Thursday, May 22, 2008

Only the Strong Survive?

She was married at just 18 to a guy she had seen from a distance but never met. She was impressed that this was a strong man with a lot of respect in the community. He started beating her the first week they were married. She could take it, she was strong. She stood up to him and fought back. She worked hard to make their home a respectable place and she worked hard to maintain their respectable image in the community but the fights only increased and as Gondor melted down in a terrible civil war her marriage melted down with it. One day he beat her up until he thought she was dead. He stripped her and drove her out of town where he dumped her on the side of the road. The message was clear: She was garbage. She got up and walked back into town. She was shamed beyond repair. But she was strong, she could take it. She would survive. She moved back into her parents house and then after a year found a man to marry. The man she chose worked for the local police. The local police did not- and do not- have a good reputation but she thought he would take care of her. He too was not a good man. He beat her. She found out later that he was feared in the neighborhood as an evil, brutal man. But she could handle it, she was strong. Her life became more and more a nightmare as the civil war became more brutal and her husband became more violent. One day, she decided that she was not strong enough. She could not bear this kind of life anymore, but what choice did she have?

She ran into a friend of hers and she told her about a book that someone had given her. Did she know that her brother was talking to some foreigners who had some strange ideas? She took the book and went to study it in the group her brother was meeting with. The book said she would never be strong enough to succeed in this life. Only God could help her and he has sent Jesus to save her. After a few months she gave her life to Jesus because she was not strong enough to live life on her own.

Her husband was dismayed but he respected her brother so he said nothing. But she never stopped speaking about the love she had for Jesus. With the war going badly and the blood on his hands building up he too gave his life to Jesus six months later. This is truly the beginning of the story for Eomer and his wife. It was a long road to learn the ways of the new Kingdom they had become a part of. At first they thought this was a way to prosper, to get money. But after coming to us they slowly learned that the Kingdom of God has much more to offer than money. Meeting twice a week with a couple of the doctors we have on our team he grew and changed. Eomer joined a small house church and he and his wife began to grow together. After couple of years he began to pastor that little church, and after a couple more years he and his wife have become sought out speakers on how former Muslims can have a God-honoring marriage. They work as a team ministering to their friends and family through hospitality and going out to the villages together to share the good news that Jesus loves the weak, the outcasts, the poor, and the rejected.

It is my privilege to proclaim this Gospel. As I get ready to go home for five months I know that someone is going to say, 'You guys must really like it over there, huh?' I hate that question. I do not like it here. Minas Tirith has got to be one of my least favorite cities. But what would you be willing to put up with to know a couple like Eomer and his wife? What are you willing to do to see the Kingdom of God come and change lives one at a time until whole communities are transformed? I will gladly give my life and the life of my family to see the Kingdom of God spread to the ends of the earth. That doesn't make me heroic. That makes me His child. Taste and see.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Could Be Getting Older

One of my favorite lines from the first Indiana Jones movie is from a scene where the heroine says to Jones, "You're not the man I knew ten years ago." Jones replies, "It's not the years it's the milage." I certainly feel that now and again but yesterday really brought it home for me. I have always considered myself as macho as the next guy and through my college days and beyond I pretended that I was the great outdoors type. I don't think I really fooled anyone but myself but I had fun doing it none the less. Yesterday should have been a great day. I got up, met with the national team, Frodo, Sam, and Merry, and jumped in the Toyota Hilux to head out to the wild wilderness of central Gondor. We drove a few hours on poor roads then left the road to cross a river. After navigating our way through the river- there were no roads, bridges, or marked paths- we went up a mountain. We kept going up and up driving over donkey trails and no trails at all. Then we went down and down into a valley that was not accessible by vehicle unless driven by someone as nuts as we were. Like I said, this should have been great. But I spent the whole time wishing it were over. I dreaded the river crossing. I know the sinking feeling of taking a truck across a ford in the river and not being able to come out on the other side. Yesterday as we drove into the river I just knew that instead of going in a little ways and finding a firm rock bottom we would just keep going down into the water. We didn't- we made it just fine. As we climbed the steep mountain I just knew that we would role the truck, that we would bog down in a muddy patch, that we would get penned in and have to back out down a cliff edge. None of that happened. It was a nice day, a fun day, but I did not enjoy it. At forty five I don't think I am that old so as Jones says, 'It's not the years it's the milage.
But to make a point out of all this I will tell you one more thing. Every single time I have gone out and gotten stuck, broke down, stuck behind a landslide, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time the King gives me an opportunity to share my faith in Jesus with someone who has never ever had any access to the blessed good news. Every time. I was talking about this with a friend of mine this morning who does not have a dependable car and is thinking about buying a new one. He said, "So, in light of this we ought to buy less dependable cars?" I said, "Yeah, If I had your car Gondor would be won to the Lord by now!" I am quite sure that that is a good example of my constant use of hyperbole but the point is still clear to me. I may ford the river or I may not but God always has a plan for my day and it is usually a pretty darn good plan. I should not be fearful and I should not be upset when things go wrong, on the contrary I should always look up and say, "What's next Lord?" If we quiet our whinning and wait for a moment there is usuall a good answer. Yesterday a family whom we stopped and had soup with heard a lot of good truth about a very good God for the first time. It is worth the hard road to see the Kingdom go forth. Work while it is day for the night is coming when we might be broken down in the middle of nowhere- and then we should keep on working.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On Hospitality

I am a big fan of hospitality. So is one of the guys who works for us. I have not told many stories about Eomer, after all he is just a driver. Well, more than a driver he is a child of God and a follower of Jesus and that makes him pretty special indeed. He and his wife are from a village in the south and are the only relatives in the family who live in Minas Tirith. This means that whenever someone comes to the Capitol for business or whatever they stay at Eomer's house. He has a small apartment and it is always full. Some of his relatives come for weeks at a time. He is the first in his extended family to come to faith- actually his wife came to faith first. But at any rate- or at least at the rate I am going- he has a very active ministry to his family through hospitality.

But he has over these last years been discouraged. He is a leader in his small house group and quite frankly, he is a fine pastor. But his group has remained a small committed seven to ten people week after week for years now. Last year something happened to change his perspective and I hope it will influence yours as well! Last year an uncle came to visit him back in the Spring. He was a committed Muslim who highly disapproved of Eomer's decision to follow Jesus. Of course, as a guest in Eomer's house he would not be too rude about it. He mostly just verbally attacked Eomer's wife and children when he went out to work. Eomer sat down with his uncle one night and said, 'Uncle, you are always welcome in my house. You will not talk about religion with me or my family again while you are here. There on my book shelf is a Bible and a Koran. If you want to know truth read them and then if you have any questions you can ask me.' This was pretty abrupt but it is almost word for word what he told me he said. His uncle did not leave. He stayed for three months. They began to wonder if he would ever leave! And then one night the Uncle sat down with Eomer and said, 'I have read much of the books. What is this part in the Koran about Jihad?' The Uncle asked if Jihad meant what he thought it did- that Muslims were at war with the rest of the world and needed to bring the message of Islam to everyone else and to count all non-Muslims as enemies of God. Eomer answered, 'It's your book.' The Uncle said no, this can not be true. Jesus says to love our enemies. Jesus says that there is forgiveness. This is the kind of God that he believed in. Well, it took a while but the Uncle came to faith and was baptized. After another month he said to Eomer, 'It is not right that I stay here any longer. I must go back to the village and tell everyone there about Jesus.' He did. His sons who were very aggressive Muslims were very angry but slowly they changed their minds. Last week they too were baptized. Now, Eomer goes down every other weekend to the village to visit the new Church there in his uncle's home. Eomer is a changed man. He no longer thinks about growing a bigger house Church. Now he just thinks about how many Churches his little house Church can see planted in the lost villages of Gondor. There are two so far among his relatives- there will need to be many more.

As Eomer continues to serve his family like this I am confident that many more will come to faith and that many Churches will be established in the villages that up until now have been so hard to reach. Is your door always open? I pray that mine will be. It is not always easy but it is not supposed to be. The message of the Cross must be preached by the way of the Cross or it will have no power. Eomer's words have a lot of power these days- and you should meet his wife! Do my words have power? I pray that with more loving service they will be endued with the power that our Lord intends for them to have. Words that transform, cleanse, and create.