Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Avoiding Fear in the Midst of Turbulent Times

Our office administrator needs prayer. She is really struggling with a difficult family situation and she is running out of options. She is a 25 year old single woman who has been a follower of Jesus for over five years. She has worked in our office since February this year and she is very beautiful, intelligent, and spiritual. Why we can't find any Christian young men for her is beyond me. One of her Church elders has tried all year without success. Now her parents have decided that she needs to be taught a lesson and the best way to straighten her out is to marry her off to the most difficult Muslim man they can find. In case you thought your life was tough in any way let me give you a window on hers. She comes home every night to her family who tells her that it is painful for them to look at her. They yell at her and demean her as much as they can because they hate her faith in Jesus. She goes into her room with her cat and shuts the door every evening because she is not welcome to sit with the family. Every month she gives them her whole paycheck and she obeys them in everything they tell her to do- even when they forbid her to go and meet with believers on Sundays, which they do frequently. I met with her the other day and she was really discouraged and on the verge of panic. She had had a horrific fight with her Mom who said that she must marry this latest Muslim guy. She met with the guy and he told her she would have to quit work, renounce her faith, and stay at home. He told her to 'say goodbye to your western clothes and your friends'. Like all young girls in the city she wears western style dresses but there is a move towards a much more radical Islamic society here. The Government is fighting it but losing. Anyway, in response to her desperate situation I was reminded of a story. I will tell you what I told her.

We met Elanor over ten years ago. She was a translator on a medical project for our aid agency. She worked with a woman doctor from the West for a couple of years. During that time she became a follower of Jesus. Her parents did not know it and she kept her faith a secret for a long time. I don't remember how they found out but when they did it was bad. We did not know that they did not know about her faith. If we knew the situation we would have counseled her differently because I hate the secret believer situation and we have always worked against it. Elanor's father was a diabetic and had some serious complications as a result. The Western doctor gave him free medical care for a year but it did not help the situation. They took Elanor and locked her in her room. Her father would come home everyday from work and beat her pretty severely. Then her grandfather would read her the Koran every night. They took away her Bible, they forbid her to meet with her friends, they never let her out. This went on for months. She had one girlfriend who would sneak up to her outside window and talk, pray, and encourage her. She was even able to smuggle in a Bible but it was later found. That had really terrible consequences as you can imagine. Elanor has one of the most beautiful smiles you have ever seen. She literally radiates joy and light. This drove her family crazy. Literally. As the beatings and the harassment went on she became more and more despondent. One day, as she was crying after a particularly bad beating she called out to God and asked where He was in all of this. "Why can't I hear you anymore? Where are you, God?" Just then she heard a voice in the room. An audible voice that said in her native language of Rohan (Yes, God speaks Rohan apparently!), "It is because of your fear that you can not hear me. Fear drowns out my voice." She dedicated herself to trusting Him entirely after that. She needed to because after that the beatings grew worse and the threats to kill her increased and became much more credible. Finally, she escaped and stayed hidden in the village of her friend for three months. When she came back her mother was very grateful to have her return and said there would be no more beatings and no more discussion of her faith if only she would stay. They honored that and she lived with them for a time. Then she went to the West and did a year in a Bible College. I hate it when this happens because very often people don't come back and if they do they have a Western expression of the faith that makes no sense to their home country. Elanor did come back and immediately realized the barriers she would have to overcome. She has overcome them and now she dresses very traditionally and expresses her faith in a very culturally appropriate way. She married a very fine young man who is a sincere follower of Jesus. He probably has as beautiful smile as she does. They work together in a village to the south and the way they radiate Jesus is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in Middle Earth.

But for our office administrator we are at the beginning of this story. She has a long road ahead and many trials. The same Jesus who was with Elanor is with her and I am confident that His glory will be made known in wonderful ways in this situation.... as long as fear is silenced.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Walking by Faith with the One Who is Faithful

This is going to be a complicated post with two major parts. Sorry, but I have a good story to tell and some issues to get off my chest. Let's start with the story.
Our local accountant had a premature baby last week. The little lady is just short of 3 pounds and is in an incubator in Hospital Number One. Arwen and I went to see her the other day and had a nice visit. Coming down the stairs from the fourth floor (why do they make pregnant women walk to the fourth floor?) I was reminded of Arwen's second miscarriage in 1997. It was a difficult time for a lot of reasons. In 1997 Minas Tirith was reeling from the end of the civil war. Warlords vied for control with armed gangs of men harassing everyone in sight. In November of 1997 a small gang took a Western couple hostage and eventually the lady was killed in a rescue attempt. Our NGO that was run by another agency at the time was in an uproar with broken relationships everywhere and lots of conflict. The Country of Gondor had nothing and was on the verge of being a failed state. Our team was working hard to help people and share Jesus with all who would listen. It was then that we got word that my supervisor was coming to visit. We were sure he would make us evacuate. We tried to make contingency plans to demonstrate that we were being careful. We varied our routes and times as we traveled and I walked around my car to inspect it before getting into it every time I went some where. Having said that we were never afraid and we went places that in hind sight was probably quite dangerous. Arwen was 14 weeks pregnant when my boss was due to arrive. The day before he came she began bleeding. Then she miscarried. She still cooked for us. There was a lady doctor from the West working with our NGO and she took Arwen to Hospital Number One for a D and C. The local medical system was totally nonfunctional but the doctor was able to get some things together and we took Arwen the to Hospital and walked her to the fourth floor. She had a shot of something to deaden pain and make her sleepy. She had the D and C and then, since it was November and it was darn cold outside and inside we took her home. As she started down the stairs I helped her and I said, 'Are you ok, are you still drugged?' She said she was fine. Then she collapsed and very fortunately I caught her. I picked her up in my arms and carried her the rest of the way down the stairs. When we reached the lobby there were ten chairs and more than 20 people there. I stood with Arwen semi-conscious in my arms. I told the doctor to get her car and pull it around front and I would wait here out of the rain. I was concerned that I would have to stand but when I turned back around the room was empty. Those folks did not know what was wrong with that foreign woman and they didn't want to know! I sat down in one of the many empty seats and waited for the car. The other day I told Arwen that I would write up this story but I didn't really have a spiritual point to make. She was quite surprised. She said, 'What are talking about? God provided everything we needed right when we needed it. Gondor was a mess and had nothing and yet when we needed it we had a doctor, and medicine, and support from good friends.' Well, of course she is right. God did all that and more. He always does.

So, on to my rant. A guy came to me the other day from Mordor. He said he needed help to get to the West. I asked him his story and this is what he told me.
"I am a family practice doctor from Mordor. I work with a couple of foreign doctors and I am now a believer. Only my wife knows this and I think my father a little bit. Last week my father found my Bible. He accused me of being a Christian but I denied it and said no, a lot of people want to read this book. He said no, you are a Christian I think. So, I went to the Gondor consulate that day and told them I had to leave immediately, could they get me a visa. They said no, but some guys outside the consulate sold me a visa for $800. Now my family- wife and two children- are here. We have registered with the Gondor Officials and now we have no money left. I can not get work here legally and I don't know what to do."
I asked him, 'Did anyone threaten you? I don't understand, didn't your father help you leave?' No, no one threatened him but being a known believer is a big problem in Mordor. He had to leave. I suggested that he return and he was terrified of the idea. That was out of the question.

Now, let me be clear here. I have no sympathy for this guy. Maybe I should but I don't. If you want to tell me that you are afraid ok. But if you start to tell me that the situation is hopeless I have a big problem with that. Mordor, this situation- and your situation- are not bigger than God. Is life tough? You bet it is. Can I promise that man that if he has faith then no harm will come to him or his family? Nope, I can't and I won't. But our God is faithful. He will walk through even the Valley of Shadow of Death with us. He has walked there with me more than once. Running away is not the answer to anything. Recently a friend of mine asked me what he should do in a very difficult situation and I told him. 'I don't know what you should do but the answer lies with faith. Whatever takes more faith is what pleases God and so I think you should do whatever it takes you more faith to do.' Dangerous advice perhaps but it is based not on our ability to see, understand, or act. It is based on God who is faithful. Any act of faithlessness on our part is not an indictment of our own weakness it is an accusation. When we fail to act because of faithlessness we are accusing God of being smaller than our problems and faithless to act. He is not small or faithless. Stand and see His salvation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Arwen On Joy

Most husbands, if they have any sense at all brag on their wives occasionally. I don't do this near as much as Arwen deserves so today I am posting a paper she wrote recently that surprised me. A friend of ours asked her to give advice to some struggling folks about finding joy. Rather than a three sentence e-mail reply about having hobbies or getting enough exercise this is what Arwen wrote.

Keeping Joy Alive

Before thinking about how to keep joy alive, I decided that I had better look up the definition of the word joy. Paul tells us in 1 Thess 5:16 to be joyful always, and follows with the equally challenging command – pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.

From Webster:
Joy – 1. a very glad feeling; happiness, great pleasure, delight 2. anything causing such feeling 3. the expression or showing of such feeling.

Enjoy – 1. to have or experience with joy; get pleasure from; relish

Enjoy oneself – to have a good time; have pleasure

Rejoice – to be glad, happy or delighted; be full of joy

What gives joy?
Here are some things that bring joy according to Scripture:
1. The Lord and His presence. Ps4:7 “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” See also Ps 28:7, Ps 21:6
2. Ps 19:8 “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”
3. Our children. Prov 23:24,25 and Prov 27:11
4. Seeing justice done. Prov 21:15
5. People being healed and evil spirits being driven out. Acts 4:8
6. Coming to faith. Acts 16:34 (the jailer)
7. Salvation. 1 Peter 1:8,9 “…you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” See also Luke 10:20
8. Finding others walking in the truth. 2 John 4
9. Being with other believers. 1 John 12
10. Other believers. I Thess 2:19,20; I Thess 3:9
11. When we know that people know about Jesus. I John 1:4
12. Being in the right place. The Israelites “joy was complete” when they returned from exile. Neh 8:17
13. A cheerful look from others. Prov 15:30
14. When others are concerned about us. 2 Cor 7:7
15. The love of friends. 2 Tim 1:4; Philemon 7
16. Perfume and incense Prov 27:9

There are many other references to joy in the Scriptures, not to mention all the references about rejoicing.

My thoughts about things that bring joy
Prov 21:15 says that “when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous…” When I read that I recognized that the opposite of that is also true, that when injustice is done it brings heartache. In this country we see a lot of injustice. People are treated unfairly and wrongly accused every day. For me, that is one thing that makes living here so difficult. I see people being treated unjustly and there is nothing that I can do about it.
We can see what other things steal our joy by looking at the opposites of other verses. For example not being in the Lord’s presence, not being with other believers, and not receiving cheerful looks can bring us down. There are so many things that can steal our joy. When we live in places that are unjust, or where we don’t receive cheerful looks or when there are no other believers then I think we have to focus on other things that can bring joy.
The presence of the Lord gives us joy. That is something that other people can’t take away from us. We cannot flee from the presence of the Lord. (See Psalm 139) Psalm 118: 24 says “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day we can start the day by rejoicing that the Lord has made another day and we have been given another day of life. When I feel down I like to put on some praise music and turn the volume up. Also finding some quiet time to read my Bible or a devotional when the kids are busy doing other things can lift my spirits.
We can rejoice when we hear about others coming to faith. I used to get very discouraged when other team members were able to spend more time out building relationships while I was at home taking care of kids and schooling them. For years, when people asked me how they could pray for me I asked that I would be able to prioritize the way God wanted me too. I always felt that I should be doing more. Over the years I have learned that being at home with my children was an important role for me at this time in my life. Now that our youngest is almost 5 and we no longer have babies or toddlers I am looking forward to going out more with my husband to villages and to see the work and have opportunities to share with ladies. The concept of team is so important in keeping our joy. I can rejoice because others on our team have been able to start churches. I can also rejoice when our local co-workers and friends share about people giving their hearts to Jesus. It is easy to get discouraged when we don’t see the fruit of our labor, or when we hear about how many are coming to faith in other parts of the world. But this is just one way that Satan works against us. When we hear of things happening in other countries or in other cities in our countries, or even amongst other teams in our city, our response should be to be joyful. It is all the Lord’s work. We may not see the results of our work here on earth, but our reward is in heaven. When we get those “really cool stories” in the e-mail we should rejoice with our friends that they are seeing some fruit.
Children are a joy and a gift from the Lord. Seeing them grow and learn brings us joy. We need to enjoy the time that we get to spend with them. Wise children also bring joy. It is important for us to teach our children how to be wise. Teaching our children is important and we should not feel like we are failing if we spend a lot of time investing in our children.
Another thought about children - it is hard for us when we see that our children are not happy. Where we live there are very few English speaking kids. We have seen that many kids who come here when they are young are able to make local friends. But these friendships are usually harder to maintain during the teenage years. For one thing, the level of language needed to communicate is higher, but more than that, our kids just don’t have the same interests. Our kids have more knowledge because of their opportunity to travel and because of the things that they learn in school, and the local kids don’t have the same base of knowledge. We have seen many families (especially from other organizations) leave the field when their kids hit the teenage years because they see the need for their teens to be with other teens. We have learned (or maybe we are still trying to learn) not to be judgmental when we see the decisions that others make concerning their teens. Each family is different and there is not a magical formula that will work for all families. What we did is to send our teenagers to boarding school. Although it is difficult for us not seeing our children every day, we rejoice that they are getting the education and social skills that are necessary for them. So, I feel joyful when I know that my kids are joyful.
And, also on the subject of family, a good relationship with our spouse can, and should, bring us joy. We need to make sure that we keep this relationship healthy and take time for each other. We can encourage each other during the days when we don’t feel so joyful. I rejoice that I have a good relationship with my husband. We have fun together and enjoy being together.
Being with other believers gives us joy. We make sure to schedule time just to have fun with other international (i.e. not local) believers. We get together every two weeks on a Friday night to have dinner and play games with another American family that are our good friends. Additionally, we meet for worship with other foreigners and for prayer with our team. We like to have people over for dinner and make a point to have the families of the other English-speaking kids over often. I don’t think this takes away from our relationships with the nationals; it gives us the balance that we need and helps us to maintain our joy so that we have more energy for our national friends. Just like with our teenagers, our national friends don’t usually enjoy the same things that we do, for example, they don’t play games. When we are with other foreigners that understand us better we can receive those joyful looks and feel the love and encouragement that bring us joy.
Being with national believers also gives us joy. We love those opportunities when we can visit a local church, do Bible studies, have local believers over for dinner or visit in their homes. I can’t say it better than Paul does to the Thessalonians. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy…How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Other thoughts
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Gal 5:22,23 Also, in I Thess 1:6, Paul says to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” We can receive joy from the Holy Spirit. Just as we can pray for more patience or love, we can also pray for more joy.
James tells us to “consider it pure joy …whenever you face trials”. (James 1:2) Not just joy, but pure joy! It certainly is not easy to feel joyful when we are faced with trials. But why should we consider it joy? In the following verses we get the answer – we will be mature and complete. In times when it is hard to feel joyful because there are too many trials, maybe we need to focus on the future and rejoice that we are being made into a better person through it all – mature and complete.

Thanks Arwen.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Brief Tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin

The good folks over at SBCImpact have asked me to write for them from time to time which I consider an honor. I wrote this for them a couple of weeks ago and since I have been slow to post anything new here I will repost this for the benefit of those who did not see it on SBC Impact. I have several good stories to tell and hopefully will get time to write them down soon. In the meantime here is my tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin who recently announced his plans for retirement as my boss.

Dr. Jerry Rankin has announced that he is retiring as the President of the International Mission Board as of July of 2010. I will tell you right up front that I am a big fan of Dr. Rankin. I was a pastor in West Virginia when Dr. Parks resigned. I was very concerned that the mission that Southern Baptists were on was going to be sidelined. We needed a peacemaker who could come in and assure everyone that the then FMB was going to be both conservative and effective. From the first vote there was controversy, but I believed then and have believed ever since that Jerry Rankin was the man God had for this position for this time.

Now, history according to Strider is a little different than history according to… well, everyone else. So, here is a part of the story you may not have heard that defines what I love about the Rankins. Keith Parks had a passionate vision to get to the unreached of the world. Missiologists had talked for a century or more about the need to get the Gospel where it had never been heard before but done little. Dr. Parks worked hard to realign our resources to get where we had never been before. But he was a bull in a china shop and the constant fighting with Trustees and everyone else made him less effective than he should have been. Maybe that is not fair, I am not his judge. I just know that when Dr. Rankin took over the FMB was split into two odd shaped entities. Traditional mission stations still flourished in a few dozen countries- though the vast majority of our resources were in Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Then there was CSI. Cooperative Services International was developed by Brit Towery to reach into Communist China. It was appropriated against his will to become what was then described as the ‘humanitarian arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.’ CSI became a platform to get Christian workers to all kinds of countries that would not allow traditional missionaries with traditional missionary visas to go. It was new and it was exciting and it grew like crazy under the leadership of some of the most remarkable men of faith I have ever known. Within a few years it had three regions spanning the length of the 10/40 window. It had a linear organizational structure and it moved fast and efficiently when opportunities arose to get personnel into formerly ‘closed’ countries.

There were lots of problems with all of this but the relavant one to list here is that Dr. Rankin hated it. CSI was like an estranged relative in the FMB family. Its personnel were all ultra security conscious, some early Strategy Coordinators would not even tell the home office where they were because they believed they would compromise their security. They were probably right! The fight was on. I was appointed CSI by the way, and I still love the ethos that we had- and in some places still have. In 1997 Dr. Rankin instituted New Directions. When we first got word of this we thought our work was finished. CSI was disolved. We would be platformless in the middle of hostile territory. As we read and reread the e-mails the truth began to dawn on us however. CSI didn’t disappear, it took over! The ethos and linear structure of CSI was placed on the whole new IMB. I didn’t understand it at first but later came to a startling conclusion. Dr. Rankin hated CSI and had constant conflict with its Regional Leader but when it came time to reorganize he did what he always did. He got on his knees and asked God what He wanted. I am sure no one was more surprised at the answer than Jerry. He had wanted to reorganize to get rid of an administrative and relational irritant but heard God say much more than he bargained for. But when Jerry Rankin hears from God he moves in faith to do it regardless of the price to be paid by himself or anyone else. He swallowed his pride and reorganized. It could have been done better. No one- least of all Dr. Rankin- denies that. One problem was that while Dr. Rankin swallowed his pride the Regional Leader of CSI could not reconcile with him and work with him. If he had taken the VP slot offered him everything would have been different but it didn’t happen that way.

Dr. Jerry Rankin is a man of prayer, a man of passion for God and His glory, a man of humility and grace. When 9/11/2001 shook America he took a lot of phone calls some loudly demanding that we remove our personnel from those ‘dangerous places.’ Some insisted that Dr. Rankin not allow their loved ones to serve in those dangerous Muslim countries. He replied that that is where his own daughter was serving! He walks his talk. Dr. Rankin has now walked us through another reorganization which streamlines our support process. Through it all he never shies away from conflict, he never sways from what God is calling him to do, and he never fails to be exceedingly gracious as he does it. I am very proud to serve with this man and his wife who deserves her own post or three written about her. As long as Southern Baptist produce men and women of God like this I want to be known as a Southern Baptist.

Thank you Dr. Rankin, for your service, your example, and your perseverance. You are welcome here in Middle Earth anytime.