Saturday, January 24, 2009

Breaking the Molds

Reproduction is a key sign of a healthy Church. Anyone will tell you that out here on the field. It has become Missiology 101. You start a church and if you do it right you empower its members to trust in Jesus, hear the Holy Spirit, and evangelize like crazy. In no time at all a daughter church will be born. I have even read one guy, whom I greatly respect write that if he has not seen a daughter church start within a year he will have considered that church plant a failure. Well, that’s clear. And it is a principle that I think is a good one. But if there is one thing that I am convinced of is that God is all about breaking down our principles, rules, paradigms, and slogans. It is almost as if God believes that if we have a dependable method then we won’t need Him anymore. Trust me, God’s job is secure. We still need Him.

This last week I traveled down to Anfalas with the team. It was great to be traveling with Frodo, Sam, and Merry again. Kili and Fili and their wives were baptized in Anfalas almost three years ago. Since that time they have met daily for prayer, Bible reading, and mutual encouragement. It has been a rough road for them as they have faced persecution but they have stood strong. They are bold and fearless in expressing their faith in Jesus. We went into Kili's house and began to sing and worship together. We arrived around 6:30 in the evening and prayed, sang, and worshiped until just before Midnight. We ate bread and tea with milk in it together and even though it was quite cold outside we were warm and cozy in the small room that they live in. In the morning we got up fairly early- about 5:30am and gathered together for the Lord's Supper and some more encouragement from the Word. It was then that I asked them, 'When is someone else going to have the courage to be baptized?' Their answer surprised me a little. I thought that maybe they did not expect anyone else to join them, maybe they had grown cold in their evangelism. I was wrong. They said that they prayed for the villagers everyday by name. They went to this villager's house and then that villager's house for prayer and Bible study but they didn't like it so they would stop going there and then go to someone else's house. They prayed for the sick often. They served their community every way they could think of. I honestly did not realize how active they had been. We went out of the room and walked down the street. Almost as if to make his point with an exclamation mark Fili invited me into a home where a man had hurt his leg and could not walk. The leg was not broken and there was no sign of injury but he was in pain and could not get up. We invited Merry in as well and we told the man how Jesus came to show us the love of God. We told him that Jesus was the Son of God and that there was healing power in His name if he would believe. We laid hands on him and prayed for him. I don't know what will happen. I just know that Fili had done and said all this before. As we walked and talked to many in the village it was obvious that all the guys had been saying was true. Kili and Fili and their wives are sowing seed with tears in their eyes but to this day there is no fruit. Fili is asking us if they should leave the village and go back to the mountains where they came from. I don't know what he should do. I long for God to move in that region and be glorified by many but after three years I don't know what to say.

And yet, I do know what to say- and we said it. Two years ago Sam had a dream. He woke up in the night while we were out on a project and he woke us up and told us about his dream in a very animated excited voice- especially for 4am. He said that he saw Kili and Fili standing in the barren wasteland that is their village and they were arguing. They were arguing about what to do about the drought and they could not decide whether to go or stay. In frustration Fili hit the ground with his hoe and water burst forth hundreds of feet in the air and rained down on the village, the neighboring villages, and the whole region. Sam was convinced this was a word from God about what He was going to do in Anfalas. We told Kili and Fili to remain faithful and to be patient. God is at work. He does not work by our time-tables or by our measures of success but He works none the less.

I have my own definition for success and it is simply this: Are the men and women with whom I am working obedient to the Word of God and to Jesus? If they are then that is success. It has been three years but even if we wait for three more or if we never see huge numbers of converts I believe that the faithfulness of the two couples in Anfalas has already brought more glory to the Father than many large organizations. Faithfulness and obedience are the key characteristics in the Kingdom of God. May the Lord fill us with both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Missional Paradigm

Many of my stories are events in my life where a significant paradigm shift happened for me. I was having a good strategy conversation with a friend yesterday when I described an event that happened a few years ago that really impacted me. I suddenly realized that I had not shared it here! So, here is a story of a significant paradigm shift in my ministry understanding. It concerns the idea of 'extraction evangelism'. Now, this may not be a concept that many of you know or understand. Extraction evangelism is really just normal evangelism, it is the kind that usually happens unless something intentional is done to stop it. What it means is that a lost person living in a lost community gets saved. Someone shares Jesus with that person and that person leaves his/her lost community and joins the community of the redeemed- usually that means they start meeting with a group of Christians whom they previously did not know. The group rejoices because this person has found Jesus and is no longer lost and their Church has now increased in size signifying God's blessing on the group.
Now, this model is very problematic in a Muslim society such as the one I live in here in Gondor. First, very often there are no Churches for individuals to join! Second, the individual's community does not usually give that person up without a fight. Family and community persecution are very common here even though technically the Government of Gondor claims to provide for freedom of religion. But the biggest problem is that once a person leaves their community to join a Christian community then that lost community is left without a witness and is now more resistant to the Gospel than ever. For all these reasons we have tried from the beginning of our ministry here to avoid extraction evangelism. But I always considered that others may choose a different path and that one EV method was not necessarily better than another. That was until....

One day we were having a meeting of key leaders in Gondor. There were about ten nationals there- mostly guys I knew well but did not work with. Quickbeam is a Westerner who works with us. He thinks very strategically and although he was quite young he impresses everyone with his spiritual discernment. As we discussed different issues I was hoping to get the national leaders to see the importance of house-churches and if we could not get them to practice house-church could we at least get them not to condemn the idea. Quickbeam asked a question:
Q: I was thinking about sharing my faith with a whole family instead of just one individual. What do you guys think of that idea?
I thought this was a really lame question. Who would say this is a bad idea? What point could be made from this. I thought this line of questioning was a waste of time. The answers really caught me off guard!
Pastor 1: Well that is a good question! You know, once I shared my faith with one guy and six months later he brought his wife to our Church and within a year she was saved too.
Quickbeam: That is a great story but I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of that?
Pastor 2: That is an interesting idea. One time I was working with a very difficult family situation. I led one guy to the Lord and then it took two years more to see the rest of his family saved but many did finally come.
Quickbeam: Wow, that is really great. But I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of this idea?
By now I was getting irritated at Quickbeam repeating his same question in the same way each time. I thought, 'Why doesn't he get to the point?'
Pastor 3: That is a good question, Quickbeam! I shared my faith with a young lady once and after many months of praying she came to our Church. After many more months several others of her family accepted Christ.
Quickbeam: I am thinking of sharing my faith with a family. What do you think of this?
Now, I was getting embarrassed. These Church leaders are surely going to get annoyed that he is asking the same question again and again. I also could not understand why they just would not answer him. Could someone not just say 'yes, it is a good idea' and then we could move on in our discussion?
Pastor 4: You know Quickbeam I have shared my faith with many people and seen many individuals come to faith in Christ.
Quickbeam: I was thinking of sharing my faith with a whole family. What do you think of this idea?
It just kept going on and on. The whole discussion seemed like one big awkward moment to me and I could not understand what was happening. Quickbeam was like a dog with a bone and none of these guys would cave in and just say, 'Ok, it's a good idea.' Why not? Finally, the meeting time was finished and we prayed and left. I was very confused. I did not understand what all of this meant. I was rooming with Quickbeam and we went back to the hotel room together. When we got into the hotel room I blurted out, 'What was going on? I don't understand why you kept asking the same question. Why didn't they just answer you?' Quickbeam replied with a very profound observation that I had not seen before.

"They couldn't reply because their ministries are built on extraction evangelism and to admit that would be to undo the organizations that they have built."

Wow. What does that mean? This sentence hit me as the most prophetic word that I had maybe ever heard. My world spun around and when it came to a stop I was looking at things in a completely new way. In Revelation 7:15 the Seventh Angel blows his trumpet and announces that 'The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah.' This means that our King is about transforming kingdoms into HIS Kingdom. We spend most of our time as 'ministers' or 'missionaries' building organizations and trying to fill them up with people. God is about transforming this world. So, what does it all mean? It means that rather than build a kingdom and hope Christ will bless it I want to see earthly communities transformed. I want to share the love of Christ with whole families and communities not so they will leave where they are and come and join me, but so that those communities will be redeemed and become a part of HIS Kingdom. As I think about this paradigm shift it is huge. I don't want to condemn anyone who is serving our Lord in traditional ways but I think that God has blessed us in spite of our efforts not because of them. I think that too often we have built our own kingdoms and called them His when in fact, we remain in control and do what we see fit to do.

In our ministry here in Gondor I have seen two Churches planted that were not founded on the extraction model- just two. One, is in a remote village and continues to this day to transform the community it is a part of. The other was a traditional extraction model Church that has moved to become a Missional Church that reaches out with the Gospel to other communities and leaves people in those communities to continue to be a vibrant witness there. Both of these have problems but they are problems for the King to solve as He is in control of them and not me. I hope to continue to grow in my knowledge and proficiency of planting Missional Churches. I hope this not because I believe they are more effective but because I believe that they better give glory to our Lord who is the King of Kings and the redeemer of the communities of this world.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Oldest Daughter is 18 Today!

This post will be a little bit self-indulgent as I am making this a tribute to my daughter Luthien. The truth is that I could call it a 'Tribute to God's Grace' but I used that on the last post! So, Happy 18th Birthday, Luthien!

Luthien was born my last semester at Seminary in Texas. She is the only one of my four children who was born in the US. Her mother went back to work teaching High School science just three weeks after Luthien was born. I took care of her between classes and my Mom helped out the rest. I remember thinking as we drove home from the hospital with her, 'What are those doctors at the hospital thinking! I don't know anything about how to raise a child and they are letting me just walk away with her!' I went on to prove those words right any number of times. We really didn't know what we were doing. It is a wonder that any of our kids survived but I want to talk about Luthien today. She is not a normal child- maybe there are no normal children. Luthien was quite different from early on. She walked at nine months and we were proud of her. She could count to ten on her first birthday. She talked very well with an excellent vocabulary for her age and she had a brilliant imagination. She would talk constantly and to anyone and we thought we had a really special child. Then something changed when she was three. She kept talking but only to herself. We put her in Montessori school and she went more than two months before she acknowledged the teacher. The other kids would get very frustrated with her and could not understand why she would tell her stories constantly but never talk to them or acknowledge them. Her sister, Goldberry was almost two years younger than her and she would sometimes find herself in the story Luthien was telling but for the most part Luthien lived in her own world. She had an imaginary horse and an imaginary friend named Vanish. I thought Vanish was a pretty clever name for the imaginary friend of a three year old.

We then applied to the IMB to go oversees and serve the Lord in Middle Earth. When Luthien's Montessori teacher put on her evaluation that Luthien was the most 'different' child she had ever taught in 16 years of teaching the Board took notice. We had to have her tested for autism. The test was negative and we were appointed and went off to Middle Earth. My wife, Arwen began home schooling Luthien and put her through Kindergarten in about 7 months. Luthien loved to read and learned quickly. She played on the street with the other kids occasionally but refused to learn the local language. I told her that we would be here for a long time and that if she was going to be happy here she should learn the language. She said, 'Nope, I am going to teach them all English!' She tried. She did not like our new life for the most part. One day she came in and ask her mother why we were here. Arwen told her that we were here to tell people about Jesus. Luthien replied that Arwen should asked her language helper to tell her how to say 'Jesus loves you' in the local language so we could tell people that and go back home!

Transition was very difficult for Luthien. She did not know the food and would not eat it. I took to force feeding her as we really believed that she would starve to death if she didn't start eating. Culture shock hit us all pretty hard but Luthien was especially despondent as we finished our first year on the field. One day I came in and she was watching TV. I asked her if she wanted me to turn it on and she said, 'No, I'm fine.' She wasn't. Home Schooling was the biggest nightmare. She had learned to read quickly but writing and math was another story. Often I would come home and I would hear Arwen teaching Luthien in the back room, "Luthien, do the next problem. Are you looking at the problem, look at the problem, 4 plus 3, what is 4 plus 3, look at the page, Luthien, look. Are you looking? Say it with me, 4 plus 3, look at the page, no, Luthien, look are you looking. What is 4 plus 3?" I fled. This would go on for hours and hours a day. Most missionaries don't like to be referred to as heroes. Arwen is a hero. Period. Later we joined a home schooling cooperative. As Luthien grew she became more, not less, socially dysfunctional. We were at a loss. I blamed myself. I thought perhaps I had done something terrible to unbalance her. Luthien was constantly preoccupied. Her little mind would never stop working and as a result she wouldn't sleep through the night. I remember the first time she did sleep through the night. She was nine years old.

As Luthien grew her education issues became more pronounced. She was virtually incapable of writing anything down. It would take hours of badgering and heartache to get her to produce two or three sentences. I remember once she was practicing handwriting and she was supposed to do a row of 'P's. She drew one 'P' and then began telling a story about a princess. When Arwen came back in to check on her she had drawn just one 'P' and it had a hat and a flower. We felt like failures and Luthien just became more and more lost in her own little world. By the time she was 12 I really believed that she would never be able to survive a classroom setting and I had serious doubts that she would ever be able to grow up and live on her own.

That year, when she was 12 we went on home leave and had her tested- again. This time a man from a local school district agreed to see her. He spent just ten minutes with her and saw the problem immediately. He said she had Aspergers Syndrome. We had never heard of it. Apparently, there is some debate as to whether it is related to Autism but it has about half the characteristics of Autism. The cure? Well, there is no cure but there were a number of coping techniques. My wife and Luthien both wonder from time to time whether she actually has Aspergers but what I say is that the interventions for Aspergers work for her so I don't care what you call it- for the first time we knew somewhat how to deal with it. She cleaned up her room. Everything had to be in order. We made out a schedule and began to give her more order in her life. Also, she was depressed out of her mind because she never slept. We did not want to put her on medication so, we would make her go to bed- but we could not make her sleep. We decided then to let her sleep in. She would sleep in till ten or eleven sometimes but when she finally got up she would complete her school work in less than half the time she normally took and she was happy. Now, we live a lifestyle that is not good for people who need structure and dependability. But we did what we could and it made a huge difference.

When she was in 9th grade she said she wanted to go to boarding school. We really didn't think she could survive. We tried internet school but that was a complete disaster. Not only did we not have good internet but we are not nearly disciplined enough as a family to get through internet school. So, the next year we sent her to boarding school- three time zones away. We didn't know what would happen. I had visions of her sitting and reading a book and forgetting to go and eat and starving to death. But she thrived. It was hard. She learned some hard lessons socially, but she grew. She changed.

She also grew in her faith. She was baptized along with her sister when she was 12. Her sister, Goldberry, was very much ready and had made a firm commitment to Christ but Luthien was hard to figure out. She said she wanted to be baptized and she answered the questions right but what was she really thinking? We didn't know for sure but I decided we would baptize her as she requested and then make sure we kept on her about discipleship. It turned out to be the right decision. When Luthien went to boarding school she consistently made good decisions and showed wisdom in her choices about social things. When she was sixteen she asked permission to date- which at this boarding school I was required to give before students were allowed to date- and I gave it. I knew I could trust her to make good decisions and she proved me right. She had been pursued by a young man who was having a very difficult time. He was about ready to quit all his classes and drop out- or get thrown out of the school. Luthien encouraged him to study. He began to study as he realized if he got thrown out he would not be able to see Luthien any more. Luthien kept a level head throughout the relationship and as a result the young man graduated. He would like to have continued the relationship but Luthien had no interest in a long distance relationship and so she broke up with him. I was proud of her for making good decisions and having a very redeeming relationship with this young man. How many of your High School relationships were redemptive?

Luthien went on to graduate from Boarding School this last June and she is now half way through her gap year with us. She is taking language lessons and finally learning the local language. She is learning guitar. She has been accepted into Liberty University in Virginia and will start there next Fall. How proud of my 18 year old daughter am I? She has faced huge obstacles and succeeded. An evangelist has said, 'David without Goliath was just a shepherd boy.' Well, Luthien has faced several Goliaths and won. The other day we had a family over for dinner. They are friends of ours with another agency and they are struggling. Their daughter has Aspergers and the Mom is at her wits end. I invited Luthien to share some of her journey with them and she ministered to that family in remarkable ways. I was very proud of my articulate, intelligent, sensitive, spiritual daughter. She is 18 today but she has faced more difficulties than many twice her age and she has overcome. She will face many more obstacles and the road ahead will not be easy but this father is not worried. Our heavenly Father is guiding, directing and creating a future for Luthien that will be special and I am sure that she will persevere.
Keep growing in love and grace, Luthien!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Tribute to God's Grace

Our office manager has left us. I suppose that is a bad thing. For us, or for me it is a great tragedy as now I have to manage the office and try desperately to find a replacement before our entire operation implodes. But on the other hand maybe her leaving is not a bad thing. Not in the eternal perspective anyway. If I can take my eyes off of me for a second maybe her leaving is a great testimony to God's love and grace. Let me tell you her story and you can decide.

We started our aid agency in 1998 here in Gondor. I met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs guys filed the paperwork myself. It became clear really quickly that we needed a dependable national person to represent us to the Government and keep us in sync with the laws of Gondor. I was perfectly happy to hire non-believers for a number of positions but I really wanted our office manager to be a believer who would represent us well (with integrity and honesty, concepts that completely escape normal operations of business and Government here in Gondor). Now, interestingly enough our team had decided that we would not teach English here. We had taught English in other countries but had decided that the Boss was not leading us to teach it here. So, I was very surprised when after being here a whole five months that Gandalf and his wife came to me and asked to start an English Club. They said that the Boss wanted them to do this just this one time for a limited time- maybe six months. That is what they did. Gandalf said they were led to study the book of Job in English Club. Weird. They did it in obedience to what the Boss was saying and six months later three of the six English Club participants had become believers. You wont see that in any of the books on how to reach Muslims.

Gandalf's wife came to me and said that one of the young women who had become a believer would be a good office manager. I met with her but was not impressed. She was just out of University and she was from a small village outside Minas Tirith. She was so shy I could hardly hear anything she said which was not much. Her English was terrible and I didn't see how she could represent us to the Government or relate to other aid agencies. But there was no one else and the Boss was quite clear with me and with the team that she was the one He wanted in that position. So, in October of 1998 we hired Freedom as our office manager.

Our office was not too busy at first. Freedom spent all of her time studying English and talking to the office managers of other aid agencies to learn how we were to operate. She excelled. I was concerned that when it came to corrupt Government officials she would be overwhelmed but they loved her. She was quiet and non threatening to them so they would put their arm around her and say, 'don't worry dear little daughter we will get you what you need.' And she got our visas, our permissions for work, everything we needed. One day the secret police called her in. I remember when she came back from the meeting with them she came to my office and said, 'Strider, they asked me to be a patriot and spy on you and the agency for them. I told them I would.' I told her that was perfect. She should report to them all the good humanitarian aid work we were doing, and she did.

I told her that I wanted our office to be a place of blessing. Visitors should be warmly received and people with real needs should be prayed for. She was great at this. Within a year she was counseling with many people who would come in just to visit with her. She grew in grace and knowledge and was an inspiration to many. At the same time her family began to hassle her about getting married. It was past time now that she had graduated University for her to get married. She refused knowing that they would try and arrange a marriage with a Muslim man. This became a huge strain on her. She really wanted to get married but there were no available Christian men to marry- and I doubt her family would have agreed to such a marriage anyway. So, she remained single at a cost to herself that I am sure that I can't comprehend. She is a very beautiful young woman, over thirty years old now and virtually un-marriageable. I can see it in her eyes sometimes- the hurt and loneliness of that decision- I pray there is someone for her some day but I believe that she has given up on marriage entirely.

About four years ago now Freedom called us. We were to go to the village immediately because her mother had died. Her mother had in the last year accepted Jesus and become a believer which was a great comfort to Freedom especially as her mother protected her from the rest of her family in her decision not to get married. Now her mother was gone. The whole aid agency crew went out to the funeral. We were shocked by what we saw. Freedom met us at the door wailing frantically. This is traditional in Gondor but there was something wrong here. She was not wailing for tradition's sake. She was despondent and without hope in a way I had never seen anyone before. The loss of her mother shattered her in ways I could not understand. Local believers including her pastor could not understand it either. Freedom's faith was utterly devastated. She was a broken shell of a person. When she finally came back to work she would sit despondent. She never smiled. She was depressed beyond recognition and she blamed God for it all. She stopped going to Church. She did not counsel or pray with anyone anymore. She did her job- very inefficiently- and went back to the village to mourn. Traditionally this can last a year.

After one year however, nothing changed. We did not know what to do or how to help her. She did not want help and she would not talk about anything personal with any of us. Her Church which she helped start and lead went on without her. I would have been surprised if this lasted two weeks, as it was she did not come out of her depression for over two years. That is a long time to stay down. Last year however, she came in the office and she smiled. Slowly, she came back to us. One of her good friends turned from following Jesus and returned to Islam and then married a Muslim man. Freedom counseled her against this and then when her friend did it anyway Freedom continued to counsel her and help her. I was surprised and impressed.

This last Spring Freedom asked me if she could go on a special one month training opportunity. This training was for women to better minister to women in crisis. I gave her permission wondering if this would help her in her recovery or if I was just being taken advantage of. We often wonder this, you know. When are giving someone the chance they need and when are you indulging in someone who is lazy and useless. Freedom still was not going to Church but I took the chance. She went and when she came back she was on fire again to do ministry. She was praying with people and sharing with them again. Last week she asked if she could talk with me and I went to her office. She handed me her resignation letter and said that it was time for her to move on. I knew immediately that this was the right thing. It hurts us- and me in particular- very badly. I don't have another office manager and we are in the middle of a lot of work including reregistration with the Ministry of Justice. But the Boss is telling me that this is right. It is time for her to grow, to change, to serve elsewhere. I have every confidence that she will become someone very important in the Kingdom. I have been privileged to work with her this far and I pray that I have been a blessing to her, that I have been everything the Boss wanted me to be to encourage and grow her as she was becoming more and more His servant, His child, His Bride.