Monday, January 29, 2007

Joy in the Journey

Many freinds have commented recently on how much I travel. So, not surprisingly here is one of my favorite songs from Michael Card. Ponder and enjoy.

Joy In The Journey by MICHAEL CARD

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey
And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind
To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin
Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost
There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey
And freedom for those who obey...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Ride Through Rohan

Rohan is not such a happy place just now. Most foreign workers have been kicked out and the nationals who live there live under seige from the Government who seems to think its main task is to make life unbearable for as many as possible. I used to live in Edoras. Our family moved there eleven years ago this week. When I lived there I was under a constant cloud of fear. It is the prevailing weather pattern in Rohan and has been for a long time.
I took my two daughters to the airport in the capitol of Meduseld to send them off to boarding school. Nothing flies East from Gondor these days so I had to drive 16 or so hours to Meduseld to see them off. After our cheery goodbyes my driver and fellow follower of Jesus, Faramir and I headed back down to Edoras. I spent a couple of hours walking over old familiar territory. It was pretty bleak. So many people meandering around in such hopelessness. No one I saw looked happy or content. Face after face was lined with stress. Lips tight, brows furrowed, shoulders hunched. As if the director of some depression era film had got a cast of thousands to all act in character for a really grim scene.
Over the last few years the hard ground has begun to crack and many small groups have emerged. They have untrained leaders whom they call shepherds. Last night we met with around eleven people from 5:00pm until 10:15pm. It was a fantastic time. They told us about the hardships they are facing. All of their mentors and disciplers have been thrown out. They are only allowed one Bible per person in their homes and they are registered. Their every move is followed and chronicled. We sang some songs and praised the King for a while. Then I spoke some hopefully encouraging words. Then Faramir spoke for a long time. We took questions and gave some answers. We listened. We prayed for them and they went out. I was very encouraged by their faithfulness in the face of such persecution. They were not brilliant scholars. They were not bold men and women of deep conviction. They were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and the King was enabling them to stand.
I guess I could say something about how pathetic you and I are as we complain about insignificant things in our lives but I think I am learning something else. We all face stuff. Stuff that tears our hearts out, that makes our faith look silly and shallow. That causes us to question what and why if there is a God what the heck is he up to. As I remember the faces of those few hopeful happy people in that sea of despair I am reminded that the same King is helping me to stand. I will stand and so will you. In days of plenty and in the day of disaster He will be there and we will stand. I am sure of it because I have seen them stand in Rohan. Pray that tonight they will know joy and that their faces will burn with radiant smiles that push back the darkness of a city choking with fear and suspicion.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Walk in the Dark

Sometimes our lives are like a walk in the dark. We know we are supposed to go forward but which way forward is and what it will look like when we get there are pretty fuzzy. It was like that for us when we started doing disaster response. We were challenged with a lot of questions from our friends who asked about our methodology. How was this going to get us to 'church'? How were we supposed to build big lasting relationships with people when they might be hours away. In some people's minds the only way to impact people was to go and live with them. I suppose that would be impactful for my family but we wanted to do something positive.

In October of 2000 there was an earthquake down in the south-central district of Gondor. Lasarnak sits just across the river from Mordor to the south and Ithilean to the east. This makes it politically sensitive and difficult to access. We drove the seven hour drive down to check it out and Gimli and Bilbo went from house to house assessing and praying for each family. We came up with a plan to recover and eventually helped the community to rebuild 230 homes. We partnered with another agency to do this and my good friend Beren oversaw the project on the ground.

It was not long before Beren was frustrated. He helped the people rebuild but all they could do was ask when Gimli was coming back. This, my friends is an important principle. If you are there on the day of disaster they will never forget you. You can come with truck loads of aid tomorrow and a multi-million dollar budget but the people will never forget the guy who was here today. Even if all he did was pray. But Beren prayed and worked hard. He tried to share his faith with those around him but the ground was hard as rock. The people were cold. No one wanted to listen.

The next year a small church in a town not so far away distributed over 200 Bibles in the same village. The year after that another friend of mine began a community development project there. He developed a Lasarnak local council to deal with problems and dream of development opportunities for their community. I went and saw them. They were still strict Muslims yet, they had changed. My friend had managed through stories and his own lifestyle to change their perception of reality. The good citizens of Lasarnak were developing a Christian world view. The new world view was complete with the idea that God cared about them, that sin was bad and needed to be atoned for, that they could not by their good works gain favor with God. These ideas and others were new to them and they were transforming the way they thought.

Then another friend of mine -the driver of our aid organization- began going down periodically. He has relatives there and he is very convicted about this dark unreached area. This last weekend he went down and two ladies, his neice and her mother came to faith. He was quite excited. So am I. I didn't have plan six years ago when we responded to God's call to go and help Lasarnak but God did. If we are obedient to all that He calls us to we might feel like we are walking in the dark but there is a light at the end of the tunnel- and no, my pessimistic friends, it is not a train.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Going Left to Get Right

I arrived in Edoras in Rohan in 1996. There were a couple of guys working there already. They had a big fight that Spring. I didn't know much about it. There was some girl named Finuel who had accepted Jesus and wanted to follow Him as Lord and Saviour. The rub came in that her parents found out about it and refused to let her meet with any foreigner or study the Bible. Young Short Term guy said forget the parents meet in secret and teach her anyway. The Team Leader said no. Finuel's defining characteristic was rebelion. If Jesus had made a difference in her life then we dare not encourage her to continue to be rebellious. I didn't know her or what to think so I did something truly remarkable. I kept my mouth shut.
Young Short Term guy left after a few months. Spring turned into a blisteringly hot summer. 115 or so in the shade, and precious little of that. There was only one building in town that had air conditioning and it was a fancy hotel built by Southrons and then abandoned. The local authorities picked it up and it was a decent place to hang out. It was cool and quiet. I found a guy who worked there and we did language lessons a few times a week. Yes, in spite of all appearances I am not a complete fool.
One day as I was standing in the hotel lobby waiting for my friend to come in, a beautiful woman came up to me and started talking to me. I was concerned for two reasons. One we were in a hotel and a strange beautiful woman that I had never seen was suddenly talking to me. I was concerned what my friend would think if he walked up just then. Secondly, the first thing out of her mouth was, 'Do you ever feel that God has left you?' Rohan is not like Gondor, where I live now. They are very hostile to any display of any faith. So, I said something insightful like, 'I guess maybe.' Then as she began to pour out her troubles I suddenly realized that this must be Finuel. I didn't know her but since there were only four expatriot families in town (Edoras was around 600,000 folks) she could easily guess who I was. My brain kicked in then. I listened to the Holy Spirit. Spoke words of encouragement and even got to pray for her before my friend showed up. I saw her one time more before I left Rohan the next year.
So, what happened? Well, her parents were astounded at her transformation. She was obedient and respectful. After a year they allowed her to study the Word and meet with a few Christian women. Much later some in her family came to faith also. A house church was started. Another house church. Then she got married to a Christian man and they felt called to go to Mordor. I have never heard if they made it there or not. But I am sure that where ever they are they are bold witnesses for Jesus in their community. In fact, I heard the husband was too bold a time or three and has been in jail.
My point? Well, after this I became convinced that we must respect the family authority lines as we share the Message. Our team has slogans like, 'We will only disciple someone in their parent's living room.' That is not literally true but figuratively true. Of course, principles can go wrong. We follow a living God and he wants us dependant on Him and not a list of principles that make seeking His ways obsolete.
Two years ago a young girl approached one of the ladies on our team and asked how to be saved. We went to the mother (father was dead) and then the grandfather out in the village. She said yes, he said no. We didn't go forward with her. We took our time and worked with mom and grandfather for months trying to build up trust and work our way into the family lines. Then Summer came around. She went out on a paddle boat on a small lake in the city and she drown. We determined several things from all this. One, people are more important than principles. If the King was telling us to work with her then we do not need anyone elses permission. Two, time is short. Jesus is coming soon. But sooner than that many are going up to see Him. They are not ready. We have not told them the truth. We have not loved them deeply. I don't work myself into a big guilt trip over this. The Judge is Just. I trust in that. But if he has given me breath to breathe truth today then I had better be breathing it. If I have the strength to serve today then I had better be serving.
I believe in family evangelism not because it is a neat strategy. I believe in it because the King created the family and we can not be doing His will and violate His creation. But the big secret to obedience is not a clever strategy. It is a determination to worship the King with our whole life every minute of every day. If our lives consist primarily of family relationships then an encounter with the King will shake us up and our relations. If we can compartmentalize our relationship with God so that we can keep family, friends, and coworkers oblivious to our faith then we have shut God out of our lives all together.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Road Too Often Traveled

Tinuviel has one of the most compelling smiles you have ever seen. She was working with a lady doctor as a translator here in Gondor about ten years ago when she first heard about Jesus. She had been born and raised in Minus Tirith by strict Muslim parents. She knew that she needed to keep the fact that she was studying the Word a secret. After about six months she accepted Jesus as her King. She studied and went to church with friends for another six months when her doctor friend discovered that she had been lying to her family about where she was going on Sunday mornings. The doctor did not realize that Tinuviel's parents were clueless as to her new faith. She challenged Tinuviel to be honest with her family.

Finally, she told her mother and father the truth. She had not been going to work on Sundays, she had been going to church. This was seen as a great betrayal to the family. She was forbidden to see any of her Christian friends and she was forbidden to see the doctor again. When she slipped out to see her friends and go to church again her parents, and particularly her Grandfather went berzerk. She was beaten badly and locked up in her room for days. Then, everyday for weeks she was beaten and her Grandfather read the Koran to her. She tried to contact her friends but was unable to get out or get a messagae to them.
Her best friend was able to smuggle a Bible to her once but she suffered terribly with no end of pain in sight. She cried out in despair to God. After weeks of this she was praying and asking God why she could not hear Him. Why had he abandoned her. She heard an audible voice whisper in her ear. He said, 'I am always with you and I am here now but you can not hear me. You can not hear me because of your fear. Fear makes you deaf to my voice.' Tinuviel's family is originally from Rohan and the voice was in her native Rohan language. Apparently, the King speaks Rohan very well. The beatings went on. But her smile brightened each day and she expressed her love for her family more each day. Finally, her father came home determined to kill her. Her mother talked him out of it but the next day Tinuviel was able to contact her friends and they smuggled her out and hid her in a village for several months.
She really did love her family and after several months she went back to them. They received her warmly. The father was away on business and the mother and Grandfather were very grateful to have her back. When the father came back a few weeks later there was another beating but in the end they did not want to drive her away. They let her stay if she did not mention her faith.

Now the father had asthma very severely and it was not being treated well. The doctor was called back and I beleive saved the father more than once. During this time it became clear to me what some of the issues were. The family, except maybe for the Grandfather, were not that upset about her changing her religion. They were devestated that she had embarrased the family in the neighborhood. She had left her parents teaching and disrespected them.
The doctor felt terrible about this. She had not understood that Tinuviel was lying to her parents from the beginning. She thought that they knew what was going on.
The father eventually died- not coincidentally after the doctor left the country. Tinuviel married a nice young Christian man and they are serving the King down in Belfalas.

This story is important to me because it helped me make up my mind about extraction evangelism. That is, evangelism that pulls an individual out of their home and community to share the Gospel with them. In the West this is the normal mode of evangelism. In the Word it is remarkably unusual. When did Paul share with one guy? He found ways to share with whole communities and as a result we often see whole families - 'households'- won to faith. I think we reap what we sow. Too often we don't sow much and then blame our circumstances on why we don't see much happening. Too often I hear someone talk about sharing with a college kid but when it comes to the kid's 45 year old father we just don't think he will ever change. He is set in his ways and wont listen to what we say. We think hey, I bet I can talk this 20 year old kid into believing the Word, but we have less confidence in our ability to confront a 50 year old man. So, God is where in this scenerio? Exactly nowhere. We are leaving him out. It is no harder for God to save a 50 year old than a 20 year old. The reason we don't see it is because we don't have faith to believe it and so we never sow the Word in the first place.

On our team we have determined to share with the entire community and to never do any kind of 'secret' or behind the scenes evangelism. We are still learning. We are still growing. I believe that the King was honored in the way Tinuviel kept smiling. I believe that she is exactly where the King wants her today in spite of whatever we might have done 'wrong'. But I want to increase my faith and increase my ability to see the King at work here in Gondor. I know he loves all generations and if we have the faith to walk in it I think he has a plan to reach them all.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

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.