On Mission

Seeking to Be a Disciple and Make Disciples

Lessons Learned with LST in Romania

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I try to always be alert to the lessons that the Lord is teaching me each day. However, I have to admit, I am often a very poor student. I tend to a better student when I am in a new culture and meeting new people. Here are a few lessons I learned during our recent Let’s Start Talking project in Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania. 

  • The Power of the Story of Jesus – I often fall into the trap of believing that the word of God needs my help. I unfortunately am tempted to put more trust in my illustrations, explanations and abilty to teach the word of God. The simple but powerful method we utilized in Romania was simply reading together from the Bible, the Story of Jesus. Questions, comments and discussions that took place during our reading sessions reminded me once again, I am simply a tool, a vessel, a jar of clay in God’s hands (2 Corinthians 4:7). The power is in the good news message that God has given to me (Romans 1:16-17). One of my readers was a young man named Gabriel (I have his permission to use his story). Gabriel is 17 and in his senior year of high school. He is from an Orthodox background. I was impressed with his spiritual insights. He shared with me his perspective of the “big story.” In his view various Christian groups may have their own story that may differ some, however he said, “We all share one big story that is most important.” I asked him to tell me the “big story.” He said, “it is exactly what we are reading about, the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He is the ‘big story.'”  I seem to have read that in Paul’s writings as well. Paul resolved to know nothing while he was with the Corinthians expect Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
  • The Importance of Relationships – One of the friends I met and read with for two weeks in Romania was a single woman who worked at night at the local newspaper. She sadly was estranged from her sister and would only see her mother briefly each week. She did not want to read at first thinking that her English was not good enough. I convinced her to give it a try. She understood more than she could speak. During a conversation about the “friends of Jesus.” I asked her about her friends. She said, “I do not have any friends. That is one of the reasons why I like coming to read with your group. I enjoy having someone to listen to me and to talk to each day.” I had fun with her as she could not stop laughing at her confusion over English numbers. I will continue to pray for her that she will come to know Jesus as her friend and as He brings her into a relationship with a loving family. I thought about hours we may spend in planning, strategizing, preparing and talking about reaching out to the world. Somewhere in all of that talk, I need to return to one on one relatiohships with people who just need a friend and need to be introduced to the Best of Friends. 
  • The Joy of Ministering with Family – My wife, Sherry works with Let’s Start Talking (LST) as their Project Site Coordinator. I have known of and partnered with LST for years. However, seeing more of the inside of the ministry, I have even gained a greater respect for this simple and powerful method of “sharing Jesus and sharing ourselves.” It is one method of helping people find a way to connect with others and share their faith in Jesus.  Our son, Ryan has been serving in Prato, Italy for the last year and a half as a part of the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program. Mike and Anto Mahan are the missionaries who coordiante Ryan’s work along with his four teammates. It has been a good and challenging experience for Ryan. Mike and Anto gave Ryan and his teammate, Josie Collins permission to join Sherry and I in the two week LST project.  It was a good experience for us all. Working, praying, cooking, planning and sharing together was an encouraging experience. We all took a step outside of our comfort zone and grew to be a little more like Jesus because of it. I have a wonderful wife who has been side-by-side with me through 28 years of marriage and ministry. God is blessing us at this stage of our life and family to find new ways to  challenge ourselves and grow in ministry together. 
  • The Strength of Faithful Christians – We worked with and met with the brothers and sisters of the Agape Church in Sfantu, Gheorghe. They may be small in number but they are faithful in spirit and in their walk with the Lord. We were encouraged by Maria as she would come by each day to read with Sherry. However, she only wanted to read if we had the time. She did not want to take the time away from someone else with whom we could be reading the gospe.l Stafan served us in multiple ways by picking us up in Bucharest, waiting for seven hours as one of our teammates flight was delayed and driving through the night so we could join the family of God on Sunday. As we sang in Romanian, Hungarian adn English with the church for the two Sundays we enjoyed being with them, I thought of the multitudes of faithful Christians around the globe, seeking to live faithfully as salt and light in a dark world. I was reminded that the only responsibilty of a steward entrusted with the story of Jesus is to be faithful to the task ( 1 Corinthians 4:1-5). We cannot control the results. We are simply to remain faithful to the task that God has given us. Learn the lessons along the way as God transforms us into His image. 

May I continue to allow these lessons to change me, transform me and conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. Thank you Lord for the opportunity to learn and grow with you.

More of the Story

This morning in my reading and in our LST devotional, I was impressed with Psalm 19:1-2 in the Easy to Read Version, “The heavens tell about the glory of God. The skies announce what his hands have made.  Each new day tells more of the story, each night reveals more and more about God’s power.”  

I  know the context is refering to God’s creation, the sun and moon, as they give witness to God and His power. However, as I read it, I not only heard that message but I was encouraged to be open to what God has in store for me this day. I thought ahead to the activities of the day and realized that this day and the experiences ahead will tell me more of the story. The night will remind me of God’s power, grace and peace. This day, I want to be a student.I want to be open to God’s work in me, through me and around me. I want God to add to His story in my life. 

Let’s Start Talking in Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania

The First Report from our Let’s Start Taking Project in Romania.

Thanks to all for the prayers. We made it safely and well to Sfantu Gheorge (St. George), Romania. Our son, Ryan was flying in from Florence via Rome, his teammate Josie Collins was flying in from spending a couple of days in Germany with friends. When Sherry and I arrived on time in Bucharest, Josie was waiting for us. Ryan was to arrive an hour later. Stefan, a good brother from St. George arrived to pick us up and drive us the 3+ hours to the site. When Ryan did not arrive, I had to connect my iPhone to see if he had tried to contact us. His flight from Florence to Rome was canceled, so Alitalia put him on a bus to travel the four hours to Rome so he could catch a late flight out of Rome. He arrived in Bucharest about 1am. We waited the 5+ hours in a McDonalds (free parking and wifi). Stefan thought it best to go ahead and drive through the night to St. George. We arrived at 4 am and enjoyed 4 hours of sleep before we joined the church this morning for their celebration. God was good to take care of us in the journey and we enjoyed the time to visit, play cards and relax.

This morning was so encouraging with the church. They are accustomed to LST groups coming regularly and they are so welcoming and encouraging. We enjoyed singing in three languages Romanian, Hungarian and English. I was able to share a message during the Lord’s Supper with Stefan translating and I later thought, “we had two very tired, sleepy men trying to speak and translate without much available brain power.” I know some of you will say that it normal for me! J

We had fun finding our way around this beautiful city. We have our information session with the readers tomorrow afternoon and begin reading on Tuesday. The apartment we are staying in is very comfortable and has all we need. A trip to the store has stocked the cupboards, so we are ready to go! Thank you for the prayers. Pray for Sherry, Josie, Ryan and me that we share Jesus and share ourselves with those we read with this week.

Pasir Panjang Family Camp

In Malaysia, outside of Kuala Lumpur the PP Church of Christ in Singapore gathered for their 18th Annual Family Camp. I was honored to speak four times on the Communion, Community and Commission of the church. The Pasir Panjang church is a very unique and healthy church. Henry Kong, their minister has been with the church from it’s beginning 45+ years ago. The church has five elders, many active servant leaders and a spirit of local and global missions.

One of the exciting elements of their camp is the foreign missionaries they bring in to share in the experience. Brothers and sisters from Myanmar, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India and Bangladesh attended the camp. These missionaries shared in a World Cafe, where they set up tables showing how God is at work in their ministry. Members went from table to table hearing about God’s work around Asia. I see the PP church as following the example of NT Churches like Antioch and Ephesus as they impact their region for the kingdom.

I don’t know that I have been around such a group who are as hungry and thirsty to be obedient disciples. Of course, they have their weaknesses as we all do. However, I see that God is being glorified through the church that meets on Pasir Panjang Road in Singapore.

Mama Prays

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This Father's Day I am missing my family. I am in Singapore and have participated with the Pasir Panjang church of Christ in their Family Camp in Malaysia. It was a wonderful experience (more on the camp later). This Father's Day I am rededicating myself to "wrestle in prayer" for my family (Colossians 4:2,12). I want to recommit myself to pray signficant transformational prayers for the spiritual growth of my family. Chris Rice sings a song called Mama Prays that touches me and reminds me of the power of a parent's consistent prayer!

Mama Prays

My memories of my brothers and me
Make me marvel at the way the years went by
Here we are, how'd we ever get this far?
I wonder how, and I wonder why
Then I recall what these boys often saw
When we would stop to look in Mom and Daddy's door
They'd bow their heads while they knelt beside their bed
And we could hear them lift our names before the Lord

(Chorus)
Mama prayed and Jesus stood beside us
Daddy prayed and the devil had to run
God looked down, and His angels guarded through the harder days
'Cause Mama prayed and Daddy prayed

Now the boys are grown raising boys of their own
In a world a little darker than before
But the prayers go on every night and every dawn
'Cause they still bow and lift our names before the Lord

Mama prays and Jesus stands beside me
Daddy prays and the devil has to run
God looks down and His angels guard me through the harder days
'Cause Mama prays and Daddy prays

Chris Rice
Mama Prays Lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/

On Mission Down Under

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I have been traveling with Alan Phillips in Australia and New Zealand. It has been a full, eventful and fruitful trip. Our first stop was Sydney, Australia. We had an enjoyable time with Cory, Emily and Enoch Mullins in Wollongong, outside of Sydney. They are on a mission team with Jason, Nicole, Ella and Noah Whaley, who are in the States on furlough. I was impressed with their perseverance in seeking people of peace and finding ways to engage the culture and community.

Next we traveled to Gosford, just north of Sydney. We stayed with Craig and Tomya Peters, who are directing the Short Term Australian Missions Program (STAMP). It is an apprentice training program for college age men and women. The Peters were great hosts. I enjoyed preaching and teaching at the Gosford Church of Christ on Sunday. They truly are a wonderful family of God, hungry for the truth and seeking to join God in His mission of kingdom expansion in Australia and in their world. Meeting with the Shepherds and the ministry team was a joy. I loved hearing of their dreams and plans they are submitting to the Lord.

On Sunday afternoon there was a birthday party reception held for Maxine Klingenberg. Maxine and her husband Don have been long time missionaries in Australia and are loved by so many. I was overwhelmed to see so many who had traveled from so many places and churches around Australia to come and honor the work of God through the Klingenbergs. I connected with a few former AIM students and met HIM apprentice workers and campaigners from Oklahoma Christian. I was touched to see Christians coming together from all over Australia. They obviously have a love for one another and a desire to be united for God’s glory.

One of the other highlights of my time in Gosford was having lunch with Peter and Marina Gray.  They shared with us interesting statistical information about the status of the church in Australia. I was encouraged to see growth and stability in several congregations.  I believe that God is doing something special among his people in Australia.

Our time in Australia was short but a blessing to my life and ministry. I pray that God will use his people Down Under to expand his kingdom in ways beyond what we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Learning Lessons in Italy

One of the greatest blessings in my recent trip to Prato, Italy was the lessons I learned from the Lord as I saw Him at work through His people. I naturally enjoyed seeing how God is at work in Ryan’s life. I see that Ryan is growing in his trust and confidence in the Lord. I see him growing as a servant to influence others for the Lord. I see him growing to be more dependent upon the Lord and more interdependent in his relationships with others. I also enjoyed visiting with the missionaries and the AIM coordinators in Prato, Mike and Anto Mahan. Mike is an ex-AIMer who was in school at Sunset about the time Sherry and I returned from Mexico. Anto is Italian and does a wonderful job of encouraging, mothering and helping the AIM team with language and cultural learning. I enjoyed my talks with Mike and Anto. It reminds me that often those of us in ministry, particularly in mission work need to talk to others who share our ministry experience. Mike has been laboring in Italy for over 15 years and is one of the longest serving missionaries now in the country even though he is from a younger generation. I also enjoyed listening how God has worked in the lives of Roger and Heather Mahan who serve in Pistoia. I was so encouraged to hear of their faithfulness even through difficult and lonely times. I have great respect for missionaries who are faithful and persevering.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned came from the AIM team itself; Shae Baker, Josie Collins, Osiris Hernandez, Ryan Jarboe and Matt Tracy. I spent time with them in a devotional on their day off. They encouraged me with their joyful, heart-felt singing and I was instructed through their insight into Scripture as they read 1 Peter and shared what God was teaching them through the text. I heard them apply the word of God to their lives as they saw those who were aliens and strangers, yet called to live faithful, holy and Christ-like lives in a world that is not their own. I listened with a strong sense of humility realizing I was in the midst of people truly living for the Lord, struggling to be obedient disciples.

I was able to understand some of the Italians using a mix of Spanish, Italian, English and pure guess work. I was encouraged by their passion for word of God and for their service to one another. I smiled as one of the sisters came to me and pointed to Ryan and made sure I knew that he is a “good boy, doing a good work with the church.” A parent needs to hear comments like that every once and while.

I praise God for the lessons learned through my brothers and sisters laboring in Prato, Italy. God is at work in His kingdom.  I want to continue to learn the lessons He wants to teach me.

Roma Termini

It was an unexpected trip. Sherry and I are planning to visit Ryan in Italy later this year in September. However, I had a couple of trips that were planned for March and April that were postponed, so Sherry felt that Ryan and I needed to spend some time together Sherry is busy getting the preparation done for Let’s Start Talking Teams to go to the field to share Jesus and themselves with people around the globe. She could not take time away from her ministry, so she made the sacrifice.  She made the decision since I was not traveling for ministry that I needed to travel for family. She quickly got on the internet, used some of our mileage and said, “Here are your tickets leaving on the 5th of April and returning on the 13th, I am about to purchase them.” When you wife says you are going to Italy to see your son, one does not argue!

I flew into Rome and Ryan had given me instructions on how to take a train from the airport to the main train terminal in Rome where he would meet me. On the short train ride, I did what I general do on foreign trips, I wrote a prayer in my journal asking the Lord to use me, teach me and accomplish His will on the trip. I had just finished that journal entry and looked out the window and saw the sign that said, Roma Termini. I will never forget the feeling, my heart jumped and all I could say was “I am going to see my son!” It has been almost a year and it will be over a year until Sherry sees Ryan. My wife had given me a special blessing that even I did not know how much I needed, to see my son and see how God is at work in his life.

It has been awesome to be in Rome, Prato and today going to Florence. However, the greatest blessing has been to be with my son, his mission team, his coordinators and the church in Prato. I have seen growth take place through trials, through being surrounded by good people and through time in the word and prayer. I praise God for a wonderful wife, willing to make a sacrifice and a son growing in the Lord.


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“Culture Shock” Often Has Little to Do with “Culture”

You would think that moving from Lubbock, Texas to Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas would not bring any culture shock at all. That is where you are wrong.  What we call culture shock can have little to do with culture itself.  Culture Shock is “generally defined as a psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own.”  I don’t want to diminish the significant of the cultural adjustment that missionaries and other experience by moving to a distinct and different culture from their own. There are very significant challenges in such a move. However, I want to also understand that inherit in this culture shock experience is the sense of loss or even grief that one experiences in a move from one place which has been a place providing security and identity to a new place yet to provide those needs of belonging and purpose.

Sherry and I have enjoyed a very significant relationship with people in Lubbock, Texas for more than 31 years. We met at the Sunset Church of Christ, grew up spiritually there and were married in the Sunset building. The Sunset church became our sponsoring church for the 6 years we spent in Mexico City. Yes, we did go through some culture shock in our move to Mexico City. However, I went through a greater transition in moving back to Lubbock after 6 years in Mexico. This fun experience is often called “reverse culture shock.” Part of my disorientation in returning was trying to figure out which words to use. The Spanish language was more expressive to me and more meaningful than English which somehow did not seem to express my true emotions at times. I even had a hard time deciding which Bible to teach from. A New International Version did not sound like or feel like the “word of God” to me. So I would often go into the classroom with my Spanish Bible in hand feeling more confident that God was truly speaking through “that Bible.”  I remember feeling that I was listening, speaking words, but just did not seem to connect with people around me. I felt like I was often in a fog not truly connecting and not truly being understood. It was all of part of the disorientation in moving from one environment to another.

Fast forward to 2010, after year in life, ministry and community in Lubbock, Sherry and I made a move to an exciting ministry with Missions Resource Network.  We knew there would be changes, challenges and adjustments to new friends, new styles of ministry and the dreaded traffic in the metroplex. Yet we were somewhat surprised with the difficulty of this move. I began working with churches and mission teams as Sherry started looking for a job which we were confident that the Lord had in store for her. I taught churches and missionaries about the culture shock they would need to be prepared for as they or their missionaries went to their new mission field. I found myself using my wife, Sherry as an example (with her permission of course). Imagine all the relationships and environment around Sherry in Lubbock that gave her a sense of security, identity, purpose and belonging. Of course, you begin by mentioning Jay, the most important support, the husband. Others include: children; church community; a close small group we were a part of; an accountability group of two close friends;  a job where she found purposed and identity; a house that provide sense of security, her nest; a city where she knew where to shop, a doctor, a dentist she knew and trusted, the list goes on and on. Then comes the move away from those things and the relationship with children and friends are not completely gone but for all practical purposes are to some degree lost. The only relationship left standing that remains physically present is the husband, who all of a sudden is not much help. The good news is those relationships have not been lost and all of that support network will be expanded and replaced in the new location. However, it takes time. Disorientation sets in and loss brings some level of grief.

Remember I said that those things you have lost will all be replaced with time. More than a year later we see God’s blessings in our life already.  Relationships are forming, community is being build and renewed purpose if found in new ministry with Let’s Start Talking and Missions Resource Network.  Change sometimes brings about challenges, loss and grief.  However we are finding that it also brings about transformation as God continues to shape us and mold us for service in His kingdom.  Culture shock often has little to do with culture, it can be a tool that God uses to form us into the image of His Son (2 Corinthians 3:18: Galatians 4:17). Perhaps part of the journey is discovering that home is wherever Jesus is and we are simply aliens in this life and we find our security, belonging, purpose and identity in God’s house, God’s life (Ephesians 2:19). In a sense, culture shock is a process that helps us to not get too comfortable where we are, but to realize we find true belonging in the presence of our Creator.

 

God’s Gift of Purpose

One of the lessons that I have learned in this year of transition is the special blessing of God’s gift of purpose. I believe that most human beings want to make a difference, want to be worth something to someone else and want to truly be of value in this world. That is why Paul’s word in Ephesians speak volumes to me, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10.

My first couple of days in my new ministry at Missions Resource Network back in January of 2010, were a little overwhelming. I sat down with the MRN team and begin to discuss the teams they were helping to train, the churches they were ministering to and the international mission fields that were opening doors of opportunity. I was given one opportunity after another to travel and work with teams, churches and mission fields. Half way through the conversation the team realized that they were loading me down rather quickly and began to pull back from asking me to join them in various trips. One opportunity in particular began to haunt me. I felt like I should go even though the team had “let me off of the hook.” I went to bed that night with the story of Jesus in my mind. It is recorded in Luke 4 that at daybreak Jesus went out to solitary place (presumably to pray, see Luke 5:16). However, the people went looking for him and found him. His response was what stuck in my mind, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God, to the other towns also, because that is why I was sentLuke 4:43.  I woke up the next day asking myself the question, “why was I sent, why I have I come to MRN?” I did not come to shy away, I did not come to avoid risks, and I did not come to protect myself. I came to help God’s people pursue the mission of God.  That led me to go back to the team and say, “I think the best way for me to adjust is to dive in to the work, therefore, I want to join you in that opportunity.” Now, taking time to rest, be with family, renew and retool is important for all of us and is another lesson learned for another discussion. God has called us to be His “fellow workers” in His mission (1 Corinthians 3:9). I have been told that we need to spend at least 65% of our time in the area of our giftedness, passion and calling.

This year has been fast paced and at times overwhelming, however one thing I have learned is that when you are living in what people call your “sweet spot” it is renewing and invigorating. Too many of us are not using the gifts God has given us. We are not spending the majority of our time pursuing the real passion that God has place in our heart. God has blessed me to live long enough to see that my study, preparation, experiences, gifts and passions all converge in equipping churches to be and make disciples in their region and around the world.  Lord, thank you for giving me an eternal reason to live.

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