Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Good Soil

Frodo was 22 when the civil war tore his country apart.It was a scary time. Since he was originally from Ithilian his people were persecuted here in Gondor and with the civil war in full swing his life was in peril daily. He and his young wife stayed locked up in their apartment in constant fear of discovery by bands of ruthless men with lots of guns and no scruples. One day as he was sitting in his room a voice suddenly said, ‘Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.’ He was terrified. Who had spoken? What did it mean? He told his wife and she was afraid for him as well. What was going on?

One day Frodo was contacted by an old friend. His friend’s father was missing and feared dead. Frodo went out to see him. They searched but did not find anything (later he would be found murdered in a basement). The friend had a book that he had no need for. He gave it to Frodo. Frodo opened up the book and there near the beginning where the book fell open to was a sentence. ‘Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).’ The book was a small children’s Bible. Frodo went weak in the knees. He had to sit down. He felt physically sick. What was happening to him? He was terrified. His older brother had moved to Angmar when the civil war started. Far in the north he had become a Christian. Frodo called him and asked him to send him a Bible. It came in the mail a few weeks later. Frodo disliked the look of it from the first. It had a big cross on the front. That represented the religion of the people of Angmar. They were terrible godless people who were not to be trusted. But he opened the book and he read it. He read the gospel of John and from the first verse he said, ‘This is my God!’ It would be a full year later before he could finally cast off the grasp of Islam and be baptized.

The civil war finally came to an end. Frodo and a couple of friends had been in a band before the war. After the war one of his old band members called him. He had become a Christian as well as one other of the old band members. They joined a fourth guy and began a church in Minas Tirith. It grew to more than forty people. It was then that the enemy really attacked. The original group split up. Frodo and one other guy from his church joined my team. After a couple of years of healing from the experience Frodo is leading the team to the unreached villages of Gondor. He lives his life of faith out before others daily. Just this morning he was in my office and we debriefed his trip yesterday. They had gone to a small village and met a believer there. This believer said he had not seen another Christian in more than a year. They met with a neighbor and one man was dying. He had been sick for a long time and the family believed he would not last much longer. Frodo and Sam prayed for him. He was against their teaching about Jesus but this man was completely healed that moment in Jesus’ name. They shared some more truth with the family, prayed for the one believer and promised to return next week. I don’t know what will happen but I know Jesus promise in Mark 4:20, ‘And these are the ones sown on the good soil; they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Choosing Hell

He was born 15 years ago right in the middle of a civil war that tore his country apart. His mother was an alcoholic who abandoned him and his sister at the orphanage. As the institutions of Gondor broke down to complete dysfunction he moved out onto the streets. He learned to lie. He learned to steal. He learned to manipulate. He learned to survive. His life was filled with such darkness that it seemed that he would never ever see even a glimmer of hope. But a woman from the west came. She saw his sister and had compassion. She was single with no family of her own so she took them in; she clothed them, fed them, and shared with them the truth of Christ. It was not enough. The sister continued to make bad choices. She was given a job by believers but later left it. She became pregnant. She put the baby up for adoption. She became pregnant again. It became clear that she was selling herself. Not for money, no but for the brief moments of emotional attachment that she could steal. He continued to steal as well. He would go out for days at a time and live on the streets. He dropped out of the school that the lady had paid to get him in. She spent herself completely on the boy and his sister and went back to the West a very broken person. In the end, it crushed her to think that her love was not enough. She could not save them.

The boy and his sister lived for a while with some extended family who beat and abused them. Then along came our lawyer. He saw their desperation. They were hungry. They suffered. Jesus commands us to care for the suffering and so he and his wife took them in. By this time the sister had put up a second baby for adoption and now had her own little girl that she was keeping for herself. The little baby was malnourished physically, emotionally and spiritually. They put the boy back in school- no small feat. The lawyer and his wife fed them, clothed them, loved them and shared Christ with them. They continued to make bad choices. The sister could not keep a job. She kept going out with different boys and abandoning her daughter for the night. They ran away and slept in the street. The boy continued to steal.
Today the boy was tried in court for stealing and given community service. The lawyer and his wife are at the end of what they can give. They have poured out their love on the boy and his sister and the boy and his sister have completely rejected them. They have completely rejected Christ. They have chosen Hell.

In a little village outside of Minas Tirith a little girl was born in the middle of a civil war that tore her country apart. Her family was abusive and dysfunctional. She was molested as a child by relatives. She was unprotected. She was vulnerable. She was used. When she was a teenager she left the village to come to visit her aunt. Her aunt knew a woman from the West who shared Christ with her. She felt that she could find hope in Christ. Maybe. The girl went with her to see this woman. The woman's family was different than anything she could have ever imagined. The children were loved and protected. The men were strong and caring. They talked about Jesus and he sounded wonderful. Her uncle and grandfather in the village found out about the Bible studies. These good Muslim men did not approve. When she went home to the village she was beaten and shamed. She went back to the studies anyway. Her cousin also chose to become a follower of Jesus. Could she? She wanted to. But her family was furious. They beat her and shamed her and argued with her. They told her that she must come back to the village and marry a good Muslim man or her grandfather will die. If he dies it will be all her fault. Her aunt offered her home to her. She could stay away from the village. She could have a new life in Christ. She left. She has gone to the village and has broken bread with the good Muslim boy's family. She will be married next week. She has rejected Christ. She has chosen Hell.

On the southern border of Gondor a family fled the fighting of the civil war to come to Minas Tirith. A young boy saw things in Minas Tirith that no young boy should see. The brutal slaughter of his people was too much for him and he was overwhelmed. After the war they took him back to the village. He could not speak. He did not hear. He wandered aimlessly about the yard very like a cow. He did not respond to speech. He gets up to eat. That is all he can do. The family turned to the mullah who wrote charms for him. They turned to many folk Islamic rituals. The boy became violent. He would irrationally attack anything and everything in his sight. They had to chain him to the wall. Periodically he is calm and they let him out to wander in the yard. But sometimes his fits return and they have to chain him to the wall for days at a time.

That is where Frodo and the team found him. There was an earthquake last year and most of the houses in the village were damaged severely or destroyed altogether. The team went house to house to do assessment. When they went into the boy's house they found him chained to the wall in the middle of a violent fit. As Frodo and Sam looked at him and tried to talk to him they became dizzy. Their speech became slurred. They ran out of the house. We talked about it and prayed about it. We went back to the village and did a home rebuilding project there. We went to the house with the boy and found him laying in the yard. He took no notice of us. We spoke to his father and mother. We asked them if we could pray for the boy. They agreed but were not hopeful. They said they had tried everything. We prayed. Frodo commanded the evil spirit to come out of the boy. The boy lay on the ground vacantly looking around and took no notice of us. Before we left Frodo turned to the boy once more and commanded him to stand. The boy stood up, looked at us for the first time, and then walked away. The mother was amazed. It was the first time the boy had obeyed any kind of command. We spoke with the parents some more and they did not confess everything but I believe that they are continuing to use black magic to try and solve their problem. In spite of the witness of the Frodo, Sam and the rest of the team they wont give up their charms. They have chosen Hell.

I am not going to give this post a happy ending. I have told you about real people who have chosen Hell and will not likely ever choose anything else. Jesus tells us the Parable of the Sower for a reason. Three out of four of the soils choose Hell and apparently two of the four choose Hell knowingly. For those of us who have found Jesus so faithful and full of grace and love it is inconceivable. Praise God for the gift of His grace that has enabled you to throw off the lies that the enemy has bound us with. Weep for those who will never choose to be free. Live to serve those whom Christ is calling to be set free. Only He can set us free. Only Jesus can save.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Feeding Time

The end of another Monday. Monday's for me are exhausting. Today was a pretty typical day. It began at 6:00am when I looked out my bedroom window and saw a family being taken into the clinic that is in our basement. A great family from Australia has a 16 month old boy whose lung has inexplicably collapsed in the night. He is being medevaced out even as I type.
I then read the Word for a while and tried to prepare for the day. I take very seriously Jesus' caution in Luke 12:42, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time." I need to be ready to give people the 'food' they need to accomplish what the King has set for them.
But, first things first I have to get my eight year old son up out of bed.

7:00am I begin to tell my son to get up. There will be no help from Arwen this morning as she has been helping some friends with homeschooling. She has stayed up all night practicing Calculus. I know, a nightmare for me and you but it was a thoroughly enjoyable night for Arwen. But I wont wake her until later just the same.

7:20am- Son is up and eating cereal for breakfast. I fast on Mondays so just tea for me. Lots of tea.

8:00am- Son is finally out the door. Arwen is up with our two year old and I am downstairs to my office to work. I do e-mail. Several letters are needed to give information to a new team who is coming to Gondor to work with us. I also deal with the logistics of several visitors who will be coming next month. Sometimes I read a few blogs until someone comes in and I move on pretending to be doing something useful instead.

9:30am- I am just finishing all my letter writting when my wife comes down and tells me our language helper is here. We try and have language lessons on Mondays and Thursdays but Arwen often ends up alone on Mondays. Today will be no different.

9:40am- A team member calls with a disaster report. He and our doctor went on Sunday afternoon to a village that had experienced a flash flood on Saturday. The village is the home of one of our national friends and he showed up very upset on Saturday night asking for help. So, our two guys went on Sunday afternoon to the young man's father's house. The small village did not experience much damage as a whole but a young girl was killed and about four houses destroyed. This is not a disaster that our NGO would get involved in but our house churches have sent money to help. Our friend's father's house was half buried in a mud flow. They were forced to exit through the second story window. His entire crop for the year is buried under a solid meter of mud. The guys hired a tractor to dig out the house and channel future water safely away. I gave some advice on how to proceed and by the time I hung up the phone the team was there.

10:00am- Our national disaster team showed up to brief me on the previous week's work and to plan for the this week. They showed me pictures of the canal project and the home relocation project. The canal project involves piping spring water down a nine kilometer hillside to a small village in the mountians. The villagers have already dug most of the trench needed for the project. We will provide the pipe and some cement to cap the spring. The pictures of the home relocation project were quite dramatic. An entire mountainside is coming slowly down on top of a village to the southeast of Minas Tirith. We will work with Habitat for Humanity to relocate twenty homes this summer. The villagers will build their own homes with the aid of Habitat engineers and we will be on-site with a tent warehouse for the materials and monitor the project. This gives us tremendous access to the villagers for ministry. Frodo and the team will go down to Anfalas today to look over the irrigation canal work that the village is putting in. They also look forward to spending time with the young church that is there. Keep praying for Dwalin as he is still consumed by fear. Pray that he will die to himself and truly live for our Savior.

11:00am- We pray and the team sets off. Our doctor comes in and needs help with an oxigen tank whose valve wont turn properly. He needs it to transport the baby with the collapsed lung. I get the plyers and start banging- I am a natural to work with my hands (read sarcasm here).

11:30am- I go and buy printer ink for my wife who is now up and working on language learning resources for the school.

12:00pm- I suddenly remember that I need to get our secretary some updated reports for the new Government forms that they want turned in yesterday. Fortunately, I am fasting so don't have to stop for lunch.

1:00pm- I turn in the reports and figure that I have a good hour to read and pray before our afternoon meeting. Several people come in and I deal with them instead.

2:00pm- Our NGO meeting for expatriots (foregners) begins. We talk about some of the things I just mentioned. Then we talk about what I am really excited about which is a couple of our families moving north this year to start a new office in Cair Andros. This is a remote valley that we have had limited success in ministering to in the past because we can only access it by a high pass that is closed much of the winter. Our team leader for the project is a great Swiss guy who has a real heart for the people of that valley. We discuss the recent floods they have had and the erosion problems that we have begun helping with there.

3:30pm- Our South African Lawyer friend and another man from Australia meet to go over the wording of the constitution for the new seminary that we are jointly starting with the churches of Minas Tirith. We have had great cooperation and participation from the many backrounds of believers who are there and there is a great sense of unity as we go forward. But the wording of a constitution- especially when you are talking with a lawyer- is tiring work and the work drags on until nearly 6:00pm.

6:00pm- I go upstairs with complete brainfry. I am just lying down when my eight year old reminds me that he needs some dad time. We play for a while. I swing with my two year old and then I watch an episode of 'Lost' with my eight year old. He goes to bed and then I stay up with my two year old whom I now understand has had a long nap that afternoon. It is 11:40pm now and I think he is just about asleep. His mother has been in bed since 9:30 which is very unusual for her but I am sure she needs it after staying up all last night!

So, what can I say for my Monday? I did not share the gospel with anyone today. But if I have done my work well and fed the laborers at the proper time I can say that at least three teams of guys are sharing their faith in no less than seven different communities. Tuesday through Fridays are better with me spending a lot more time with nationals and every other week even heading out to the villages for a couple of days. But this is Monday and I am glad to be saying goodnight.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm Dancing

I posted a few weeks ago about Dwalin. I have been waiting for that guy to get off the fence for a year now. Friday a good friend went down and spent some time with Dwalin and his wife. They accepted what they have believed for a long time now. Later this week or early next week they will be baptized together. Bringing the small church up to a total of six adults. An exciting aspect to all this is that Dwalin is a teacher in the local school and he is a leader of a group of young guys in the village. Frodo and the team really believe that this could be the breaking of the dam that we have been waiting for. Only the King knows and we will see His will done in His time. Thanks to all who have prayed for the village of Anfalas. Keep praying, the King is at work.

So as not to give anyone the wrong impression of who I am I thought I would tell a story that I try to keep before me often as a paradigm of my own personal wisdom and grace. I was going to travel from Rohan to Minas Tirith several years ago and asked my language helper to set up a taxi for me. My teacher and the taxi driver picked me up early in the morning and we headed for the middle border just an hour and a half away. I hoped to catch a plane just across the border to take me up and over the mountains to the capitol of Gondor. As we approached the border the taxi driver asked if I had any dollars. There might be trouble if I was carrying dollars and they would surely asked a foreigner about this. So, he and my teacher thought it would be best if I gave the dollars to the driver- the border guards would never think to ask him if he had dollars- and then I could truthfully tell them I didn't have any. I did not like this plan. I told them that I had traveled with dollars before and while it is a hassel I could deal with it. No, no, no they insisted that I give the money to the driver and as soon as we crossed the border he would give it back. Finally, for the sake of peace on the road with my driver and language teacher I agreed and gave him the four hundred dollars I had in my bag for the journey. Don't even start on me- I know all the reasons that this was a bad idea.

We crossed the border without incident and he stopped the car. He had gone as far as he could and now I would have to take another taxi on to the airport. He handed me back my money and said, 'Here is your three hundred dollars.' I blew a gasket. "Don't do this to me!" I shouted at him. I hit the back of his seat hard and threatened him. "I gave you four hundred dollars!" He swore up and down this was all he had. He had put the money in his sock- common custom for those crossing the border- and he took his socks off to show me that there was no more. I shouted a bunch more. I implored with my language teacher to help me get my money back. He was shocked and appalled. He had set me up with this guy and now I had lost a hundred dollars. He was ashamed and did not know what to do. Finally, I went on to the airport. There was no plane so I caught another taxi back across the border to Edoras. I decided to stop at my house and get a jacket that I had forgotten before I went on to the main taxi stand to get a taxi down to the southern border and on to Minas Tirith. As I stuffed my jacket in my bag there was the other hundred dollars. I had never given it to him. My teacher was furious with me. "Strider! All that stress and arguing for nothing! And that taxi driver is my neighbor." Oops. If I had known the taxi driver was his neighbor I would have behaved very differently. In fact, for the sake of a witness with my teacher in this culture it would have been better off to just lose a hundred dollars than shame him the way I did.

When I got back from Minas Tirith the next week I took some food to the driver's house and humbly apologized. I paid him twice the value of the trip and apologized some more. Verbally he forgave me but his body language indicated that this would take a while longer to get over. So friends, there you have it. Here in Middle Earth you will be fully justified in losing your temper and blowing up at people ten times a day, but the one time you do you'll be wrong. Wear humility like a cloak and meekness like a warm blanket on a cold day. We need it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prayer Underestimated

There is this great guy who works with us who comes from the southern half of our planet. I will call him Fredegar. Last year he and his wife wanted a bunch of folks from their home church to come and visit them here. Eleven of them to be exact. Well, the people of Gondor are very hospitable as I mentioned in my last post but their Government can sometimes be confused. Last year the Foreign Ministry went through some internal turmoil and for a short while nothing good was happening. Fredegar's friends put in for visas through a tourist agency and they were all rejected. No explanation, no second chances. Fredegar and his wife were devastated. How could this be? Eleven plus people had prayed and planned and now the answer was no? It couldn't be.

I called Fredegar over to the office the next morning. I felt that the Lord had a plan. I mean this- don't miss this point! This is about the King and His story, not Strider. Anyway, Fredegar finally showed up at about 11:00am. Being who I am I told him a story. I had some friends in a town to the north of us who had some trouble a few years ago. Ok, it was eight years ago, but hey, time flies right? So, these friends of mine were seeing some real success in planting churches and the local officials did not like it. The mullahs were preaching hot and heavy every Friday at Mosque and naming my friends publicly. They wanted my friends out. The local secret police arrested all the people attending any meetings with foreigners and were fairly thorough in their interrogations. People began dropping out of the churches and non-believers were avoiding the churches and the believers like the plague. But remember that the gates of hell are only going to fall if they are attacked. So, my friends went down to the secret police headquarters, stood on the front steps, and prayed out loud. They called on God to call off the heat and protect the young flock. It was the middle of the day and no one stopped them or addressed them at all. From that day on no one else was questioned and there were no more sermons by the mullahs. It just stopped. (For the sake of integrity in my story telling I will say that the persecution picked up again just last year. My friends are gone and the locals have really struggled.)

I then suggested to Fredegar that we go down to the Foreign Ministry and pray just like my friends did. He thought that was a great idea. Off we went, I drove down and parked, we got out and began to walk around the outside of the building. I was walking calmly along praying in a normal voice for God to bless the Ministry with a spirit of peace and hospitality when I looked behind me. Fredegar was walking with his hands straight up in the air and with a look of sheer passion on his face was praying loudly for God to intervene. I sped up and walked a few paces in front of him. Well, I thought there were some pedestrians who gave us a rather wide berth but over all we were completely ignored. Ah, the City.

I suppose it goes without saying that we asked the travel agent to resubmit the visas and he got them the next morning. The King is faithful. He cannot be manipulated and His plans will not be foiled. The question is will we walk in boldness and faith so as to see His love and faithfulness?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's a Small World After All

Not long ago my father, living and working right in the middle of the West, was selling men's clothing in a local shop. A man came in wearing some unusual clothing and after some conversation my father ascertained that this man had lived in Middle Earth in a country just north of Gondor. Many folks in the store were now paying attention to the conversation and questioned my father about the sanity of living in a dangerous place like Gondor. My father replied with one of my early stories and as soon as he had begun the man who had lived in Middle Earth exclaimed that he had heard this story before and that surely he had met me several years ago. What can I say, I am a storyteller.

The story in question was a story about one of my first trips to Gondor back in 1996. The civil war was still going on and the rule of law was non-existent. Could I take my family into that kind of situation? The human answer is no, of course. But we do not follow human wisdom. Many who know me doubt that wisdom has anything to do with most of my decisions. But in this case the King did reveal to us the wisdom of trusting Him and moving into harms way. I showed up in Minas Tirith in the spring of '96 for a week. I was downtown and needed to take a taxi back up to a friend's house where I was staying. I hailed the cab, got in, and we went about 100 meters before being pulled over by a wild driving young man and his accomplice.

The young man and his friend got out of their car with a pistol and demanded the driver produce his documents. The cab driver got out of the car and began pleading with the young man to let us go. The young man repeatedly demanded money and after a while the cabby gave him a little. The young man wanted more and began yelling and pointing the gun alternately at the cabby's head and feet. The cabby reacted as if he really believed the young man would shoot him. I sat in the car trying to decide at what point I should run for it. I had two hundred dollars in my pocket- a small fortune in Gondor at the time. The cabby gave the young man some money - worth about a quarter. The young man began yelling loudly, then, right in the middle of his shouting and pointing his gun at the cabby's head he turned to me.
"So, you’re a guest! Where are you from?"
"Uh, I am an American." I replied.
"How do you like Minas Tirith?" He asked.
"Well, it's uh, nice." I hesitantly remarked.
"Great! Welcome!" He said and then turned back to the cabby and said, 'Give me more money right now or I shoot!" The cabby gave him another quarter worth of local currency and he got back in the car and we drove off. What really got me was the reaction of the cabby to the whole incident. As far as he was concerned it was just another day at the office, nothing to be concerned about.

But the point I took away from the incident is much deeper than that. That young man surely knew that as a foreigner I had much more money than the cabby but he would not think of asking me for it. In the culture here in Gondor hospitality runs deep. I was a guest. No matter how despicable or desperate this young man was he would never think of violating that sacred trust. The blessing of having a guest trumps all other considerations. The people of Gondor suffered terribly during that civil war and the rebuilding years that followed. In many ways the rule of law is still a nebulous thing. When I think about leaving this difficult place this one thought has kept me here over the years. I can leave; the people of Gondor cannot. I am safe here and even if I die here that is nothing but gain but the people of Gondor live difficult lives only to die and spend an eternity in Hell. Since Jesus died so that would not be so, I must live so that will not be so. I encourage you to do the same. It is a small world after all. We can make a difference but we will not do it in our spare time with our spare resources. If we want to be followers of Jesus we must follow the way of the cross. Only by living the life of the cross will we be able to bear the message of the cross to a world dying without it.