making minor adjustments and even major changes.

3. ORGANIZANONAL CONFORMITY FOR THE SAKE OF CONFORMITY IS DEATH. Our Lord has created something unique and distinctive in the IMB - for the sake of the nations. To sacrifice the nations on the altar of organizational expediency or uniformity is wrong. We are part of the organizational family, and yet, we do not have to look or act exactly like our brothers and sisters. Our motivation must not be conformity to organizational standards, procedures and policies for the sake of conformity. Rather, our motives must be driven by what it will take to reach the nations not by what it will take to strengthen the name of CA or the IMB or the SBC.

4. THE WAY FORWARD FOR World A Workers MUST BE THROUGH HUMILITY AND SERVICE. The vision and passion which we share for the nations and which we believe to be the very heart of our God will not be grasped by others through our arrogance or power of persuasion, but only through our humility and service to the rest of the Christian community.
The politics of power and turf are not the way of our Lord, so they should not be our way either. We must continually remember that we are participants in World A only at our Lord's gracious invitation. We as one of the fourteen regions of the IMB should make it a priority to willingly serve the other 13 regions and the other Great Commission Christian organizations.

5. WE ALL LIVE UNDER AUTHORITY AND ARE ACCOUNTABLE. We live together under the covenant to bless the nations. In this relationship, we mentor, correct, teach and support each other. Thus, all of us are accountable to someone in a linear, corporate-like structure where individuals under authority are empowered for appropriate decision-making and leadership. We don't take votes and we don't establish committees. The context in which we work and the stewardship of resources demand that we operate .in the most efficient, effective manner possible.

6. THE GREATER OUR DIVERSITY, THE GREATER OUR STRENGTH. A leveling of everyone to the lowest common denominator is not our aim. Everyone must not look and act the same. Equity is not our way of operating. Each of you will be treated differently. Our aim must be the maximizing of everyone's unique gifts and personality so that the destination is reached.

7. COMMUNICATION MUST BE WIDE AND SECURE. We must redouble our efforts and use the latest means' in order to communicate effectively and securely with each other and our constituency.

8. THE EDGE IS WHERE WE BELONG. As individuals and as a group, we dare not draw back from the edge of the unreached. We are people who are gifted for and called to the edge, thus, we must continue to enter new people groups and cities rather than seeking only to consolidate the gains we've made.

9. WE WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET TO THE DESTINATION. This does not mean that the end justifies every means. Rather, it means that we do what our Lord has asked of us, believing that He intends for His church to exist among all peoples before He returns. To get to this destination, we must move beyond restrictive thinking, work with world Christian brothers and sisters, and believe He is working in every situation.

10. THE ORGANIZATION IS NOT YOUR GOD (or your mother). Your call is from the One who called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. Your dependency must rest in Him alone. Your power does not lie in the organization's resources or name but in the One who created all things. If our worship and allegiance is not focused singularly on the One who made all peoples and on His Son, then we disqualify ourselves from this race.

I will try and not make future posts so long.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The beginning of the story

I need to begin at the beginning even though I would like to start with what is going on now. My wife (Arwen) and I were called to go to Gondor but no one from our organization was there and we really did not know how to get there so we went to Rohan. I taught English in Rohan for a year and a half. During that time we strategized about how to get to Gondor and we began learning the language. Arwen learned it beautifully and I failed miserably in those early years but that is for another post.
Also during this time we came face to face with culture shock. Rohan is not like the west. But more than culture shock was the constant spirit of fear that pervaded the place. I had been a pastor in the West and now I was afraid to share that information with anyone because of fear of what people would think. All fear is from the enemy except the fear of Him whom we serve. I will write more on fear another time. We arrived in January and our house was cold and the girls got the chicken pocks in the first week and there was nothing in the bazaars that looked like food to us. Many nights I cooked up french fries for dinner and we seriously wondered if our oldest daughter would starve to death without chicken McNuggets. This began to take its toll on our relationships. My two daughters got depressed and by the end of summer my wife and I were speaking to each other in short sentences that were never edifying. By the beginning of October my wife had a permanant headache and a small knot on the back of her neck that we later learned was cramped muscle. Stress was an undeniable reality that was consuming us.
One day I was walking through the city and pondering how truly miserable I was when a bus went by. I thought that I could perhaps pretend to stumble and fall beneath the bus and all this would be over. It was shocking how appealing that thought was. I kept walking and with tears in my eyes I told the Lord that it didn't matter if I was ever going to be happy again. It didn't matter if I ever had relations with my wife again. It didn't matter if I was ever going to be effective at my job in this society. I was not going to quit. I was going to serve Him in exactly the way He called me to serve Him regardless of personal fulfillment. I was completely broken and that my friends is where we need to be if we would see Him move. It totally prepared me for what was next on our journey.
Of course, as eternal as that Fall seemed it did end and we went on vacation. The best vacation we had ever had and we learned to laugh and love and play together all over again only much better and much deeper. I wish I could say that one breaking was all I needed but I have found that while Jesus was broken once on the cross and found eternal victory we need to be broken again and again. The victory is so worth it however that James even says we are to rejoice whenever the breakings come. He is right.

Tales from Middle Earth

On January 26, 1996 we landed in Middle Earth. We were continuing a journey that had began many years before and we had no idea where we were going or what we were going to do. This blog is an attempt to chronicle not only our story but hopefully the story that God is telling in Middle Earth. Middle Earth is not like the West and it is not like the East. It is a very different sort of place with a unique story. It can be a very sensitive place as well and as a result I will be referencing all people and place names to JRR Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The people I will tell you about are real even if you have to hear about them with a fictional name. The estute will probably figure out who and where I am but I ask you to keep that information to yourself. What God is doing here is exciting and powerful and you deserve a better guide than I but since there are very few who know this story I will have to do. You can call me Strider.