Friday, February 23, 2007

Quick update

Frodo and the team spent the night and had a blessed time of worship and study with the Kili and Fili and their families.
Interesting story- It was cold down in Anfalas but Kili and Fili and their wives were shivering in summer clothes. The guys asked why and they replied that they had followed the Team's example and given their warm things away to all who needed them. Now they all have the flu. The Team told them that generousity was good but that they needed to look out for their own families too. I don't know- I expect the King will bless that kind of obedience. Frodo told them that unless the King was telling them to give stuff away they did not have too- it was not a law.
Anyway, Bomber and Dwalin are still sitting on the fence- don't stop praying them into the Kingdom.
Prayer is where the battle is won
Ministry is just reaping the spoils

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dwalin's Story

My name is Dwalin and I was born in the high mountains of Ithilian. We like to say that it looks like heaven but it is our hell. I love the mountain valleys and rocky peaks. I love the cold mountain streams and the clear starry nights. It is a hard life there. There is not enough good ground to grow food. Some folks here say that people down in Gondor can plant one seed and see ten plants grow up but if we plant ten seeds we may see one plant, we may not.
I am an Ismaili Muslim. The Khalifa in our village speaks for the Agha Khan who is our spiritual guide. The Agha Khan lives in the West but he is very rich and his organization cares for our people here in Ithilian. He provides as much as 50% of our food each year. He builds schools and he has told us that nothing is more important than education. That is why I became a school teacher. Growing up in a hard place where it is so cold all the time led me to drinking and, when I could find the money, taking drugs.

My life just limped along with no purpose until one winter we had an unusual amount of snow. Then in the Spring it rained day after day. The mountains began to come down on us. Many villages had landslide after landslide. My family lost our home. The government offered us good land on a flat plain in Gondor and 56 families took up the offer. They loaded us up in trucks and took us to the most amazing place I had ever seen. It was flat with the mountains many miles in the distance. And all was sand as far as the eye could see. They promised us water, electricity, houses, and land to grow crops. What we got was 56 tents in four rows in the middle of the desert. The Government called it Anfalas. We worked hard that first year even though the temperature was over 120 degrees through the summer. We were determined to make it work. But there were problems immediately. All of us came from different tribes in different valleys in Ithilian. We couldn't work together. My neighbor grew wheat and he had a good crop but the rest of us wasted our time and effort as we had never grown wheat before. Some began raising turkeys but again, we had no idea how and no one was willing to help anyone else.

That is when Strider came to see us. I call him 'the one who sees' because of all the government officials and relief organizations that came to visit our poor village only Strider saw us and our needs. As they worked with us they taught us to live together and to cooperate. Strider brought Frodo, Sam, and Merry. They gave us examples that even our Khalifa says we should live by.

But things got real bad. There was not enough food. My wife and I had one child in Ithilian and praise God she is healthy today. But my wife had three babies since we moved here and each one of them died. I think that my wife has died inside, if you know what I mean. She never smiles and she says she can 't live here anymore. But we are not allowed to go anywhere so what can we do. I started to drink more and more. Strider told me that it was wrong for a school teacher to be the biggest drunk in the village but I think there are others who drank more than me.

Two years ago Strider and his team came to our village to dig wells. Well, I don't know what they did because they made us dig the wells. But they helped us. You know when they were not there we fought all the time. We could not do anything together. Fili was always hitting people and everyone had to watch their step around him. One day Fili and his wife had a big fight. I thought they would kill each other. Then Frodo came. He began to meet with them and pray with them every week for several months. Today Fili and his wife are always together, always laughing. I don't know why. I just know that when the team is here they bring peace with them.

I know that Strider is close to God because two years ago when they were digging the wells he prayed for Bomber's dying son and he was healed. We talked about that for a long time. It really made me think about the things he said. I believed that he knew something about God that our Khalifa does not know. But last year something really amazing happened. Kili and Fili became Christians. They tell everyone they are followers of Jesus and you know what? Fili has not beat anyone since. That is a miracle but you will not believe what else. I started meeting with them and listening to them read the Holy Book and I stopped drinking. Jesus made me stop completely. I don't drink or take drugs anymore. Many of our young people think I am crazy but I don't care. Now I have not been drunk for over a year. When Frodo came to see us the other day I had to talk to him. I am sure that the reason that Strider is close to God and that Frodo, Sam, and Merry bring such peace is that they follow Jesus. I told Frodo that I want to follow Jesus too. I think that means they may want me to be baptized. I don't know what that means. And I don't know what the Agha Khan will think. Will he still think I am a good Muslim? I don't know. What do you think I should do?

Frodo and the team travel to Anfalas tomorrow. Lift them up as they deal with Dwalin, Bomber, and the small church.

Friday, February 16, 2007

CP and Humanitarian Aid

In a small departure from the story telling methodology of my blog here is a paper I recently wrote concerning the methodology of our work. Feel free to be critical.

Church Planting can have as many strategies as there are individuals whom God has called to implement them. All strategies have positive aspects and negative challenges to them. I will outline why I believe that a humanitarian approach is the best for situations that are steeped in poverty, conflict, and resistance to the Gospel. For the sake of oversimplification let’s break down the various strategies into three categories.

The I go alone approach is the first and has been tried. I will now dismiss it out of hand as lacking biblical support and being difficult to implement in the kinds of communities that we are facing.

Next is the Churches plant Churches approach. I like it. It has biblical support. The Church is the Body of Christ and this Body is given the gifts that will make the work of the Kingdom possible. Its strength lies in the fact that motives are clear and the message unmistakable. The ambassadors of Christ come to represent Christ. It is simple and uncluttered. Everyone knows why everyone else is there and what they are supposed to be doing. We have done the work like this for over 200 years and we have lots of history and tradition to learn from and draw on. We know there are pitfalls and we have seen them overcome.

There are some obstacles that might not be apparent with this though. This method pays for an outside worker to come into a new place and develop a national leadership that sends out inside workers to its own people. Money is always an issue in the emerging Church. Where do you find the funds? Can the nationals raise their own support? If a paid CPer comes to a village and shares his faith and someone accepts can that someone not expect to be paid to go share their faith as well? In a very poor or suffering village how will the church show compassion? Is just teaching enough? If they come to a village and help out a local family who is struggling and that family comes to faith do we know why they came to faith? Do they know why they came to faith? What will the other villagers think of this? Will this new believer’s testimony be credible? What about security in a restricted place? Can believers- national or expat- go to restricted areas and share openly? If they can not then what will they do to reach these areas? If they do get there how will they be heard in a hostile environment? How will disciples be made and grown before outside oppression snuffs out the new budding faith of a young believer? I could go on and on. These questions are not unanswerable and these situations are not insurmountable. But the problems must not be ignored. They must be addressed and tackled if we want to see healthy communities of Faith grow and mature.

Our team has chosen to answer these problems with a humanitarian aid organization. This is the NGO Approach. We began in 1997 and to date we have seen four church starts. Two of these no longer exist and two are doing very well. We have evolved in our understanding of what we are doing over the years. I will not recount that journey here. Instead I will list some principles by which we operate that will help give an idea of what we do and why we do it. Let me say right at the beginning here that I am a big believer in the ‘Walls of Jericho’ concept. What we have done here is unique and should not be repeated. The only lesson we can take from Jericho is to act in obedience to the Lord! Please don’t go marching around cities expecting the walls to fall down unless the Lord has commanded you to do just that. The same goes for any strategy to reach any new area. We must hear from the Lord and do it unapologetically. With that disclaimer here is our approach.

There are many disasters here in Middle Earth. I often joke that Gondor is the only country in the world where you can do disaster response full time. We saw that the people were suffering and no one was responding. So, we began responding to the needs. Principle number one: Walk into a place and asked the Holy Spirit what these people need. Then begin meeting that need. I am a Music Major with a Master of Divinity degree. This hardly qualifies me to be a disaster response expert. But God gave our team unqualified favor to do this work. We made many good decisions and we were able to offer real leadership to communities experiencing disaster. Principle number two: The Holy Spirit will gift you to do all that He is calling you to. Or, He gives you the authority to act where he is calling you to act. We were able to build a solid reputation in our country and as a result we have access to sensitive areas where no one else is able to go. We have worked in the remote mountains and along the very sensitive Mordor border. We have done a couple of projects in Mordor itself and in 1998 even opened an office there that is still there today. Our goal has always been to impact the entire country and the region as we had opportunity. I have been very irritated to talk to fellow workers who do not believe that we can offer the kind of large scale effective aid that the Red Cross or other large humanitarian aid agencies can provide. We can and should do much better than those agencies. We have the unlimited resources of the Father, the wisdom and compassion of the Son, and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Principle number three: No small visions. This is a very important principle for us as without it we remain in our own strength and forfeit the opportunity to see God work in our lives and ministries.

When we encounter a disaster we have a team of believing guys who go and do assessment. While doing assessment we listen to people and we pray with them and for them. This is culturally appropriate and introduces us to the community as men of faith. After the disaster we continue to witness through our lives as we work with the community to recover from the effects of disaster and return to normalcy. During this time we have found what I call ‘in your face’ evangelism to be utterly useless. People can not hear us and have no context with which to understand our words. So, we live out our faith very publicly. Everything we do is worship. We get up in the morning and pray together. We sing songs, read the Word, and serve others openly. It is important to be understood on this point: We unveil our personal lives with God before the villagers whom we serve. We never tell anyone that they must do this or that or that they must believe this or that. We tell each other in front of the villagers that Jesus is Lord and we encourage each other with scripture and discuss the Word and God’s plan in front of everyone we can. Principle number four: Everything you do must be worship to God. This results in a lot of joy on the team. We are quick to laugh, love, and serve. This sets an example to the whole village as to what a believer is and does. Principle number five: Discipleship begins when you meet someone. There are four national guys on the team and we have as many as two or on a rare occasion three expats on site as well. We model for the village a true Christian community. One day we pulled into a new village and as we unloaded the truck and set up the field office some village leaders came over to me and said, ‘who are these guys? Are they followers of Jesus?’ Ten minutes was all it took for them to see how different these guys behaved from everyone else. They had not said anything about Jesus. They had not passed out Christian literature. Their lives spoke of a love and peace that was foreign to the culture we are serving.

As people have come to faith through the work we have done I have been very pleased with the results. No one asks for money. Our guys work hard doing NGO work and that is understood as the reason they get a pay check. Everything they say and do for Jesus is out of love for Him not for money. Another big advantage to this work is that we serve whole communities. We give aid out to whole communities regardless of their coming to a Bible study or being baptized. This means that the ‘rice Christian’ issue has not really existed for us. The people who have come to faith through our work have gone on to work harder than ever at their secular jobs and have more money than they ever had before. Another great benefit that we have seen is the resulting new Christian community has a better organizational model than we can provide from the West. New believers are not given a ‘come to the building we call Church’ model. They are shown a living community that meets everyday and worships all the time. We have left them free to form whatever organizational model fits with their context. Principle number six: We share the Good News of the Kingdom and let Christ build His Church as He sees fit.

This leads to another principle. I hate extraction evangelism. The idea that we go somewhere and share Christ with one person and disciple him or her apart from any community is very foreign to the New Testament. Pretty much you have the example of Philip and the Eunuch and that is it. Paul shared openly and discipled openly even in hostile situations. We can not have house churches until we have reached households. We must focus on the existing community- as Paul did- and then see how God will redeem it and bring about a new community of faith. Western methodologies are utterly bankrupt here. We must recover real community in our own life and learn to live it in a contagious way before the communities we serve. Principle number seven: You reap what you sow. Sow to an individual, reap an individual, sow to a community, reap a community. I believe that the NGO doing humanitarian aid is the best way to do this among communities that are hostile to the truth and are politically restrictive.

There is more that I could say. We have a whole different set of principles that go with how we provide humanitarian aid. But I think I will conclude here and let you ask questions as you need to. Thanks for this opportunity to share what God has been doing in us and through us. It has been an exciting ride.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Feeling Blue?

A few years ago a container of humanitarian aid was donated to the organization I was working for. We distributed a lot of aid in those days to many people who were suffering from the ill effects of the very destructive civil war. The contents of the container surprised us somewhat. It was a twenty foot container stuffed completely full of Fruit Loops Cereal. Not your normal flour, oil, and beans mix. Normally we had a very strict policy on humanitarian aid that was donated. We never used it for ourselves or our families but since no one here in Middle Earth eats cereal or even knows what it is we gave ourselves- and our children- several boxes each.
We noticed that the Fruit Loops had a big sign on the front of the box saying that this box contained the new 'Blue Ring'. We ate it up. I wondered why someone would donate an entire container of Fruit Loops. Who in the West thought, 'Hey, let's send a container of Fruit Loops to feed poor hungry villagers'? It was an odd thought.
Several days later we had our answer. Our children ate the cereal gratefully and gladly. They then went to the toilet in due course and what resulted literally glowed bright blue. I am not exaggerating! Bright blue that looked as if it would glow in the dark. Well, there seemed to be no other side effects so we kept giving it to our kids. We also distributed it to the nation as we could. I remember one hospital was especially grateful for us donating cases of the stuff for their patients.
I am sure that whoever donated the cereal was just getting rid of a mistake by giving it to a country with no litigation options. We were grateful to be singing the blues.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Friends of Daniel

The call was quite unexpected. Bomber had heard the truth many times and had seen the King work in his life first hand but had never shown any sign that he had the courage to follow Jesus. In the end, faith and courage are close brothers. Indeed they are many times inseparable as the enemy's chief weapon is fear. Bomber called Frodo and asked him how he could become a follower of Jesus. Frodo's answer was not surprising. He told him to go back down to Anfalas where he was from and talk to Kili and Fili. They knew what to do.
Two days later Frodo and Sam traveled down to Anfalas to see what was up. For those of you who have not read back to the Anfalas story, Kili and Fili came to faith this last March and they and their wives are the only believers in the small village of Anfalas. Bomber's son had been miraculously healed- and later his daughter as well- but he had not the courage to follow Jesus and indeed I doubted that he would ever find such. When Frodo and Sam reached Anfalas they went to Bomber's home. He had not gone to Kili and Fili yet but he still wanted to accept Jesus. When asked why the answer was that he was going to travel to Agmar soon and he wanted to make sure that he was in the good graces of the King before he went. Many men here travel to Agmar to work but it is dangerous for them and they don't like it there. So, Frodo asked why he was going and he replied that he was in debt and had to. What debt? A local 'humanitarian' group had leant him money for last year's crop and even though the crop did not do well they still expected payment.
Frodo and Sam took him to the neighboring village and talked to the agency. Frodo and Sam can speak quite boldly when needed and they convinced the agency to give Bomber more time.
Bomber would not have to go to Agmar.
When they returned to Anfalas there was a huge meeting of the entire village. The Government appointed leader was there and he gathered everyone to discuss with Frodo and Sam the canal project that they were working on. Grima was from Ithilian originally as were all of the residence of Anfalas. He was appointed by the Government to oversee the village and he did not miss much of what was happening. He was also a firm follower of Islam and often went behind our team telling people not to listen to us. Of course, to me he was always thankful for our help and very gracious. It was easy to see however, that he had another side.
During the meeting he looked at Kili and asked him in front of the whole village, "Are you a Christian?" He did this to intimidate Kili and humiliate him in front of the village and make an example of him to Frodo and Sam. As Frodo related the story to me he was amazed at Kili's answer. "Yes, I am" he said. "Why" came the reply of Grima. The next answer was even bolder. "Because Jesus is God and he died on the cross for our sins." Fili not wanting to be left out added, "And he rose from the dead and is coming again." I wish I had been there to see that. Daniel's three friends were not any braver in their day than Kili and Fili were.
The next day Bomber went to Kili and Fili and asked them to help him pray to receive Jesus. I asked Frodo what Bomber's wife thought of this and he said that she has been waiting for him to make this decision for some time now. I expect that they will both become followers of Jesus in Anfalas. I go next week to see them. Pray that their courage extends to their being baptised soon.
As I have said many times, fear is the chief weapon of the enemy. He uses it to keep us bound to his lies. "Yes, it is right to go this way, but better be safe and go that way." "Don't do this, do that instead... not now, later may be more to keep quiet... you don't want to offend anyone... people might misunderstand... it is not worth the risk." Yes, the enemy's wisperings never seem to stop. Sometimes we are afraid and we don't even know why. When I feel fear I get angry because I know it is the voice of the enemy of our souls and I hate that voice. I have lived in fear, so have you. So have Kili and Fili. Never again.